Earlier this evening actress Heather Chasen made her debut in EastEnders, however, for television viewers she’ll be best remembered as super bitch Valerie Pollard in Crossroads as we discover…
This week’s TV Times notes: “Noticed that Janine’s grandmother Lydia, is looking a bit different? EastEnders bosses have had to recast the role because the actress originally selected to play her, Margaret Tyzak, has pulled out due to personal reasons. The actress now playing Lydia, 83 year old Heather Chasen, is probably best remembered as super bitch Valerie Pollard in Crossroads”.
Here we look back at the sharp-tongued queen of Kings Oak who reached audiences of up to 16 million at teatime in the 1980s.
Speaking to ATV’s Crossroads Fan Club she said of her arrival: “Well at the time when I first joined there were some very good actors in Crossroads, I mean I thought the standard was pretty good. I remember some time before that I was in something called “The Newcomers”, we had longer to do it – say Crossroads took a week, “The Newcomers” took a fortnight. I must say we thought ourselves rather a cut above Crossroads! But when I actually came to play it with people like Tony Adams and Michael Turner and Sue Lloyd and Ronald Allen, there were some very, very good characters in it and some good actors in it and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Valerie, a sparklingly sophisticated lady with red hair, waltzed into the Crossroads Motel in early 1982 – before Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington put the bitch into Dynasty – as the wife of multi-millionaire businessman J. Henry Pollard. She’d been known to have a fling or two – and we’re not talking about the drink – so J.Henry, now a part-owner of the motel, decided to make the complex her own personal prison.
He cancelled her credit cards and tried to show Valerie the error of her ways by grounding her in Kings Oak. Indignant, she threatened to divorce her powerful husband, but he pointed out that no other man would lavish her with the kind of money and lifestyle he provided. He also, and for a time unknown to Valerie, placed a spy at the motel to monitor his wayward wife.
Putting up with her “punishment” for straying with a number of “pretty but brain-dead” boys -as J.Henry viewed them – she took an active role at the motel working behind the bar, possibly the most glamorous motel staff member in the history of the show.
Heather Chasen as Valerie Pollard with on-screen daughter Claire Faulconbridge as Miranda.
It wasn’t long however before Valerie was up to mischief. She bedded engaged Adam Chance (actor Tony Adams) – who had been previously involved with her daughter! Her one-night of lust with Adam was just a game to infuriate J.Henry – the showdown between Adam and Valerie voted one of the most ‘iconic’ moments in Crossroads’ history.
The scene showed that Adam could also be a ‘super-bitch’ on par with his female counterpart:
Valerie: “I’m awfully sorry about what happened…”
Adam: “Let’s cut the bull shall we?”
Valerie: “Really” (laugh in her voice)
Adam: “We both know that you used me to get at J.Henry..”
Valerie: “Did I? …Well, it was worth it, wasn’t it?”
Adam: “Do you really think so? Ruining my marriage and upsetting Jill, do you think it was worth that?”
Valerie: “Nobody dragged you off screaming darling.” …
Adam: “Oh that’s typically you isn’t it? Smart remarks and empties.
Valerie: “Oh darling, you’re going to make me cry.” (uncaring)
Adam: “I’ve gone in for some self-examination and I came across some dark corners that I didn’t care to look into too deeply, but compared with you…”
Valerie: “Don’t darling, comparisons are odious.”
Adam: “You’re not a real person and you don’t have any real friends. They’re only after you for what they can get. The only real companion you have, my love, is your mirror. And pretty soon you’re not going to like what that has to tell you…”
Valerie: “Oh do go on…”
Adam: “So what you going to do Valerie? Whats your empty friends going to do when the wrinkles can’t be ironed out and the body propped up?”
Valerie: “You’re a cruel swine aren’t you?”
Adam: “Yes, but I’m not as cruel as you were to me and Jill and others before me. I’ll tell you something for the first time I feel sorry for J.Henry. But not as sorry as I feel for you! You are pathetic…”
Valerie: “Thank you…”
Adam: “And furthermore you’re a very ordinary person and eminently forgettable. (Adam leaves and Valerie throws a glass at the wall, which shatters.)
The one-night stand left Adam’s fiancé – Jill (Jane Rossington) devastated, but Valerie shrugged it off as another fun experience and then moved on to another plot of winding her husband up.
Jane Rossington as Jill with Heather as Valerie in a 1982 scene from Crossroads.
Heather recalls her time at the ATV Studios, as many actors do, as being rather draining on her own finances – all the cast on Crossroads provided their own clothes for the character!
“I used to provide my own clothes. Well I mean the wardrobe had about two pairs of knickers in it and that was about it (laughs)! I used to go with my friend Amanda Barrie to Browns in South Mouldon Street on Saturday and up and down Bond Street and I spent my whole salary however much it was on clothes! They did actually give me something towards it later on, they were very decent and I said “Well look here, it’s costing me a lot and you certainly can’t provide me with the sort of clothes I think she should be wearing.”
As time went on Valerie was shown to have a softer side, especially when on-screen daughter Miranda (Claire Faulconbridge) was raped. Heather, however, preferred it when she was bitching:
“When I became the rather dreary wife and mother it wasn’t so much fun and also it became less good.” She told ATV’s Crossroads Fan Club.
Reaching millions of people night after night Heather soon became a household name. Many fans of soap are often known to take such shows as ‘real’ and in Crossroads case it was often true that viewers would call hospitals if a character was injured or try to book a room at the motel and some even sent in letters of application for jobs as waitresses at the fictional night-stop.
“They [the viewers] do expect you be that character. But you know I never had anybody be nasty to me, people were always very, very nice and I had very nice fan mail. And I remember once I was coming up to Birmingham and I got off the train and a young man had been talking to me and then he got off the train after me and I said: “You get back on the train this is not where you’re getting out is it?” And he said: “I just want to talk to you, I want you to go out with me!” and I was about old enough to be his mother and I said: “Don’t be so silly get back on the train I am not like Valerie at all!”
In 1985 J.Henry sold his interest in the Crossroads Motel and the Pollard family drove off into soap history. Speaking of her time at the motel she told the Crossroads Fan Club: “The most fun I had was when I was helping out behind the bar which is a very good place to be if you’re in a soap because you’re in every scene.” So who knows maybe Heather will manage to get herself at some point behind that iconic Queen Vic bar.
Heather also spent nearly 18 years as a regular on BBC Radio series The Navy Lark, the audio sitcom set on HMS Troutbridge also starred Ronnie Barker, Jon Pertwee and Leslie Phillips. She has also made one-off guest appearances in shows such as Casualty and Holby City. She also had recurring roles in soaps Family Affairs and Doctors.