TV schedules are littered with series that were here today and gone tomorrow. Here we feature selection of such ill-fated television near misses from the past
Watched avidly by millions, soaps such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Eastenders are the staples of prime-time television.
The “Big Three” have been on our screens for decades and, for many, life wouldn’t be the same without them. But, over the years, other soaps have come and gone – and, as Steve Cain reminisces, some failed to create a lather, while others simply had their bubbles burst.
The Grove Family (02/04/1954 - 28-06-1957). BBC TV’s first real soap, The Grove Family was named after BBC’s Lime Grove studios. Created by Michael Pertwee and co-written with his father Roland, the first twenty minute episode was transmitted live in black and white in April 1954. By the end of its first year, nine million people (a quarter of the population at the time) were hooked with even the Queen Mother declaring herself a fan. After three years, the Pertwees requested a break but producer John Warrington refused and BBC cancelled.
Emergency Ward 10 (19/02/1957 – 27/06/1967). Long before Holby City, Casualty and even General Hospital there was Emergency Ward 10, British television’s first medical soap and a huge success for ten years. It won praise in a British Medical Association report and criticism from a Manchester St John Ambulance Brigade Commissioner, who forbade his cadets to watch it because he claimed it portrayed nurses as “feather-headed flibbertigibbets.”
Crossroads (02/11/1964 – 04/05/1988 & 05/03/2001 – 30/05/2003). Much-maligned for its hammy acting, farcical plots and wobbly sets, Crossroads was held in great affection by 16 million loyal viewers at its height. The rot set in after Noele Gordon, who played motel owner Meg Mortimer, was unceremoniously sacked.
Without Meg, the motel and the series went on, but viewers checked-out in their millions and the series was cancelled in 1988. It was resurrected in 2000, with four original actors and new stars including Jane Asher and Kate O’Mara.
The new show seemed to be a self-consciously camp parody of the original and Kathy Staff left in dismay, while Jane Asher apologised to viewers for the way the series went. It was axed in March 2003.
Angels (01/09/1975 – 22/12/1983). Set in a large London hospital, St Angela’s, this series was grittily authentic.
It portrayed young student nurses facing up to the demands of the profession. Producer Julia Smith (who would go on to co-create and produce EastEnders) insisted that each actress cast was required to work on a real hospital ward to gain experience and thus contribute to the realism of the series.
Take The High Road (19/02/1980 – 27/04/2003). Set in the small fictional Scottish village of Glendarroch, Take The High Road was produced by Scottish Television and shown across the ITV Network.
It was the only soap on the network that was not made by one of the “Big Five” companies (Central, Granada, LWT, Thames and Yorkshire). But it was dropped by most ITV stations in the 1990s. Only Scottish, Grampian, Border and Ulster stations continued to screen until the end.
Triangle (05/01/1981 – 06/07/1983). Set aboard a North Sea Ferry that sailed from Felixstowe to Gothenburg to Amsterdam. A third imaginary leg existed between Amsterdam and Felixstowe to justify the programme’s title. It was derided as “some of the most mockable British television ever produced.”
Brookside (02/11/1982 – 04/11/2003). Beginning on the launch night of Channel 4, Brookside quickly became one of its highest-rated programmes. Originally renowned for its realism and socially-challenging storylines, it moved on to more controversial subjects and improbable plots. Ratings began to fall in 1996 and were in terminal decline by 2000. Only around two million viewers watched the final episode in November 2003.
Gems (02/01/1985 – 01/04/1988). Not quite the jewel amongst daytime soaps that the name suggests, Gems was set in the rag trade. Stephen and Alan Stone, two brothers, were the main characters who ran a Covent Garden fashion design workshop, named Gems.
The Practice (18/01/1985 – 15/08/1986). The prototype for BBC’s Doctors, The Practice was one of two new ITV soaps produced to thwart the opposition’s much-heralded EastEnders (the other being Albion Market). Both failed to make the grade.
Set in fictional inner city suburb Castlehulme, The Practice was based in a bustling NHS GP surgery. Although its lead female character, Dr Judith Vincent, was played by respected actress Brigit Forsyth, a mix of over-acting and misplaced comedy meant that the prognosis was gloomy.
Albion Market (30/08/1985 – 24/08/1986). Launched in a blaze of glory, Albion Market was the ITV soap produced by Granada TV that, alongside Coronation Street, would trounce those troublesome Cockneys in EastEnders. Set in a Manchester indoor market, it introduced a diverse mix of Jewish, Vietnamese, West Indian and Pakistani characters amongst the stallholders.
On launch-day, Granada Managing Director David Plowright dismissed EastEnders as “no competition” and invited the assembled press to make a date in their diaries for 2010 when, he predicted, Albion Market would be celebrating its Silver Jubilee. In actual fact, the soap attracted a meagre audience of 3.7 million and was axed after only 100 episodes.
Eldorado (06/07/1992 – 09/07/1993). Set in the fictional town of Los Barcos, Spain, Eldorado followed the lives of wealthy British and European expatriates and aimed to combine the glamour of Dallas and Dynasty with the sunshine of Neighbours and Home and Away and the gritty realism of EastEnders.
From the outset it was beleaguered by problems – inexperienced actors, stilted scripts, sound and acoustic problems and internal feuding. Series producer Julia Smith (former producer of Angels and EastEnders) had a nervous breakdown and quit the show as a result.
Eldorado was an embarrassing and costly failure for the BBC, and it has not attempted to launch a new prime-time soap since.
Night and Day (06/11/2001 – 05/06/2003). Launched as part of ITV’s new early evening line-up and with a theme song performed by Kylie Minogue, Night and Day initially rated well and was compared favourably to cult shows including Twin Peaks.
However, the storylines became increasingly bizarre and complex and ratings dropped. Not even a stellar cast, which included Joe McGann, Lesley Joseph, Sally Dexter, Glynis Barber and Bradley Walsh, and ten nominations at the 2002 British Soap Awards, could prevent the axe from falling in the end.