Peter Ling

Prolific television scriptwriter who was co-creator of the long-running soap opera 'Crossroads'


Peter George Derek Ling, television scriptwriter and novelist: born Croydon, Surrey 27 May 1926; married 1954 Sheilah Ward (died 1997; one son, three daughters); died Hastings, East Sussex 14 September 2006.

Six years after the television producer Reg Watson started badgering his boss at the Midlands ITV company ATV to let him produce a soap opera in the vein of the American daytime serials, Lew Grade finally gave in. As a result, the writers Peter Ling and Hazel Adair - who had already devised Compact, the BBC serial set in the offices of a glossy women's magazine - came up with The Midland Road, following the everyday lives of staff and guests at a motel in the fictional village of King's Oak, near Birmingham, run by its widowed owner with her son and daughter.

The idea for the story's setting came from Ling, who recalled driving past a board advertising the opening of a "motel" - an American phenomenon that was new to Britain - and Grade welcomed it, although Watson disliked the programme's title and changed it. What was most remarkable about the resulting Crossroads in the history of soaps is that it was so derided by the critics for its rickety sets and even more jittery acting but equally loved by millions of viewers - up to 20 million at its peak.

The affection held for the serial had much to do with the warmth of its pivotal figure, the motel's owner, Meg Richardson, played by Noele Gordon, who had previously taken part in the television pioneer John Logie Baird's first colour experiment and acted in stage musicals, before studying television in the United States and returning to Britain as a presenter of magazine programmes and the chat show Lunch Box for ATV.

But television critics were unrelenting in their attacks on the soap, which began with five afternoon episodes each week and was also the butt of comedians' jokes, as well as a late-1970s Radio Rentals advertising campaign for that company's new video recorders claiming that the machines could "take 16 episodes of Crossroads - if you can!". But Peter Ling always defended his baby. "They were recorded as if they were going out live and went out without any form of editing," he said:

If something like the scenery fell down, the only thing you could do was go back to the beginning and start the whole episode again. Because of that, lots of things that later on would have been edited out actually went out on screen, and this is why people always talked about actors forgetting their lines and so on.

Crossroads was first broadcast on 2 November 1964 but not screened in every ITV region until eight years later. When the London area dropped it in 1968, the Prime Minister's wife, Mary Wilson, was among the most vociferous campaigners for its reinstatement, with the result that it was brought back after six months.

The programme's fans saw the 1970s as its golden era, with Meg Richardson surrounded by characters such as her son Sandy (Roger Tonge) and daughter Jill (Jane Rossington), the motel manager David Hunter (Ronald Allen), gossiping cleaner Amy Turtle (Ann George), waitress Diane Parker (Susan Hanson) and her postman husband Vince (Peter Brookes), hairdresser Vera Downend (Zeph Gladstone) and odd-job man Benny Hawkins (Paul Henry).

But the serial never escaped criticism. The number of weekly episodes was cut to four in 1967, when there was a move to new studios and Reg Watson wanted to upgrade the sets, and a further reduction to three came 12 years later on the insistence of the Independent Broadcasting Authority - then the regulator for commercial television - which slammed the programme's standards.

Attempts by various producers to axe the serial were unsuccessful because it was fiercely protected by Lew Grade, but the replacement of ATV by Central Independent Television heralded a new era. So dominant was Noele Gordon that Central's director of programmes, Charles Denton, decided that the only way to rid the programme of its reputation with the critics and chart new waters was to axe her, which he did in 1981. However, subsequent attempts to revamp the soap failed and Crossroads finally reached a dead end in 1988 - a year after Ling was sacked as a storyline writer by its final producer, William Smethurst.

Recent revivals, in 2001 and 2003, equally failed, perhaps unable to recreate the affection in which the original characters were held. Ling discovered this once when he was in a Hastings amusement arcade while on holiday. "The woman giving change for the machines said, 'Excuse me, are you Peter Ling?'," he recalled:

When I confirmed I was, she replied, "I've been watching Crossroads ever since it began." She was a spinster, all her family had died and she lived alone. She added, "At the end of the day, I go home, make myself a cup of tea and some supper, switch on the set and watch Crossroads - the characters have become my family. I live through them, really."

Born in Croydon, Surrey, in 1926, Peter Ling was a keen writer whose first article was published in Good Housekeeping when he was 13. Although he was a Bevin Boy during the Second World War, ill-health made him unsuitable for work down the mines, so he had a job in the Army Pay Corps but contracted tuberculosis just before he was due to be demobbed.

While in a sanatorium, Ling started writing both radio scripts, encouraged by the actor Jon Pertwee, and the non-illustrated Eagle comic serial The Three J's, about boys in a boarding school. Influenced by the theatrical world in which his concert party magician father worked, he also wrote his first novel, Voices Offstage: an armchair revue (1947).

He then moved into television to script the BBC's fortnightly children's variety magazine Whirligig (1950), where he met the actress and writer Sheilah Ward, whom he married in 1954. He also wrote the children's sitcom Happy Holidays (starring Hattie Jacques and John Le Mesurier, 1954).

When ITV was launched the following year, Ling became script editor of children's programmes for the London weekday contractor Associated-Rediffusion, responsible for shows such as Small Time, which started that year, and the sketch show Rumpus Point (1955).

He also wrote episodes of the crime series Murder Bag (1957-59) and Crime Sheet (1959), which introduced Detective Superintendent Lockhart in the forerunners to No Hiding Place (for which Ling did not write), and Jango (1961), starring Robert Urquhart as the amiable but scruffy private detective described as a cross between Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot and G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown.

Then followed Ling's first soap creation, Compact (1962-65). The idea came to Hazel Adair when she delivered a feature to Woman's Own magazine and, once the BBC accepted it, she drafted in Ling to help her to devise the serial. It featured Jean Harvey as the bouffant-haired editor, Joanne Minster, who was replaced after six months by Ronald Allen - later to play David Hunter in Crossroads - as Ian Harmon.

Ling and Adair created Crossroads while Compact was still running, then Champion House (1967-68), a BBC drama series about a family-run textile firm, as well as both contributing scripts to The Pathfinders (1972-73), a series about the Second World War RAF aircrews who flew in advance of bombing raids.

Alone, Ling wrote episodes of popular series such as The Avengers (1961, 1963) and Dixon of Dock Green (1966), as well as the Doctor Who story " The Mind Robber" (incorporating literary and historical characters such as Gulliver, Rapunzel, Cyrano de Bergerac, Sir Lancelot and D'Artagnan, 1968), and storylined the children's adventure series Sexton Blake (1967-71).

After leaving Crossroads, Ling increasingly wrote for radio, having been a regular scriptwriter for the popular BBC Radio 2 serial Waggoners' Walk (1969-80), set among townies in Hampstead who were, for a while, more popular than the country folk featured in The Archers. He returned to the subject of crime to write adaptations of various Sherlock Holmes stories (1992-94) and The Gideon Fell Mysteries (1997).

Ling's later novels included his "Docklands Saga", High Water (1991), Flood Water (1992) and Storm Water (1993), and, under the pseudonym Petra Leigh, the bodice-rippers Garnet (1978), Coral (1979) and Rosewood (1979).

Anthony Hayward

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer - Permanent - London - Up to £50k

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum 23 days holiday plus Pension scheme: Clearwater Peop...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn