In   2001   Cleo   Sylvestre   took   part   in   "Soap   Queens",   a   tribute to   Noele   Gordon   and   other   leading   ladies   of   popular   soaps at London's National Film Theatre. The   event   was   organised   by   Stephen   Bourne   who   screened an   early   episode   of   Crossroads   and   introduced   Cleo   to   the audience as "Meg Richardson's 'forgotten' daughter." There   followed   a   lively   "chat"   which   revealed   the   truth   about   Cleo's   role   in   Crossroads   in   the   early   1970s.   Here   is   a   full-length   interview   with   Cleo   that Stephen is happy to share with the CAS. Can you describe your first appearance in Crossroads? I   joined   the   cast   in   January   1970. At   the   very   end   of   an   episode   I   walked   into   the   motel   with   a   suitcase   and   rung   the   reception   desk   bell. The   receptionist came   out   and   I   said   "Can   I   speak   to   Mrs   Richardson,   please?"   and   she   said   "Yes.   Who   shall   I   say   is   asking   for   her?"   I   replied   "Tell   her   it's   her   daughter." And then the music came up. What a cliffhanger! This was the first time Meg's other daughter had been mentioned. Who was she? Melanie   Harper   was   Meg's   adopted   daughter   who,   until   then,   had   never   been   mentioned.   Melanie   arrived   from   France,   where   she   had   been   studying,   and viewers just accepted her. It was great. It was wonderful. Whose idea was it was to introduce Melanie? I   had   been   appearing   on   BBC   television   in   some   of   those   gritty,   social   realist   dramas,   like   Ken   Loach's   Up   the   Junction   and   Cathy   Come   Home.   In   August 1969   I   had   a   great   part   in   the TV   play   called   Some   Women   and   the   day   after   it   was   shown   my   agent   had   a   phone   call   from   Reg   Watson,   who   was   producing Crossroads.   He   invited   me   to   Birmingham,   took   me   round   the   studios,   and   asked   if   I'd   like   to   join   Crossroads.   Enoch   Powell   had   been   making   those   terrible 'Rivers   of   Blood'   speeches,   which   resulted   in   a   lot   of   racial   tension   up   and   down   the   country,   especially   in   cities   like   Birmingham.   Reg   must   have   picked   up on this, and decided to create one of the first regular black characters in a British soap. Reg   asked   me   questions   about   my   background,   and   I   told   him   I'd   studied   French,   so   that's   how   Melanie   came   to   be   a   student   in   France   before   she   turned up at the motel. What happened to Melanie in the series? She   ended   up   being   a   receptionist   in   the   motel,   and   also   a   chambermaid.   I   had   lots   of   scenes   with   Susan   Hanson   [Diane]   and   most   of   them   were   comical. In   fact   we   received   a   lot   of   letters   from   viewers   saying   they   loved   watching   our   scenes   and   asking   if   we   could   be   given   our   own   comedy   series.   It   was great.   It   was   very   happy   time   for   me,   even   though   the   pressure   was   enormous.   We   were   doing   five   episodes   a   week,   and   sometimes   I'd   be   in   all   of   them. The   cast   and   crew   were   absolutely   smashing,   especially   Noele   Gordon,   who   was   lovely.   She   was   very   friendly,   and   always   went   out   of   her   way   to   be helpful. Can you remember any storylines? Yes.   The   cash   box   kept   on   disappearing.   They   couldn't   work   out   who   was   taking   this   money   and   the   finger   of   suspicion   pointed   at   several   characters. Eventually   they   discovered   it   was   Melanie   taking   the   cash   box   -   while   she   was   sleepwalking!   Then   there   was   another   story   when   Melanie   was   being blackmailed   because   she   was   trying   to   get   her   French   boyfriend   into   the   country   -   illegally. The   boyfriend   didn't   appear   and   that   was   why   Melanie   left,   to go back to France, and her boyfriend. Why did you leave? One   day   Reg   Watson   came   up   to   me   and   said   "Oh,   Cleo,   we   have   a   storyline   for   you   in   December"   and   this   was   in   June   and   I   suddenly   had   visions   of   being locked   in   Crossroads   for   the   whole   of   my   career.   I   thought   about   Reg's   plans.   It   was   very   tempting.   I   loved   being   in   the   series.   It   gave   me   regular   work, and   a   regular   income,   and   it   was   fun   to   do,   but   I   was   young   and   I   didn't   want   to   commit   myself   to   a   soap   for   a   long   period,   so   I   left.   If   somebody   offered me   a   soap   today   I'd   say   "Yes,   please.   Lovely",   because   I've   done   a   lot   of   things   since   Crossroads,   especially   theatre,   which   has   always   been   my   first   love.   I could have stayed in Crossroads but I chose not to. How do you feel about the criticisms made about Crossroads? I   don't   think   the   criticisms   were   justified.   The   series   was   ridiculed   by   some   critics   but,   as   far   as   I   am   concerned,   it   did   a   tremendous   amount   of   good   just having   an   ordinary   person   in   there   that   happened   to   be   black.   I   played   a   character   that   lots   of   viewers   identified   with   at   a   sensitive   time   for   race relations in this country. Yes, there were times when actors forgot their lines, but we were working under terrific pressure. When   I   joined   they   made   five   episodes   a   week.   The   turnaround   was   very   fast.   We'd   finish   one   show   and   then   get   our   bunch   of   scripts   for   the   next   shows, and   be   off   doing   it.   It   was   like   that   in   weekly   rep.   Crossroads   was   a   telly   version   of   old   fashioned   weekly   rep. And   as   far   as   I   am   concerned,   for   an   actor, it was a great training ground for television, learning the technique of television acting. David Jason hasn't done too badly out of it! Did people remember Melanie? Oh,   yes!   She   obviously   stayed   with   people.   When   my   children   were   young   I'd   take   them   to   Sainsbury's   and   while   I   was   screaming   at   them,   with   no   make   up on,   saying   "You   can't   have   that!",   a   member   of   the   public   would   come   up   to   me   and   say,   "Excuse   me,   didn't   you   used   to   be   in   Crossroads?" Another   time, long   after   I   had   left   the   series,   I   was   walking   the   kids   to   school   and   some   workmen   on   a   building   site   started   humming   the   theme   tune   as   we   passed   by.   It was hysterical. I looked round and shouted "You lot have a good memory!" and they laughed. When Stephen Bourne contacted Reg Watson and asked for his comments on Cleo he replied: "Cleo   is   one   of   my   favourite   actresses   from   my   years   of   producing   Crossroads,   and   if   she   hadn't   agreed   to   play   the   part   of   Melanie   Harper   I wouldn't   have   gone   ahead   with   it.   I   knew   she   would   make   Melanie   a   charismatic   character   (which   was   essential)   and   I   don't   doubt   that   people still fondly remember her as Melanie. I   also   remember   that   she   brought   a   lot   of   laughter   to   us   behind   the   scenes   at   the   studio.   I   was   sorry   she   decided   to   not   to   continue   in   the serial. She's very talented and I'd love to work with her again." It   should   be   noted   that   Melanie   Harper   as   a   character   was   added   to   the   serial   (as   a   regular)   at   a   time   of   great   racial   tensions   in   Britain.   It   was   a   bold move, that none of the other drama serials dared attempt at that controversal time. Cleo   was,   in   1966,   the   first   black   actor   to   appear   in   the   Granada   serial   Coronation   Street   in   a   minor   role   as   a   factory   worker. Although   it   would   be   many years   before   they   featured   a   regular   ethnic   character.   ATV   had   also   introduced   varying   characters   from   all   kinds   of   backgrounds   and   ethnicity   including the   first   regular African   character   in   Emergency   Ward   10.   Hazel Adair,   Crossroads   co-creator,   a   pioneer   in   giving   all   walks   of   life   representation   in   drama also while working on BBC One’s Compact introduced the first major black actress to television. As   far   as   Crossroads   goes,   Cleo   was   the   first   major   character   in   an   ITV   daytime   serial.   The   soap   would   also   in   the   early   1970s   be   the   first   to   introduce   an African family to serial.
 © Crossroads Fan Club 1987-2016, with thanks to Stephen Bourne for this 2007 interview