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.