Eldorado: The Final Reckoning: Unfortunately for the BBC, the sun hasn't quite set on the Eldorado story. The unlucky soap left behind it a squabble over contracts and some unhappy actors who have taken their cases to court. If they win, who pays?

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The Independent Culture
IN THE golden year of Eldorado, the sleepy Hotel Mijas, up in the hills behind Fuengirola in southern Spain, briefly became the centre of a glitzy media circus. Executives from the BBC and the production company, Cinema Verity, as well as itinerant producers and technicians, would buzz in and out of the crowded lobby and make the half-hour drive to the set. In the bar, tabloid journalists would try to extract gossip from the more pliant members of the cast and crew.

Since May, when the BBC pulled the plug on the rash and costly venture, the charming hotel has reverted to its former calm, uninterrupted by another disappointing summer for the Costa del Sol's tourist industry. Last month, as I sat in its spacious bar looking out at the ugly white housing developments that mar the view to the sea, only a handful of tables were occupied. From one of them, an Englishwoman in her thirties, blonde and bespectacled, came over to my table, where I was having a drink with the actor Franco Rey, who played Eldorado's Spanish doctor, Roberto. 'I've come to thank you for Eldorado,' she said. 'It was fantastic and you were wonderful. I don't understand why they stopped it.'

Rey's eyes misted over. He doesn't understand why they stopped it, either. Poor ratings was the official reason given by the BBC: by the end of its first year, the kitsch saga of expatriates living, loving and loafing in year-round sunshine was still three million below its target audience of 10 million. But given another year, it might have built up an audience that would have justified a permanent place on the schedules. It would also have helped offset the pounds 5m investment in sets, equipment and start-up costs which, added to the production budget of pounds 11m, make a total cost to licence-payers so far of pounds 16m.

In March, when Alan Yentob, the Controller of BBC1, made the painful decision to kill off Eldorado after its first year, he hoped that the nightmare of poor ratings, constant hostile publicity and the drain on licence-payers' money would quickly end. It has not. The BBC has been faced with steep wind-up costs and a financial position that John Smith, chief accountant for the television service, admits is a worry to him. Its pounds 1.5m purpose-built set at Coin, and the high-tech equipment worth more than pounds 1m, have effectively been written off: they are being used as tourist attractions, with the BBC only getting a percentage of the revenue. And next month, in a labour tribunal at Malaga, eight actors are suing for alleged underpayment in a case which, if the actors win, could cost the corporation another pounds 1m.

It is a huge and continuing embarrassment for a BBC highly sensitive to the charge of profligacy as its charter comes up for renewal in 1996. It calls into question the ethics of staking so much of the licence-payers' money on a gamble that, with hindsight, clearly had no more than a 50 per cent chance of success.

It was, says Peter Cregeen, the head of drama series when it was launched, 'one of the most ambitious things ever set up in the history of British television'. Thwarted ambition takes its toll: a few months after the decision to cancel, Cregeen resigned from his post and is now a producer looking for special projects. He was not the only victim. Yentob's decision to cut down the sickly soap opera in its prime was costly in human as well as financial terms. There are the actors, many of whom have found no regular employment since the last scenes were shot in May. There are local business people, for whom the venture provided a welcome boost at a bad time for tourism on the Costa del Sol. And there are the seven million regular viewers, still feeling deprived.

So were there other reasons for ending it? There have been rumours of overspending, criticisms about the administration and dissatisfaction among the cast. But could these problems have been serious enough to persuade Alan Yentob and Will Wyatt, managing director of BBC Television, that the simplest solution was to finish it off for good? John Smith, the BBC's chief accountant, admits guardedly that two audits of the operation revealed 'things we weren't happy with'. In the last week of shooting, discontent on the set led to a work stoppage.

Eight of the cast, including Franco Rey, have now taken legal action against the BBC and the independent producers of the series in a Spanish labour court, seeking compensation of about pounds 500,000. They claim that they have not been paid for all the hours they worked, that in some cases their salaries were below the legal minimum for the work they did, and that their social security payments werenot made in full or on time. The producers deny this.

The case will be heard on 4 November. If the actors win, the BBC could be faced with a bill of well over pounds 1m, because the members who did not take action - another 24 if you count all those who were there at the beginning - were on the same contracts and will expect comparable compensation.

Rey is not so much angry as baffled. 'The British are the pioneers of everything,' he observed philosophically. 'The BBC had the guts to come to a foreign country and start the first European soap. It was becoming successful and they pulled the plug.

'Answer me that question about the British character: you are the pioneers but you pull the rug out. I still don't understand.'

So was Eldorado a symbol of the British disease? Or simply a major foul-up initiated in panic by an institution under siege from its political masters?

THE SORRY tale began at the end of 1990 when Jonathan Powell, then Controller of BBC1, sought a big crowd-puller to replace Terry Wogan's thrice-weekly chat show, fast coming to the end of its useful life. It had to be made by an independent producer because the BBC was already making the successful EastEnders in-house and did not have the facilities for another soap opera.

About a dozen independents were asked to come up with ideas and two of them caught the eye of Powell, Cregeen and Mark Shivas, then head of drama. One was Westbeach, set in Eastbourne and eventually shown as a mini-series this year. The other, then called 'Little England', was to become Eldorado.

Even then, Powell had a nagging doubt about whether British viewers would take as quickly to a soap set overseas as they had to EastEnders, but Cregeen thought its exotic setting (if the sun, sand and Sanatogen belt of southern Spain can any longer be seen as exotic) was to its advantage.

'One of the images of it at the beginning was as an escape,' he says. 'You were showing viewers what they actually wanted to watch in the right sort of chemistry - sunlight in the middle of winter . . . we felt there might be room for a show that had that sort of glow over it.' All three wise men were impressed by its pedigree. It was being proposed by Cinema Verity, headed by Verity Lambert, whose unmatched record in popular drama production includes Minder and Rumpole of the Bailey. The producer would be Julia Smith and the chief scriptwriter Tony Holland, the original pair behind EastEnders.

The idea for Eldorado had come originally from John Dark, a veteran film producer responsible for some of the James Bond films and, more recently, Shirley Valentine. A small man, of great energy and enthusiasm, he is an archetypal mogul of the old school, his conversation peppered with the names of movie legends: Peter Sellers ('a son of a bitch'); Liza Minnelli ('wonderful to work with'); Orson Welles ('difficult'); Roger Moore ('queued in the canteen like everyone else').

Dark had been living in Spain. A friend of Verity Lambert, he had been discussing with her a possible series about expatriates. 'One day she rang and asked me if she could put the idea to the BBC,' he says. 'I didn't know then that they were thinking of it as a soap. My original idea was about Europeans on the Costa del Sol, not the English working class - mine would have been an upmarket sort of show, Dynasty rather than EastEnders.

'The BBC liked the idea but insisted that it should be about working-class people. I was told that American audiences like upmarket but British audiences like downmarket.

'Now I've been in this business a long, long time and I get fed up with assholes telling me my own job. So I thought: 'They know their job and they have a good track record.' But I wasn't happy about it.'

Verity Lambert agreed with the BBC that it should be rooted in the lower middle class: 'It wouldn't have worked as Dallas. It would have been just like Dallas but not as good.'

Once she had the contract, Lambert decided she needed a local co-producer to deal with the Spanish authorities and take care of legal matters. Who better than Dark?

A couple of years earlier he had gone into partnership with James Todesco, a tall, bronzed and smoothly persuasive Australian property developer who had been operating on the Costa del Sol for 17 years but who had, it later emerged, a controversial business record. The pair had been seeking to start a film studio, but had made no headway until Eldorado came along.

'I'd worked on a film here 17 years ago,' Dark recalled, as we lunched with Todesco in the studio canteen at Coin. 'The Running Man, with Laurence Harvey, Lee Remick and Alan Bates, with Carol Reed directing. In those days people always said two things about this place - that it's going to be the next Hollywood and we're going to have a Marbella film festival.

'They're still saying it today. The trouble with this area is that everybody talks and very few people do.' Dark and Todesco talked and did. They set up a Spanish company, JD y T, to co-produce Eldorado. Then they took Julia Smith and Tony Holland on a little tour to inspect possible sites for the permanent set.

Of the four places Dark and Todesco showed Smith and Holland, three already had buildings on them that could have been adapted for the set. Smith insisted that she wanted to build from scratch, so she chose the fourth - a pine forest on a hillside near Coin. Seeing it as a possible site for their projected film studio, Todesco and Dark had already been negotiating to lease it from the municipality. The price was low: an initial payment of pounds 30,000, plus an annual rent of pounds 6,000 a year, rising with the cost of living index.

While the pounds 1.5m set was being put up, in a mere three months, Cinema Verity and Julia Smith were busy recruiting the cast. Smith had her own ideas about actors in soaps. There should be no established stars - it had to be an ensemble effort - and people should be paid strictly according to their age and experience. Contracts were drawn up and the first actors signed.

The contracts were issued in the name of JD y T, but Dark and Todesco say they had only a minor role in drafting or administering them. They were unusual for British television. Standard contracts for BBC and ITV, negotiated with the actors' union Equity, take no account of age and usually contain clauses that give the cast extra payments for repeats and other uses of their work, such as on video. Lambert and Smith, however, wanted a buyout contract, where the actors would be paid only for the work they did and would be entitled to no residual rights.

At first Equity in London sought to dissuade its members from signing but several went ahead anyway. Spanish Equity didn't object. It is a perpetual problem for the union that employing actors, especially actors below star quality, is a buyer's market, particularly if you are offering the cast a year in the sunshine. Many would have contracted their souls to the devil for the opportunity.

'We have difficulty in assuring that where productions are made overseas the artists are on acceptable contracts,' says Ian McGarry, Equity's general secretary. 'We intervened rather late on but we did achieve some concessions from the BBC - additional payments if it was on UK Gold (a satellite golden-oldies channel) or sold to America; a disputes procedure built in and some money put in escrow in case of default.' What was not agreed was any royalty for video sales, which have in the event been rather more successful than the show itself.

'We agreed to what was largely a buyout because it was close to production and some members had already accepted their contracts,' McGarry says. 'We didn't want to wreck the show but we were still unhappy.' Speed was of the essence because Powell had decided that transmission must begin in July. This would allow the show to establish itself before ITV came in with its autumn schedule, and it would benefit from audiences drawn to the BBC by the Barcelona Olympics.

'We were concerned about the BBC commissioning an independent and the independent sub-contracting to a Spanish company which was issuing the contracts. We didn't want to see that as a pattern and we were assured by Will Wyatt that it wouldn't be, that this one was unique,' McGarry says.

On 6 May 1992, a few days before shooting began, the contracts were presented to the actors for signature. But, in a highly unusual procedure, they were asked to sign a letter, bearing the same date as the contract, agreeing a crucial amendment.

Clause 6 of the contract, dealing with working hours, stipulated that the artists should work an average of 40 hours a week, spread over five or six days, for 48 weeks in the year. But the letter of variation signed by the artists stated: 'Notwithstanding the provisions of clause 6 . . . I hereby request that you agree to vary the Agreement to enable me to work an average of 48 hours per week.'

In return for the increase in hours it was agreed that the number of weeks worked should be reduced from 48 to 40, but a further paragraph modified that arrangement: 'Should you (the producer) agree to the above request you will have the right in turn to request me to work in excess of 40 weeks per year on the terms set out above . . . (up to a maximum of 48 weeks per year) and I hereby agree to accede to any such request.' Payment for any days worked over 200 a year would be at a stated daily rate.

This agreement is at the heart of next month's court case.

The actors and Equity now claim that it is in breach of Spain's labour laws. Although the actors signed it, they maintain they did so without knowing that it was legally questionable. They further maintain that they did work more than 200 days in the year and were not compensated for it - a claim denied by Cinema Verity, the BBC and JD y T.

But why was it necessary to set out the agreement on extended hours in a separate letter? Why could it not have been written into the contract itself? Verity Lambert says it was done on the advice of her Spanish lawyer. Todesco has an altogether more remarkable explanation: 'The artists agreed to work extra hours but Spanish law didn't allow it. But Spanish laws are never clear-cut. You can work extra hours if certain conditions are met. We say they agreed to work the extra hours because they wanted the job.

'It's like if you have two contracts, one saying I'm going to pay you pounds 5, to comply with the law, and one for pounds 3. We agree that I'll only pay you three and you agree because you want the job. But at the end of the deal you come to me with the contract and say you want to be paid the five. I say: 'Don't you remember, we agreed on three?' You say: 'I don't care about that.' Morally you haven't got a case. Legally you can get as far as putting in a complaint, which is what they've done.'

Mistaking my silence for incomprehension, rather than surprise at this unorthodox business philosophy, Todesco went on: 'I've simplified it into a very narrow ambit for you, but that's how it goes. I love these guys but they're trying to take advantage of a situation. There's no way they are going to get the money.'

The court will decide whether he is right. But if they do get the money, who will they get it from? JD y T are the main defendants, because the contracts were in their name. Verity Lambert says the contracts were their responsibility: 'That was what they were paid to oversee and look after.'

The trouble with devolved authority is that it is always possible for one of the parties to shrug its shoulders and say: 'Not me, squire.' That is what Todesco appeared to be doing when he told me that, in his view, the BBC will foot the bill: 'Look, we were the little guys, the front people,' he explains. 'We were told they needed a Spanish company. Were we responsible? Morally, no. Legally, yes.

'The BBC have always acted impeccably and dead honourably. When I say that, I'm in no way brown-nosing the BBC, it happens to be a fact. If there were to be an adverse result in the case I would certainly pick up the phone and say: 'We have a problem,' and I'm sure they'd take care of it.

'My belief is based not only on their past performance but the fact that I have it in black and white from the BBC that they would meet all their obligations . . . for which they feel they are morally - not legally necessarily, but morally - committed. If they don't, we will pay it. But we never drove the bus and we are reluctant to pay for the accident.'

John Smith, the BBC accountant, says he knows of no commitment by the BBC to pay any award to the actors. However, at a preliminary hearing of the case in the summer, the BBC was the only one of the three defendants represented.

Verity Lambert, who says her company received pounds 75,000 from the BBC for each half-hour Eldorado episode, would be unlikely to be able to fund any extra payment from that sum. 'It was very cheap for drama - most of it comes to pounds 500,000 an hour,' she points out.

She is indignant about the whole case. 'Most of the actors had a very good time for a year and they aren't suing. They all lived in houses with swimming pools and had maids and were very happy. We employed a lawyer at great expense to draw up the contracts and Equity here wouldn't let them sign until Spanish Equity had approved the contracts. I operate on the advice I'm given.

'During the year one or two of the actors were always complaining - you get that with any film. In fact, hardly anyone worked more than 30 hours a week and some as little as 18 hours a week.'

Ian McGarry of Equity says that is not the point. 'People on location are virtually always on call because they are not released from being on call. You can't really say that if someone is not free to go away that is free time which would compensate for longer hours or work on public holidays, even if the contract could be construed as saying that - which we haven't conceded. We say that's unfair.'

This summer Lambert and McGarry met to see whether an out-of-court settlement was possible. No agreement was reached and the talks have not so far been resumed.

Corinne Hollingworth, who took over from Julia Smith as producer in August 1992, believes the court action was taken after the soap was cancelled because by then the actors had little to lose. 'I don't think they did a very good deal in the first place. They should have stood out for more. But having signed a contract I don't believe they then have the right to turn round and say they weren't paid enough.

'Why did they wait? Only when they found that this was not going to be their future employer did they find from somewhere the reserve to complain.'

John Dark puts it more graphically: 'If we were to put a notice in the Stage that we were back in production, we'd have to be barring the bloody gates.'

That is almost certainly true, yet it is wrong to imply that nobody was complaining before the cancellation was announced in March this year. In August 1992, some of the cast sent the contract to a lawyer in Fuengirola specialising in employment questions.

In a detailed critique, the lawyer noted several ways in which, as far as she was concerned, the contract seemed to breach Spanish employment law. 'Although this contract is signed,' she wrote, 'the clauses which it contains are not all legal under Spanish legislation . . . and such illegal clauses do not oblige the worker.'

Armed with this opinion, at least one of the actors sought a renegotiation of her contract. Polly Perkins played Trish Valentine, a torch singer of uncertain age who began the series by having an affair with a German toyboy and, when this was thought insipid for a family audience, later married a gangster.

Perkins (real name Gillian Arnold) had played small parts in television drama before, but in the winter of 1991-92, when Eldorado was being cast, she was a nightclub singer on the Costa del Sol. Tony Holland and Julia Smith were taken to see her and decided to write a part for her into the script.

She sent a copy of the Spanish lawyer's report to Verity Lambert and asked her agent, Bryn Newton of Saraband Associates, to try to renegotiate her contract on the basis of it. Lambert showed the Fuengirola report to her own Spanish lawyer, who pooh-poohed it. In a letter to Perkins on 20 August 1992, Newton described a bruising discussion with Lambert. 'Verity was very tough about the whole matter,' Newton wrote, 'and finally asked if I was asking for you to be released from your contract . . . She intimated that, if this was the case, no one would stand in your way.'

Perkins had already annoyed Lambert earlier in August by circulating a memorandum to the producers, with copies to Powell, Shivas and Cregeen, complaining about the stress of being on call and not knowing when she would be required for work.

She laid into every new member of the production team 'who sit in comfort in their air-conditioned offices' and complained of 'a distinct lack of tender loving care' from them towards the actors. The four-page memo received only one response - from Lambert, who chastised Perkins for putting it out by fax, where anyone could read it.

August was a bad month all round, quite apart from the midday heat that climbed towards 100F in Coin. It was then that Julia Smith, battered by the criticism directed at the early episodes, resigned and was replaced by Corinne Hollingworth, who had also worked on EastEnders. It was in August, too, that a sensational story appeared in the London Evening Standard, detailing the business history of James Todesco.

According to the report - which Todesco today keeps pinned to the noticeboard of his office in Coin - he had been involved in two ventures that failed spectacularly. In 1972, Travel House Australia collapsed and 'fraud squad investigators discovered that more than pounds 250,000 had been spirited away into foreign bank accounts'. Moving to Spain at the age of 24, he became a salesman for an ambitious property development project fronted by the screen actor Stewart Granger, in which many people lost money.

Todesco insists that he made no financial gain from either venture and there has never been any suggestion of impropriety. The BBC appeared not to know about Todesco's business history, although Peter Cregeen says that 'we would have done all the checks that are normally done'. On reading the Evening Standard article, Jonathan Powell ordered an immediate audit of the Eldorado operation.

Says John Smith, the accountant: 'Alarm bells would be overstating it but we did find some things we weren't happy with. I can't tell you what they were, but we did something about it.' Verity Lambert says the BBC did not tell her they were unhappy with the audit.

UNDER Corinne Hollingworth, the show improved. First she reduced the cast from 32 to a more manageable 24. 'A lot of the characters just weren't very nice,' she says. 'They reflected one of the problems of the coast - lots of people who are bored and drink too much.' She also cut out the baffling scenes where non-English characters spoke to each other in their own language: English only became the rule. And she strengthened the plot.

'We weren't telling stories,' she says. 'Every episode was filled with incident, with Olive going from one side of the urbanizacion to the other and meeting many people on the way. That's not a story. It doesn't have a beginning, middle and end. It doesn't say anything about the basic human condition.'

During the winter, audiences improved to seven million from a low of three million. If Powell had remained Controller of BBC1, the series would have been given another year to

prove itself, but his successor, Alan Yentob, was less committed to it and decided it did not fit in with the kind of channel he was trying to create. There was talk of a six-month extension but nobody was keen on that compromise.

Hollingworth says: 'Verity's feeling and my feeling was that in the audience's perception it would still have been a programme that didn't have a guaranteed future, so they wouldn't have invested their emotional time in it. We would have been living under a sword of Damocles again.'

The closure announcement released a lot of anger that the cast had been keeping to themselves over the winter. On 18 March, the Sun published, under the heading 'THE ELDORADOPES', what it said was an interview with Polly Perkins, although she denies making some of the remarks attributed to her. These included the charge that the show's producers 'couldn't have organised a booze-up in a Benidorm beach bar' and the claim that the cast were 'treated like dirt by the production team'.

Hollingworth was furious and telephoned Perkins to complain. 'I would write you out if I could,' she fumed. Perkins said she had been misquoted.

'It happened that she had said exactly that to me on a previous occasion,' Hollingworth says. 'But I don't bear grudges. She was in the programme to the end.

'It's very easy for her acolytes to aggrandise Polly and make her out to be the Mother Teresa of Coin but that's not the reality. She went into Eldorado thinking she'd died and gone to heaven. She suddenly had a job that was paying her more than she'd ever earned in her life and she had the possibility of a fame that would never have been accorded to her otherwise.

'At the beginning of the programme, in her humble days, she would admit how grateful she was to be there and that her life would otherwise have been earning pounds 50 a night singing in clubs on the Costa.'

To be fair to Perkins, she still does admit it. 'The show did me a lot of good and I'm very grateful for it,' she says.

She was by no means the only dissatisfied crew member, although she was the most articulate. Others were reluctant to speak out in case it affected their chance of future employment. Even the extras and technicians I met in Spain would only speak anonymously.

Two extras, an elderly English couple, claim they were paid only pounds 25 a day - half what they had earned on Granada's El Cid a few years earlier - and were not provided with food.

'Sometimes they'd keep us waiting for hours, in a cold barn of a room without heating. Sometimes we were there until three in the morning. We felt like third or fourth-rate citizens.'

A Spanish lighting electrician claims he was originally offered only pounds 1,000 a month - much less than his English counterpart - although he managed to get it increased to pounds 1,400. A production assistant said: 'The Spanish were treated as an underdeveloped country and they resented that.'

Franco Rey endorsed that view: 'They came and started doing things the British way. Here you must do it the Spanish way. You have been an empire for many years but, I'm sorry, Spain is not any more a servant country.'

Todesco said: 'Decisions were made that would have been acceptable had the location been Brighton or Cornwall. Verity's used to getting a yes or a no. When we came back and said 'maybe' she called us incompetent.

'This is the land of manana. Things get done but in their own way. Verity was appalled and rightly so. To some very fundamental degree the problems arose from trying to put the two systems, the two cultures together.'

Dark was executive producer when the series began but gave up the role early this year because of health problems. 'Verity is a dear friend of mine but we fought tooth and nail. I've been 51 years in movies and had a wonderful time. Without doubt, Eldorado was the most miserable experience of my life.'

Lambert remembers it differently. 'I didn't fight much with John Dark because he wasn't around very much, so he didn't know what was going on. He doesn't know anything about television and he's always saying so.'

The BBC stood well back from the conflicts - too far back, according to Dark and Todesco. A freelance producer, Dusty Symonds, who had worked in Spain, was hired by Cregeen to look after the BBC's interests but he played a strictly non-interventionist role.

'I don't think we had any trouble with the Beeb, did we James?' Dark asked, during our lunch.

'The only trouble we had, John, was that they didn't want to get involved,' Todesco replied. 'They loved us both but when we went to talk to them about staff problems they said it was our problem.'

'I can explain why,' Dark said. 'They do not understand the role of the independent producer. Why did they have a representative here, costing between pounds 2,000 and pounds 2,500 a week, if he wasn't supposed to do anything?'

Peter Cregeen does not accept the criticism. 'If you commission an independent you have to be very careful that you don't actually become part of the independent . . . but it was very important to us that we had somebody out there who understood from the BBC's point of view how shows are made in Spain.

'We didn't just say: 'Do as you like.' Obviously, if what they were doing was opportunistic or illegal we wouldn't have been at all happy about it . . . Our business affairs people didn't think the contracts were illegal. They would have been there like a shot if they had believed there was a legal problem.

'I don't think we handle independents in the wrong way, although there were certain things we learned during the course of this that meant we wouldn't do it in quite the same way again.'

BY THE TIME the death sentence on Eldorado was announced, the dispute over the contract was still unresolved. Some of the actors maintained that they had not been properly compensated for hours worked above 40 a week, or for work on public holidays. Nor, despite many requests, had they been given official documents to show the hours worked, how much they had been paid or whether JD y T had paid their social security contributions. Nor has Equity been shown such documents, despite requests.

The Malaga lawyer representing the actors in the impending action showed me a form indicating that in at least one case social security payments were not made until September, four months into the shooting, and not regularly until December. Verity Lambert insists that she has forms showing that the payments have been made.

Vivienne Brett, Equity's television officer, went to Coin last May, during the last week of shooting, in an attempt to resolve the dispute. 'I sent her because our members were talking about going on strike,' McGarry says.

Brett adds: 'There was a very strong feeling that if they didn't take some definite action Cinema Verity would sweep it under the carpet. I had a number of meetings with David Shanks (the resident line producer) but they were non-productive.

'He was on the phone all the time to Verity in London. He said he had no authority to make agreements himself. He was always waiting for legal advice from the Spanish lawyers that never arrived.' Dusty Symonds, the BBC's representative, took no part in the talks.

Frustrated, Equity called a meeting of the cast during working hours. Work on the production stopped for a period variously estimated at between one and two hours. Shooting resumed after McGarry received advice from a Spanish lawyer that the cast would be liable for damages if they disrupted the production schedule. Soon afterwards, eight of the actors initiated the legal action.

It is still possible that an out-of-court settlement will be reached. If not, and the actors win, the BBC will probably have to find still more money to support a failed venture that it had hoped by now to have heard the last of.

The BBC could be the only substantial loser in the affair. The actors have won no lasting glory and no secure employment, as they might have hoped for at the beginning, but at least they had their year in the sun. Verity Lambert had her production fee, and her reputation does not seem to have been damaged by the failure. The fee, she says, was less than 5 per cent of the production budget and she split it 50:50 with Dark and Todesco, who have come out best of all.

They have established a new company, Coin Film City, based on the site the BBC paid to construct, and are trying to attract producers to film there. They use the BBC's state-of-the-art video equipment, worth more than pounds 1m, to run a film school and to show coachloads of tourists, at pounds 7.50 a head,

round the set where the mother of all flops was created.

After the sightseers have seen the specially constructed town - which could be turned into usable housing with the addition of plumbing - the climax of the tour comes in the control room. Here the guides play games on the sophisticated vision and sound-mixing equipment, and some visitors are even allowed to have a go themselves.

The equipment does not benefit from such handling and it would need attention before it could be used again in real life. The BBC seems ready to write it off.

'I can't believe it will be used again,' says Peter Cregeen.' It's not as if it could just be shipped back here and used. There's no need for it here, apart from anything else.'

John Dark agrees: 'By the time they got it back it would be out of date.'

The BBC will not give details of the arrangement by which Dark and Todesco are allowed to use the equipment and the set. John Smith will say only that he did the best deal he could in the circumstances.

'Financially, we have an arrangement whereby the BBC benefits from our activities,' Todesco says. 'If we are successful they are successful.'

Success is not a word anyone at the BBC would apply to the Eldorado debacle. Certainly not Jonathan Powell, Mark Shivas or Peter Cregeen, the trio who gave the venture the go-ahead and who have all now left the jobs they had then. I wonder how often they reflect that none of this would have happened if only they had chosen Eastbourne.-

(Photographs omitted)