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|Born||Joan Noele Gordon
25 December 1919
East Ham, Essex, United Kingdom
|Died||14 April 1985
Birmingham, United Kingdom
Joan Noele Gordon (25 December 1919 – 14 April 1985) was a British stage, film, television actress and presenter. She was perhaps most well known for her role as Meg Mortimer in the long-running British soap opera Crossroads, which she played from 1964–81.
Gordon's father was an engineer in the Merchant Navy and she was born in East Ham, Essex. She was given the middle name of Noele because she was born on Christmas Day. After attending convent school at Forest Gate, she was taught to dance by Maude Wells and later spent several years living in Southend. She made her first public appearance at the East Ham Palace, and shortly afterwards, sung "Dear Little Jammy Face" at a restaurant in London. After this event, her mother and her aunt were keen for her to begin a stage career. The family later moved to Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex. She attended RADA, and appeared in repertory theatres, including 1,000 performances in Brigadoon. Her mother died of cancer in 1978.
Early television and film career
She was credited as the first woman to be seen on colour television sets, as she took part in the BBC's early colour tests in the 1940s. She appeared in two British films, 29 Acacia Avenue (1945) and Lisbon Story (1946) in minor parts. Her acting career came to a halt in 1955 when she joined Associated Television in London where she presented their first-ever programme, The Weekend Show. She worked behind the scenes as Head of Lifestyle programmes. Gordon then studied the television medium at New York University in America and after her return helped Reg Watson and Ned Sherrin launch ATV Midlands in 1956. ATV London had already been established.
As well as being a producer, Gordon became a presenter for the new Birmingham based service. Her first television appearance for ATV in the Midlands, Tea With Noele Gordon, was the first popular ITV chat show and while presenting this series, she became the first woman to interview a British Prime Minister, at the time Harold Macmillan was in office. Initially commissioned as an emergency schedule filler, the show became so successful that Gordon gave up her executive position to concentrate on programme presentation. She then moved on to present a daily live entertainment show, Lunchbox an early daytime programme.
In the summer of 1964 Lunchbox came to an end after more than 2,000 episodes. It made way for a new daily soap opera, Crossroads, in which Gordon played the role of motel owner Meg Richardson (later Meg Mortimer), a part which had been developed with Gordon in mind as she was still under contract to Lew Grade's ATV. First in 1969 and over the following decade, she won the TV Times award for most popular television actress on eight occasions.
Gordon was the only member of the Crossroads cast who had a permanent contract; all other cast members were booked as and when on an ad hoc basis. Gordon had been a staff member on the board of ATV since her days of Lunchbox.
Gordon stayed with the programme until she was sacked in 1981, when ATV was in the process of being re-constituted into a new company, Central Independent Television. Central were obliged to continue ATV's commitment to Crossroads; however, Head of Programmes Charles Denton and Head Of Drama Margaret Matheson wanted to end the soap opera in favour of more expensive and lavish drama production. The decision to dismiss Gordon - the show's most popular cast member - was taken in the hope that viewers would desert the show, giving Central a valid excuse to axe it.
In 1985 Matheson's successor Ted Childs ordered Crossroads to be revamped, which included the show being renamed Crossroads Motel. This new-look was designed to bring back Noele Gordon on an 'as and when' basis, starting with a three-month stint from April 1985. Gordon's return as Meg was devised by the new Producer, Phillip Bowman, who himself ended the involvement with the series of regulars Ronald Allen and Sue Lloyd in order for the motel to be sold - and thus Meg's daughter Jill was to face a tough choice of whether to agree to the sale, or hold on to the shares her mother left her in 1981.
Meg's return was to advise Jill to sell the shares, as Meg, we were to discover, was good friends with the new to be owner - Nicola Freeman (played by Gabrielle Drake) and so Gordon's character would have many reasons to return to Crossroads once more. This storyline never came about as Gordon died before the planned return. The actor Edward Clayton, who had previously played Stan Harvey in the show, returning to take her place in the storyline.
It became known in 1982 that Gordon was suffering from cancer, for which she underwent two major operations. She returned to Crossroads in August 1983 for two episodes during the honeymoon episodes of Jill and Adam, shot in Venice. She was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1973 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews on the set of Crossroads at the ATV Studios in Birmingham.
After the termination of her contact, Gordon appeared in Gypsy at Leicester's Haymarket Theatre followed by a revival of Irving Berlin's musical Call Me Madam touring the Midlands and then at the Victoria Palace Theatre where it ran for only 88 performances. Her last stage appearance was in The Boyfriend at Plymouth's Theatre Royal produced by Roger Redfarn (she became ill during the run and had to be replaced).
In an interview she gave the TV Times in 1981 she announced that she might, once her stage work had come to an end, take up the offer of returning to presenting. In the same 1981 TV Times interview she commented that a future role as a breakfast television presenter was being negotiated. She would however not return to television full-time because of her theatre commitments. Speaking in 1984 she said: "I did several mornings on TV-am a week or so ago. And I have been recording some programmes for my local radio station. But I would like to do more television - and I am ready for it." However she fell ill, and that promised more regular presenting role at TV-am never materialised because of her failing health.
For many years in the 1960s and early 1970 Gordon lived in a large white-washed country house called Weir End, near Ross-on-Wye, beside the A40 road to Monmouth. She never married, although a fiancé later became a leading lawyer. She retired to her home in Birmingham, where she died in 1985 of cancer. She is buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church in Ross-on-Wye.
- "ATV Icon: Noele Gordon". ATV Today. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- As detailed by ITV in their on-air obituary broadcast prior to an episode of Crossroads broadcast on April 14, 1985
- As noted in BBC One's TV Heros series, 1991
- Detailed in her autobiography, My Life At Crossroads, 1974
- "Noele Gordon (obituary)". The Stage. 18 April 1985. p. 15.
- "Hazel Adair". The Times. London. 25 November 2015. Retrieved 28 November 2015. (subscription required)
- As noted by Jane Rossington and Paul Henry on the documentary Crossroads Revisited in 1985
- As detailed in the 1982 book, Crossroads - The Drama Of A Soap Opera.
- TV Times interview with Noele Gordon in November 1981.
- Noele Gordon profile, findagrave.com; accessed 16 March 2017.
- As spoken by Adams on Crossroads Revisited, the 21st Anniversary documentary for the soap.