'Crossroads' is back. But where is Benny?

One of Britain's best-loved - and most derided - television soaps is to return. The new Crossroads will launch next spring as the centrepiece of the ITV 2001 daytime schedule, the channel said yesterday.

One of Britain's best-loved - and most derided - television soaps is to return. The new Crossroads will launch next spring as the centrepiece of the ITV 2001 daytime schedule, the channel said yesterday.

The soap opera set in a motel outside Birmingham, which made "a Benny" a household term of derision, is to become a weekday fixture. Some of the old characters will be back, but it is not known yet whether Benny himself is among them.

The legendary shaky sets, however, will be absent. Steve Hewlett, the director of programmes at Carlton, said: "I am hoping it will become as iconic as the original, but for things that were good - the warmth, the sense of engagement - not the wobbly walls, which it won't have.

"It will be a class drama. It's a thoroughly modern soap, very much based on now, but it's got a history and in terms of history, establishing a place in people's heads is one of the hardest things for programme makers," he said.

The soap ran for 24 years until 1988, gaining audiences of 18 million in its Seventies heyday as well as a cult following. The new Crossroads will still be set in a hotel outside Birmingham, although it will be filmed in Nottingham.

The revival was the brainchild of Carlton's head of programming, Lord Alli, who said his passion for the soap had begun in childhood.

"I watched it with my mother and I think it's one of those things which you could experience as real family viewing," he said. "It was not as gritty as some, you didn't feel you wanted to commit suicide afterwards, yet you didn't have the non-stop comedy of Coronation Street... it was accessible, and easy viewing for the family." Lord Alli said he wanted to maintain that feeling for a modern audience.

The channel is said to be putting "significant resources" behind the soap, which will go out in half-hour episodes every weekday. Commissioned for a year, it has been storylined but not yet fully scripted.

Lord Alli wants the soap still to be based around a "strong matriarchal character" like Meg Richardson, played last time by the late Noele Gordon. Several of the original cast members have been "pencilled in", although talks are continuing. But the theme tune, the last version of which was arranged by Paul McCartney's band Wings, is likely to remain.

"Lots of our creative people have ideas for the theme tune, but I'm going to try to keepthe old one," said Lord Alli. "The other thing I liked wasthe way the credits rolled - up and down and side to side. That will be my gesture to the old programme."

ITV also gave details of its replacement for the Australian soap Home and Away. Trafalgar Road, to be shown at teatime, set in south-east London, will feature a group of young families. Nick Elliott, controller of drama, said: " Trafalgar Road is a fresh and vibrant drama about today's young families in London."

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