Noele Gordon lives something of a dual existence. To millions of TV fans she is Meg Mortimer, owner of the Crossroads Motel; many almost refuse to believe that she is simply an actress playing a part, with a very different private life of her own away from the TV studios. To them Meg is a real person.
The role of Meg has brought Noele many accolades and awards from countries all over the world – in fact, she has made more TV appearances than any other actress.
Noele’s transition to top TV personality really began in 1959, when she was hosting what was the Midlands’ first TV chat show, Lunch Box. Outside-broadcast shows had been tried, and the huge fan following that Noele had really impressed Sir Lew Grade, who wanted to do more. The original producer Reg Watson said that technical problems would make that a difficult project, but he took the opportunity to talk to Sir Lew about another idea he was keen on. He wanted to produce a serial – a daily serial – something that had never been tried before on British television.
Sir Lew didn’t say much about Reg’s idea at the time, but five years later Noele was shocked to hear that the still-very-successful Lunch Box was to be taken off, quite a shock after being with the programme for eight years. But the blow was softened somewhat by the news that Lunch Box was to be replaced with a daily serial – with Noele as its star. And that’s how Noele Gordon, chat show hostess, became Noele Gordon, starring actress, in a show that was to become one of the most popular in the history of television.
Noele has done many, many things in her eventful life. She can fly a plane, drive racing car and can skin-dive. She’s been down a coal mine, ridden camels and elephants, dressed up as a circus clown and gone inside a lion’s cage. . . .
But let’s go back to the start. We’ve heard how Meg started, but what of Noele herself?
As you may have guessed, Noele was born on Christmas Day. Her father was a Scottish ship’s engineer who was away from home most of the time, and she was brought up by her mother in a strict Scots Presbyterian manner.
Jockey, as Noele calls her mother, had wanted a showbusiness career for herself, but had lacked the self-confidence. When Noele decided that she wanted to be an actress, her mother was always ready with help and encouragement.
As a child Noele lived in East Ham, London, and made her first stage appearance at the local music hall when she was just two and a half. She had her face covered in jam and sang Dear Little Jammy Face!
But that was just the start, and over the years young Noele tackled many stage jobs, eventually enrolling at RADA when she was fifteen. While she was still studying she landed her first professional part – as an understudy in the comedy Aren’t Men Beasts at the Strand Theatre. Noele had to understudy all four female leads, and as all four actresses fell ill in turn, she went on stage in all four roles. Quite a debut!
Rep followed, and Noele’s performance as Sadie Thompson in Rain was watched by TV pioneer John Logie Baird. Baird was impressed by Noele, and asked her to take part in some experiments into colour TV. She was collected by a Rolls-Royce, and sat in front of a camera for hours whilst technicians tried out various techniques. “You’re the first actress to appear on colour TV,” Baird told her.
The part that really established Noele as a West End star was that of Meg Brockie in the musical Brigadoon, in 1947. She went on to give almost 1,000 performances in that role. . . .
When Noele and her mother gave up their house at Ross-on-Wye to take neighbouring apartments, Noele knew exactly what she wanted to do with her spare cash. She had had a personal number plate for years – NG10 – and knew which car she wanted to transfer it to next – a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. But the Rolls caused a few headaches in the programme. Noele had always been filmed driving her own cars – and how could Meg’s sudden acquisition of a Rolls be explained? A legacy written into the script solved that problem.
By the early fifties, Noele realised that TV was about to have a great impact, superseding the theatres and music halls. She didn’t want to slip into obscurity, so took the positive step of going to New York, to learn all she could about television production and presentation. Her efforts paid off, for on her return to England she was offered a job as trainee director and advisor on women’s programmes with ATV.
But she didn’t stay behind the cameras for long. First came a theatre chat show, Tea With Noele Gordon, then Lunch Box, then Crossroads, as the new daily serial was to be called.
The part posed problems for Noele. Up to now she had appeared on the screen as herself – would viewers accept her in the role of Meg Richardson?
The answer was a resounding yes, and the show’s popularity mushroomed as viewers from as far away as Australia and Hong Kong voted Crossroads a monster hit. For Noele Gordon the series has also been a resounding personal success, and a very satisfying one.
When Noele was to be featured on the This Is Your Life programme all the other members of the cast were in on the secret. Reg Watson called Noele and asked her to take part in a promotion trailer. She was to walk through into the motel reception area say something about the motel and then add “And this is my manager, played by Ronnie Allen.” Rehearsals went well, and the take was ready to be made.
And this is where Noele nearly ruined the whole thing. She came through the door said the wrong lines, and stopped. Not until later did she learn that Eamonn Andrews had changed places with Ronnie, and had to dash off again and hide when the scene had to be scrapped. On the second take all went well, and Eamonn managed to take Noele by surprise, as planned.
It was on that show that rumours of a romance between Noele and Larry Grayson started. Larry laughingly asked Noele to marry him on the air, and she jokingly accepted. But some viewers didn’t see the joke, and telegrams and flowers started to arrive. It took quite a time to scotch the rumours, but Larry and Noele remain the greatest of friends.