Q&A/PREVIEW: Nolly at the BFI with Russell T Davies, Helena Bonham Carter & Mark Gatiss

By Neil Durham

WHEN?: Thursday 26 January 2023, Nolly drops 2 February 2023 on ITVX

We’ve just seen the 1st 2 of 3 episodes of new Russell T Davies (It’s A Sin, Channel 4) show Nolly and he tells us in the Q&A afterwards: ‘When we 1st met ITV and said we wanted to make a drama about Noele Gordon, they said: ‘Who’s he?’

  • Read on for reasons including Helena Bonham Carter’s thoughts on the show and Gatiss on Larry Grayson

Noele Gordon was born on Christmas Day 1919, became an actress, was the 1st woman to appear on colour television sets, established ATV Midlands, became the 1st woman to interview a Prime Minister – Harold Macmillan – but was best known for her role as motel owner Meg Richardson, later Mortimer, in Crossroads from 1964 to 1981.

Asked why Nolly after the rollercoaster of success that was It’s A Sin, Davies says: ‘No-one outside of Britain has ever heard of her but it’s the same time as the boys from It’s A Sin were heading off to London that these events were happening and in many ways it’s a nice antidote to that show because it’s a hoot.’

We laughed a lot during the 2 45-minute episodes we saw and not just because the series, parodied so brilliantly by Victoria Wood as Acorn Antiques, was made on a shoestring budget ‘as live’ with the occasional mistake finding its way onto air and notoriously wobbly end credits.

Oscar-nominated Bonham Carter who plays Nolly says: ‘1 of the best notes I received was to try to play her as a monster in the 1st act until she picks up that phone and then you’ve got somewhere to go.’

In that hilarious 1st episode a new cast member is shown the ropes by Nolly including what to do if the show was ‘under running’ its prescribed 19-and-a-half minute length – essentially improvise ‘as live’ when the phone rang.

That 1st show ends with Nolly picking up the phone – and cheerfully handing it to the terrified new cast member with a breezy: ‘It’s for you!’

The drama of the piece comes from Nolly’s sacking in 1981 at the height of her fame and how her male bosses never really make it clear to her why – at 61 – it was time for her to pack her bags.

Bonham Carter says: ‘Her eggs might not be great but her ideas are just as good as anyone’s with balls. I’m absolutely certain that if she had been a man she wouldn’t have been treated in that way.’

That 1st episode makes clear that Gordon’s imperious nature was difficult for the show’s staff but also that she had a heart of gold, missed her late mother, had a difficult love life and found friendship with comedian Larry Grayson played heartwarmingly here by Mark Gatiss, recent director of The Unfriend at The Criterion.

Gatiss remembers: ‘It’s the email you dream of: an offer to play Larry Grayson in a 3-parter as part of such an amazing package. In my research into him I just fell in love with him all over again. He was just so much part of our childhood.

‘There was a great documentary about him on Channel 5. I’d forgotten how wonderful he was and it was just so effortless. He was just so warm – as well as being absolutely filthy.’

1 of the ironies of the aftermath of Nolly’s sacking is that it saw the show’s popularity rising to a viewership of 15 million with fevered press speculation of how she would be written out.

We see staff speculating over whether it could be a ‘Who shot JR?’ moment familiar from the time and rival US soap Dallas which contrasts brilliantly with Nolly’s own, admittedly buried, modesty: ‘I’m just a middling actress in a middling show but I could’ve carried on for 100 years.’

Described as ‘the Queen of Midlands’, there’s also a real sense of place about both Crossroads and its star.

We loved the surprise appearance of It’s A Sin‘s Omari Douglas (Cabaret, Playhouse Theatre) in 1 of the series’ most touching scenes between Bonham Carter and Gatiss backstage at a theatre on tour.

Nolly is a show which bathes in the camp ridiculousness of soap operas but its spotlight on ageism and sexism also feels both timely and important.

It’s definitely a hoot and so well cast that we must also give a shout out to Augustus Prew (3rd from right above) who plays Nolly’s friend and fellow cast member Tony Adams and their unlikely friendship sums up what makes this unexpected joy of a show such a delight.

  • Main picture via Facebook courtesy BFI Tickets
  • Have you seen a Russell T Davies show before and what did you think of this 1?
  • Let us know what you thought in the comments below
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow monstagigz on Twitter @NeilDurham, email neildurham3@gmail.com and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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