“Nolly” is a biographical miniseries based on the life of famous British soap opera actress Noele Gordon, aka Nolly. She played the character of Meg Richardson (changed to Meg Mortimer in “Nolly”) in “Crossroads,” one of the all-time popular shows on British television, which ran from 1964 to 1988 on ATV. Although Noele had achieved quite a lot on television before starring in “Crossroads,” it was this soap opera that made her a household name for more than 15 million viewers. In “Crossroads,” Meg Richardson was the owner of the Crossroads motel and Noele did the part for 17 years. In this article, we will talk about the characters of “Nolly,” namely Noele Gordon (played most brilliantly by Helena Bonham Carter), Tony Adams (also portrayed effectively by Augustus Prew), and Jack Barton (perfectly cast Con O’Neill).
Noele Gordon—In Many Ways, The First
All good things must come to an end. This is what Charles Denton, Head of Programming at ATV, tells Michael Summerton, Noele’s agent, in 1981. And they certainly did. Noele Gordon, who was loved by all the cast members as well as her viewers alike, was indeed, “frankly speaking,” semi-oppressive in the way she carried herself on set. This, however, was solely based on her justified pride in all the success she had amassed due to her sheer talents. She was the first woman in history to be viewed on color television in 1938. In 1958, she became the first woman ever to interview an English Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. Yet, the love and care that she had for her co-stars, as well as her fans, was crystal clear.
In Episode 1 of “Nolly,” at one point, there are thousands of people, fans of “Crossroads,” who have gathered outside a church where Meg’s wedding is being shot. Producer Jack Barton tells Noele that they cannot have so many people in front of the camera. Noele tells Jack that if so many people have indeed come to see Meg’s wedding, leaving the warmth of their homes on a winter day and showering their love on a mere character from a soap opera, no one has the right to cut them out. Noele always spoke to her fans, answering their questions with utmost frankness that was accompanied by modesty and dignity that people loved her character for as well as her. Throughout the three episodes, there are many instances when we see how professional and good she was at her profession, not only making the script better when needed but also telling the other cast members how to go about their scenes. There was something authoritative about her that her fellow actors loved and looked up to. They knew what she had achieved and found it no less than an honor to work alongside her. However, some people, or “men,” as Noele says, didn’t take all this in the right sense.
These “men” were at the top of the chain, pulling the strings, something that is still prevalent even today; men decide what women should do and be to better serve their own purposes. So whatever the men decided would be final, and when they decided to sack Noele in 1981, it was something unexpected. We will come to the reason behind the sacking later, but what’s more crucial is the aftermath. When your whole life surrounds the show you are in the spotlight of, you live the show like it’s your life. This is what Noele Gordon tells Larry Grayson in Episode 2, that she has no life outside the show. The set was her home, and the cast was her family, which also extended to the 15 million daily viewers of “Crossroads.” She was heartbroken and devastated but never revealed this vulnerable side of her to anyone, not even Tony. And even though she was requested to come back to the show by Barton himself in 1983, fate had other plans. It seemed that Noele Gordon’s part in the play we all call life was over. She appeared briefly in an episode that showed her daughter and son-in-law on their honeymoon in Venice before passing away from cancer in 1985, the same year that would have seen her make what the then-producer Phillip Bowman described as a “permanent occasional” return to the show as her beloved character Meg Richardson.
The love that Noele Gordon received from her viewers isn’t really seen today, and that’s mostly due to the time when the show was aired. People found immense pleasure in watching shows that dealt with everyday relationships that they could relate to. In the absence of other forms of entertainment that are easily available today, “Crossroads” became not only a window for people to grab a daily dose of fresh entertainment but also a cloak with which they could hide their daily struggles from themselves and take pleasure in those of the humans inside the television, as is often the case. Be that as it may, Noele made sure that people got what they wanted, and she left no stone unturned for that. Giving the audience what they love, and then, after the show, walking into an ambulance (Episode 3 of “Nolly”). That was Noele Gordon. With her passing, the Crossroads Motel also lost its vigor, and “Crossroads” was ultimately axed in 1987, with the final episode airing in April of 1988.
Tony Adams: A Friend First
Noele Gordon’s friendship with young cast member Tony Adams was a treat to the eyes, as seen in “Nolly.” From beginning to end, Tony remained by her side, both physically and emotionally. He wore his heart on his sleeve. From window-shopping late at night to reminding her of the star that she is and getting on the stage in Leicester and “acting” (Episode 3), Tony is the Alfred to Noele’s Batman. Noele even claims that of all the men in her life, the one she loves is Tony. The conversations that we see between them are proof of the intimacy they share, like that between best friends. Tony’s love for her is also evident in the nice, soft way he always speaks to her, yet without any filter. It is clear that in all the years that they worked together, they had gotten so close that there was nothing to hide. There was no judgment from either side, and they could be as frank as they wanted. In Episode 3 when he comes out of Noele’s room in the hospital and starts weeping, and tears roll down his eyes, it feels like Tony Adams was the son Noele Gordon never had.
Jack Barton: The Producer
Jack Barton, as the producer of “Crossroads,” experimented with issues in the show that were way ahead of their time, e.g., bigamy, racism, rape, test-tube babies, and even Down syndrome. From what we see in “Nolly,” a woman police officer in Bangkok, where Noele was arrested with her friends during a police raid at a bar, and who once used to work at ATV, tells her the real reason why she was sacked. While Noele was bent on believing that it was the men in suits, as we mentioned earlier, she found out that it was one man in particular who was the reason why she had to leave the only place where she felt at home. After returning to Birmingham after being bailed out, she meets Jack Barton and confronts him about what she heard in Bangkok. She had been described as a bully, a prima donna, delusional, someone who makes people go through hell, and a difficult asset by Charles Denton, Jack’s boss and ATV’s Controller of Programming. These were the reasons why she had been sacked. [No one knows why she was sacked in real life, but for the sake of the show’s conclusion, screenwriter Russell T. Davies made this part up.] However, it was an accident. That is what Barton agrees is the truth behind Noele’s sacking.
According to Barton, he was used to old-school soap operas with bosses who didn’t really care about their shows, but Charles Denton came as a surprise, as he took the word of his assistants into consideration and acted on it. It is bizarre how Barton explains this as the reason behind Noele’s sacking: the fact that he didn’t expect his boss to act on his words regarding a show that was so popular for so long. So, he did not know that what he said would take the shape it took, by accident, that is. So, here we are. And then, as if to justify himself, he tells Noele that the show never really worked. However, as the show is loved, and so is she, Barton asks Noele to return, giving her a nice “welcome back” plot that she couldn’t deny. Jack Barton, although a professional by all means, as proven by how he spoke to Noele whenever she approached him about the news of her sacking (telling her that it was how things were), always had a place for Noele in his heart. He listened to her because he knew that she would always try to make the show better for the viewers, and after she was sacked, he perhaps waited to see the repercussions of her absence. Then, upon realizing just how pained the audience was, he decided to request that Noele come back to the show, giving her a beautiful revival in “real Venice.” He was also the one to clap the loudest with a smile across his face after Noele gave her shot at the end of Episode 3 of “Nolly.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
“Nolly” is a biographical miniseries directed by Peter Hoar and written by Russell T. Davies. It stars Helena Bonham Carter as Noele Gordon, the star of the classic British soap opera “Crossroads.”