The first daily soap on television

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The Independent Online
Hazel Adair was the creator and joint scriptwriter of Sixpenny Corner, Britain's first daily television soap, which began at 10.45 on the first bright morning of ITV. "It was the first time an autocue had been used. One of the actresses was short-sighted and couldn't read it. If she forgot her lines she had to stop in mid-scene and walk over to the autocue and then walk back," she recalls.

The autocue operator that morning was John Whitney, who went on to make a string of television series before becoing managing director of Capital Radio.

Hazel Adair, a radio veteran from Mrs Dale's Diary, was later to script Emergency Ward 10, Compact and Crossroads. "The setting was a garage on a crossroads of a bypass near a New Town," she recalls. "We started with the wedding of the boy running the garage." Besides the happy couple, characters in the first 15-minute episode were mostly family members, such as Uncle Fred and Aunt Mabel; later cast lists were much larger. The storyline went on to cover the development of the business, the opposition to the bypass and the conflict between New Town and old village. There were off-screen dramas, too. After the initial 12 episodes, which were recorded, the series was transmitted live - five days a week.

"We'd go in at 7am for make-up," says Patricia Dainton, who played the part of leading housewife Sally Norton and who featured on the cover of the first TV Times. "There'd be one camera rehearsal and then it went live. Actors today would die if they had to use the tiny one-stage studio in High Street Kensington with tiny sets of the garage and the living- quarters. We didn't do location shots."

"Every Monday's script had a back-up," adds producer John Lemont, "an alternative that had also been rehearsed, in case one of the leading actors broke a leg over the weekend."

Towards the end of the run, the series was recorded in studios at Wembley, but this was equally strenuous, continues Ms Dainton: "Five episodes in one day, from 7am - and back in the rehearsal room at 9.30am the next day. Camera rehearsals took up half of Sunday. It was horrendous really; pioneering is always hard."

The soap lasted 10 months, until Associated-Rediffusion ran out of enthusiasm and patience with its finances. "It was the overtime that killed it," asserts Hazel Adair.

To save money, morning programming was axed and Sixpenny Corner was shifted to early evening. The company was initially overstaffed; after a bout of sackings in the spring of 1956, the unions retorted by banning overtime which, in a series with five daily shows plus rehearsals, was unavoidable. Sixpenny Corner turned out to be also a description of Associated-Rediffusion's dilatory methods of payment. "I had pounds 40 a week, which was a good wage," says Ms Dainton, "but you might not receive any money for three months."