First Night: Crossroads (Carlton TV)

Lots of froth and plenty of dirty linen as new, improved motel reopens
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The Independent Online

Given its status as a classic British television soap, how apt that the new, improved Crossroads is being sponsored by Surf washing powder. The first episode of its new incarnation offered 30 minutes of churning activity, a lot of froth, a fair amount of dirty linen and several characters in a temporary spin.

Given its status as a classic British television soap, how apt that the new, improved Crossroads is being sponsored by Surf washing powder. The first episode of its new incarnation offered 30 minutes of churning activity, a lot of froth, a fair amount of dirty linen and several characters in a temporary spin.

As the TV-watching world knows, Crossroads closed for business in 1988 after a 24-year reign, in which it had become legendary for its coarse, one-take acting and painted-chipboard production style. Despite much public demand that it be buried in a lead-lined casket and forgotten until Judgement Day, Jonathan Powell and his colleagues at Carlton Drama deemed it worth a £10m refit and a move upmarket. The old motel had no stars, deservedly; the new hotel boasts four stars, despite having a water feature that suggests several small urchins are vigorously peeing through a Perspex wall.

Viewers who remember the old premises as the Motel You'd Least Like to Spend a Night In (Okay, Apart From the One in Psycho) must have been amazed at how swish it has become. There are security cameras, beauty salons and Thai fishcakes. The rickety old reception desk has been replaced by a pine high altar, manned by the refined glamourpuss Sherrie Hewson (last seen in Coronation Street). The kitchen is the size of the River Café, run by Billy, the volatile head chef, who yells at the management and humiliates his staff by making them wear ludicrous tartan pillbox hats. Where the old motel would have been stretched to host a three-man stag party, the new hotel lays on a wedding reception for 100 (mostly invisible) guests. Why, you could almost imagine the cast of a Seventies American soap such as Dynasty actually deigning to spend an afternoon here. And so hands-on is the management style, so urgent is their desire to make the staff-guest ratio more one-on-one, that the oily, unscrupulous deputy manager, Jake, is soon upstairs introducing a sexy guest to his multi-purpose master key.

Sex seems likely to be a key ingredient in this five-times-a-week show. Sex and ambition, sex and money, sex and disputed shareholdings, sex and towel maintenance, but mostly sex. It is partly because half the 26-strong cast are in their twenties or younger (a very determined bit of audience-targeting) and partly due to a cleverly evoked atmosphere of things-about-to-happen. Crossroads Hotel is where spoilt 15-year-old girls ask total strangers "Fancy a snog?", where the chambermaids dream of marriage, the kitchen porters discuss the waitress's new bra, and Jake's dastardly attempts to wrest control of the place from his mother will always be thwarted by his howling satyriasis.

Even the alfresco moments seem charged with lust. When the swarthy gay handyman Bradley (a welcome replacement for that woolly-titfered halfwit Benny) chases a young petrol-robber and rugby-tackles him to the ground, you almost expect him to inquire "Fancy a snog?" as well.

Bradley is the possessor of the only authentic Brummie accent in this Tower of Babel. The barman is Australian, the chef is Scottish, the waitress is Iranian, the housekeeper (the admirable Kathy Staff, formerly of the Crossroads kitchen) is broad Yorkshire, the new porter is a Geordie, and Kate the hotel's owner (Jane Gurnett, who used to be Rachel in Casualty), appears to have dropped in from Bristol.

All the mix'n'matching of veteran actors, accents, plotlines and upstairs-downstairs character-drawing may suggest an over-determined drama, desperate to appeal to everybody. Well, yes it is, actually, but it is still a hoot. And though the scenery doesn't wobble any more, there is a spindly staircase whose banisters look a bit iffy.

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