SARAH VINE’s My TV Week: Helena’s tribute to a tragic TV titan
- READ MORE: Helena as Crossroads Noele? She’s fabulous, darling! CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews new ITV drama Nolly
AVAILABLE ON ITVX
I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of Noele Gordon – aka Meg Mortimer in Crossroads – until I sat down to watch this. In my defence, her character was axed (brutally, as this brilliant threepart drama illustrates) in 1981, and I was still living in Italy.
We didn’t even own a TV, and even if we had, all there was to watch was a load of badly dubbed American shows such as Little House On The Prairie and Happy Days. The only time I ever saw any British TV was on occasional visits home – and even then my grandmother would only allow me to watch the BBC.
I loved her dearly, but she was the most tremendous snob about that sort of thing. She used to take her Daily Mail inside a copy of The Times.
Helena Bonham Carter as Noele Gordon in ITV’s production of Nolly. This is the latest high-profile original drama from ITV’s new streaming service ITVX, after A Spy Among Friends starring Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce
So Crossroads, I’m afraid, totally passed me by. But it left an indelible mark on British TV culture, the show with the wobbly sets, the cheesy scripts and implausible plotlines, affectionately parodied by comedian Victoria Wood in her 80s Acorn Antiques sketches.
Nolly is an altogether different type of tribute to that era, equally (if not more) affectionate but much more respectful of the culture and characters involved.
This is the latest high-profile original drama from ITV’s new streaming service ITVX, after A Spy Among Friends starring Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce. As with that show, there’s a real emphasis on home-grown talent, with a sharp, witty script from Russell T Davies and Helena Bonham Carter in the lead, plus some great performances from, among others, Mark Gatiss (as Larry Grayson) and Augustus Prew as Tony Adams, Nolly’s colleague and faithful walker.
If that’s the strategy for ITVX – to be a platform for slightly quirky, British-led drama – I’d say that so far it’s a winner.
Bonham Carter is stupendous as Gordon, an unashamed grande dame with a helmet hairdo to rival Margaret Thatcher’s, but a heart as soft as butter. She is mother hen to the cast and crew of Crossroads, a protective shield between them and the suits upstairs – until, that is, the suits decide to torpedo her by axing her character after 17 years.
Con O’Neill is superb as Jack Barton, head writer on the show, a sexist, cold-hearted so-and-so who seems to view the whole thing with ill-disguised contempt. Despite a 17-year partnership he remains unmoved by Nolly’s fate, utterly indifferent to her feelings.
Together with Tim Wallers as Charles Denton – the then controller of programmes at ATV, Crossroads’ production company – he exemplifies the patriarchy of that period, a group of arrogant, unassailable males who wielded absolute power.
Sarah Vine (pictured) loves Bonham Carter’s nuanced performance
Nolly, meanwhile, may be vulnerable on the inside but she has the sharp bite required by all women fighting to survive in a man’s world. Gordon was the first person to appear on colour TV, and had a career behind the scenes in the industry even before she acted in Crossroads.
She was the first woman to interview a sitting prime minister (Harold Macmillan). And yet none of that matters in the end.
At 61 she is just an old actress with far too many opinions of her own and a tendency to run rings around her male superiors. She has to go.
Bonham Carter delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance. She is that rare thing: an actress of a certain age who does not hide it and is not afraid to show herself at her most vulnerable.
She captures all the loneliness and fear of a woman in the twilight of her years, someone who has had to sacrifice everything for her career, now cast adrift from the only family she has. But she also encapsulates the ferocity of spirit that made Gordon such a success in such a hostile environment.
In many ways Nolly exemplifies so many women of her generation, women who paved the way for the rest of us but ultimately paid a very high price. I think that’s why I enjoyed this so much, despite having no affinity or affection for Crossroads itself: Nolly’s is a universal story, told within the context of a specific dusty corner of British culture but nonetheless relevant to us all.
WE’LL ALL MISS THIS NO-NONSENSE HERO
Happy Valley has had the nation gripped, and the final episode did not disappoint. Sarah Vine says that Sunday’s won’t be the same without Sergeant Cawood ( Sarah Lancashire – pictured )
There was a moment in last week’s series finale when Catherine Cawood gets back home from her daughter’s graveside and looks through photo albums at pictures of her late daughter and her grandson Ryan.
Their young, innocent faces stare back at her from the pages and the tears start to flow. Sadness and grief for what she has lost, but also the loss of innocence, of hope, all those dreams never realised.
Moments later, Tommy Lee Royce, fresh from a knife fight with gangsters and badly injured, breaks into her basement with a can of petrol. Luckily she gets a call, and exits through the front door just as he appears in her kitchen.
This show has had the nation gripped, and the final episode did not disappoint. I won’t spoil it for you, in case you haven’t quite caught up, but put it this way: Sunday nights won’t be the same without Sergeant Cawood (Sarah Lancashire).
Rarely has a character captured the imagination of the British public to such a degree. It’s almost as if she’s the sensible, no-nonsense matriarch the nation needs right now, a woman who speaks as she finds and really can’t suffer fools.
She’s not perfect or invulnerable, but she does have one characteristic that makes her almost invincible: she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her.
That’s what I love about her most. She’s had enough. Enough of dancing to other people’s tunes, of trying to prove her worth, of being patronised. She’s just tired of everyone and their nonsense.
The same is true of almost every middle-aged woman I know. Basically, we’re all Catherine Cawood, and it’s nice, for once, to be represented on telly, especially by someone as brilliant as Lancashire.
Lockwood & Co is set in a spook apocalypse, with ghosts taking the role of zombies, and young ghost-hunters such as Lucy (Ruby Stokes – pictured) on their trail
- As a fan of Wednesday and Stranger Things, I was instantly drawn to Lockwood & Co on Netflix. It’s set in a kind of spook apocalypse, with ghosts taking the role of zombies, and young ghost-hunters such as Lucy (Ruby Stokes) on their trail. Think Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets Ghostbusters with more than a dash of Sherlock Holmes and a hint of The Hunger Games. Anyway, derivative or not, it’s not bad, not bad at all.
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