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Nolly's sacking from Crossroads turned young reporter into a pop singer

If Noele Gordon was trying to slip in unnoticed, she didn't do a very good job of it.

Bill Buckley joins protesters for a rendition of his song about Meg Richardson
Bill Buckley joins protesters for a rendition of his song about Meg Richardson

Covered in a headscarf, huge sunglasses and a cigarette jauntily dangling from the side of the mouth, the undisputed Queen of Soap Opera's face made the front page of every tabloid.

"She was either genuinely gutted, or she was the greatest actress there ever has been," says Bill Buckley.

Given that she had just been sacked from Crossroads, a cynic might say the former was more likely than the latter.

Noele Gordon arriving at the ATV studios in Birmingham on the day it was announced she was being written out of Crossroads

The name Noele Gordon probably doesn't mean much to anybody much under the age of 50, but back in the 70s she was arguably television's most recognisable actress. And when she was sacked from her role as Meg Mortimer, the imperious boss of the Crossroads Motel, it sparked the kind of uproar it is hard to imagine today.

Demonstrations took place, the TV company was swamped with calls. And Bill Buckley wrote a pop song about it.

Bill, a 22-year-old trainee reporter at the Express & Star's office in West Bromwich when Gordon was sacked in June, 1981, became for a few weeks one of the country's most unlikely pop stars.

Ok pop star is stretching it a bit. But his song Meg is Magic was played several times on Radio 2, he appeared on news bulletins expressing his outrage at Noele's sacking. And he wasn't even that big a fan of the series.

Bill Buckley tries to save Noele Gordon from the sack

"It was something I watched with my nan when I was about five years old," he recalls. "We all lived together, my parents thought it was nonsense, but there was something about it which brought together the five-year-old me and my 70-something nan. I'd always liked Crossroads, and I thought it was strange that they had got rid of her, but it was exaggerated a bit. At the time I made the record, I wasn't actually watching it that much."

For those unfamiliar, Crossroads was a daily soap opera about the trials and tribulations at a country motel in a fictitious village somewhere in the West Midlands. Running from 1964 to 1988, it was derided by the critics for its shoddy sets, hammy acting, and most of all its ludicrous storylines. But it vied with Coronation Street for top spot in the TV ratings, and every day millions tuned in for their fix of implausible melodrama. It was revived in 2001, featuring several members of the original cast, but only ran for two years.


The story of Noele Gordon's sacking from Crossroads is currently featuring in Nolly, a three-part ITV drama about the actress starring Helena Bonham Carter in the title role.

And Bill says he can barely wait to see it – not least to see if he gets a cameo role.

"I'm told there will be some scenes of the demos, so I will just have to wait to see if they include a 22-year-old with a pencil moustache, as was all the fashion back then."

Bill's song was the result of a bit of banter in the newsroom, as the nation was stunned by the news that the show's leading character had been dropped.

"Everybody was talking about it, and then somebody came in with these badges to wear about saving Meg. The other departments thought the journalists had gone mad."

Bill Buckley's Express & Star colleagues bidding him farewell after he landed the slot on That's LIfe

Bill had always written songs in his spare time, and that night he went home and produced the song within a few hours.

"I had a go at making a tape thinking it would amuse my colleagues, but they said I should do something with it, as it was very topical," he says.

He looked in the phone book for the nearest record company, and telephoned Jim Simpson's Grandstand Records in Birmingham.

"I called more in hope than expectation, I didn't really expect anything to come of it, but the next day they phoned back and said 'we're going to do it, can you be at Zella studios at 10pm?'

"It was a very tight schedule, we recorded the whole thing in about two hours."

Bill Buckley joins protesters for a rendition of his song about Meg Richardson

Normally, the record companies would produce a few samples first, to gauge the response, but in this case there simply wasn't the time.

"It was either going to be a hit straight away because it was topical, or never," says Bill.

"Radio 2 played it quite a few times, and then nobody bought it, and it probably did untold damage to the record company."

A video was also made showing Bill singing to placard-waving demonstrators outside the ATV studios in Broad Street, Birmingham.

Among the demonstrators was 69-year-old Mary Price, of Erdington, who told the Express & Star: "Noele is one of the big names and I don't think the show would be the same without her."

Bill Buckley's mother Lydia applied for him to appear on That's Life

But almost 42 years on, Bill admits that the numbers may have been swelled by one or two ringers.

"I think some of them worked for the record company, and there were a few friends of friends there. But there were also genuine protesters, there was a kernel of truth to it."

The video also showed clips of Meg's glitzy TV wedding to Hugh Mortimer at Birmingham Cathedral, and of Gordon turning up at a grocery store in a silver Rolls-Royce, handing her shopping list to a check-out assistant.

Bill, who is now 64, claimed at the time of the recording that nearly 200 people contacted Grandstand records asking what they could do to stop Meg being dropped from the show.

While the record may have bombed, Bill did go on to to achieve fame as a reporter on the television series That's Life – after his mother Lydia applied for the job while he was on holiday. He was later a roving reporter on The Holiday Programme, was the original continuity announcer for Channel 5, and has presented a number of regional radio shows. He also wrote a somewhat more successful song called Starting Together, which was sung by the actress Su Pollard as the theme tune for a documentary series called The Marriage, and which did reach No. 2 in the charts. But he doesn't reckon the quickly forgotten Meg is Magic contributed to any of this.

Bill Buckley with his co-stars on That's Life

And even before he had recorded the song, Bill had appeared in Crossroads several times as an extra – although he never actually got the chance to speak to Gordon.

"We would just wait in a room outside the studio, and then be called in when they wanted somebody to walk through a particular scene – we weren't allowed to speak because it would have cost them a higher fee," he recalls.

"I never got the chance to speak to Noele, although I did see her across the room. The guy who played Adam Chance, Tony Adams, he was very friendly and he would always come and have a chat to you."

The new series Nolly is the work of Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies, who was a big fan of the series growing up. And Bill says he can't wait to see how Bonham Carter will portray the actress.

He also hopes it will shed some light on the real reason why Gordon was written out of the show after 17 years. In typical Crossroads fashion, her character went out with a bang. Viewers were led to believe she had perished in a fire at the motel, having overdone the tranquilisers moments before a scene which utilised some pretty spectacular pyrotechnics. But days later she reappeared, setting off for a cruise on the QE2. Little explanation was given as to how she had escaped the blaze, having apparently dozed off in an armchair which was shown going up in flames. It was never really explained how she had been able to disappear off the face of the earth for several days before reappearing.

Not everyone was sad to see the back of Gordon.

Actor John Bentley, who played her on-screen husband Hugh Mortimer, told the Sunday People she got what she deserved.

"After never turning a hair when other artistes got the Crossroads chop she is herself being unceremoniously booted out," he said.

"Many of those who are left will doubtless breathe sighs of relief.

"No more will they have to tolerate her terrible tantrums, the rows, the stupid rules of conduct which she imposed like an immovable headmistress."


It is no secret that ATV, which had been ordered to rebrand as Central and invest more in local programming as a condition of retaining its franchise, was under pressure to revamp Crossroads, which the broadcasting regulators hated with zeal.

But could it also be argued that, after 17 years of Meg running the motel, it was time for a shake-up and some new faces? Her exit did, after all, lead to an intriguing power struggle between her warring lieutenants David Hunter and Adam Chance.

"No, I don't think that at all, she was the show," says Bill. And it is true that viewing figures declined over the next seven years, until Crossroads was controversially dropped.

"I can't understand why they did it, you keep your biggest stars," says Bill. "Berry Gordy didn't sack Diana Ross from Motown records, did he?"

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