Noele Gordon: Feminist Icon

January 27, 2023

By Claudia Andrei (Contributor for and UK-correspondent for German-based film magazines Moviestar and TV-Highlights) diploma in ‘Film History’ at Trinity College, Dublin, looked after the background info for German horror classics from the silent era in the college’s Bram Stoker Club archive

In order to celebrate Network’s release of Crossroads: The Noele Gordon Collection, let’s take a closer look at the larger than life persona who not only made this long-running series her own but – in a case of art imitating life – became a ‘feminist’ icon in the process (though strictly speaking, she already was one before). Yes, we’re talking about the one and only Noele Gordon, lovingly referred to as ‘Nolly’ by her friends and many fans. In Crossroads, Noele played the role of Meg Richardson (later Mortimer) – a single parent who ran the fictional Midlands motel of the title from 1964 to 1981 and never encountered a dull moment in the process. During her time on the popular soap opera, she won the ‘TV Times Award for most popular television actress’ an impressive eight times and consequently was placed in the TV Times ‘Hall of Fame! That said, Noele had already won her first ‘award’ as far back as 1962, when she was voted as one of the ‘Women of the Year’ at the annual event.

Born in 1919 in the insalubrious East End of London and with her father, a merchant seaman, often away, Noele’s mother ‘Jockey’ was the driving force and harboured artistic ambitions for her daughter from an early age. Encouraged by her mother (to whom she remained extremely close throughout her life), Noele studied at RADA before treading the boards and occasionally appearing in films. However, unlike her Crossroads character Meg, who had would-be suitors abounding from every corner and eventually found herself a husband in the irrepressible Hugh Mortimer (John Bentley), Noele’s private love life fared less successfully.

Professionally though, she went from strength to strength when she joined Associated Television in London, where she presented The Weekend Show. Never content with what was on her plate, Noele then crossed the Atlantic to study the medium of television at the New York University, and upon her return in 1956, helped launch ATV Midlands together with producer Reg Watson and broadcaster Ned Sherrin. She also became a presenter and by doing so, gained a reputation as a tough-as-nails businesswoman, a reputation that would be cemented some years later with her role in Crossroads.

Her next outing in the world of TV was Tea with Noele Gordon (the first popular ITV chat show), which proved so successful that soon, stars from the Midlands theatre scene as well as London, were delighted to drop in for a spot of tea time chat with their hostess – among them entertainers such as Ken Dodd and Morecambe & Wise. She also became the first woman to interview a British PM: Harold Macmillan! Ironically, and a good few years later in an episode of Crossroads, she had an earnest one-on-one conversation with her on-screen son Sandy about the difficulties of making the right career choices. During the mother/son chat, she confessed that one of her earlier ambitions was to become… Prime Minister! Really, there couldn’t have been many soap characters around at that time with those kind of aspirations, let alone female ones!

After that, Noele presented a daily life entertainment show titled Lunchbox, which ended after 2,000 or so episodes and was produced by Reg Watson. Watson also produced a new soap opera called Crossroads, (the ‘King of ITV himself, Lew Grade was partly responsible), which had been developed with Noele in mind. Indeed, Lord Grade was every bit as big as the cigars he smoked but over time, Noele became almost as big thanks to her portrayal of the no-nonsense matriarch, Meg, who, over countless episodes, ran the Crossroads Motel with an unbeatable combination of charm and iron determination – usually confronted with all sorts of trials and tribulations which occasionally spilled over into real life, mainly because a single parent running a motel was deemed rather controversial during the 1960s. When son Sandy ended up wheelchair bound after a car accident (actor Roger Tonge had himself become wheelchair bound due to Hodgkin’s Disease), it only made her already strong-minded character stronger still.

The controversy continued when Melanie Harper (portrayed by black actress Cleo Sylvestre) arrived as Meg’s foster daughter in 1970, though by nowadays standards some of the plotlines wouldn’t be deemed controversial but simply ahead of its time. However, it wasn’t just drama, backstabbing and intrigue as the show, thanks to its motley crew of motel staff and various other regulars, often provided the perfect platform for some amusing scenes, for example when temperamental Spanish cook Carlos (Anthony Morton) flies in a rage after Sandy’s biro gets stuck in one of the chef’s cake creations following an argument, with poor Meg forced to step in and calm the two of them down. And to really show us what a multi-talent she was, Meg even performs a seasonal ditty (‘We Need a Little Christmas’) in another episode.

Despite Noele’s huge popularity, she was sacked from the show in 1981, as then programming head and producer Charles Denton secretly hoped to axe the soap in favour of more ‘sophisticated’ fare. Viewers didn’t forgive his decision to rid the soap of its most popular character and the plan backfired. The series continued, albeit without her. Despite Noele’s deep hurt and disappointment, she stayed true to the old showbiz adage ‘The show must go on’ and her career was given a new lease of life when she found herself once again treading the boards. Who knows which direction her phenomenal career would’ve taken had she not been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Sadly, this time ‘round even someone as strong-willed as Noele Gordon stood no chance and succumbed to this dreaded disease in 1985. 

Noele Gordon may have long since passed, but a woman succeeding in an area which was very much (and probably still is) a male stronghold was indeed some achievement and one should begin to understand just why Noele was and is a feminist icon. During her career, the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ supported over 30 charities, of which ‘The Crossroads Care’ was her biggest success.

Crossroads: The Noele Gordon Collection is comprised of 94 discs and a wealth of special features, including: ‘Noele’s return – the episodes film in Venice in 1983 / Original trailers and promos / Archive interviews with Noele Gordon / Crossroads: Thirty Years On and Crossroads Revisited documentaries / Exclusive photo souvenir magazine and lots more!

Order Crossroads: The Noele Gordon Collection


  1. Michael Nile Reply

    Lovely piece – thank you.

    And today – 30th January 2023 – is the day. Noele is coming ‘home’!

    Thank you guys, for putting together this new and quite extraordinary box set of ‘Crossroads’.

  2. John Reid Reply

    Congratulations to those who have put together this definitive set. Fingers crossed the 2001 revival is coming soon but, for now, many thanks for bringing back so many happy motel memories. A fitting tribute to the redoubtable Meg Mortimer

  3. Richard Clarke Reply

    Great box set.. Now can we have one showcasing the central tv years please.

  4. Terry Christie Reply

    Monday November 2nd 1964,Crossroads is The Great Soap Opera Broadcast by ATV Midlands for the first time from Mondays to Fridays with the late Noele Gordon as Meg Richardson,The Owner of Crossroads Motel.
    The famous stars of Crossroads alongside Susan Hanson,Jane Rossington,Ann George,Tony Adams,Zeph Gladstone,Edward Clayton,Ronald Allen,Roger Tonge,David Lawton,Peter Brookes,Johnny Briggs,David Jason,Ken Dodd,Bob Monkhouse,Brian Kent,Beryl Johnstone,David Fennell,Paul Henry as Benny is the great icon,Terence Rigby and Stan Stennett.
    Monday April 4th 1988,Crossroads has come to the end for the final time screened by ITV.
    The Great icon is the late Noele Gordon as Meg Richardson in Crossroads.
    Happy 60th Birthday Next Year 1964 Crossroads.
    Terry Christie,Sunderland.

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