William   took   over   as   producer   of   Crossroads   from   Phillip Bowman   in   the   autumn   of   1986   and   stayed   with   it   until   its demise in April 1988. Can   you   tell   us   a   little   bit   about   your   life   before   soap   and how you got into the business? I   was   a   newspaper   journalist,   then   a   BBC   journalist   at   Pebble Mill.   I   started   writing   historical   plays   for   radio,   then   went   as a   TV   script   editor   with   English   Regions   Drama,   also   at   Pebble   Mill.   There   I   was   approached   by   The Archers,   who   were   looking   for   a   writer. After   writing   for the programme for 3 years or so, I was offered the job of producer. You   were   credited   for   turning   around   the   fortunes   of   the   BBC   Radio-soap,   The   Archers.   Was   it   a   difficult   decision   to   leave   that   programme   after such a lengthy and successful spell and move over to Crossroads? Central's   Drama   controller   approached   me   about   Crossroads   before   Phillip   Bowman   was   appointed,   but   I   was   very   wary.   Ted   wanted   me   to   improve   the quality   of   Crossroads   and   thus   restore   its   fortunes.   I   said   that   with   The Archers,   I   had   taken   on   what   was   basically   a   Radio   2   (old   light   programme)   show that was being broadcast to a Radio 4 audience that would welcome and appreciate something different. I saw Crossroads as a far more difficult job. Here   you   had   a   programme   that   was   self-evidently   satisfying   a   large   and   devoted   audience,   but   that   was   regarded   by   the   press   and   public   and   every comedian in the world as being a low-quality ham-fisted joke. If   you   changed   it,   you   would   inevitably   offend   loyal   viewers   but   the   press   and   world   at   large   wouldn't   notice   because   they   didn't   actually   watch   the programme. So Ted   went   and   offered   the   job   to   Phillip.   Eventually   he   came   back   to   me.   He   said   the   "revamp"   hadn't   done   what   they   hoped,   and   he   offered   me   the   job of   Executive   Producer   Drama   Serials,   which   would   include   other   programmes   as   well   as   Crossroads.   But   it   was   Crossroads   they   wanted   me   for,   and   in   truth Crossroads was the programme that interested me. It wasn't a difficult decision in the end. It was a huge opportunity. When   you   first   took   over   as   producer   of   Crossroads   the   programme   had   already   underwent   a   quite   recent   huge   revamp.   How   did   you   assess   the situation when you took over and what did you feel were the main challenges? As   above,   the   same   challenge   as The Archers   but   more   difficult. The   task   was   to   get   the   scripts   right,   get   the   production   right,   and   then   -   most   difficult   of all - to persuade the press that it was indeed a different programme. What changes were you asked to make to the programme by Central, and which were your own choices? Central   were   unhappy   at   being   the   ITV   company   that   made   the   serial   drama   with   the   lowest   reputation,   and   which   attracted   an   audience   in   the   lower social groupings, which meant that advertisers would pay less to advertise in the Crossroads commercial break than in the Coronation Street break. They   gave   me   a   free   hand,   on   the   understanding   that   I   would   move   the   programme   "upmarket"   so   that   it   would   attract   the   A,B,C   (I   think)   type   viewers (sorry I can't be more explicit, advertising isn't my field) that were happy to watch Coronation Street. The   replacing   of   the   Tony   Hatch   theme   tune.   How   did   you   feel   about   that?   Did   you   see   Kings   Oak   eventually   becoming   a   totally   new   programme   - without the hotel? I   thought   a   change   of   name,   theme   music,   and   titles   was   -   by   this   time   -   the   only   way   to   stop   the   programme   from   being   unfairly   and   continuously dismissed   as   rubbish   by   people   who   did   not   even   watch   it.   The   plan   was   to   broaden   the   story   out,   so   that   it   became   the   story   of   an   English   village   in   the Midlands,   with   typical,   recognisable   Midlanders   as   characters,   a   hotel   (motel),   a   shop,   and   a   pub.   Kings   Oak   is   an   excellent   name.   I   wanted   the programme   to   genuinely,   carefully,   and   humorously   portray   the   life   in   a   village   south   of   Birmingham   -   in   the   way   that   Coronation   Street   was   always   proud to be a story of life in a Lancashire cotton town. I   believed   that   Crossroads   suffered   (and   had   always   suffered)   from   a   very   basic   structural   fault   that   had   over   many   years   made   it   difficult   to   produce drama   of   high   quality.   The   basic   fact   about   any   soap   opera   is   that   it   gobbles   up   stories   at   a   tremendous   rate.   This   can   only   be   done   realistically   if   you have a number of  individual homes (really just settings for individual stories) and a place where the people can meet when you want them to meet. Thus   characters   from   house   1   can   be   involved   in   a   bitter   divorce,   characters   from   house   2   a   comedy   story,   and   house   3   a   romance.   When   these   stories have   run   their   course   you   can   move   into   stories   involving   houses   4   5   and   6.   The   characters   can   fade   to   the   background   naturally   if   you   want   them   to. Story can be clear. When people meet it is because you want them to meet, and they can meet in a place (pub, shop) where conversation is natural. Setting   everything   in,   and   involving,   a   hotel   makes   everything   so   much   more   difficult,   and   so   much   more   forced.   When   I   took   over   Crossroads   there   was   a writer   on   the   team   who   also   wrote   for   Coronation   Street.   At   the   first   script   meeting   she   said   she   was   always   puzzled   because   the   scenes   she   wrote   for Coronation   Street   came   over   as   strong   realistic   drama,   but   the   stuff   she   wrote   for   Crossroads   always   sounded   embarrassing,   awful   and   clunky   -   but   she was   the   same   writer,   producing   the   same   dialogue.     A   major   reason   for   this,   I   believed,   was   that   the   hotel   reception   was   the   biggest   set   and   an   enormous number of scenes were set in it. But   in   real   life   hotel   staff   do   not   hang   around   the   hotel   lobby   having   arguments,   chats,   romances,   tiffs.   So   every   conversation   is   unnatural   and   forced. The first thing I did was cut the reception set in half, and build a staff restroom. Another   reason   was   the   appalling   standards   of   production   at   Central.   Coming   from   BBC   Pebble   Mill   I   was   shocked   by   studio   practices. An   example: Actors on   a   set   often   have   to   say   lines   -      dramatic,   passionate,   emotional   lines   perhaps   -   addressed   to   another   character   but   in   truth   looking   out   into   the darkness   of   the   studio   with   the   various   technicians   doing   their   business.   At   the   BBC   every   crew   member   in   the   actor's   "eye   line"   would   know   to   remain quiet   and   still,   to   avoid   distracting   the   actor.   On   Crossroads   the   technicians   would   chat   to   each   other   about   Villa's   prospects   on   Saturday. At   the   BBC   even the most junior member of the crew knew never to wear hard-soled shoes in the studio. On the Crossroads set they had no such rule. The   first   thing   I   did   when   we   took   Jupiter   Moon   to   Central   was   to   have   be   big   notice   placed   outside   the   studio   door,   reminding   all   crew   of   professional studio discipline. Can you sympathise at all with the long-term fans of the programme who felt all the changes made during the 1980s were un-needed? The   trouble   is   that   Crossroad   DID   have   an   awful   reputation   for   quality   of   both   scripts,   acting,   and   production.   It   is   the   people   who   let   it   get   this reputation (ATV presumably) who ought to be blamed. Crossroads   was   axed   months   before   the   Kings   Oak   idea   actually   launched.   The   ratings   after   the   1987   revamp   actually   started   to   rise,   and   the targets Central had wanted for the show were met. Why do you think when the show was actually starting to become a success again it was axed? It's   certainly   true   that   I   was   brought   from   the   BBC   in   order   to   "relaunch"   the   programme   as   Kings   Oak,   with   new   titles,   a   new   theme   tune,   and   a   team   of top writers - and then the programme was killed off before the "relaunch" had actually happened. It's   also   true   that   despite   all   the   changes   by   Phillip,   and   then   the   even   more   drastic   changes   that   I   made,   the   programme   was   always   more   popular   than Emmerdale.   I   think   we   were   no   4   in   the   ITV   top   ten   in   the   week   we   were   axed.   I   think   it   was   succeeding   because   the   structure   was   better,   the   new characters   were   better   (and   better   acted)   than   those   they   replaced,   and   because   there   was   much   more   humour   in   the   programme.   But   I   would   say   all this, wouldn't I? I   know   little   of   why   it   was   axed.   We   had   just   been   promised   a   weekend   omnibus,   as   I   recall.   The   view   in   Central   was   that   Andy   Allan   surrendered   the Crossroads   slot   in   return   for   other   slots   that   he   badly   wanted.   When   we   talked,   afterwards,   he   said,   "Let's   face   it,   Crossroads   was   never   going   to   win   any awards". There was a belief that he was so busy with other things that he was only dimly aware of the changes that were in the pipeline. There   are   some   fans   who   think   Crossroads   would   have   been   fine   if   it   hadn't   undergone   so   many   changes   in   such   a   short   time,   do   you   think   time   was the main problem, and had all the revamps happened over a longer period the soap might have survived? As   I   said   above,   I   think   the   problem   went   back   over   many   years.   Why   did   Coronation   Street   have   such   a   fine   reputation,   and   Crossroads   such   a   poor reputation?   These   things   don't   happen   by   accident,   or   by   act   of   God.      Granada   took   pride,   over   years,   in   ensuring   that   Coronation   Street   had   fine   writers and   high   production   standards.   Yorkshire   fiercely   defended   Emmerdale,   and   has   spent   decades   trying   to   overtake   Coronation   Street.   Nobody   at ATV,   or   at Central before Ted Childs came along as drama chief, cared about Crossroads. It is said that crossroads was never looked on favourably by the "powers that be". Do you think this is true and if so, why? I   think   I've   probably   answered   this.   In   the   end   Central   were   embarrassed   by   the   programme.   It   had   to   be   changed,   drastically,   or   be   axed.   What   I   didn't expect   was   that   they'd   bring   me   in   to   do   the   drastic   change   and   then   axe   it   before   the   change   came   into   effect.   It   wasn't   Ted   Childs'   fault.   He   was   as shocked as I was - he had brought me to Central in good faith. What would you say were the highpoints of your time as producer? Which things did you think were most successful? I   thought   the   new   characters,   and   the   stories,   were   working   as   I   had   hoped.   I   thought   we   had   pulled   off   many   changes   and   kept   the   audience   with   us,   and could   go   forward   to   build   a   new   audience.   I   thought   that   we   were   producing   a   programme   with   better   scripts   and   better   acting   that   Coronation   Street   or EastEnders. Were there any changes you had planned, but sadly didn't get round to doing? Sending Benny off forever to work at the donkey sanctuary... I believe you knew Jack Barton through staying at the same boarding house in the early 1980s. Can you tell us a little about him? I   didn't   really   know   Jack.   He   was   clearly   a   very   successful   producer,   and   delivered   huge   audiences.   But   I'm   sure   you   know   far   better   than   I   the   story   of Crossroads relative decline in audience terms and reputation. Most   fans   seem   to   believe   Central   didn't   want   Crossroads,   so   why   do   you   think   the   press   decided   to   blame   you   rather   than   the   man   who   actually axed it, Andy Allan? Because   I   was   the   name   the   public   knew   -   and   the   tabloids   had   been   running   stories   for   months   -   "Butcher   Bill"   -   "Barmy   Bill"   -   so   I   was   obviously   the   one to   blame.   I   benefited   from   a   similar   situation   at   the   BBC   -   it   was   the   programme   head   Jock   Gallagher   who   battled   to   keep The Archers   from   being   axed   in the mid seventies - but I was the one who got the credit when it emerged as a success in the Eighties. There   was   reportedly   three   endings   recorded   for   those   final   moments   of   the   last-ever   edition.   At   the   time   the   whole   period   was   surrounded   in secrecy. Can you tell us more of those 'alternative' endings? I think this was all press invention. What did you think when you heard that Crossroads was being revived in 2000? Did you feel that it ever had any chance of success? No,   I   didn't   think   it   had   any   chance.   It   was   nostalgia   and   yearning   for   those   millions   of   viewers   that   Andy   Allan   so   lightly   chucked   away.   Andy   himself   is said to have regarded killing off Crossroads as his biggest mistake. After   Crossroads   you   were   involved   with   many   other   popular   drama   programmes   at   Central,   however   the   only   one   to   gain   a   cult   following   is   Jupiter Moon. Can you tell us about that show which you created for BSB? British   Satellite   Broadcasting   were   starting   up   and   looking   for   a   new   soap   opera.   Numerous   television   companies   were   in   the   running   to   make   it,   dozens   of ideas   were   being   sweated   over. At   Central Television   I   put   together   a   long,   detailed   proposal.   When   I   sent   it   off   I   added,   for   luck,   a   second   idea   for   a   sci   fi series that didn't even fill one side of A4 paper - I called it: "Voyage Of The Ilea" "The loves, passions, and courage of the students and crew of a space polytechnic as it ventures through the universe in search of scientific discoveries" John   Gau   of   BSB   wrote   back   and   said   that   he   loved   it.   When   we   met   he   asked   why   the   ship   was   called   the   Ilea.   I   said   that   in   a   dark   dream   I   had   imagined Ken   Livingstone   as   a   senior   statesman,   naming   the   first   European   space   polytechnic   in   honour   of   the   Inner   London   Education Authority,   so   cruelly   killed   by Mrs Thatcher. John Gau said that the programme was a great idea and commissioned 150 episodes with a budget £6m. Dr   Bob   Parkinson   of   British Aerospace   designed   the   spaceship   and   it   was   built   in   the   Birmingham   television   studio   that   had,   until   recently,   been   occupied by   Crossroads.   "Beam   me   up,   Benny"   a   Daily   Star   headline   had   once   said,   reporting   that   Benny   was   an   alien.   Now   it   had   come   to   pass   -   a   spaceship   landing on the motel. The spaceship set was the only accurately-scaled prototype of a spaceship interior in the world. NASA had a design on paper, but ours was the only reality. IBM offered to build the ship's computer, but pulled out because we wouldn't agree that it would not crash if attacked by space monsters. What would people wear in 2050? The future was Katherine Hamnett and John Paul Gaultier, we decided, buying up entire collections. The   special   effects   were   shot   in   Prague,   where   the   Ilea   model   was   5   metres   long.   The   superb   music   score   by   Alan   Parker   was   recorded   by   the   Prague Symphony   Orchestra.   It   was   chaotic,   not   least   because   the   Czechs   were   in   the   middle   of   a   revolution.   As   the   Ilea   sailed   through   space   at   Barrandov studios,   students   in   the   centre   of   Prague   were   raising   the   Czech   flag   over   the   statue   of   King   Wenceslas.   Communism   fell   while   the   Ilea   battled   in   space with the pirate ship Santa Maria. Our leading sci-fi writer was Ben Aaronovich, one of the very best Dr Who writers, who came in with some superb storylines and scripts. Some   of   the   writers   had   worked   on   Radio   4's   The   Archers.   They   were   daunted   by   the   lack   of   countryside.   While   the   sci-fi   team   wrote   stories   about computers   programmed   to   murder,   and   dangerous   missions   to   volcanic   moons,   they   wrote   a   gentle   story   about   a   hamster,   and   another   one   about   a   donkey sanctuary. The   series   sold   for   £2m   to   Germany,   and   we   cast   a   German   actor   to   play   a   young   space-criminal,   but   when   the   actor   came   to   Birmingham   he   didn't   like   it and   flew   straight   back   to   Munich.   A   promising,   keen   young   actor,   Jason   Durr,   was   called   up   from   London.   He   had   to   learn   his   lines,   manage   without rehearsal, have his hair crew-cut and died yellow, and perform the next day. To add to his problems we forgot to book him into a hotel. Most   of   the   cast   were   young,   inexperienced,   and   amazed   to   find   themselves   sometimes   earning   over   £1,000   a   week.   Several,   like   Jason,   have   gone   on   to great   success.   Anna   Chancellor,   now   seen   in   prestigious   dramas   like   Four   Weddings   and   a   Funeral      and   Tipping   the   Velvet   auditioned   with   a   terrible   cold and   high   temperature,   went   back   home   to   bed,   and   was   immediately   summoned   back   across   London   in   the   rush   hour   to   give   a   second,   brilliant performance as cool, lovely Mercedes Page, space navigator extraordinaire. Faye   Masterson,   now   starring   in   US   sci-fi   films   having   been   cast   in   a   major   role   by   Mel   Gibson,   was   only   16   when   she   came   to   Birmingham   to   play   new   Ilea student   Gabrielle.   Lucy   Benjamin,   who   has   found   fame   in   EastEnders,   said   the   first   line   of   episode   1   of   Jupiter   Moon   and   almost   the   last   line   of   episode 150. Nick Moran, star of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels came in to play the character Zadoc. Providing   names   for   characters   was   always   tricky   -   what   will   be   the   in-names   of   2050?   Phillipe   Gervaise   was   named   after   a   chap   called   Ricky,   who   was   the boyfriend of the associate producer. We thought we'd blow a little of the stardust of fame over him. Jupiter Moon has been called "The Crossroads Motel in space!" How do you take to such remarks? I didn't know it had been called that, but I don't mind. Can you tell us a little about what you're up to now in 2004? We've   got   a   35ft   motor   cruiser   and      my   main   interest   is   in   planning   (the   doing)      voyages   back   and   forth   across   the   Channel,   and   through   the   French   canals. My   last   bit   of   writing   was   a   one-man   play   for   Richard   Derrington   (star   of   Jupiter   Moon)   called   Shakespeare's   Other   Anne   and   a   new   edition   of   my   book Writing for Television is coming out in February.
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