Thursday, 15 June 2017

711 Emmerdale Farm

First  viewed :  April  1985

I  don't  know  why  my  mum  started  watching  this  in  1985; we'd  ignored  it  throughout  the  seventies. Yorkshire  TV's  answer  to  Coronation  St  had  always  been  a  poor  relation, shunted  around  the  daytime  schedules  by  the  different  ITV  companies  and  much  mocked  for  its  agricultural  storylines. Nonetheless  the  show had  gradually  built  up  a  loyal  audience  and  by  the  eighties  had  a  regular  twice-weekly  evening  slot  on  Tuesdays  and  Thursdays  i.e.  the alternative  nights  to  Coronation  Street.

I  picked  up  on  it  during  the  Easter  Holidays  in  1985. The  storylines  at  the  time  seemed  to  concentrate  on  the  alpha  male  rivalry  between  independent  farmer  and   miserable  bugger  Jack  Sugden  ( Clive  Hornby  ) and  the  suave  but  rotund  Alan  Turner  ( Richard  Thorp ), manager  for  a  larger  agricultural  concern  NY  Estates. Turner  was  a  fairly  recent  addition  to  the  cast as  a  replacement  for  Jack's  younger  brother  Joe  (  Frazer  Hines who  was  taking  time  out  from  the  show ). There  was  some  tabloid  interest  in  building  up  Turner  as  a  JR  type  villain   but  it  never  really  caught  on  ; he  was  an  averagely  venal  man  who  caught  corners  when  he  could  but  never  a  real  villain.

The  rivalry  took  on  an  extra  spice  when  Turner  accidentally  ran  over  Jack's  rather  charmless  illegitimate  son  Jackie  Merrick  ( Ian  Sharrock )  putting  him  in  intensive  care  for  a  while. There  were  further  complications  when  Jackie's  sister  Sandy  started  seeing  Turner's  slimy  son  Terence  ( Stephen  Marchant ).

There  were  a  couple  of   characters  I'd  heard  of  before  watching  the  show  was  pompous  pub  landlord  Amos  Brearley  with  his  pipe  and  mutton  chop  whiskers  and  catchphrase  "Nay  Nay  Mr  Wilks" , your  stereotypical  tight-fisted  and  belligerent  Yorkshireman.  The  other  was  Walter, an  extra  in  the  pub  scenes "played" by  a  guy  called  Al  Dixon. He  was  never  credited  in  the  cast  list  because  he  didn't  say  anything  but  he  was  always  there  and  became  a  sort  of  running  joke.

Towards  the  end  of  1985,  the  cast  was  shaken  up  by  the  re-appearance  of  lawless  quarry  owner  Harry  Mowlem  ( Godfrey  James ) an  aggressive  Bluebeard character  who  came  to  a  sticky  end  at  the  hands  of  local  villains. At  that  point  though  I  had  a  tough  call  to  make. The  Thursday  episode  was  scheduled  against  BBC1's  fledgling  soap  Eastenders  which  was  taking  a  hit  as  a  result. At  the  beginning  of  1986  therefore,  the  BBC  Controller  Michael  Grade  decided  to  switch  that  episode  around  with  Top  of  the  Pops . We  didn't  have  a  VCR  at  this  point  so  reluctantly  I  had  to  let  Emmerdale  Farm  go  just  as  they  were  introducing  a stunning  new  character  in  Kathy  Bates ( Malandra  Burrows ).

Therefore,  I  wasn't  watching  in  1993  when  Phil  Redmond   changed  the  rules  of  the  game  for  British  soaps  for  good   by  having  a  plane  crash  into  the village, wiping  out  a  few  unnecessary  characters. I  remember  my  friend  Rosemary  lamenting  the  demise  of  her  favourite, Archie. It  was  a  genuine  TV  landmark  and  revived  interest  in  an  ailing  soap now  renamed  as  Emmerdale..

I  didn't  get  back  into  it  until  the  end  of  1997  when  I  was  newly  married  and  mortgaged. My  wife  liked  it  and  we  couldn't  afford  to  go  out  much. After  over  a  decade  away there  was  much  to  catch  up  on. There  were  only  three  survivors  from  my  previous  stint, Jack  with  his  false  teeth, Alan  Turner  who  now  ran  the  pub,Amos  having  retired  to  Spain   and  shiftless  gamekeeper  Seth  Armstrong  ( Stan  Richards ), still  sporting  that  stupid  handlebar  moustache.

Terence  was  no  longer  in  the  cast  although  oddly  the  actor's  name  had  been  re-cycled   for  a  new  character, the  shifty  yuppie  boyfriend  of  the  show's  queen  bitch  Kim  Tate  ( Claire  King ).  She  was  in  permanent  conflict  with  her  stepson  Chris  who'd  been  left  crippled  by  the  plane  crash  and  was  played  by  her  real-life  husband  Peter  Avory.

When  not  focussed  on  the  Tates  , much  of  the  attention  went  to  a  family  of  ne'er  do  wells  the  Dingles , their  star  early  on  being  the  super-sized  Mandy  Dingle  ( Lisa  Riley  who  soon  outgrew  the  show,  so  to  speak ). I  watched  it  for  around  three  years  but  gradually  got  a  bit  fed  up  with  the  stunt  storylines  , the  never-ending  supply  of  new  Dingles   and  the  casting  of  Seventies  refugees  like  Patrick  Mower  and  Elisabeth  Estensen. Thereafter  I'd  check  in  sporadically  but  I  really  disliked  the  character  Cain  Dingle  and  thought  the  storyline  of  him  screwing  both  the  policewoman  and  her  young  daughter  was  distasteful. What  really  ended  my  interest  was  the  Soapstars  programme  in  2002  which  catapulted  five  amateur  actors  into  the  show  to  the  alarm  of  acting  union  Equity  and  the  rest  of  the  cast. Although  they  did  well  enough  to  earn  an  extension  to   their  initial  contracts,  they  were  all  gone  within  a  year  and  the  whole  episode  seemed  grubby  and  cynical. The  following  year  I  tuned  in  to  watch  the  hammy  exit  of  Chris  Tate  then  my  interest  ceased  for  good.  


  1. Forever filed in my head by my dad's description of it as "crap your mam likes"... I do remember the plane crash storyline leaving me feeling very uneasy: the Lockerbie disaster was still fairly fresh in my youthful mind.

  2. Holds the record as being the last soap I still bothered watching after my Corrie watching fell by the wayside in the late 90s and I gave up on EastEnders after Den died...for the second time! I think I persisted with Emmerdale until about 7 years ago; one of the last storylines I recall is George Costigan popping up as a friend of Patrick Mower's who ends up taking Elizabeth Estensen for every penny she has. Much as I rate Costigan, I couldn't really imagine him and Mower going way back...different acting styles for a start.

    Mind you, the BBC's requisition from RTE, Red Rock, shown weekday afternoons last year (and currently being rpts ahead of a second series) qualifies as a soap, so I guess I'm back to watching something of this genre now.

    Re Archie, whenever Tony Pitts pops up in anything on the tele my dad will be heard to say 'Poor Archie, they never found him, did they? Someone should tell 'em the bugger's here'