John   has   had   a   varied   career.   From   radio   plays   to   theatre, and   back   to   radio   broadcasts   as   an   announcer.   He   had   a short   stay   in   Hollywood   before   returning   home   to   England for the arrival of commercial television. How did you get into acting? Was it always an ambition? Apart   from   the   odd   school   play,   I   had   very   little   interest   in the   theatrical   world   until   I   was   sixteen   and   that   was   quite by   accident.   I   got   into   the   business   through   radio   producer   Martyn   C.   Webster.   On   one   of   his   radio   broadcasts   he   offered   listeners   to   come   to   his   studio and audition. Those who were good enough would be offered work at the station. I   actually   decided   that   I   would   be   quite   a   good   singer,   so   armed   with   a   78   record   to   accompany   my   performance,   I   sang   for   Martyn.   He   liked   what   he heard and offered me a part in a radio musical. And that is where the singing evolved into acting. Other radio dramas soon followed thankfully. Of those early years, which roles did you enjoy the most? I   think   my   first   major   film   will   always   be   a   favourite,   because   of   course,   it   gave   me   the   stepping   stone   to   so   many   other   roles.   That   was   The   Hills   Of Donegal,   way   back   in   1946.   Recording   in   Africa   for   the   television   series,   African   Patrol   was   also   a   high   spot.   We   made   nearly   40   episodes,   and   each   one was a pure joy. How did you get the part of Hugh Mortimer in Crossroads? Again,   this   was   more   fate   than   anything   else.   Noele   Gordon   was   at   the   time   a   presenter   for ATV   and   she   called   me   up   -   asking   if   I'd   appear   on   her   series, Midland   Profile.   I   didn't   think   I   was   worthy   enough   to   be   interviewed   for   half   an   hour.   But   in   the   end   I   did   the   show.   I   still   doubt   there   were   many   viewers interested! (laughs) Reg   Watson,   producer   of   the   show   seemed   to   like   what   I   had   to   say,   he   was   keen   to   hire   people   who   had   some   experience   of   live   television   and   thanks   to Midland Profile he later invited me onto Lunchbox as one of the occasional guest singers. When   a   few   years   later   they   were   casting   the   part   of   Hugh   Mortimer,   Noele   Gordon   suggested   me   for   the   role   to   Reg,   and   they   both   agreed   I   was   the perfect choice. Hugh first appears at the end of episode 86, can you recall his reasons for coming to the motel? He   was   always   planned   to   be   the   love   interest   for   Meg   Richardson.   Hugh   had   a   business   interest   in   the   area   and   stayed   at   the   rival   Fairlawns   Hotel.   His son,   Jonathan,   had   been   an   old   friend   of   Jill’s.   His   first   scene   is   with   Meg   who   is   puzzled   as   to   how   he   knows   so   much   about   Jill   and   Sandy,   unaware   he   is Jonathan’s   father.   This   implied   that   Meg   and   Hugh   have   never   previously   met,   so   the   history   was   changed   at   some   point   for   Hugh’s   business   to   have   built the motel in 1962-3. In   that   first   episode   I   was   billed   as   ‘businessman’   and   then   after   that   it   became   Hugh   Mortimer.   It   was   some   weeks   before   I   was   given   the   first   name   of Hugh when I first joined to rehearse, the Hugh name was quite last minute. What were the as-live recordings like? Were their any mishaps you recall? When   I   first   came   into   Crossroads   I'd   already   been   in   the   business   quite   a   number   of   years   and   I'd   been   in   quite   a   few   tight   spots   in   my   time.   I   shall however, never forget my first rehearsal for Crossroads. It   was   October,   it   was   snowing   in   Birmingham   and   I   had   tonsillitis,   in   fact,   I   felt   dreadful.   I   took   one   look   at   the   schedule   -   the   workload   was   staggering. To put no finer point on it, I felt like going home! Many   cast   and   crew   who   worked   on   Crossroads   will   talk   about   door   handles   coming   off,   or   the   door   being   a   pain   by   not   opening   or   closing!   I   remember doing   an   entire   scene   leaning   against   the   office   door   because   it   wouldn't   close!   Jane   Rossington   was   wonderful   on   set.   If   anything   went   wrong   she   would simply carry on as if nothing had happened. If a door handle came off in her hand, she'd just pop it into her handbag. (laughs) But   the   sets   didn't   really   wobble,   with   the   hectic   schedule   and   limited   recording   time   everyone   did   very   well   to   get   though   it   all. And   most   episodes   had no mistakes in them at all. John   Scholes,   who   played   Don   Westbury,   recalls   there   was   often   much   laughter   on   set.   One   reason   was   due   to   your   comment   "The   Balloon's   going up?" He was, and we are now too, wondering what that meant? I   believe   the   term   comes   from   the   old   observation   balloons   used   during   the   first   World   War.   The   sight   of   these   balloons   in   the   sky   often   lead   to   a   barrage of enemy attacks. And again during WWII the barrage balloons being hoisted were part of the air raid preparations. It's   a   phrase   used   to   imply   trouble   is   coming.   I   would   say   it,   to   much   amusement   of   the   cast   and   crew,   to   suggest   that   the   recording   of   Crossroads   was falling apart, or at the least, going very - very - wrong! Do you have a favourite storyline? Over   the   years   there   were   so   many   enjoyable   ones.   I   think   more   than   stories   the   domestic   scenes   were   a   joy.   We   often   could   add   to   a   scene   with   a   little light   comedy   thrown   in.      More   seriously,   Hugh's   first   heart   attack   was   a   good   story.   It   was   one   of   the   social   issues   we   would   cover   in   the   show   from   time to time. The producers wanted to show how someone like Hugh could suddenly become ill. We   wanted   to   show   that   having   a   heart   attack   can   with   simple   steps   be   avoided.   The   changes   to   Hugh's   lifestyle   and   taking   active   action   to   help   prevent another   attack   did   a   lot   of   good   in   the   real   world   raising   awareness.   A   lot   of   people   take   notice   of   soap   plots,   more   so   when   it   happens   to   a   character they like. Of course the healthy Hugh didn't last very long, and he later suffered another two.. Jeremy   Sinden   talked   about   how   he   was   forever   in   your   debt   for   helping   him   through   the   heavy   workload   of   Crossroads.   How   did   people   cope   with   such   a gruelling   schedule,   what   was   your   advice?   The   advice   was   very   basic:   To   only   learn   the   script   during   'working   hours'   never   at   weekends   nor   evenings. Simply work hard at learning the script in the time given, and then forget about it after 6pm, otherwise it would take over your life. Judy   Matheson,   who   played   Hugh's   secretary   -   Vicky   Lambert,   spoke   of   how   professional   most   of   the   cast   and   crew   were   on   the   series.   Did   you enjoy your time at ATV's studios? You   had   to   be   professional   on   any   television   programme. Those   who   didn't   take   the   role   seriously   didn't   last   very   long   and   that   kind   of   behaviour   didn't   go down   too   well   with   the   other   cast   members.   Nolly   would   be   quite   direct   if   there   was   anyone   not   pulling   their   weight,   she   would   let   them   know   it   wasn't acceptable. There   were   also   some   very   acclaimed   actors   who   just   couldn't   cope   with   the   schedule   for   Crossroads   and   quit   their   part   after   only   one   or   two episodes. It was very stressful for newcomers to the format. Was there anything you'd have liked Hugh to do, which he didn't get round to doing - kill Meg for example? (as most TV critics would have liked) It   would   have   been   nice   for   Hugh   to   have   a   decent   ending   rather   than   his   demise   being   discussed   over   a   telephone!   I   don't   believe ATV   would   have   been brave   enough   to   kill   off   Meg.   She   was   adored.   Anyone   who   murdered   her   would   never   have   been   able   to   walk   the   streets   again.   The   public   would   have lynched them. How alike are you and Hugh? I   think   Hugh   was   very   different.   I'm   not   very   much   a   gambler   and   I   have   no   flair   for   business.   Hugh   was   very   much   a   tough,   uncompromising   personality   to start with. Over the years I think some of the rough edges were rubbed away and I was able to bring more of myself into the role. New   scriptwriters   were   always   a   problem.   One   may   have   seen   Hugh   as   a   university   graduate,   who   sparkled   with   wit   and   was   clearly   well   educated. Another   may   write   him   as   a   naive   gentleman   with   ambitions,   and   once   the   script   even   had   Hugh   as   a   north   country   "trouble   at   mill"   type,   with   a Yorkshire accent! (laughs) The   public   are   such   sticklers   for   detail. They   noticed   everything.   I   remember   reading   a   script   that   said,   'Hugh   lights   a   cigar'   -   well   of   course,   most   people knew that Hugh Mortimer never smoked, so you had to spot these things and suggest changes. Hugh   did   have   many   sides,   he   was   never   a   cardboard   character,   and   Lord   knows   I   should   know,   I've   played   plenty   of   those!   (laughs)   But   no,   we   were   never really very alike at all. Apart from the humour, we both had a great sense of humour. Hugh being an international businessman had to dress the part. Did ATV help fund his fashionable wardrobe? No,   not   at   first.   We   had   to   use   our   own   clothes.   Luckily   I   did   have   some   smart   suits   that   looked   the   part.   We   were   only   given   clothes   if   something unfortunate   was   going   to   happen   to   them.   Later   on   ATV   would   give   us   a   small   amount   towards   costume   costs,   but   it   really   didn't   cover   the   cost   of   the kind of clothes suited to Hugh. Which actors did you enjoy working with? Roger,   Roger   Tonge   was   an   absolute   pleasure   to   work   with.   So   different   from   Sandy. A   great   joy   and   laugh   to   be   around.   Jeremy   Sinden,   we   worked   well together, and he was also such a gentleman and delight to be in the company of. I treated them both like sons, frankly. Ronnie   Allen,   Nolly   Gordon   and   Jane   Rossington   were   all   very   talented   and   professional,   but   we   did   often   enjoy   moments   of   humour   on   set.   We   were   a happy company. The majority of actors who came into the show were a pleasure to be involved with. Originally the idea was for Hugh and Meg to marry in Australia - do you know why they didn't? ATV refused to give Crossroads the production money to visit Australia! I also don't like to fly, so that was another issue to take into account. What are your memories of the wedding day when virtually the whole of the West Midlands gathered outside Birmingham Cathedral? It   was   lovely   to   play   a   tough,   ruthless   and   gritty   businessman.   Yet   the   other   side   of   the   coin   was   this   warm   gentleman   who   had   moments   of   pleasure   and affection. I think the viewers warmed to the Meg and Hugh relationship almost instantly. They   followed   the   on-off   romance   for   actually   ten   years,   so   when   the   wedding   finally   happened   the   whole   nation   seemed   to   get   wrapped   up   in   it   all. ATV announced   on   air   that   viewers   could   attend   the   wedding!   I   don't   think ATV   or   Birmingham   were   quite   prepared   for   every   Crossroads   viewer   descending   on the   City.   (laughs)   The   streets   were   full   of   fans   from   the   registry   office   down   to   the   Cathedral.   An   amazing   sight,   and   I   don't   believe   any   other   soap   has commanded such a large following of dedicated fans. Some   of   the   cast   simply   vanished   from   Crossroads,   however   Hugh   was   written   out   with   a   rather   bizarre   '   International   terrorist   plot'   and   we   didn't even get to see it! What did you make of all that? In one word; ridiculous. Was it your idea to leave the series? How did you feel about leaving? It   wasn't   my   choice   to   leave,   I   was   sent   a   letter   from   the   Producer   Jack   Barton   who   informed   me   they   had   taken   Hugh   as   far   as   they   could   and   he wouldn't   be   coming   back   from   Australia.   Not   even   a   phone   call,   it   was   all   done   in   a   bog   standard   letter.   Twelve   years   commitment   to   the   show   was merely worth only that. Whose decision was it for Hugh to be killed and had he not have been would you ever have gone back? I   had   no   say   in   the   story   lines   concerning   Hugh's   demise.   It   would   have   been   nice   to   have   been   consulted.   If   the   stories   had   stayed   interesting   I   would have continued with the series. The Crossroads scripts were always interesting as week by week we never knew what was going to happen next. It   was   very   much   loved   by   the   majority   of   the   television   viewing   public,   yet   the   press   knocked   it,   why   do   you   think   the   audience   loved   it   yet Crossroads was hated by the industry and press? The   press   may   have   disliked   us   because   Crossroads   was   not   very   British   in   production   style   or   values.   ATV   originally   boasted   that   we   were   using   an American   idea   and   format. The   press,   I   think,   didn't   like   that   at   all.   But   of   course   the   things   they   mocked   happened   in   every   other   programme   of   the   era too. Every "as live" programme had the same problems and mistakes. I don't know why we were singled out from the rest. The   fans   liked   the   show,   again   in   my   opinion,   because   you   never   as   a   viewer   knew   what   was   going   to   happen   next.   We   could   go   from   a   highly   dramatic moment   in   the   motel   office   to   a   down   to   earth   family   issue   on   the   farm.   Also   the   lovely   throw   away   comedy   sequences,   viewers   liked   a   little   light   and shade.   I   do   feel   that   combination   gave   us   an   edge   over   our   competitors.   Crossroads   went   to   air   at   teatime.   I   have   no   doubt   at   all   had   it   aired   at   seven o'clock   or   seven   thirty   it   would   have   been   the   number   one   soap   opera.   A   teatime   production   reaching   prime   time   evening   ratings,   the   press   rarely reported any of that! What made Crossroads popular in your eyes? A   number   of   factors   contributed   to   its   success   I   believe.   Firstly,   the   fact   the   show   aired   four   or   five   times   a   week.   This   gave   us   a   chance   to   be   welcomed into   people's   homes   more   often. They   made   us   part   of   their   family. Also   the   love/hate   syndrome.   People   will   support   the   characters   they   love   to   see,   but in   the   same   token   they   will   also   fiercely   hate   others.   Someone   may   have   watched   Crossroads   just   for   one   storyline   or   one   individual   character.   Some even watched just to see what was happening with someone they loathed. What was Noele Gordon like to work with? Wonderful,   we   were   great   friends   for   many   years   and   of   course   it   was   all   thanks   to   Noele   that   I   got   the   part   on   Crossroads.   Sadly   we   did   in   later   years   fall out over a very silly argument over nothing really, which is a great shame. She was a lovely lady. In 1981 when Noele was sacked, what did you make of the whole situation? Did you ever speak to her after you left the series? I   was   surprised,   it   was   clearly   done   to   end   Crossroads.   There   couldn't   possibly   be   any   other   reason.   She   had   been   'the   most   popular   female   on   television' in   one   award   or   another   for   over   a   decade.   I   didn't   speak   to   her   about   it,   I   did   however   speak   to   the   press   at   the   time   who   were   in   a   frenzy   over   the whole   issue.   I   believe   her   sacking   had   more   newspaper   coverage   than   the   Pope   being   shot!   (It   should   be   noted   John   would   like   to   make   it   clear   that   a   lot of his ‘quotes’ in the press were mis-quoted or even made up, many being turned very negative about Noele.) What sort of reaction did you get from the public about Hugh? That depended entirely oh how Hugh had treated Meg in the series! People seemed to have a problem of separating fact from the fiction. I   recall   one   point   Hugh   was   very   popular   with   the   fans   and   a   certain   gentleman   engaged   me   for   a   couple   of   nights   cabaret   work   in   Birmingham.   He   didn't seem interested whether I could actually sing or do a turn, he simply hired me because Hugh was popular and would fill the club. It   was   all   going   well,   with   further   bookings.   Until   one   day   the   phone   rang,   the   promoter   said   he'd   have   to   cancel   my   cabaret   bookings.   It   seems   in   the series   Hugh   had   "done   the   dirty"   on   Meg   and   the   audience   were   furious   with   him.   I   persuaded   the   promoter   that   the   event   was   still   worth   doing,   as people would know the difference between Hugh Mortimer and John Bentley. Come   the   night   of   the   cabaret,   the   greeting   to   yours   truly   was   incredible   -   for   all   the   wrong   reasons!   I   stepped   out   onto   the   stage   to   be   greeted   with jeers   and   very   loud   booing.   It   was   petrifying   at   the   time,   but   it   does   show   the   power   of   Crossroads.   I   won   the   audience   over   in   the   end,   although   how   I don't know. (laughs) Crossroads   has   now   found   a   whole   new   generation   of   fans   through   the   DVDs,   what   do   you   make   of   the   fact   Hugh   is   now   reaching   a   whole   new audience 30 years later? The   DVDs   are   wonderful.   People   seem   to   remember   Hugh.   Even   young   people,   if   I   was   out   in   the   garden   or   such,   they   would   know   who   I   was,   "Look   it's Hugh!" Amazing really. Of course this even long before the DVDs were released. How would you sum up your time on Crossroads? The   challenge   of   "as   live"   television   was   immense. Thrilling   and   very   hard   work.   But   a   joy   and   delight,   thankfully   because   we   had   such   a   wonderful   group of people who formed part of that Crossroads team on and off the screen. Hugh has become one of the cult characters from the soap, do you have a message for his many new and old fans who still enjoy watching him? All my best wishes to the fans for the support they have given us as cast, and for the loyalty they have shown the programme too.
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