Helena Bonham Carter as Nolly. Image: Quaystreet Productions
In new ITVX series Nolly, Russell T Davies tells the story of soap legend Noele Gordon. One of the biggest television stars of the day, courtesy of her role as Meg Mortimer in ITV soap opera Crossroads, Gordon was unceremoniously sacked in 1981. It made headlines. Gordon was heartbroken. After 17 years as the beating heart of ITV’s low-budget soap, Gordon was was never given a reason for her dismissal.
Nolly, as she was affectionately known, died a few years later. Her name has gradually faded from the public consciousness.
But now, with the help of Helena Bonham Carter in the title role and It’s a Sin director Peter Hoar behind the camera, Davies is telling the real story of Noele Gordon – and rescuing her reputation in the process.
“Why is this woman remembered as a monster? Why is a woman who was powerful and strong remembered as a diva?” says Davies.
“And why has her name almost vanished apart from these stories? Once I started realising she’d been hard done by, she had been lied about, that these monstrous stereotypes had been attached to her simply because she was a strong woman, that’s when I knew I had a story.”
Noele Gordon’s story is far more than a soap star raging against the dying of the light. She was the first woman ever to appear on colour television – directed by John Logie Baird himself in 1929. As a reporter on ATV News, Gordon also became the first woman to interview a Prime Minister on British television when she sat down with Harold Macmillan in 1958.
Later, she was in the first show Russell T Davies ever saw on TV, watching Crossroads in secret when his mother went out.
The more he learnt about her life and career, and the more he gleaned from talking to Gordon’s former Crossroads colleagues, the more Davies realised Nolly was far from the monstrous stereotype her reputation suggested. Instead, she remained hugely popular with everyone she worked with.
“I went into this thinking it could be a laugh to write about a diva. So I was surprised to find that everyone loved her,” Davies admitted.
“She was strong, she’d make a stand when something was going wrong and she would say she wanted things done better. But they loved her.”
The series captures life behind-the-scenes on Crossroads, infusing the story with real wit and charm, and we learn that Gordon was magnificent. Star Helena Bonham Carter captures her magnificence, well, magnificently.
“I love the fact you keep saying magnificent. I’m delighted. I’m delighted! Because that is exactly the word,” Davies told The Big Issue, in a wide-ranging new interview that also covers the phenomenal success of It’s A Sin, his return to Doctor Who, and his thoughts on the government.
“She keeps surviving, doesn’t she? Even at the end, which is very heartbreaking, there’s a survival to her. That’s why I love her. I fell in love with Nolly while writing it. The whole production fell in love with her. It sounds like a corny line, but it’s true.
“We have brought her back for a final bow. A final bow she never had in a way.”
Nolly is on ITVX from 2 February
Read the full interview with Russell T Davies in The Big Issue magazine – on sale from 6 February. The Big Issue magazine exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today. Or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.