ATV Icons returns with new curator Margaret Batey. The first to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, this series, is Jane Rossington an icon of British soap opera.
Jane is best known, of course, for her near-25-year stint on ITV daily serial Crossroads however her career has also taken in radio saga, television medical drama, and a guest spot in a gritty soap opera.
Along the way, there have been endless television chat show spots and just as many theatre roles and it all culminated in a return to the Crossroads Hotel for a revived series in the 2000s.
Patricia Jane Rossington was born on March 5th, 1943, her older brother, born on the 28th, September 1932, was the Reverend John Anthony Rossington – who hit headlines back in the 1960s when he devised a four-point birth control plan aimed at ending the population explosion. It included sterilisation for very large families.
The children of Bank Manager Frederick Rossington (1904-1074) and Phyllis Peel (1907-1986) the family moved to Sutton Coldfield in 1947. Jane took her middle name as her stage first name and as Jane Rossington began in her early teens performing in amateur productions in the area. She then went on to train at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and drama.
Theatre roles came fast and plentiful in the early sixties as Repertory parts were still buoyant. Jane performed in touring plays across the UK until March 1963 when her agent was sent the news ATV London were looking for five young women to play trainee nurses in medical serial Emergency Ward 10.
A successful audition saw Rossington hired to play the ‘sensible but funny one’, Katherine Ford. Nurse Kate Ford would spend a year within the Oxbridge General Hospital, at ATV Elstree, before moving on to her next position. For Jane Rossington, it was back to the spotlights of the stage and a part in a touring adaption of Alfie.
While in Alfie during a run in York, ATV contacted Jane’s agent with another offer – seemingly impressed with her work on the twice-weekly Emergency Ward 10 the casting team believed she would be able to ‘cope’ with a new, untried in the UK, five-days-a-week half-hour serial.
Jane rushed from York to Birmingham to audition for the part of Jill Richardson, the daughter in the leading family on the as-yet-untitled programme. She was up against several other actresses vying for the part including an unknown fresh from drama school performer called Sue Nicholls.
Producer Reg Watson cast Jane as Jill, West End stage star, turned TV hostess, Noele Gordon took the lead role of motel owner, and mother, Meg Richardson while newcomer Roger Tonge completed the Richardson family as son Sandy.
Jane opened the show as Jill with the words “Crossroads Motel, good evening…”
The original reviews for what arrived on screen as Crossroads were mixed. Some heaped praise on the programme – one even noting its very well produced sets – while others felt five episodes a week just was too much and the level of production values were substandard because of the frequency of the output.
However, viewers cared not one iota for what TV critics wrote and from its launch, on November 2nd 1964 the show was a hit with ATV Midland, Ulster and Border TV viewers. Such was its popularity soon other regions including Anglia TV, Westward, Southern and Rediffusion were picking up the programme.
Thanks to viewer popularity in Northern Ireland Jane was sent off on a month-long publicity drive when she became the evening continuity announcer for the whole of March 1965 on Ulster TV. Other successes followed when the programme was voted by ITV viewers the station’s ‘Programme of the Year’ for 1966.
In these early years, the character of Jill was seen as a bad-in-luck young woman who wasn’t able to keep the romance alive and she also wasn’t sure what she wanted to ‘do with herself’ for her future in the world of work. This enabled Jane to come and go from the programme at much more ease than in later years.
She while in Crossroads took on the part of Monica Downes in BBC Radio serial The Archers, sometimes rushing from ATV to the BBC to complete both roles. Other times while Jill was ‘in London’ trying to forge a career with a fashion magazine Jane could take a few months to return to the stage.
On May 31st 1965 Jane featured on ATV Today when her ‘big day’ was covered by the news show. The wedding to Crossroads director Tim Jones (Timothy Michael Jaffrey Jones, 1938-2002) saw many of the stars of the show attend the showbiz marriage.
Within Crossroads her brother appeared as himself; Reverend Rossington and his church, the Holy Trinity in Smethwick, was the location for the on-screen wedding of Brian Jarvis (David Fennell) to Janice Gifford (Carolyn Lyster). With John being a real reverend it led to press speculation that he had actually married the two performers – however having used the character names, ATV pointed out it was a ridiculous suggestion.
In 1970 Jane was part of the big ‘witchcraft’ storyline in the saga which saw her mentally abused and corrupted by ‘evil twins’ who had moved into her flat as housemates. The story proved so disturbing that the television regulator, the ITA, requested ATV end the plot much earlier than planned. They deemed it inapt for teatime audiences.
It was the start of many of Jill’s downward spirals. She shortly after the witchcraft conclusion (episode 1330) married a bigamist – hotel manager – John Crayne (Mark Rivers) (episode 1316) they were married for 5 weeks and three days. She, in 1969, opened a boutique fashion shop in the soap’s fictional village centre of Kings Oak – only for it to go bust, she suffered a miscarriage (after discovering the truth about Crayne and his wife and children in Switzerland), and brother Sandy was paralysed after a car crash.
The latter plot saw the creation of the Crossroads: Caring for Carers scheme, a charity that gives carers respite from their duties. No such body existed before the serial highlighted the need of carers in the programme. Jane went on to be a regular supporter of the charity over the years fronting TV appeals and promotions for Caring for Carers.
Offscreen the early 70s was a mixed bag of sadness and joy. In 1971 Jane and Tim divorced, it was ‘just one of those things’ as the couple drifted apart following their work taking them in different directions – Tim was spending most of his time in Manchester at Granada Television directing serials such as Coronation Street, while Jane had remained committed to Crossroads and The Archers in Birmingham.
Love however was around the corner when a mutual friend arranged a date for Jane with businessman David Dunger (David Harry Dunger, 1944). It was a romance that remains to this day, the couple married on June 16th, 1972.
When Jane fell pregnant she spoke to producer Reg Watson about her forthcoming baby, and it was decided rather than write Jill out – by this point, the character had remarried (legally this time) to electrician Stan Harvey (Ed Clayton) – Jill would also fall pregnant. Sadly, Jane miscarried early in the pregnancy, however was happy for Jill to carry on with hers.
This led to one of soaps longest births – eleven months from the announcement to the hospital reveal happened, however, it was due to happy news Jane had become pregnant again. Sorrel Olivia Dunger was born on August 9th, 1974 with Sorrel playing fictional Sarah Jane from birth until 1983.
Across the 1970s Crossroads kept Jane busy with lead storylines including an addiction to drugs, a spell depressed and turning to booze and being almost made bankrupt when Stan caused an electrical fire at the motel which destroyed a valuable painting thanks to a dodgy light fitting he’d installed.
Off-screen Jane had developed a flair for house renovation and antique dealing, this led to her making a guest appearance on BBC One’s antique show Going for a Song, and these hobbies later became serious business ventures for both Jane and hubby David.
As Crossroads moved into the 1980s Jill had seen herself divorced for adultery with her step-brother and lost her daughter to Stan who moved to Germany for a new life with a new wife.
Her dalliance with Anthony Mortimer (Jeremy Sinden) seemed to bring the hope of happiness, and another child, but Matthew Mortimer went to live with Anthony in America, and Jill was alone once more. The birth of Matthew tied in with the real-life pregnancy of Harry Jolyon Peel Dunger in July 1978.
There were a couple of small romances for her; door-to-door salesman Eric Collins and businessman Tom Peterson but it wasn’t until accountant Adam Chance (Tony Adams) made his move that she felt able to marry again.
Only it was all scuppered by superbitch Valerie Pollard (Heather Chasen) who wooed Adam into bed, while engaged to Jill, and then gloriously made sure everyone knew about it. Adam went to Australia for a year while Jill stuck herself into the motel business. Eventually, in 1983, Adam and Jill finally said ‘I do’ – although it was far from happy, no union was to be as blissful and happy as her time with Stan.
During the 80s Crossroads went through several changes, Noele Gordon was written out as Meg, Jack Barton the mainstay producer from 74 to 84 was dispatched and new producers such as Phillip Bowman and William Smethurst put their own stamp on the show – Jane survived it all.
The character had a fling with hunk Micky Doyle (Martin Smith) who turned out to be an abusive drunk and she lost their baby after one such row. There was a short-lived reconciliation with Adam Chance, but by the time ITV was set to air the last episode of the saga – 4510 – Jill was to ride off with pub landlord John Maddingham (Jeremy Nicholas) for a new life in the west country.
The show, still the third most-watched soap at the time, was taken off to enable the Birmingham Studios ‘to make more drama’, these dramas never materialised and the site was demolished in recent times.
After Crossroads Jane hosted her own local radio show on Beacon FM, and later WABC, became the star patron of the Crossroads Appreciation Society, and popped up on television now and again including in ITV drama Tide Race, a cameo as ‘Cousin Jill’ in Brookside – who were paying homage to their fellow fallen soap – and several theatre tours including Murder In Mind, Don’t Rock The Boat and to great critical reviews in The Snow Queen.
In 2000 she was lured back to ITV with a new version of Crossroads, however, it failed to appeal to old viewers when producers killed off Jill Chance within three months of the soap being back on air. The show ultimately departed ITV screens for the last time in 2003.
Jane an icon of British television serial, was the face to launch Crossroads re-runs in 1996 on UK Gold and again she returned to promote the show’s repeat run on BCTV in 2015.
Also in 2015 Jane was one of several former cast including Tony Adams, Jean Bayless, Jean Rogers, Lynette McMorrough and Angela Webb who were lured to return to their Crossroads roles for a special charity episode headed by UK Gold, BBC, and Channel 5 creative Glen Allen.
The proceeds were to go to the Crossroads: Caring for Carers. The producers had even wooed Emmerdale icon, Claire King, to play the role of Adam’s devious second wife.
Jane had been active in making sure this time the episode would celebrate the original – with a special scene written in honouring Noele Gordon’s Meg Mortimer – and while modern, it would ‘be Crossroads’ everyone loved.
With approval from ITV, the old location of Penns Hall Hotel ready and willing to be the setting again the stage was set. Sequences were shot of views flying over the hotel complex site, Mike Prince of BCTV recorded a special news sequence for the episode revealing the Crossroads Hotel was to reopen and Tony Flynn, who had arranged the 2001 version of the famous Tony Hatch theme remixed it for the special edition.
For whatever reason, only known to himself, ‘television critic’ Chris Stacey, who had a brief moment of fame in the early 1990s on cable television, took great offense at this charity venture and did his darndest to have it stopped. There was a ‘Keep Crossroads Special’ campaign of letters, calls, and emails sent with his name on to agents and The Birmingham Mail. While annon versions were sent to the cast and Equity.
Sadly, this campaign of hate led to the project being put on hold indefinitely, and with the death of Jean Bayless earlier this year, Claire King back in Emmerdale, and the retirement of Tony Adams and Jane Rossington in 2018 it seems unlikely it could ever be revived in the joyous format originally intended.
In recent years before her step back from the spotlight, Jane popped up on several TV specials and chat spots including The Lily Savage Show, Daytime Live, Gloria Hunniford, Blue Peter, Blankety Blank, The Paul O’Grady Show, Through the Keyhole and This Morning to name only a few.
Her retirement, however, is wholly earned. Jane has entertained the nation for decades.