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Eldorado (1992-93)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Eldorado (1992-93)
BBC1 tx 6/7/1992 - 9/7/1993
156 x 30 min episodes, colour
CreatorsTony Holland
 Julia Smith
Production CompaniesBBC
 Cinema Verity
ProducersJulia Smith
 Corinne Hollingworth
Theme MusicSimon May

Cast: Jesse Birdsall (Marcus Tandy); Patricia Brake (Gwen Lockhead); Julie Fernandez (Nessa Lockhead); Polly Perkins (Trish Valentine); Campbell Morrison (Drew Lockhead); Derek Martin (Alex Morris); Leslee Udwin (Joy Slater); Sandra Sandri (Pilar Moreno); Roland Curram (Freddie Martin); Buki Armstrong (Gerry Peters-Smith)

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British residents in an expat community enjoy a life of sun, sea and scandal alongside their Continental cousins on the Costa del Sol in the BBC's disastrously short-lived Euro soap.

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On 6 July 1992, after weeks of frenzied speculation, the BBC unveiled a landmark new soap opera - its most significant since EastEnders launched in 1985. At 7pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday viewers were promised an escape to a world of sun, sea and sangria among the expat community on Spain's Costa del Sol: Eldorado had arrived. Inhabitants of the fictional village of Los Barcos, purpose-built near Coín at a cost of £2m, included slick spiv Marcus Tandy, local busybody Olive King, washed-up cabaret singer Trish Valentine and her German toyboy Dieter.

Eldorado was the brainchild of EastEnders creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland, who saw an opportunity to transplant the workaday tropes of the British soap to a sunnier locale, mixing recognisable characters with a Continental je ne sais quoi. Long-running soaps, including Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-), have subsequently flirted with the 'Brits abroad' formula, but usually restrict these outings to single episodes or spin-off specials.

The expat centre of Los Barcos was the Lockhead family. With their apartment appropriately named 'Dunroamin', the Lockheads were unremarkable save for their spiky teenage daughter Nessa (Julie Fernandez, the first disabled character to be played by a disabled actor on British television).

With renewed controversy over the BBC's license fee funding brewing, knives were out in sections of the British media outraged at the Corporation's perceived extravagance. Initial scepticism was compounded by some dire early storylines and a bewildering smörgåsbord of European performers, many of whom had patently never appeared in front of a TV camera before. A gruelling shooting schedule, insufficient rehearsal time and teething problems on the Spanish set did nothing to boost morale, and Smith was eventually driven to a breakdown by the critical reception and infighting on the production.

Despite its shaky reputation, Eldorado was no Crossroads (ITV, 1964-88; 2001-03). Following a major overhaul supervised by replacement producer Corinne Hollingworth, the quality of plots and performances picked up notably in the months before the show was axed, with Jesse Birdsall's villainous Tandy and put-upon Spanish girlfriend Pilar becoming a popular focus. Regular viewing figures of up to 10 million failed to placate incoming BBC1 controller Alan Yentob, however, and in July 1993 the BBC chose to cut its considerable losses. After just 12 months on screen, Eldorado had become an embarrassing byword for televisual disaster, yet some soap fans continue to lament its passing.

Simon McCallum

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Video Clips
1. Public display (1:19)
2. Marcus and Pilar (2:44)
3. 'Welcome home Bunny!' (2:41)
Complete episode (29:14)
Holland, Tony (1940-2007)
Jordan, Tony (1957-)
Smith, Julia (1927-1997)
Soap Opera