Last updated on January 30th, 2023 at 10:27 pm
Academy Award-nominated and BAFTA-winning actor Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown, Enola Holmes 1 and 2, The King’s Speech, Harry Potter, Burton and Taylor) stars as Noele (or Nolly to her friends) who was a legend in her own lifetime. As flame-haired widow Meg Richardson in the long-running soap opera Crossroads, she was one of the most famous people in Britain. Then in 1981, at the height of the show’s success and the peak of Nolly’s fame, she was axed without ceremony, without warning and with no explanation. With the boss’s words “all good things must come to an end” ringing in her ears, Noele Gordon found herself thrown out of the show that was her life for over 18 years.
Augustus Prew (The Morning Show, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power) stars as Tony Adams, Nolly’s Crossroads co-star, devoted friend, confidante, and her occasional chauffer. Emmy and BAFTA-winner Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, League of Gentleman, Doctor Who) stars as inimitable entertainer Larry Grayson, who also shared a close and enduring friendship with Gordon.
Richard Lintern (Young Wallander, Silent Witness) is Ronnie Allen, who played Crossroads’ suave hotel manager David Hunter. Antonia Bernath (Downton Abbey, Dickensian) is Jane Rossington, who starred in Crossroads as Jill Richardson, Meg’s daughter. Clare Foster (The Crown, The Ex Wife) is Sue Lloyd, who played Barbara, wife of hotel manager David. Chloe Harris (Sherwood, The Spanish Princess) is Susan Hanson, who played Crossroads fan favourite Miss Diane. Lloyd Griffith (Ted Lasso, It’s A Sin) is Paul Henry, who for over a decade played Crossroads’ handyman Benny. Bethany Antonia (House of the Dragon, Stay Close, Get Even) stars as Poppy Ngomo, a young actor thrown into the world of Crossroads.
Con O’Neill (Happy Valley, Uncle) also stars as Jack Barton, producer of Crossroads, with Tim Wallers (The Windsors, Belgravia) playing Barton’s boss, and ATV’s Controller of Programming, Charles Denton.
Nolly is a bold exploration of how the establishment turns on women who refuse to play by the rules, the women it cannot understand and the women it fears. And it is a love letter to a legend of television, and to the madcap soap she starred in, Nolly is an outrageously fun and wildly entertaining ride through Noele Gordon’s most tumultuous years, and a sharp, affectionate and heart-breaking portrait of a forgotten icon.
The director is BAFTA-winner Peter Hoar (It’s A Sin, The Last of Us, The Umbrella Academy). ITV’s Head of Drama, Polly Hill, will oversee production of the drama from the channel’s perspective. The series is executive produced by Nicola Shindler (It’s A Sin, Ridley Road, Stay Close, Happy Valley, Finding Alice, Queer as Folk), Russell T Davies and Peter Hoar. Series producer is BAFTA-winner Karen Lewis (The Salisbury Poisonings, Years and Years). The series will be produced by Quay Street Productions, the first drama under Nicola Shindler’s new production banner with ITV Studios.
An interview with Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Noele Gordon
Please tell us, in a nutshell, what Nolly is about.
It tells the story of the sacking of Noele Gordon, the eponymous heroine of our series whose nickname was ‘Nolly’. She was the lead actress in a hugely popular British soap opera called Crossroads from 1964 to 1981, when she was abruptly and without warning, sacked very brutally and suddenly, and people never really knew why and nor did she. Russell thought she was treated appallingly and wanted to bring her back into people’s minds and give her the send-off she deserved.
Were you aware of Noele Gordon as a person before taking on the role? And did you watch Crossroads?
I was very familiar with Crossroads given my age, I’m 56, but I don’t think we actually watched it regularly. It was just like a permanent wallpaper on in the background as I was growing up. So, I was aware of it, but I wasn’t a follower of the series. I didn’t remember Noele other than a dim memory of a redheaded woman who owned the Motel. Although I didn’t know exactly what a motel was!
Did you do much research in preparing for the role? If you had to describe Nolly now, as a person, how would you? What made her tick?
I’ve got files and files on the woman! She was fantastically multifaceted. She wasn’t easy, she didn’t suffer fools, so I can she might have put peoples backs up. I spent a long time, as I tend to with every part, un-earthing, excavating and going in search of her. Mostly because I’m terrified that I won’t get it right. I read her autobiography, which is a hilarious read! I spoke to all her friends, who were incredibly generous and that was very telling, because they really loved her. Tony Adams and Susan Hanson in particular, and also Liz Stern, who was stage manager. They said she was somebody who had formidable opinions, was a formidable character, but also had a huge heart. She was a dedicated professional – and she ran the ship! She was an incredibly nuanced person and that was fun to play. One particular ingredient that I enjoyed was how she and ‘Meg Mortimer’
got confused and rolled into one.
What I also loved about Nolly, which we have in common, is that we both love singing and singing old show tunes. There’s part of me that would have loved to be like Nolly, an old musical actress, but I’ve not got a great voice, or the legs, frankly. Stephen Sondheim had just died when I was beginning to prep for the show, and I just thought what great confluence it was that I could sing him again via Noele with Gypsy, (although there was a scary moment when we thought we might not get the rights)…. I met him when I had the honour to do a film of Sweeney Todd all those years ago – a highlight of my own life.
I did have an army of people around me to help me find Nolly in physical ways, like Polly Bennett who’s a brilliant movement coach who I first met on The Crown. In fact at first look I thought that she’s got the same armour and uniform in a way as Princess Margaret did with the fur coat and the cigarette in The Crown.
Although she wasn’t posh, she had that grandeur. She loved being referred to as the Queen of the Midlands. Neil Swain, my voice coach, helped me with Noele’s huge vocal muscularity. I’m pretty lazy as a speaker and although Noele was originally from West Ham London, she went to Rada aged 15 and spoke RP with a theatrical relish and a persistent upward inflection at the end of lines that she could have possibly picked up in America but which also discouraged people interrupting her! He gave me all these gifts to play with.
I’m a total Noel Gordon nerd. If I did Mastermind I’d do Noele Gordon as my specialist subject, whereas this time last year I would barely have known who she was.
What attracted you to the role?
I love any character that has got many colours to play. I think Russell’s script was a gift frankly…and a gift of a part. It was so clearly written; unlike a lot of screenwriters, he writes idiomatically for character. She fizzed off the page. The first thing I did was watch her appearance on The Russell Harty Show on YouTube. She comes on and sings ‘Some People’ with such defiance, given that that was the night her last episode aired. The interview has a wow factor. She’s just so un-flinchingly honest. Unflinchingly direct and unembarrassed, incredibly courageous and unafraid. She tells it how it is, and she doesn’t let them get away with the treatment of her. I found her ferocity, her sheer spirit, really inspiring and hilarious too. She’s a powerful woman. For a woman that was forced to retire there was nothing remotely retiring about her as a personality.
If you gave the same attributes to a man: forceful, opinionated, bossy, knew what they wanted, told everyone what to do…Would it have been the same sort of problem? I don’t think so. In a woman, that really narked people off. She was indomitable and unapologetic. I think many of the men who ran the show were terrified of her and threatened by her!
Nolly is a powerful woman in a very male dominated world. The show is set in the early 80s, but would you say that there are resonances with what’s going on in today’s world?
We are making progress, but there’s still chronic ageism, isn’t there? Our appearance is constantly a factor. Why should it be a factor? Just because we haven’t got the bouncy collagen cheeks it doesn’t mean that we’re any less valid. At 61, she was in her prime. And sacked.
Nolly is also a bit of a MeToo story, but without the sex. It’s men in offices in suits deciding on what women should be doing, what they should be like, as Nolly says in the show… In light of Roe versus Wade, it is extraordinary how backwards some parts of the world are going or choosing to go. Maybe they’re terrified of the consequences of giving women too much power or just having an equal playing field… There’s a scene where Nolly rails against ‘those men’ that really encapsulates a lot of the anger that women feel as strongly today as then. If you think about it, she was sacked professionally and emotionally, (her lover Val Parnell dumped her after 20 years when she was 41). I think she had a huge problem with the way she had been treated by men.
One of my favourite parts of the whole piece is what she says about the single women – “the silent army of women with no name”. If you’re a woman, and you don’t have a husband, or you don’t have children, basically, if you’re not defined by a man, then society doesn’t know who you are, and you’re immediately regarded as in some way having failed.
The other side to the series Nolly is, it’s really good fun. How was it for you treading both sides of drama and comedy?
It’s hilarious and unbelievable. As Russell said, everything that happens in the show is all true, which is completely bonkers! Such as when they’re all trying to find out how she’s going be killed off is completely farcical and absurd, but it’s absolutely true! No one told the cast anything, let alone Noele and then finally she’s sent off the QE2…The absurdity of the storylines was hilarious.
The comedy is in the writing, it was like a brilliant map on the page; we just had to follow it, with the guidance of Peter. The key to why it was such a happy shoot is that Nicola, Peter and Russell worked together on It’s A Sin, so a trust had already been established. They are a brilliant Triumvirate.
I did ever so often throw in a Nolly-style ‘shut the fuck up!’… When the whole “Crossroads” cast was on it was sometimes like a cocktail party without the alcohol, and I needed a bit of quiet to concentrate. It’s quite useful, Nolly popped out every so often. I’m sorry -‘It’s Nolly’ I would say. I got away with being right bossy at times
The drama is set almost 40 years ago, but do you think there’s anything that will particularly attract younger audiences? What do you think those who may never have seen Crossroads might be able to get from watching the show?
It’s still about lots of things that happen now. It’s a story of betrayal. You don’t need to have been familiar with the show for it to resonate with you thematically. I think for the older audiences, they’ll love to be reminded of these characters that they had huge affection for and hopefully watching it will create a nostalgic bubble of happy in them.
It looks beautiful as well. People have a notion of Crossroads being cheap and tacky, but this series is anything but…
It’s beautiful. Our reaction when we actually walked on the Crossroads motel set was total enchantment. You know, I did think ‘Ugh, beige Crossroads’ and everyone does say ‘Ugh, you’re re-doing Crossroads?!’ But then when we actually came to do the Crossroads scenes, it was like walking into playschool. It was all really bright colours and such fun, and it just brought the inner child out. Russell was so excited too. We all launched ourselves to the reception and grabbed the phone. There’s something so immediately enchanting about it. As you say, it’s nostalgia and stepping back into a time that’s gone. Rose-tinted spectacles, not beige-tinted!
Russell’s talked about the show being his love letter to television. What do you think makes TV such a special medium for people?
I think it is sometimes how people experience the world, through that little box. It is a magic box and you can travel anywhere and everywhere, back in time and forward in time like Doctor Who himself! It is a magical place and a magical thing to have. TV can be accessible to everyone and you can go anywhere on it. It’s an “empathy box” and it’s a connector for people too, as the loneliness of people in the world is escalating.
There’s a beautiful relationship at the heart of the show between Nolly and Tony [Adams] and it’s quite unusual. You don’t often see that sort of relationship on TV?
I think it’s very original. They were a huge support to each other and were there for each other, but it was a completely individual, unique relationship. He speaks with such love for her, but he doesn’t whitewash her. He was her co-star, tenant, driver, you name it! He had such fun with her and yes, among other things, it is a of love story between them.
And how was it working with Augustus Prew who plays Tony?
Augie is one of the world’s wonders really, with his energy and immediacy. He’s an amazingly vivid, proper Duracell Bunny type of a person. Hilarious and brilliant. Sometimes I had to tell him to shut up because he did talk a lot and he is very excitable, but we had real fun together. He’s perceptive and vulnerable and great company. A lot of the things we were doing were crazy. I mean, that first week or the second week, it was as absurd as Crossroads. We were filming in Bolton which was standing in for Thailand at two o’clock in the morning. Bolton was Bangkok! When three hours earlier round a different corner Bolton was also pretending to be Birmingham.
Is this the first time you’ve worked with Russell? And how was it working with him on the project?
It was a total dream come true. I’ve been a long-time admirer of his and I can’t tell you how indebted you feel when you’re an actor and you get a beautiful piece of writing. I was so chuffed that they thought of me. It was like the best Christmas present ever. And when I met him, I thought “Oh my god, you are like Father Christmas! You’re huge!” I mean, absolutely huge. I would often reach out to him on text and he’d send me great replies (which I don’t think were fake cheerleading…). Our texts, we should just make that into a radio play, ha! We have a whole love affair on my WhatsApp.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the series?
I suppose what Russell wanted was to reintroduce people to this phenomenon. I think Russell, Peter and Nicola did that with It’s A Sin; they really championed the underdog and that whole generation of people who vanished because of AIDS. He’s a champion of the underdog and the people that were forgotten. I know he felt that Nolly deserved better treatment than what she’d received in real life. This is a proper send off. So, for me, personally, I hope it inspires the Nolly within all of us – somebody who won’t go quietly and won’t brook any
mistreatment. Hopefully it’ll make people laugh and also make them cry. At the end of the day, I hope it takes people out of the greyness of their day.
An interview with Russell T Davies, writer
Please tell us, in a nutshell, what Nolly is about.
Nolly is the story of the climactic moment in Noele Gordon’s life when she was sacked from her long-running ITV soap opera Crossroads. She had been the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ and a television star for decades. But in 1981, she was suddenly, ruthlessly and mysteriously sacked overnight. It was done horribly. There was no lunch, there was no dinner, there was no warning. She was very famous, and it was a very public humiliation, and it had always interested me.
What was it about the story that made you want to tell it? What might be revealed that we didn’t know before?
I think the more I work in television and the more I work with actors, the more mysterious that treatment seems. We’ve all seen actors being chucked out of soaps and we’ve all seen people falling from grace, but the very public and ruthless nature of that seemed odder and odder as time went on. I’m also fascinated by the fact that this was a Golden Age of soap opera and in many ways, stories like the sacking of Noele Gordon and the writing out of Meg Mortimer became the template for the great soap stories of the next 20 years, when soaps absolutely ruled the television networks, and life revolved around them to a degree that’s hard to understand these days. It’s also set in 1981, when everything started to change. Business is starting to take over in the entertainment world and rules the roost throughout the 80s. And people suffer as a result.
It’s also the story of a woman in a very masculine industry. Obviously now we’re fascinated by a lot of ‘MeToo’ stories, and while there’s no sexual element to this story, it shows how men treat women in and out of business. I did uncover the chain of events that led to her sacking, that no one else had ever quite seen. There’s no shocks
– I think it’s important to say that there’s no big revelations. We’re not exposing anything about Nolly’s private life. But what I did uncover was the chain of conversations that led to what happened and it’s quite devastating, I think.
Crossroads itself is often a subject of ridicule, but it was massive in its time. Why do you think it was so popular? What made Meg the icon that she was?
I think it’s a very unusual soap opera because it’s based around one person, while most soaps are based around a community. Crossroads really was centred around that motel and the head of the family, and the head of the business, Meg. It’s hard to describe to people now what a star Noele Gordon was. When you talk to people now, everyone remembers watching it with their mum. Everyone remembers sitting down with a plate of chips or a sandwich, having their tea and watching Crossroads. And of course, there were just three channels back then, two channels when it started in the 60s! It was significantly underfunded in comparison to Coronation Street.
Noele Gordon’s autobiography is fascinating the way she keeps sniping at Coronation Street. And she’s got a point, they’re properly paid. Whereas on Crossroads, they had to buy their own clothes! It’s quite astonishing. I used to work at Granada where they made Coronation Street and that company was immensely proud of Coronation Street. But at ATV, Crossroads was treated like a little accident in the back cupboard that just kept
rumbling on. And that resulted famously in moments on screen where the sets would wobble and microphones would fall into shot. And that’s the conditions created by ATV, under which they had to make it. So, I love those people for soldiering on and I think there’s a real bravery to them. And I’m glad to pay tribute to them in this.
What research did you do in prep for the show? Who did you talk to? What did you read?
I had the most fun I’ve ever had, because I got to speak to the entire cast. I spent endless mornings talking to Benny, talking to Miss Diane, talking to Adam Chance. I even went back to the 60s and I spoke to people who’d been on the show then, including an actress called Wendy Padbury, who also played one of Doctor Who’s companions, Zoe. I spoke to floor managers, I spoke to production managers. There’s a very great woman called Dorothy Hobson, who wrote a book about what happened on Crossroads, who happened to be around ATV as a researcher. By chance, she was in the studios in the weeks that Noele was sacked, which was an astonishing place to be. So she was a great source of information.
What was remarkable was how much Noele was loved. And I kept scratching at that, I kept thinking – ‘Am I being told the publicity version? Am I being told anecdotes that have calcified over 25 years? Over 40 years?’ But no, the more I dug into things, the more I discovered that was the absolute truth – she was adored. She could clearly be tough at work; she clearly was very opinionated. Although no one would have blinked twice if that was a man. And when she did lose her temper at work, she very much aimed it upwards at the bosses, not down at the workers on the floor – which is always a great attribute, I think. But she was properly, properly loved.
Nolly was a complex woman, what did you learn about her as a person that you were surprised by?
I had no idea of the breadth of her experience. To me, she was just a soap star. But it turns out she has an extraordinary history. She was the first woman in the world to appear on colour television, put there by John Logie Baird himself, the first woman in Britain to interview a Prime Minister and the first woman to have her own daytime chat show. She was properly a trailblazer, and also a theatre star. She was on stage in the original production of Brigadoon for one thousand performances. It’s amazing to learn what a businesswoman she was as well, that she was actually on the staff of ATV as a producer. She didn’t produce Crossroads, but she did help genuinely to create what became daytime television. She went to New York and studied daytime television in America, she went there for a couple of years and became an expert in it in order to bring all that expertise across here. So, a terribly clever woman. It makes her sacking all the more shocking.
I think men found her hard to define. All they had to define her by was business and success and acting. Which is by no means the whole of your life. And I loved uncovering all those different layers to her, and you get to learn a lot about Nolly at work, but also Nolly at home in this.
The show is set in the 1980s, but it feels like there are a lot of resonances with events today. Why do you think that is?
I think the role of women at work hasn’t changed one speck. I think the way she is treated with indifference and even callousness, it still happens. I know we’ve been through stages of many ‘MeToo’ stories with many millions more of those stories to come. But I think that there are greater stories beyond that. It’s like men don’t just treat women badly in terms of sex. Men treat women badly full-stop. I think we’re tapping into something far more prevalent, which is simply contempt in the workplace. It deals with the contempt and indifference that men show to women. This is also true of any workplace…very few of us work on a soap opera, but most of us work in an office with bosses and favourites and enemies and rivalries and arguments and feuds that run on for decades. So I think there’s a lot of resonance in that sense.
As one of the country’s preeminent TV writers, how was it writing a show about TV for a change?
I started work in soap operas at Granada Television. I worked on children’s soaps like Children’s Ward. I also loved tapping into the great folk memory for this thing. I think that people who have never seen
Crossroads can come along and understand the story, because it’s the story of a queen losing her crown. Whether it’s The Crown on Netflix or Nolly on ITV. But for those who were there, there’s an enormous mythology around these shows.
Nolly is set over 40 years ago; its central character is a woman of a certain age. What do you think younger viewers might be able to take from the show? What do you think will resonate with them?
I’m aware that it’s a very niche story, but actually every story is a niche story. The supernatural events in Hawkins in Stranger Things are very niche, no one’s ever been to that town. The Crown is niche, none of us
belong to the royal family. Every story is a niche. And so with this, you are literally coming to see a classic story of a very powerful person being brought down, and the mystery of why, and how she survives.
This could happen to any of us, we can all have terrible times. I think everyone surely has had a terrible time at work. Everyone has their personal life exposed or under scrutiny at some point, and these days, the notion of public humiliation is becoming very prevalent for all of us. One wrong word online and you can have a pile-on. Whether you’re a social worker, whether you’re a teacher, whether you’re a teenager in a bedroom. Nolly went through that before the invention of social media, when the public platform was television. Everyone gets piled on online these days, she was the first!
We can’t talk about Nolly and the show without talking about Helena Bonham Carter. How was it working with Helena?
What a joy and what an honour and what a laugh! She’s so delightful. It’s one of those situations where people say ‘shall we send the script to Helena Bonham Carter?’ I just kind of rolled my eyes saying, she won’t want to do this, she’s busy making movies! To get an instant yes from her and an instant connection with the character was amazing. In absolute fairness, she was so determined, like all of us, to do Nolly justice. There’s no one left from Nolly’s family, so there’s no one to protect her legacy. I think that made us extra protective, all of us. To take care with her. To be honest, but kind. That’s what Helena’s brought to it. There’s a ruthless honesty. But she captures the joy of her I think too. She fills it with life. It’s just one of my favourite performances ever. I love it.
There’s a brilliant ensemble around Helena as well. Bringing all those real people to life. Tell us a little bit about them.
There was a very strange moment where I went into rehearsals for the first time and I was late. They were already there, they all knew each other and I walked in and there they were, the Crossroads characters! And this was even without costume and without makeup. There was Benny and Miss Diane and David Hunter and Barbara Hunter. I had to have a little 20 seconds to myself, sitting in a chair and not saying anything because it was quite strange. It was like feeling the ground rock beneath my feet because I genuinely love Crossroads. It’s very important to say we never came to take the mickey, that there are no scenes of wobbling walls because that’s just silly. That’s a cheap stand-up comedian gag. We wanted to do it properly and show the hard work that went into it. It’s joyous.
An interview with Mark Gatiss, who plays Larry Grayson
Please tell us, in a nutshell, what Nolly is about.
It’s the story of Noele Gordon (who was the great diva of British soap opera in the 60s, 70s and early 80s) from the time that she lost her job on Crossroads. To anyone of a certain age, it means an awful lot. But to me, the most powerful thing about it is that it’s the story of a queen losing her crown. I don’t think you actually need to know the detail of Crossroads to get the pathos of it, really. And I think that’s the great joy of Russell’s script. It’s very moving and very funny. And if you know Crossroads, it’s extremely fun.
Were you aware of Crossroads and Noele Gordon before taking on the role of Larry Grayson?
Yes, I used to watch it when I was a kid. And obviously Acorn Antiques has made it live on forever. The extraordinary thing is that if you watch the original Crossroads, Acorn Antiques does it a favour! Some of it is barely transmittable, but it’s got such a joyous heart to it. I re-watched Crossroads before I did Nolly. I watched about half a dozen episodes on BritBox and a few clips on YouTube, just to reacquaint myself with the style.
Tell us a little bit about iconic television personality Larry Grayson. Did you undertake much research in preparing for the role?
I loved him when I was younger, particularly from The Generation Game, and it was a real privilege to do this role because I fell in love with him all over again. I watched a documentary about him about four years ago, and I’d forgotten how funny he was. Then he turned out to be Noele Gordon’s best friend. I’d watched loads and loads of tapes to get to get the voice and the mannerisms and everything. There’s very little to his act really, he’s just sort of filthy and looks down the camera slightly down his nose. But he had an amazing quality to communicate with people, and everyone loved him. I remember Russell saying to me when we were filming, “I did wonder if there was a story in Larry, but he was just lovely!”. He had this extraordinary overnight success after 35 years of hard work, had 10 years at the absolute top, and then it just stopped. And that was it. It was it was a real joy to reacquaint myself with him.
Can you tell us about Nolly and Larry’s relationship?
Well, I’m not sure where they met, but they just had an instant rapport. I have to say it’s a very familiar dynamic of a gay man and his best friend. It’s familiar to me and also in showbusiness. Larry and Nolly were inseparable. And people actually thought they were going to get married – in that way that people used to give Jean Alexander, who played Hilda Ogden from Coronation Street, money in the street because she was always a bit short! It’s really remarkable. They were devoted to each other. There’s a wonderful clip where they’re on the Variety Show and they sing a song together, and then she goes off. Larry waits just a second before she’s offstage in the wings, and he says, “She drinks”.
How was it working so closely with Helena Bonham Carter?
It was a joy. We’re almost the same age. I remember I said to her, “this is a very strange moment, because I remember going to see A Room With A View and I was the same age.” I was at college, and I had the poster of the film on my wall, that big blue Florence sky with the shutters open with Helena and Julian Sands [on it]. So now it’s extraordinary to be finally here with her. We really had a great laugh. Nolly used to call him Laz, or so Larry said, so Helena started calling me Laz, and it’s sort of stuck. So, I think we might have resurrected the relationship. Helena’s really terrific. I think the scripts are very funny, but also very moving.
It’s as much a story about “television” isn’t it?
Oh, very much. Russell is a child of television. And it’s a love letter to it. It’s very deep in the British, I think, that love of telly, those personalities and everything that goes alongside it. They had become a kind of royalty, I suppose, at that point when television reached its high-water mark in terms of the number of people who tuned in every week. These people were superstars. So, it’s very resonant. And I think it’s a brilliant commission from ITVX as well to do a story like this. You’d think it might be too niche, but actually, I think that the great triumph of the script is that it can be lots of things at once. On one hand, it’s the story of an actress being fired from a long ago soap, but on a different level it’s a very human story. It reminds me in a way, when I did An Adventure In Space And Time, the story of how Doctor Who was created, I remember saying to someone who didn’t really know much about Doctor Who that this is a human story about a man who gets a part which changes his life, and then he has to give it up. The message is that none of us are indispensable, and you could watch it on that level without knowing anything about the programme, and I think it’s the same for Nolly in a way.
What was it like being reunited with Russell T Davies?
I was so thrilled. I’ve always bumped into Russell at various dos and things but we haven’t worked together since Doctor Who. I was thrilled to be asked, it was such an honour. He managed to come down to visit the set on the day I was there with Helena and Omari Douglas, and we had a such a wonderful laugh. He showed me David Tennant’s regeneration too, so that was a real bonus for me! It was delightful. It’s just so brilliant to see him riding high like this with all of these projects going on. It’s a testament to his talents and his fantastic love for TV.
What was your favourite part about portraying Larry Grayson?
The part I liked the best was the one I was the most nervous about, which was when Nolly comes to see Larry’s show. We’d filmed part of his stand-up show in a theatre in Stockport, with around 150 SA’s. Essentially, it was like doing the quiet matinee of a show. But I loved it. I’ve watched so many bits and pieces [of Larry’s stand-up], so I kept adding little bits of lines that I mopped up from Larry’s act, just to just to make people laugh, and I had such a good time – I thought “I might take this on the road!” It was delightful. That and working with Helena, and I suppose the scene where you see the contrast between the public face and then the private conversation they have in the dressing room, when he says, “What do they think when they look at me?”, because he seems so obviously outrageously gay and yet, all of these people thought they were going to get married. I find it very interesting, that kind of dichotomy.
Do you have a scene you are most looking forward to audiences seeing?
One? Oh no, I’m just looking forward to seeing it all. I did a little bit on the set of Crossroads, but I’m really excited to see the rest of the recreation. I got a photograph at reception of me of the phone so I could say “Crossroads Motel. Can I help you?”
Between Crossroads, The Generation Game and Shut That Door, we truly are looking at the golden age of British television. If you could bring back one show from the 70’s or 80’s, which would it be and why?
Oh, god, that’s difficult. To be honest, it’s always nice to look forward and I always liked the idea of creating new things that people will be nostalgic about in 50 years, you know. But I suppose I’d have to say Follyfoot!
An interview with Augustus Prew, who plays Tony Adams
Please tell us, in a nutshell, what Nolly is about.
Noele Gordon was an icon of British TV, who got forgotten in history because of terrible men. And we’re going to tell you that story.
Were you aware of Crossroads and Noele Gordon before taking on the role of Tony Adams?
I was aware of Crossroads, but only as a sort of punchline to a joke about how bad TV can be. Noele Gordon I had never heard of, which is shocking, because she’s, like, a gay icon! Well, she should be. It’s wild to me that this incredibly powerful woman – the first woman globally – ever! – on colour television, 15 million people would tune into Crossroads every night, she won Best Actress at the TV Times Awards every year, six years in a row and they had to make up a new award for her so that she didn’t keep on winning! How is it that someone can go from that level of cultural relevance to just being completely forgotten by history? I think that’s what I find so compelling about the story. How does that happen? Something profoundly wrong must have happened. So, the short answer is no, I didn’t know who she was initially. But I’m glad I do now.
Tell us a little bit about who Tony Adams was? Did you undertake much research when preparing for the role? Did you ever get to meet him?
I vaguely remembered the reboot of Crossroads, and when I started my research, I realised I’d actually seen him in a production of Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang but I didn’t realise who he was at the time. Research for different roles really depends on what the project is. You have to sometimes be mindful around how much research would actually be helpful, because sometimes it can actually get in the way. For this one I did loads of research because this world is like it’s own little subculture. And I think that’s something that Russell writes really well – he writes these really nuanced, very textured, very colourful, unique subcultures. And he lets us in. I spoke with Mr. Adams twice. He’s so warm and so playful, and so loving, so silly and so caring. He is just full of stories. This man is in his mid-80s, and a lot of the stories that my character tells in the show are direct transcriptions from his own stories. He also has a very specific speech pattern and mannerisms, so I wanted to honour that. He also wrote a biography about his mother’s life and it explains a lot. I think his attachment to powerful women is really, really explained and contextualised by that. So that was helpful in my research too.
Can you tell us about Noele and Tony’s relationship?
I think that in terms of Noele Gordon’s story, Tony is so important. He was her rock. He was her best friend. They were a platonic couple, and on the set of Crossroads they were kind of the power couple. They were the ones who ran the show. I think that’s quite progressive at that time in the early 80s, to have this younger man and an older woman love each other that much. I mean, he would drive her to work every day, he would cook her dinner every night, they would speak on the phone – every night! There are scenes where Helena and I are talking to each other through the window [as Noele & Tony], and that was absolutely true. He used to live on the opposite side of the road to her in an apartment that she got for him, so that they could be together. It was a very unique and specific relationship.
How was it working so closely with Helena Bonham Carter?
It was an immediate love affair. We absolutely loved each other to the point where the execs at the time said, “We didn’t know you guys knew each other so well”, and we were like, “We just met!”. It was such easy fun. Energetically we’re very similar people, and I’ve made a dear friend for life. I have nothing but complete admiration and respect and love for her. She’s so professional and so talented, so magical. I’ll tell you, spending a summer with Helena Bonham Carter is a good time!
For a number of reasons this show feels particularly timely and resonant. Would you agree?
And I think that’s something that’s going to resonate intensely, particularly with what’s going on in the UK right now, politically. We’re in a Winter Of Discontent. We have mass strikes. It’s miserable, and really alarming. And I think this is a time when people are digging deep and taking strength, not from the institutions that were built to protect them, but by the people that they love. And I think that’s what this show is about. It’s about powerless people coming together to empower themselves against the odds.
Incidentally, Crossroads was my mom’s favourite show growing up – she absolutely loved it! She would run home from school to watch it with her mum. It’s interesting, because whenever I’ve talked to my friends’ moms about this show, they’d be so excited, “You’re doing a show about Crossroads? That was my favourite!”. For that generation, it has this incredible pull. It’s such a nostalgic moment in their lives. And I think a lot of people
resonate with that. Another interesting thing about Crossroads that I didn’t realise at the time, but that really resonated with me as a gay person while shooting, is how incredibly progressive and queer it was! And I mean that in the academic sense of the term queer. All of the lead characters were women, it was about issues that weren’t really spoken about on other TV shows, and that’s why it was beloved by women. That’s why it was beloved by the gay community because it was this kind of inherently camp show that was so successful, in spite of all the odds! It really was the little show that could.
The drama is set almost 40 years ago – what do you think young people today, who may not know
Crossroads, might be able to take from Nolly?
It’s a powerful woman fighting the patriarchy, man! She’s a matriarch, she looked after everyone, and she stuck it to the man. It’s about people who are overlooked and downtrodden, standing up against the powers that be. And that’s where we’re at. Now, in the 21st Century, it’s almost like history has repeated itself. So, I think it’s important for the millennial generation and younger to understand what happened before, as we come into political maturity. We also have all these amazing shows thanks to Russell, about gender roles and deconstructing the way that gender played out in the in the early 70s and 80s, and what that means today, looking at female empowerment, feminism, and queerness, deconstructing patriarchy, all these big terms which were being discussed at the time and are still so relevant now. Also, if you don’t know what Crossroads is, you should just watch the show because Crossroads is absolutely hilarious. It’s a riot. Going back to my research. I watched so many episodes, and I actually got really into it! It’s hilarious. It’s so silly and funny.
How was it acting in a show within a show? How does Augustus Prew acting as Tony Adams differ from Tony Adams acting as Adam Chance?
I decided that he’s a very good soap actor. Which really is its own type of acting. I mean, it’s totally outrageous. And with the way that we shot it, a show within a show within a show. You’ve got Helena Bonham Carter, playing Noele Gordon, playing Meg Mortimer. All of these actors playing the actors who are playing the characters within the show. For me playing Tony Adams as Augustus Prew and resonating with all these different themes as an actor, playing an actor, playing a character, who at the time was like a very progressive guy – you’ve got three different things going on in your head at any one time. And I think it’s made what we’ve created here really special. Crossroads is very weird – the acting is very broad and big, we’re talking like big hair, big 80s shoulder pads. And they shot the whole thing really fast and as live. They were doing five episodes a week when it started, and then by the era we are looking at in Nolly they went down to three episodes a week – which is still a lot! It was incredible the way the style of acting switched from soap acting one minute then venturing into very character driven, nuanced acting. That’s when you realise, we’re telling an amazing story about this woman. It’s so smart. Russell is a genius. There’s a reason Russell T Davies is Russell T Davies. The writing is exceptionally good. It’s such an honour to be part of it.
How was it working with the rest of the cast?
A total love affair. Truly “The Summer Love 2022”. Helena and I got on like a house on fire, but with the whole cast it was just one love affair after another. We have a big group text that Helena and everyone is on, and we’re still talking! Everyone in the cast! There’s about 40 people on it. It was just magical, wonderful. We were all like a really big family, which isn’t always the case. It was one of those really rare projects that you work on every now and again, where, and this speaks to Russell [T Davies] and Andy [Pryor] and Peter [Hoar], for bringing this group of people together who just got on like a house-on-fire. There was just this cohesion that you can’t fake.
Can you tell us about your experiences working with Russell T Davies?
Russell is an icon, he is someone that I respect so much, and I look up to so much. And for someone that iconic, he is way too nice! He is just a dream. He is the sweetest man you’ll ever meet. For the vibe on set and the vibe of the project, that always starts at the top. Whatever relationship the showrunner and the director have – and the actors have a part to play in this too – that sets the tone for the entire project. So, speaking of this Summer of Love 2022, I wish it would have gone on forever. That’s all to Russell’s credit, that should give you a sense of how magical this man is. And in terms of a personal note, his shows sort of taught me how to be gay – Queer As Folk was this amazing, iconic show, that came out at a time when that sort of television wasn’t being made! I think he’s tapped into something really deep and really relevant and really important. And he’s one of our greats. He’s an all-time classic.
Do you have a scene you are most looking forward to audiences seeing?
There’s a scene where Noele Gordon finds out she is going to be sacked. And she calls Tony over to her apartment to be there as a support in case it happens. So, they’re both stood in her apartment on separate phones at the same time having a conversation with each other, while she’s having a conversation on the phone with Jack Barton – their boss! It is so funny. It demonstrates that side of their relationship perfectly. There’s another scene in a Chinese restaurant towards the end of the series where Noele Gordon is having a hard time – we won’t go into why because you’ve got to watch the show! But there’s a pep talk that Tony gives her which is just a beautiful monologue.
What do you hope audiences take away from the series?
Well, it is about all these big issues, but without getting too academic about it, or too intellectual – it’s also absolutely hilarious. You’ll be crying laughing one minute and you will most certainly be crying sad tears too. It’s the fullness of the human spirit encapsulated on film through the lens of an 80s TV show. It’s hilarious. It’s the Best of British and it’s starring National Treasure Helena Bonham Carter. What more could you want!
An interview with Peter Hoar, Director
Why were you drawn to the project?
Well, obviously working with Russell again. The opportunity to do another piece with him was great. It’s very touching and moving this story, there’s no doubt that there are tears to be had – but not in the same way as It’s A Sin, obviously. It’s also a love letter to television, and the joy of TV. Plus, I got to work with Helena Bonham Carter!
Were you aware of Noele Gordon before taking on the project?
I was, yes. I knew who she was and I watched some of the show, but not avidly. Russell’s a little bit older and watched it avidly, but Russell watches everything. My mum was a massive fan. I didn’t know this, but she told me that when it started in 1964, she’d just had my brothers who were twins and she was on her own a lot, and she said it was a lifeline for her. She had it on every day, like this sort of surrogate family of people that she would follow, who tied in perfectly with that part of her life. So, she watched it a lot. I also have an interesting factoid! This house that I’m sitting in right now was owned by a man called Peter Ling, and Peter Ling was the creator of Crossroads! I didn’t know that when I bought it. I’ve told everybody that and nobody believes me! He has a little shout-out in Noele’s autobiography where she says occasionally we’d pop down to Hastings to Peter’s little terraced house.
Why do you think now is an important time to be telling this story, 40 years after the time in which it is set?
I think similar to It’s A Sin, there are stories that are in danger of being forgotten. And I think if you’re telling a story about the past, you always have to ask yourself “Why This?” and “Why Now?”. I think television has changed dramatically, with the streaming world, and hopefully they’ve learned a little bit about how things used to be. And the way that Noele was treated as a woman of a certain age is also, unfortunately, still with us. People would perhaps think, “Why am I interested in a soap opera star that I’ve never heard of from the 1980s?” And actually, there’s a lot to be said about how the industry churns people out so quickly and so brutally. I don’t think you need to know who Noele Gordon was, I think you should be able to watch it with no knowledge whatsoever and still enjoy it, because it’s so fun.
As director, what was your approach to recreating Nolly’s life, and the world of Crossroads, and of Britain in the 1980s?
We actually had an incredible designer on this. Ben Smith [Production Designer] worked tirelessly to get this across the line because we were talking about a lot of things that don’t exist anymore – a lot of buildings, a lot of looks. And obviously, we have a big scene with the QE2 which was built especially for this, and we wanted to create a dressing room especially for Larry Grayson, played by Mark Gatiss, that had some character and had something else to say. We built her [Nolly’s] flat, which was a masterstroke by all departments because there was a lot of lighting required from Sam Care [Director of Photography] and his gang and Ben’s team. It was all just so beautiful, and so full of character that apartment. And Helena loves prep as an actress. She’s always looking to embody the character – not method, but just absorbing it. And so, I know as she walked into that set [Noele’s apartment] something changed in her and she just felt like “Wow, this is it. This is me. This is my flat.”
I think my approach was to make her feel like a star. To make it feel like this is the world that she believed in. To allow Helena to be the person Noele believed she was and to make it all feel real and truthful but also colourful – never dour and dull. The Crossroads studio we constructed entirely. We hired lots of old lights. The company just said, “Look, these are old, nobody uses them. You can just take them and bring them back.” So, we got loads of those. The onscreen appeal is phenomenal. And the authenticity of it all is phenomenal. There’s a wonderful one shot where we move all between everything in the studio, there’s people pushing trolleys and all that sort of thing – it’s chaos! It was quite meta in a lot of ways, filming ourselves, filming them and all that.
We had all the 1980’s cameras too, because we wanted to film some of the footage from those cameras. I was always looking for multilayered multimedia. So, we use film cameras and we used our own Sony Venice cameras with anamorphic lenses to make it feel like a more of a nostalgic look, and we also used those TV cameras from the 80s. I’ve got all of these different layers of footage to make the whole thing come alive. It looks so beautiful.
Did you have any specific methods on set to get the cast into the 80’s mindset?
I think that with what they were wearing, how they were acting, as these 1980s Soap actors, they found the 80s vibe pretty quick.
How was it reuniting with Russell T Davies and Nicola Shindler? Your last project together was It’s A Sin – another 80s set drama.
Really good. I think I got a few brownie points after It’s A Sin so they didn’t bother me as much! [Laughs]. It was a joy, it really was. And also, to do Nicola’s first show for Quay Street Productions was really lovely. That’s quite a proud moment. Because she’s putting her whole heart and soul into this new project with ITVX, and I just think Nolly is a wonderful first project for them. She’s so prolific and I think it’s phenomenal how well she knows Russell – they’ve been doing it for so long. And that doesn’t sound like a common compliment, but it is! They’ve been doing it for so long, and yet they’re still making the best TV that we have. So it was a joy. It was an absolute joy.
It’s also a TV series about TV isn’t it?
Yes, we’re talking about a woman who believes in herself, believed in her stardom and her star quality. And though we never thought of her as lonely, there was sometimes a loneliness to the imagery. That’s not how she sees herself, but I think she’s looking at herself a lot. She’s observing herself; she watches herself on screen, she’s very aware of the TV medium. So, it was always about looking inwards. And looking into the little box in the corner of the room, and how that sort of dominates our lives. Certainly, in that period everybody was watching television – in the late 70s, early 80s it was huge! As the director, I had to think about how do I tell a story about watching someone watching themselves?
And also, Russell loves TV, I love TV. I was obsessed by TV as a kid. So, all of these stories meant something to me, and they are, you know, fairly universal – soap is still with us. Cinema does its thing, theatre does its thing, but television is right there in your living room, and even now in the palm of your hand. I wanted to show the power that it has, but that it’s also brutal. Show business is, generally. But, that we are still transfixed by it.
How was it working with Helena Bonham Carter and the cast? What was it like seeing everyone portraying their iconic Crossroads counterparts?
They were a great team together. It was quite an event, having them all under one roof, as you can imagine. They were friends so quickly, this wonderful group. There was a lot of love in the room between them. Andy Pryor deserves a mention here because the casting was so good. Also, there’s a wonderful core relationship between the two actors, Nolly and Tony Adams – it’s just beautiful. It’s so touching and it’s a relationship you don’t see very often on screen. There are a lot of sexual relationships between straight men and straight women, but we rarely see a lot of touching friendships. She tells him how much she loves him – but it’s a different kind of love. And I think those things are often missed in life.
What was the experience like for you as a director being part of this project?
Oh, wonderful. It’s a privilege to do what I do. Sometimes in our industry, it can be difficult, it can be relentless, it can be unrewarding because of hours and things like that but I feel lucky because we just had the best time making this. I also really liked the process of working with Helena because before she agreed to take on the role, she wanted to talk to me. And I’ve never had that before. Her process is something that she takes very seriously. It was a wonderful, wonderful process. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself and remind myself that they’re not all this good. So, I really picked up this script and ran with it and we didn’t have to change anything. It was wonderful!
Do you have a scene you are most looking forward to audiences seeing?
Well, there’s a big scene at the end where Nolly reflects on her life, and that whole sequence I think is beautiful. I think it’s so rewarding. We got to film in Venice because I thought we couldn’t fake that. We’d have to go and do that for real, for Noele. And that whole sequence from the beginning of the Venice trip to that very last part of Episode Three is just beautiful and so beautifully played, so beautifully scored. Helena shares the scene with Augustus Prew, and that relationship culminates in that really big moment, a really important moment between them. So that is something I’m not only very proud of, but it’s also very moving, very touching.
An interview with Nicola Shindler, Executive Producer
This is the first commission for your new production company Quay Street Production – what drew you to the project?
Anything Russell wants to do, I want to do! But, also, everything about this story works. For me, the whole idea of a woman at a certain age, being pushed to one side, not having any autonomy in her career, I think it’s really important to tell stories like this. I want Quay Street to be somewhere that you can tell really important stories, but also make them very funny and entertaining. And I think that’s what Nolly is: it’s incredibly good fun and it’s trying to say something important.
Nollyisyour11th collaboration with Russell T Davies. Can you tell us a bit about your working relationship with Russell over the years?
I think we work well together because we have a shared sense of humour, and a shared passion for television, and I am just such an admirer of his work ethic. I don’t know of anyone who works harder, and who cares more, and who has such attention to detail. I know that when I am working with Russell I have to try and be as good as he is and that is very motivational. I hope that I’ve carried that through to other shows as well, just because you can’t be anything less than your best when you’re working with Russell. We communicate very well, and I think I know what he wants when he’s not there.
Were you aware of Noele Gordon before taking on the project?
Yes, very much so! I didn’t watch a lot of Crossroads but it was always on in our house as were all the soaps. My mum really liked watching. I remember thinking Noele Gordon was a stern old woman and of course the reality is that she wasn’t that old and definitely not stern. I was always intrigued by her because she was a proper soap icon.
Why do you think now is an important time to be telling this story, 40 years after the time in which it’s set? Well, it’s a story that’s never been told and I think it’s a really important story to tell. And I think that’s always fascinating. The idea that this woman was treated so badly, and was never given a reason for it. Then she faced the tragedy that she was never at those heights of fame again. At no point did she do anything wrong!.
As with It’s A Sin (your previous project with Russell and Peter) – despite being a period piece, the show feels incredibly resonant and timely. Why do you think that is?
In a post-MeToo world, where the way women are treated in the workplace is more closely examined, it feels like now is the right time to look at this story. 10 or 15 years ago, you may have thought “oh, she’s just a really difficult, challenging woman” and that would have explained why the treatment of her. But now, rightly, we look for more context and more understanding of women like Nolly, the societal roles they are put in and how they got to be as successful as they were. And that’s what makes it feel really contemporary I think, seeing Nolly through this modern lens. I think she was a complex woman, which is great, and I also recognise that she was also no angel too. She was ambitious, but not a bad person. And I think examining the differences in how we perceive women between now and then make this a really resonant drama – as does the similarities in the challenges women face too.
It’s also a TV series about television isn’t it?
One of the great things is how this series looks at how storytelling can impact on the audience. It’s fascinating. Russell’s written a couple of brilliant scenes where you really understand the impact that soap and the characters have on an audience. And how much investment there is in those characters and how important television is to people, because it’s always there, in your home. And I think that even with television changing, and with streaming becoming more prevalent, that shouldn’t be forgotten. Unlike theatre or cinema, with television people invite us into their home. And as a result they feel like they have a right to talk about television in the way they may not do about other art forms. And I really like that, I appreciate that. I think it makes us better because we have such an invested audience.
Nolly explores the treatment of a woman working in a very male-dominated industry. Are there any parallels you recognise working in the same industry?
When I came into the industry, there were very few female producers. It was mostly female scriptwriters. But I came in at a time when the industry was opening up. As a result, I didn’t have any personal struggles or people to push against, just because I was a woman. But I have spoken to other women who did face that, and I did
witness things at the time, which showed how difficult it could be for women in this industry. But I do think the times have changed, and I do think we’re a little bit more open now. I don’t think it’s completely resolved, and I think things are still said about women who have lots of authority which wouldn’t be said about men.
How did you feel when Helena Bonham Carter was cast in the role of Nolly?
Absolutely delighted! Noele Gordon was such an imposing presence – she was called the “Queen of the Midlands”, she was almost regal. Nolly carried a certain charisma with her when she walks into a room and I think we needed someone who was a star in their own right to bring that kind of authority, charm and sophistication, and to be the centre of attention. Helena Bonham Carter is a lovely woman and doesn’t draw attention to herself, but she’s just got that same star quality
How did you feel seeing the cast bring to life their iconic Crossroads counterparts?
I mean, just fantastic. Chloe Harris is so brilliant in this as Miss Diane and Lloyd Griffith as Benny too – those are the two I remember most from watching in my childhood. They just inhabit the part so well. And they’re cheeky and funny, while being absolutely respectful to the characters. I also think Augustus Prew is absolutely brilliant as Tony Adams. He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s lovely. He’s so attentive. He and Helena have such a beautiful rapport. And he never stops being funny at the same time, which is a real skill. I’d love to mention Andy Pryor as well, our casting director, who did another fantastic job. There are people in this show, who have only got one line or a handful of scenes and even they are perfectly cast. So, I’m delighted with this cast – they really, really exceeded any expectations.
Do you have a scene you are most looking forward to audiences seeing?
I can’t pick one scene, but the opening of part one of episode one is masterful. It’s such brilliant writing, and is so incredibly active, it’s a really strong opener to the series. In it we also meet Bethany Antonia, a brilliant young actress playing Poppy (a fictional character), who arrives into this environment of people who’ve been working together for 18 years. The storytelling is so speedy, it’s so thorough, it’s so characterised, and it’s very funny as well. So it has to be that for me, it’s perfectly timed.
Short Episode Synopses
Noele Gordon is at the height of her success, with her famous soap opera Crossroads riding high in the ratings. Then she’s suddenly sacked overnight – but why?
With exit day looming, Nolly is desperate to know how she’ll be killed off from Crossroads… But her farewell is so shocking nobody in the cast could have predicted it.
To save her career, Nolly returns to the stage in one of theatre’s hardest roles. Riddled with self-doubt and unable to escape her brutal firing, can Nolly prove her doubters wrong?
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