ITV’s Nolly: who was Noele Gordon & what was Birmingham soap Crossroads about?

Here’s everything you need to know about the life of Noele Gordon and ITV’s new drama Nolly, starring Helena Bonham Carter, and based on the Birmingham soap opera Crossroads

Russell T Davies tells the story of Noele Gordon, the star of Birmingham-based soap Crossroads and a legend in her own lifetime. Crossroads may have come off air in the 1980s, but its wobbly sets and high drama have never been forgotten, thanks to the Doctor Who writer.

Helena Bonham Carter plays Gordon in what’s been described as Davies’ love letter to British soaps and television. The three-part ITV series, entitled Nolly, which was Noele’s nickname.

The series looks into why Noele Gordon was sacked from the hit television show without warning, and explors how the establishment could turn on women who refused to play by the rules. Noele had a reputation for being tough, but she was also an extremely hard working actress and had become a huge name in British TV.

And with Bonham-Carter on board, the three-part biographical mini-series is sure to attract the attention of the public when episode 1 airs on ITV on February 2, following the premiere at the MAC in Cannon Hill Park tonight (Wednesday, January 25).

But why was Crossroads so popular and who exactly is Noele Gordon?

Noele Gordon’s early career

Born in East Ham, Essex, Joan Noele Gordon was give the nickname Nolly because she was born on Christmas Day. After training at the RADA art theatre, she began her career in a number of plays in London.

She also appeared in two British films, 29 Acacia Avenue (1945) and Lisbon Story (1946) in minor parts. Gordon worked as a presenter, too, and she worked on the Associated Television show in London, where she presented their first-ever programme, The Weekend Show.

Her journey is the Midlands and Birmingham began when she became a producer and presenter for ATV Midlands. Her show, Tea With Noele Gordon, was the first popular ITV chat show. Gordon also became the first woman to interview a British Prime Minister - Harold Macmillan.

English actress Noele Gordon (1919 - 1985), UK, 22nd August 1974. (Photo by M. McKeown/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Crossroads and rise to fame

Returning to acting, Gordon landed the role of the Birmingham-based motel owner Meg Richardson (later Meg Mortimer). The show became extremely popular over the next 10 years and over the following decade, Gordon won the TV Times award for most popular television actress on eight occasions.

Crossroads revolved around a fictional motel on the outskirts of Birmingham. It was packed full of drama, with the opening plot involving a family feud with Meg and her sister Kitty, and attracting up to 15 million viewers for ATV in its hey day. As Nolly explores, Gordon was sacked from the show in 1981, when ATV was undergoing internal changes.

Actress Noele Gordon in the garden of her Hereford home, with the famous salmon fishing river in the background, England, October 29th 1964. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The head of Central wanted to end the soap drama in favour of more expensive productions. The decision to dismiss Gordon was made in the hope that viewers would desert the show, giving the television company a valid excuse to axe it.

After ending in 1981, Carlton Television attempted to revive the show in 2001, but it finally ended in 2003. Incredibly, Gordon appeared in 3,521 episodes of the show. She sadly died of stomach cancer at her home in Birmingham in 1985, at the age of 65.

Helena Bonham Carter as Noele Gordon. Credit: ©ITV.

Crossroads and Birmingham

The teatime show was loved by the nation in the 1970s and early 80s, attracting millions of viewers during each episode.

The low budget show became a senstation and was only rivalled by Coronation Street in terms of its popularity. Some of the show’s success has been put down to the fact it was centred around one person, Meg, played by Noele of course. The show also produced multiple episodes per week and was known for its at times, far-fetched storylines

The show was also made on a low-budget, which became noticeable as wobbly sets and fluffed lines were often seen on tv. But despite the popularity of Crossroads with the viewing public, the show was often criticised by TV reviewers and ridiculed by British comedians.

The Crossroads Motel was located on the outskirts of the small fictional village of King’s Oak, on the outskirts of Birmingham. I wonder if they combined Kings Heath with Selly Oak for the inspiration for the name? A number of real-life hotels doubled for location filming.

Originally, Tanworth-in-Arden was used for King’s Oak, although outside scenes were only occasionally used. Some of the scenes were also shot in Wolverhampton. The show was also later filmed in Birmingham city centre and Sutton Coldfield. The show’s wild success also helped to put Birmingham in the national spotlight, with Nolly becoming known as the Queen of the Midlands.

What’s been said about Nolly the new ITV show?

The series is largely set in Birmingham, but filmed in Bolton. The series details the story of Noele Gordon’s infamous sacking from Crossroads, which at the time was filmed at ATV Central’s Broad Street studios in Birmingham,” ITV said.

Bonham-Carter said playing Noele was a dream role for her, according to Mirror UK. The 56-year-old The Crown actress said: “When I read the script, it was like a gift. A dream. It’s like meeting someone and falling in love. I watched Crossroads. So I knew Noele Gordon as a figure, but I hadn’t really taken on board the sacking.”