Faithful few mourn the passing of 'Eldorado': Last Night: Pink fruit juice eases fans' sorrow as the BBC washes its hands of the costly Spanish soap

IN THE end, Eldorado went out with a whimper. It started a year ago with a pounds 10m investment by the BBC, the purchase of a small part of Spain and a promise to create a Euro-soap for the Nineties. It ended last night in a small French cafe in Kensington, London, with 200 die-hard supporters drinking pink fruit juice and straining to catch sight of two portable televisions on the serving counter.

After a heroic 158 episodes at pounds 64,000 a go, at 7.30pm the BBC finally pulled the plug on Eldorado, its most expensive flop for several months.

In Kensington, old ladies and young men, who had earlier taken their protest at the show's demise in an open-top bus to Television Centre, broke into cheers as the programme's theme tune came on for the final time. A reverential hush descended as the first lines of dialogue were spoken. It was to no avail. The volume control would not transmit the scriptwriters' pearls beyond the front row. Most of the revellers at the closing night party held by the Save Eldorado Campaign would have to make do with pictures.

But they did have members of the cast there in person, many wandering around at no risk of being recognised.

'I feel sad and angry,' said Faith Kent, who played Olive King, the busybody. 'We built a success out of a disaster, we had nine million viewers, we could have gone on for 30 years.'

When Alan Yentob arrived as Controller of BBC 1 earlier this year, he only found three to five million viewers and could not contemplate another 30 minutes. With last night's final episode, Mr Yentob washed his hands of the costly soap and washed its suds down the drain of television history.

'I'm sad for all the people around the country, the hundreds of thousands of fans represented by all these people here tonight,' said Polly Perkins, who played Trish Valentine. 'These licence-payers should be entitled to have this programme.'

The greatest roar last night was reserved for the seedy Marcus Tandy, when his speeding sports car was unaccountably engulfed in a dramatic explosion. But even this most dastardly of villains had won the hearts of the show's followers. They roared even more loudly 20 minutes later at his sudden reappearance in time- honoured soap-style, uncharred. The cheering broke out again as the closing credits rolled and he and his girlfriend Pilar sailed happily off into other television opportunities.

In the end, the protests of the thousands were not enough to outweigh the derision of the millions. Not that anyone recognised this last night. 'This is the closing episode of the first series,' said Yzen Eng, the Notting Hill bus driver who founded the Save Eldorado Campaign.

'It may come back,' said Patricia Brake, who played Gwen Lockhead. 'Even Ned Sherrin and Victoria Wood are ardent viewers now.'

Ominously though, even as the campaigners refused to recognise the corpse of their own show, the vultures arrived. BBC Enterprises launched a two-hour video cassette featuring the 'best' of the series. And the prophetically entitled love song taken from the series, 'When You Go Away', sung by Johnny Griggs, was released as a single.

Gwen Lamb, a Stockport campaigner, was thunderously telling everyone that she had it on top authority that 'a BBC chief had admitted axing the show was a mistake - it's a moral victory'.

The message was clear. Mr Yentob has not got Eldorado off his plate just by getting it off his screens.

(Photograph omitted)

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