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BBC One’s Eldorado: 30 Years On

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BBC One’s Eldorado: 30 Years On

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It’s thirty years today since BBC One’s sunshine soap Eldorado came to an end – amid protests from its growing audience. And three decades on the thrice-weekly soap opera still has a loyal following on social media.

On paper, it probably looked like a ratings hit from the off; created by the successful team behind EastEnders, Julia Smith and Tony Holland, with a theme tune by Simon May who had given several big hits to Crossroads, as well as the ‘Enders theme tune, and a cast of new talent and established acting names.

By 1991 Terry Wogan’s self-titled Wogan chat show was losing its audience, over four million had turned off and despite a recent revamp the series was deemed ‘beyond help’ and was given the boot by BBC One Controller Johnathan Powell.

The Wogan departure from the schedules opened up the three 7 pm slots Eldorado was to take, but far earlier than the production team originally planned for – and it seems the ‘rushing it to air’ decision would lead to the show never shaking off its initial shakey image of poor sound, poor scripts and several bad ideas – including some cast speaking in Spanish. Jonathan Powell also leaving the role as BBC One Controller put the show in the hands of incoming, from BBC Two, Alan Yentob who seemed to enjoy axing things – including later Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life! among several of his chopping casualties.

The pool at Los Barcos, BBC 1992

The Spanish-based soap opera was set in the fictional town of Los Barcos – like EastEnders’ Walford with an outdoor set that cost around £10 million to build – and starred, among others, Jesse Birdsall, Patricia Brake, Polly Perkins and Derek Martin. It followed the exploits of Ex-Pats living on the Costa Del Sol. The BBC hoped its exotic location and sunny nature would make it a hit with a mix of hard-hitting storylines and lighter plots.

Despite only having aired for a year the show remains popular thanks to repeats on UK Gold in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2021 a selection of episodes were also added to the streaming service BritBox.

In 2012 reports, which proved to be unfounded, suggested the Beeb had been thinking of reviving Eldorado and the following year reports Channel 5 were looking at rebooting it also surfaced, but to no avail. A decade ago an ATV Today poll found Eldorado was the soap most readers wanted to see revived.

At the time of its axing ratings were around 8 million and on the rise. The issues with production had been ironed out and the storylines were becoming, over its final six months, a hit with viewers. This maybe is why some still long for a TV return to Los Barcos. However, at the time Yentob had been swayed by the continual barrage of negative stories in the press about the show. Not that he needed much swaying in axing populist programming.

Eldorado creators Tony Holland and Julia Smith, BBC 1992

The serial ran for nearly 160 episodes launching on July 6th 1992, with the sun setting over the villas on 9th July 1993. The final sequence playing out with a vocal version of the theme tune ‘When You Go Away’ by Johnny Griggs.

Unfortunately with soap opera ratings all generally in decline it is unlikely any network will be launching new, or reviving old, soaps at the present time.

In 2012, Paul Davies, who worked on the soap, called for its return in the BBC’s in-house magazine Ariel:

“Critics would argue it was hubristic, too excessive and the axe deserved to fall prematurely. I would argue it was ambitious, ahead of its time and an example of the BBC machine working at its very best. I just hope a channel controller sees the potential and commissions a revisit to Eldorado in the future.”

The Daily Mail start to see improvement in Eldorado in October 1992

See who you can remember in our Eldorado gallery on the next page…

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