Whatever happened to? Eldorado

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A new soap opera opens on 6 July, 1992 in a blaze of sunshine and publicity. Eldorado, the BBC's big gun in the lowest common denominator ratings battle with ITV has all the ingredients of successful soaps in the Eighties in one big frothy mix: escapism / a foreign location a la Neighbours / Dynasty and common people a la EastEnders. A sun, sex, sand and sangria soap set in a siesta-filled spot in sunny Spain. David Mellor, the Heritage minister soon to embark on a soap opera of his own, questions whether it was "necessary to make, with the licence fee, a pounds 10m village in Spain". It's more than just a programme, however - it's a symbol of what programmes BBC bosses think they should be making - ahead of the upcoming government BBC charter renewal.

The first episode draws 7.3m viewers. Within minutes, that's down to 6.5m; six weeks after launch, 2.8m. By the autumn of 1992, it's a joke - literally. Nouvelle recycled toilet tissue is advertised with the line "In my previous life, I was an Eldorado script" and a haemorrhoid ointment claims "this makes even sitting through an episode of Eldorado tolerable".

However, producer Corinne Hollingworth takes over and with the new year the ratings start to rise: one episode involving a suicide gets 8m. She's backed by Members of the Eldorado Appreciation Society Espana (TEASE) in Sussex who cite a TV Times survey with nine out of 10 readers in favour of retention.

Importantly, though, one person is not in favour: new BBC controller Alan Yentob. In July 1993, after 156 episodes, it's gone.

So it's Dole-dorado for Julie Fernandez (the wheelchair-bound Vanessa Lockhead), signing on at a Job Centre in Ilford, Essex, while Sandra Sandri (pouting Pilar) insists that "it was good experience to work in an English language programme". Franco Rey (Dr Fernandez) has put that experience to use, and currently holds down a translator's job on The Cook Report, chasing crooks to the Costa del Sol - "of which", in the words of a BBC spokesman, "there are many", but not apparently, despite the loss of pounds 12m worth of licence fee, the Corporation itself.

James Aufenast

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