Memorable Daytime Drama’s

Following our very popular look at the history of breakfast programmes on ITV1 we’ve decided to continue our look at daytime television with a look at daytime drama’s.

In recent years the BBC has expanded its daytime drama output considerably and successfully with war-time drama Land Girls, Police series Missing and Jimmy McGovern series Moving On; all being re-commissioned by the corporation for second seasons. Daytime drama’s use to dominate the schedules, instead of cookery and antique programmes, so we take a trip down memory lane to cover some of the successful, and not successful, daytime drama’s of times gone by such as Crown Court and Marked Personal.

Crown Court: Granada Television 1972 – 1984

Actor Andrew Sachs in Granada Television’s Crown Court for ITV

The first daytime drama that springs to mind when we thought of this feature was the Granada legal series, Crown Court. The drama was set in the fictional town of Fulchester and covered a wide range of cases which were brought to the Crown Court from criminal cases to civil cases such as libel or copyright infringes. The series was often produced from a “neutral” point of view in that it presented the case for both sides without bias.

The series aired three times a week with a case typically unfolding across the episodes with a verdict delivered on the third and final episode of the week. The jury of Crown Court was actually made up of members of the public, viewers of the series, who would hear both cases before retiring to consider their verdict. However, the actual foreman of the jury – who delivers the verdict to the court – was a professional actor to ensure the production stayed within the Equity rules. As the jury were members of the public their verdict would not have been scripted into the episode meaning the outcome would be unknown until the time of recording.

Crown Court while often serious wasn’t beyond sending itself up or playing a case for laughs. Over its 12 year run over 800 episodes were broadcast – several editions of the series were not shown on ITV for differing reasons. Amongst the “regular” cast of the series were actors such as Richard Wilson, John Barron, Maureen Lipman, T.P McKenna, William Simons, William Mervyn and Bernard Gallagher. All the episodes of a story would be recorded on the same day and cameras would be set up in “strategic” positions in the Court Room set and mostly left there meaning static shots. All the episodes of Crown Court still exist in the archive and the series was repeated on Granada Plus in the 1990s and six DVDs from Network have been released so far.

Marked Personal: Thames Television 1973 – 1974

Drama series created by Charles Dennis with future EastEnders and Eldorado co-creator Tony Holland working on the series as a story editor. Holland would later go on to write for the BBC medical series Angels, a fore-runner of Casualty, in the late 1970s alongside long-time collaborator Julia Smith.

Marked Personal was Thames second foray into daytime drama and starred two actress’ who would go on to find greater fame for their future soap roles; Stephanie Beacham and Heather Chasen. Beacham would later appear in the war-time drama Tenko before being recruited for Dynasty and its spin-off, The Colby’s. In the 1980s Heather Chasen would join the cast of Crossroads as bitchy Valerie Pollard. For those that are interested Thames first daytime drama was Harriet’s Back In Town which ran for 104 episodes. The show was replaced by Marked Personal.

The drama ran for 94 episodes between 1973 and 1974, before it was cancelled by Thames, and revolved around a new PA (Beacham) who starts work for a high flying boss (Chasen). It aired on consecutive Tuesdays and Wednesdays with other actors on the series including Glyn Owen (Howards’ Way), Christopher Biggins (Porridge), John Lee (Neighbours) and Maggie Wells (Where the Heart Is). Writers on the drama included Allan Prior who would later write for Blakes 7 and co-create Howards’ Way with Gerard Glaister. Bill Lyons who would later write for Crossroads, Angels, Emmerdale and Eldorado was another write on the series. Anthony Read, Fay Weldon and David Ellis also contributed scripts for the series.

The Cedar Tree: ATV 1976 – 1979

The Cedar Tree cast in 1976, ATV for ITV

Period drama set in the 1930s during the ‘Great Depression’ which is often referred to as “between the wars’. The series was produced by ATV and was in many ways the company’s answer to the hugely successful LWT series Upstairs, Downstairs which had ended the year before after five years on-air. Indeed several of the behind-the-scenes people on The Cedar Tree had worked on Upstairs, Downstairs such as Alfred Shaghnessy who was script editor and producer for the ATV Elstree produced programme. The series was set in Larkfield Manor and followed the lives of a middle-class family.

As the series was a daytime drama it had a relatively small budget making location filming very expensive and infrequent. As such the actual Cedar Tree wasn’t featured in the drama expect for an animated version in the title sequence. According to some viewers one plotline featured the Cedar Tree being struck by lightening but due to the small budget this had to take place off-screen and all that was seen was the actors reactions to the event.

The Cedar Tree has not been repeated or released on DVD but despite ATV’s wiping policy of the time surprisingly all the episodes are believed to exist in the archives, Network DVD say a release of the programme in part is in the pipeline for the future.

Gems: Thames Television 1985 – 1988

Drama following the antics of a fashion house in Covent Gardens, London, run by two brothers. The premise of a fashion house run by two family members is evocative of the BBC’s 1990s drama series The House of Eliott which followed two sisters in 1920s London who set up their own fashion business.

It is also similar to plotlines in BBC One’s glossy drama Howards’ Way which also launched in 1985 and saw lead character Jan (Jan Harvey) set up her own fashion range and chain of exclusive boutiques. However, the similar premise is most likely due to the fact that Gems and Howards’ Way are both products of 1980s Thatcher’s Britain when fashion was hugely important (think Dynasty and Dallas) and starting up successful business was a recurring theme explored in various dramas.

Gems ran for three seasons between 1985 and 1988 and amongst the cast was actress Cindy O’Callaghan who was best remembered for her role in Bedknobs and Broomsticks as well as BBC’s awful early 80s soap Triangle. Other cast members included Stella Gonet, who would be one of the leads in House of Eliott, Janet McTeer and Tracey Childs – who was a lead in Howards’ Way as well. One of the producers was Michele Buck who went on to produce the final few months of Crossroads in 1988 for Central and has since produced successful dramas such as Peak Practice, Where The Heart Is, Miss Marple, Poirot, Lost in Austen, Wycliffe and Lewis, the spin-off from Inspector Morse. Buck was also one of the executive producers on the short-lived LWT soap Night and Day which ran between 2001 and 2003.

General Hospital: ATV 1972 – 1979

Joanna Lumley, just one of the patients of the Midland General Hospital. ATV for ITV

General Hospital and Crown Court both came to life in 1972 because of an extension to the broadcasting hours meaning the various regional companies that made up the ITV Network at the time had to find new programmes to fill the schedules. As drama was a hugely important part of any stations output at the time naturally part of the schedules were given over to new dramas and serials such as Yorkshire Television’s Emmerdale Farm – which originally launched as a daytime twice weekly saga before being reformatted as a soap some years later.

In many ways General Hospital was a successor to ATV’s early medical soap, Emergency Ward 10, which had been hugely popular in the 1950s and 1960s before being axed, something Lew Grade later admitted to regretting. General Hospital was set in a Midlands town and revolved around the private and professional lives of Doctors and Nurses – a format Casualty and Holby City would follow decades later. Amongst the cast were Tony Adams, Lynda Bellingham, Judy Buxton, Ronald Leigh-Hunt with guest stars such as Joanna Lumley, Patsy Rowlands, Linda Robson and Jill Gascoigne.

The daytime drama had a similar approach to Crossroads when it came to realistic storylines with identical twin plots being amongst several rather far-fetched plots. In 1975 General Hospital was deemed successful enough to be promoted to Prime-Time television and was revamped into an hour-long drama on Friday evenings. The series, recorded for its entire run, at ATV’s Studio’s at Elstree is now the home of Holby City and EastEnders. Four years later though in 1979 ATV management had decided that it was time to call an end to the show and the Midland General Hospital closed its television doors. Ironically ITV would probably once again regret axing a medical drama. In the 1980s Aussie imports such as The Young Doctors became hugely popular proving there was still an audience for “cosy” medical drama’s.

The Courtroom: Mersey Television 2004

Legal afternoon drama on Channel Four produced by Mersey Television and created by Phil Redmond who had created Brookside, cancelled the previous year by Channel 4, and teen-soap Hollyoaks.

When The Courtroom launched in 2004 it was widely compared to, and considered a successor to, Crown Court. However, each episode of The Courtroom focused on a different case while Crown Court would unfold over several episodes. The style of The Courtroom was “cinema verity” in that it was produced as though it was real and a documentary. The series was not a huge success and only ran for one series.

Amongst the regular cast, who played the barristers, were a wide range of former soap stars such as Claire King, Helen Sheals, John Duttine and Terence Hardiman while guest stars included Jacqueline Leonard, Colin Wells, Georgina Walker and Frances White. In all 38 episodes of the drama were produced.

The Royal Today: Yorkshire Television 2008

Leah Bracknell, one of the leading stars of The Royal Today from Yorkshire Television for ITV

With the demise of Crossroads and Night and Day in 2003 ITV began the slow look for a new daytime soap/drama to fill its schedules. Instead of launching a new series, which bosses felt was too risky given the failure of the two soaps, a spin-off from an existing ITV drama was sought with producers instructed to come up with ideas for possible spin-offs. A Vet based spin-off, ala All Creatures Great and Small, was considered for Emmerdale while a spin-off set in Underworld, the factory, was suggested for Coronation Street. A medical spin-off set in St Hugh’s Hospital was suggested for The Bill and bosses at ITV developed this idea for some time before dropping it.

In the end bosses decided instead to launch a spin-off from the popular Sunday evening drama The Royal which itself was a spin-off from Heartbeat. The Royal was a medical drama set in the 1960s but as any period drama is expensive, too expensive nowadays really for daytime*, it was decided instead the spin-off would be set in the present day.

The Royal Today was, lets be honest, a cynical attempt to cash in on the franchise and lure in audiences with a well known name. Amongst the cast were ex soap stars such as Ben Hull, Pal Aron, Leah Bracknell and Vicky Gates. Just Good Friends star Paul Nicholas also featured to appeal to an older audience while former EastEnders actor Jack Ryder was originally cast but later dropped out. In all 50 episodes were produced but ratings were poor and the series wasn’t re-commissioned by ITV.

*A notable exception to this rule is Land Girls which is set during World War Two but only runs to five episodes per season compared to 50 for The Royal Today.

Pictured Top: Tony Adams as Dr. Bywaters takes to the operating table in General Hospital. Researched and written by Doug Lambert
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