Life & Culture

A power team tells the story of sacked legend Noele Gordon

The sacking of Crossroads star Noele Gordon in 1981 forms the plot of an appealing new drama from Queer as Folk producer Nicola Shindler


QUAY STREET PRODUCTIONS FOR ITV NOLLY HELENA BONHAM CARTER as Nolly. This image is under copyright and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes in your print or online publication. This image cannot be syndicated to any other third party. For further information please contact: 07909906963

With the controversial Queer as Folk, Nicola Shindler, at that point a newbie television producer, made her name as someone who wanted to make shows that were edgy but also brilliant.

Since then, she’s picked up 11 Baftas for her work but her dramas with Queer as Folk’s writer Russell T Davies are almost always event television (their most recent collaboration was It’s A Sin). So get ready for their brilliant new three-parter Nolly, which starts on ITVX on February 2.

Based on the sacking of Crossroads star Noele Gordon in 1981, and starring Helena Bonham Carter as the soap legend, it is funny and moving and quietly political.

This is the story of an older woman getting brutally fired from the television show she headlined, something that, unfortunately, still happens today. Just to have a woman in her 60s at the centre of a drama —Noele was 61 when she was sacked — still feels groundbreaking.

Nolly is the first show of Shindler’s new production company, Quay Street Production. “It is quite a radical subject,” she says.

“She is such a fascinating character. She’s complex. She’s lived a life, as so many older women have and it feels important to tell her story. Older women still get fired all the time and the way it happened to Noele was particularly brutal.

“Things have changed a bit — there are more female production companies and writers — but the way women are described and reviewed and judged is still different from the way men are judged, even today.”

Shindler always knew that she wanted a charismatic star to play Nolly and Bonham Carter, who identifies as Jewish thanks to a Jewish maternal grandmother (albeit one who converted to Catholicism on marrying her husband who was himself half Jewish), jumped at the chance to play such a meaty role.

“I didn’t know much about her but she fizzed off the page as soon as I read the script and I thought how have I not known of her before?” she says of Noele. “She is a sensational woman, a life force.

Quite apart from Crossroads, she was the first female to ever interview a Prime Minister on television and she helped invent daytime television.

“Our show looks at how she was appallingly treated — that’s what inspired Russell to write it. She never discovered quite why she was sacked and it was hard for her because the public was always asking her about it.

“I love to do my research and I managed to find the interview she did with Russell Harty on the night she was sacked. She came on and sang Some People with such gumption and fierceness that I thought, ‘we all need a bit of Nolly in us’. And actually, I did find she legitimised my bossy side.”

Bonham Carter was just a teenager when Noele was sacked but she can empathise with the sexism she faced.

“Looking back on it, I remember going to America when I was 19 or 20 — I was pretty young — and I just felt so deficient because my legs didn’t go on for six years. I wasn’t particularly sexual and I just felt I didn’t have the right body and there was no career for me.
“Looking back, I think, ‘Why was I so fixated on the fact that I didn’t have the right body?’

But there weren’t many parts for me and that’s basically why I did costume dramas — there were good parts and that was where the writing was.

“This story isn’t about sex but it’s sort of a #MeToo story because she was sacked in her prime and I suspect it was because people were threatened by her — she was clever — probably cleverer than most of the people on the show. And they resented her power and the fact that she was right most of the time.”

On a similar theme, Vanessa Feltz has hinted that ageism was a factor in her leaving the BBC, and has suggested it is why the veteran DJ Ken Bruce had also quit the station.

Speaking on This Morning, she said: “I can’t speak for him but I imagine that it’s a feel of some sort of ageism at the BBC.” She added that older presenters were “not valued in the same way”. Even the musical choices had changed for the worse: “They’ve changed it to appeal to the younger crowd they are so desperate to get.”

Did she feel undervalued due to her age? Yes, she replied.

So, who knows, perhaps in a decade or two we’ll see an inspirational biopic on British TV about Feltz’s career called Nessy?

Jews in the News

I’m hoping to catch the brilliant Sophie Okonedo in a new adaptation of the blood-drenched Greek classic drama Medea. It starts at the new West End theatre Soho Place on February 11.

It’s the flirtation that has set the world alight and it comes with a Jewish English flavour. Former Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield’s flirtatious red-carpet encounters with YouTuber Amelia Dimoldenberg have gone viral on social media, watched by millions of people, sighing that their obvious chemistry is a romcom in the waiting. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Critics will finally get a chance to make a judgment on whether it was worth a “Jewface” row as the new film about Golda Meir, starring Helen Mirren, gets its world premiere at the Berlin film festival in mid-February. Golda will focus on the Israeli leader’s most challenging time – the 1973 Yom Kippur War – when Israel was caught off guard.

Fans of Ted Lasso’s Brett Goldstein will get a double helping of him on Apple TV+ this spring. The brilliant award-winning comedy about a football coach is due to return for a third season.

But first – today, in fact – comes a show he has co-written with Ted Lasso creator Bill Lawrence. Shrinking stars Jason Segel as a grieving therapist who decides to break the rules and tell his clients exactly what he thinks.
It also features Harrison Ford, in his first major TV role, as the doctor trying to keep him in line.

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