Jane was the mainstay cast member from the original series, clocking up most appearances in any episode over 24 years. Jane knows Crossroads, and what it is about - and isn't afraid to speak her mind when the production company harms the Crossroads brand. Here she speaks openly about her time on the original, and more recent spin-off.
How did you first get the role of Jill Richardson?
Well I was working at the Theatre Royal, York and the chap who was doing the casting, he was a very nice chap called Matthew Lyons and he'd cast me in Emergency Ward 10 the year before, I think he thought of me because he knew that I was Midlands based and I got this request out of the blue to go to an audition.
I was doing Alfie at the Theatre Royal and I caught the last train which was about 10 past 9, and I had to miss the curtain call and there was a bit of a drama over that, anyway I got there. I had to be there in the morning then get back for the afternoon matinee.
They saw me and they seemed very keen, they said "Yes that's fine, come along next Monday" and I thought: "Oh right", so I went back and I didn't hear another word from them and I thought, "well what do I do?" because I was finishing that Saturday and then after that I was supposed to stay on and do Cordelia in King Lear and I said "No!" because they weren't paying my money properly, and I thought "Well I'm not staying here if they're not paying me properly!" and I thought "Well I've got this other job but that was Wednesday and they said 'Come this Monday' and I hadn't heard anything.
Anyway on the Monday I was sat at my parents' house and I tried to phone them and they said "No, we don't know anything about a programme called Crossroads, no, no, no!" and I thought "Well this is ridiculous!" Anyway I got in my car and I drove to the studios and walked up where upon Reg Watson pounced on me and said "Oh Jane, fantastic! We've been waiting for you" and I said "Well I didn't know anything and I rang up and no-one seemed to know anything about it!" And he said "Oh well, we're not allowing anyone to say anything about it, we want it to be a secret." And anyway it was all right and that was sorted out and we rushed into the studio and got started, so it really was all very last minute!
Sadly, Jack Barton, Crossroads' longest serving Producer died in 2002. Can you tell us a little bit about him?
He was a lovely, lovely man. He was a director first. When we were under Reg there was Jack Barton, Rollo Gamble and a couple of other directors, and they were a lovely double act really Rollo and Jack, they used to catch the train back to London together and things like that and anyway suddenly when Reg announced that he was going and we all thought "Oh my God who's going to take over?" and it was Jack!
And I thought "Oh!" because he'd been very much sort of one of us when he was a director and he was still charming as a producer but he had a little bit more, I think you have to have, you have to have that respect and I think in many ways he changed the show for the better because he made it a little bit more glamorous, he was very fond of blondes so practically everybody who came in was blonde, and we had lots of pretty girls in it and I think as well reality was the big thing, to try to make it real so the characters were totally real - unlike now where they're totally bizarre! But there were funny things that happened, he introduced a lot more comedy he also introduced quite a lot of social conscience.
I was very, very sad when he went and that again was very, very strange when he went, we didn't know anything about it and we were going filming down to Cheltenham and Jack said to me: "Are you going by the bus or are you going by car?" I said "I'm going on the bus" and he said "What about taking your car?" so I said "Yes fine not a problem Jack" I thought "whatever's going on?" Anyway when I got down there one of the prop people suddenly appeared and said: "Mr. Barton said I've got to put this in the boot of your car" and I said: "What is it?" and he said: "I don't know". It was a parcel wrapped up in brown paper.
Anyway when I got home, it was the 2 photographs that had stood in Meg's sitting room. And then the next day it all came out that he was leaving and that someone else was taking over and we were going to have a different producer, and it was all going to be totally different, there was going to be a different studio and I just couldn't believe it. But he was a lovely man and I'm very sad that he has died.
Having played the same character for 24 years, did you find that people confused you with Jill?
Yes, they did confuse me: I think they all expected me to be Jill, and people totally believed what was happening I think more so perhaps than they do now.
What did you think of the decision to axe your screen mother Noele Gordon?
Stupid. But I think it was political, the powers that be wanted to get rid of Crossroads and they thought that if they killed Nolly off.. However she also had upset a lot of people, in fairness, she did rub people up the wrong way, Charles Denton and people like that.
And I think they thought "We'll be stuck with this programme forever if we don't manage to get rid of it, and if we kill Nolly off it'll die a death." Of course it didn't actually, so I'm sure that's why, and I just think it was totally unnecessary.
Is it true that people really tried to book into the Crossroads Motel?
Oh yes, people used to apply for the jobs and all that kind of thing you know, can you believe it?
What did you think of the changes introduced by Phillip Bowman and then William Smethurst in the 80's?
Well, Phillip was very young and a bit inexperienced. He came in with some quite good ideas, but of course we started doing the programme in a completely different way. You see Jack went because they gave him an ultimatum, they said: "You can't have studio 1 you have to have studio 2 (which is much smaller) and we're not going to give you any more money".
And Jack said "Well we can't do the show then." And he asked for a film crew and they said "No, no, no, no!" and he asked for more money and it was for another film crew, and they said "No!" and I think they just wanted him out and again I think it was all to do with this business that they really just wanted to get rid of the show so they were going to spend some money on it, make it a very expensive show and hope that the accountants would then say "Well the ratings aren't good enough to sustain this cost".
So suddenly, we had a bit more money spent on the show, and it was no longer filmed "as live" which was great in some ways I mean it took the pressure off, but actually I think it made for not such a good show. Because it became a little bit like a factory and it wasn't so much fun to do it. I was absolutely amazed that Phillip wanted me to stay, he didn't want Ronnie and Sue, and they made a wonderful exit, and that was very sad and again I thought that that was a mistake, and we lasted for 2 years and then suddenly with no real discussion he's out and William's in!
William had run the Archers and he had a fearsome reputation, but after he arrived he was wonderful with scripts. He was not the easiest of people to get on with, but for me, he had some super writers and he made my character much more of a character, I had much better scenes, much better. Whereas before I just had to make what I could out of it, but this was actually written, and it was quite funny and I turned into this dizzy, slightly snooty girl. It was quite funny and it was nice, I really enjoyed that. But I liked William and I was horrified when the programme went because they'd given him a long contract and led him right up the garden path, promising him this was forever, you know, so that he would leave the BBC, they were very naughty.
But didn't you think that a lot of the changes upset the viewers especially the theme tune?
Oh I didn't like all that. And I don't think he was quite so good at casting. You see Jack had always thought "Pretty girls and sexy blokes on television", that's what he thought, with a bit of charm and style and I agree with him. Phillip also liked that. I mean he liked a bit of style and he liked a bit of charm and he liked it all to be fairly glamorous.
William was rather too dour actually and I don't really think that was a good thing. Also he did cast one or two people who looked very similar and it was quite difficult, (laughs) he did have some very strange ideas about my character as well. He has this business of me falling in love with Micky which I don't think was very good. Then I fell in love with - what's his name? - John Maddingham. And I don't know whether that was really successful.
Were you surprised when it was finally axed?
I was at first because there'd been talk that it was coming off for 15 years but I'd never bothered too much about it, I just got on with it. But I was surprised that they did it when they did. Because it was doing terribly well, it had very good ratings and they'd done all the advertising and stuff. And we'd met all these targets in terms of "audiences between the ages of" and all that. So, yes I was surprised.
What did you think of the ending, where Jill went off with John Maddingham?
Well I think that was cobbled together, an idea to give us a link to a possible future. I think that William was trying his hardest to get it to come back as sort of Kings Oak somewhere else, but there was all sorts of talk. By then I think that the powers that be had got frightened of the costs that had become involved and the changes in the way they did programmes then. We didn't really need all these sets, we'd just go out filming.
But what they should have done was to put it out to tender as an independent production, that would have been the way to do it.
What have you been doing since the original Crossroads ended?
Oh, quite a lot of things. Did lots of theatre tours and all sorts of other bits and pieces. But then really I tend to get fed up with all that touring round the country and I've done more of these celebrity things, that's another thing that's started happening. So I've done quite a lot.
How did it feel coming back into the new Crossroads?
Well it was exciting and then less exciting when they didn't want me for longer than 3 months! I didn't want to be in it for longer than 3 months but I didn't think it was a good idea to kill my character off. As indeed has been proved.
Did you actually say you only wanted to be in it for 3 months?
I didn't say anything. In my mind I'd decided I didn't really want to be in it forever but I waited to see what they offered me and they offered me 3 months and I said "That's absolutely great" and then they said: "Well, actually we're going to kill you off", and I said that was stupid! I said that I don't want to be in it for longer than 3 months but to kill me off was a very silly thing to do. I said: "You will lose audiences and you won't get them back". And that's exactly what happened.
Where do you feel that the new Crossroads went wrong? How do you think they could improve it?
I think, and even more so now, they hadn't really understood what the original programme was about. They made a big fuss about building this enormous set for a million pounds which was totally rigid and didn't move. But the whole thing is that people watched the show with the set that shook! They weren't interested in the set, they wanted to see what was going on with the people. And that's the clue, it's the characters! I think they went for a deliberately fast moving, very youth-orientated, totally amoral: trying to be very sort of sexy and controversial and I don't think that paid off.
I think it offended the people who were available to watch. I know that they wanted it to be on at a much later time but frankly they were given, when they started writing, 12.30 and 10 to 5 or something. Now you've got to think: who is going to watch this? Who's out there? You've got to build your audience. When you've built it you can then do what you like really, you can start aiming for another audience but you've got to have a few million people watching before you start putting your foot down and saying; "Well, we want this!" Otherwise no one wants to know!
Do you feel that they should have tried to aim it at the old Crossroads fans?
Yes! I do because the old Crossroads fans have still got nothing to watch. They're sitting there moaning! And people who are around during the day, they want something more comfortable, not too controversial. Not too challenging, they want something funny they want something, a little bit naughty perhaps, they want to have a twist and a story but they want some characters they can grow to know and love and feel comfortable with. They had too many young people in it I think, and you cant' really identify with them. They want to watch young people, of course they do.
But they also need to add some older ones to add a bit of balance, to disapprove of what the young ones are up to, not to condone it! The whole business of turning the first Sarah Jane into, I thought she was brilliant the first one, I thought she had so much style and charisma and I think they were crazy not to use that. She was the wicked, naughty woman, I thought she was superb.
Was it the case that they decided to make her into a phoney to leave open the possibility that Jill could come back?
Well I don't know quite what happened but I have a feeling that they did. Because I know Kay Patrick, she wanted it changed when she got in but it had all been decided before she arrived. She was superb. She had a bit of experience, she had a bit of know-how whereas a lot of the kids who were writing it had no idea. They didn't have anyone either who was mature and experienced to write the storylines.
Have you managed to see any of the new series, Crossroads Mark III?
(Laughs) Well yes I was totally bewildered, I mean what is it, it looks more like a brothel! It's not a classy hotel it's an absolute hovel! I mean, there's no sophistication is there? And again it seems to be all about the staff not about the guests. However I've only seen one episode so it may improve.
Would you be prepared to go back if they asked you now?
I don't know. It depends what sort of storyline they might have.
What would you say was the highlight of your time on Crossroads?
I think it was the time when Jack was running it, that was the best. Because we'd got it all very well organised and although it was a bit scary we had great fun and they had some very good people who worked together very well.
And the amazing thing about Jack was you felt totally relaxed. He always had a solution to the problem: a plan B, plan C and if necessary a plan X, Y or Z. And he was very good at managing the press.
You see nowadays, they tell the press what's going to happen! Whereas Jack would say, "Oh, there's a very important episode next week and you've got to watch it, I can't possibly tell you what's going to happen."
Which was great because people had to watch to find out if it was going to be a wedding that didn't happen or a murder, they didn't know what was going to happen.
I cannot understand why that's a good thing, to tell people: "You've got to watch tonight because someone's going to be murdered!" It spoils the story. I think in those days we tried harder to be closer to reality than now. We'd have one murder a year and about 3 weddings a year and that was about it and the occasional rape. Now it's every second isn't it? And the awful thing is that life is beginning to imitate the soaps.
Appreciation Society 1988-present
Interview by Daniel Landsberger