When Noele Gordon was sacked from Crossroads, it was the end of the line for one of soapland’s biggest stars.
Her departure in 1981 was such a shock to viewers that it made the major news bulletins, and Gordon never got over the feeling of betrayal. She did not act in another television show, and died four years later.
Now her legacy is to be revived in an ITV drama. Helena Bonham Carter is to play Gordon in Nolly, a three-part series written by Russell T Davies and billed as a “heartbreaking portrait of a forgotten icon”.
Bonham Carter said she wanted to restore Gordon to her rightful place in the pantheon of television greats.
“Noele Gordon was a fascinating, complex, brilliant and gutsy woman – none of which I knew before I read Russell T Davies’s script.
Helena Bonham Carter said she is thrilled to portray such a 'fascinating and complex' TV icon
“I’m so thrilled to help tell Nolly’s long overdue and largely forgotten story. Russell’s screenplay is a work of brilliance and I hope I’ll do him and Nolly justice,” she said.
Gordon played Crossroads Motel owner Meg Richardson, later Meg Mortimer, standing firm for 18 years amid the soap’s famously wobbly sets.
Out of the blue, in 1981, she was informed by bosses at ATV that she was to be written out.
Gordon went to the press, saying she wept all night after an executive disposed of her in tones so emotionless it was “as though he was reading a weather report”.
She appealed directly to Lord Grade, head of ATV, but he refused to intervene. “It is not I who have left Crossroads. It is Crossroads which has left me,” she told a newspaper.
The three-part drama promises to reveal “the truth, the consequences, and the legacy of that terrible day”.
Her sacking made the News at Ten, and was memorably sent up by Julie Walters on the Victoria Wood show.
ATV’s switchboard was swamped with complaints and crowds gathered outside the studio to protest. In the end, Gordon’s character was not killed off but sailed away on the QE2.
Gordon went on to appear in the theatre, including a lead role in a West End production of Gypsy. She was persuaded to return to Crossroads in 1983 for two guest appearances. She died of stomach cancer in 1985, aged 65.
Gordon, who played Meg Mortimer in the long-running soap, attends a party marking the 1,500th episode
Davies, whose credits include It’s A Sin and A Very English Scandal, said he had wanted to write about Gordon – “Nolly” to her friends – for decades.
He explained: “One of my very first jobs in TV was a trial script for Crossroads, and I’ve wanted to write the story of behind the scenes on that show for 40 years. At last, the truth can be told.”
At the time, there were rumours that Central Independent Television, which was taking over the franchise for the Midlands, wanted to kill off Crossroads in favour of more sophisticated programming. Sacking Gordon, it was said, would cause ratings to plummet and the show to be canned.
But Nolly will also explore the idea that Gordon’s diva ways – she would arrive at rehearsals in a Rolls-Royce – and strong personality set executives against her.
ITV said: “Nolly is a bold exploration of how the establishment turns on women who refuse to play by the rules, the women it cannot understand and the women it fears. It is a love letter to a legend of television.”
The drama will also reflect the comic aspects of Crossroads, a show renowned for its terrible production values.
In her autobiography, Gordon recalled two occasions on which props caught fire but the cameras continued to roll. “We all swung into action, still acting the scene and saying the lines we were supposed to say as we coped with the flaming toaster,” she recalled.