Emmerdale Farm is the most successful of a host of programmes that emerged after the government made possible daytime television by lifting restrictions on the hours of broadcasting. Created by Kevin Laffan, the show was originally expected to run for 26 weeks, and featured the Sugden family and their life on the eponymous farm. In these early episodes, the Sugdens attempted to cope with the death of the family patriarch Jacob, and the return of the prodigal son Jack, who had left the farm some years before and made a career for himself as a novelist. Eventually, after many arguments and reconciliations, Jack would leave for a second time, but the extended first series established the themes that would persist for many years, such as the changing nature of farming and the impact of modern ideas on the rural morality embodied by the old curmudgeon Sam Pearson.
The extensive location filming in the Yorkshire Dales was a significant factor in the early popularity of the show, with the production crew making the most of the spectacular scenery. They also made a virtue of strong storylines based around the Sugden family and friends, with additional characters brought in for short periods rather than as permanent additions to the cast. The regular characters were therefore given a chance to develop, and viewers grew to love their antics, particularly the romantic Joe Sugden, stolid Matt Skilbeck, long-suffering matriarch Annie Sugden and, best of all, Amos Brearly and Henry Wilks, the joint-tenants of The Woolpack Inn. But despite good characters, a striking narrative, and an impressive early concern with environmental issues, Emmerdale Farm did not shy away from traditional soap opera elements such as murder, adultery and sudden tragedy. It was an irresistible combination, and by the end of the decade, Emmerdale Farm had been moved from the daytime schedules, and although still not a continuous soap, was peak-time viewing in an increasing number of regions.
But such a small cast could not sustain the series indefinitely. Towards the end of the 1970s some new regulars were introduced (notably the wily poacher Seth Armstrong), and Squire Verney sold his land to the farming giant NY Estates. Feudalism was at an end. The new landowners would introduce fresh characters and storylines to challenge the Sugdens' dominance of the fictional landscape, and take the series into the next decade.