Cast hit back as the sun sets on Eldorado: The screen stars and crew of television's most battered soap pour out their hearts to Ian MacKinnon

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The Independent Online
CHURCH notice-boards are not ordinarily a focus for anger and discontent. Certainly not among the genteel expatriate Anglican congregations of the southern Spanish Costas.

But the attention to detail that has gone into altering the programme outside All Saints Church in Los Barcos reveals a depth of unchristian feeling. The letters have been painstakingly rearranged and now proclaim: 'Pogrom. All Eldorado demands vengeance as Alan Yentob is an arsehole.'

The fact is, All Saints is no ordinary church, only a convincing facade. And Los Barcos is not a real town but the set for the infamous BBC soap opera, which was purpose-built in the mountains above Coin, near Malaga.

An anonymous hand has given vent to the feelings of cast and crew as filming of Eldorado enters its penultimate week following Mr Yentob's decison to axe it two weeks after he became controller of BBC1 in February.

The corporation would prefer that the programme should be quietly buried. 'The BBC are very unkeen to have anybody else raking over the ashes of the show,' one member of the team said. But at Cinema Verity, the independent production company which the BBC paid pounds 10m for 156 episodes, they have different ideas. The actors are determined to maintain the higher standards that the show has reached of late, but equally they are quite prepared do a little ash-raking.

The whole sorry saga was often more entertaining than the show. Episode one on 6 July was watched by 11 million viewer. They were served up a bewildering parade of characters, muddy sound, awful lines. The critics hated it. Tumbling viewing figures were gleefully charted down to a low of 2.8 million. Julia Smith, the producer, whose credits included EastEnders, left within a month of the first screening.

'She wouldn't listen to anyone,' one cast member claimed. 'That's the danger when you've had as much success as she has.'

When Corinne Hollingworth, also formerly of EastEnders, took over, viewing figures perked up. Several months ago more than eight million people watched the death of Javier, a Spanish closet homosexual. But Eldorado was still an easy joke. Terry Wogan opened shows with Eldorado one- liners. Adverts for recycled loo paper claimed that their product had once been the show's scripts.

BBC bosses kept their distance for fear of being linked to the embarrassment. 'What people needed was to be given permission to watch,' said Ms Hollingworth. 'Even now many are still embarrassed to say they watch something that has such a naff image.'

Actress Leslee Udwin's experience highlights the point. A London cabbie who could only have known her from the show recognised her, but denied watching it. He then conceded: 'I'll tell you the truth. I do watch it, but I'm not supposed to say that, am I?'

Tears flowed when the axe fell. 'The programme had a lot of baggage attached to it,' said Ms Hollingworth. 'We did not start from a level playing field because there was so much antipathy.'

Many of the cast would cheerfully have walked away from the fiasco six months ago. Now they are bitter at the show's demise. Ms Hollingworth said: 'We suffered because the controller of the BBC changed at a crucial time. He had a different concept of BBC1. He did not necessarily want a channel with a spine of soaps and, because he had no investment in it, that made it easier.'

Through the anger shines a fierce pride in what the team have achieved since the low point. They resent not being given another few months to gain higher ratings. Hilary Crane, who plays Rosemary Webb, said: 'I'm very upset that we're coming off. I've been incredibly depressed. I'm really not ashamed of what's going out now. I won't go back to London and hide under the covers.'

But technicians have been warned by agents that, in order not to damage future employment prospects, it would be sensible to leave Eldorado off their CVs. The actors are also concerned that they have been stigmatised by the failure. But as one put it: 'You can't win with a soap. If it's a success you're forever associated with the character, and if it's a failure you're tainted with that.'

However, the actors firmly believe that the viewers who remained loyal will agree that the show has been turned round. The end will not be bloody or cataclysmic. 'There is a fundamental feeling that we must go out on a high for the sake of our reputations,' said Ms Udwin.

Concern for the 150 Spanish workers, mostly from Coin, where unemployment is 28 per cent, is the other recurring complaint. In the words of the original publicity blurb, they were tossed an 'economic lifeline'. But one expatriate former extra was dismissive of this: 'A few got jobs, yes. But a few months of Eldorado isn't going to make the slightest difference.'

Some viewers, however, have not come to terms with the programme's imminent demise. Ying Eng, a Chinese bus driver in London, is campaigning to save the soap. He recently turned down an offer of an expenses-paid trip to the set: 'I don't need to come because it's not going to finish,' he told staff. There is, though, a slight question mark over his judgement. The other strand of his campaign demands a mention in the credits for Trish Valentine's dog, Mitzi.

(Photograph omitted)