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Emmerdale Farm / Emmerdale (1972-)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Emmerdale Farm / Emmerdale (1972-)
Yorkshire Television for ITV, tx. 16/10/1972 -
Over 5,700 x 25 min episodes, colour
Created byKevin Laffan
Producers includeDavid Goddard
 Robert D. Cardona
 Anne Gibbons
 Stuart Doughty
 Mervyn Watson
 Steve Frost
 Michael Glynn

Cast: Ronald Magill (Amos Brearly); Sheila Mercier (Annie Brearly); Andrew Burt / Clive Hornby (Jack Sugden); Frazer Hines (Joe Sugden); Stan Richards (Seth Armstrong); Frederick Pyne (Matt Skilbeck); Arthur Pentelow (Henry Wilks); Ursula Camm / Ruth Holden (Meg Armstrong); Peter Amory (Chris Tate); Leah Bracknell (Zoe Tate); Richard Thorp (Alan Turner); Jessica Haywood / Hannah Midgley / Isabel Hodgins (Victoria Sugden); Paula Tilbrook (Betty Eagleton); Steve Halliwell (Zak Dingle)

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Comings and goings among the farmers and other residents of a Yorkshire village.

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Emmerdale Farm/Emmerdale has the most unlikely history of all the major soaps. It began with little fanfare as one of a number of new afternoon ITV serials. Over its first few years it concentrated on the members of the Sugden family and their interactions with the other villagers. The series was popular, partly because of the attractive countryside, but mainly because it was exceptionally well-written and performed for a show of its type. As the audience grew, the ITV regions took note, and over a period of years gradually moved the series into peaktime. This began the improbable evolution of a series which would eventually challenge EastEnders (BBC, 1985-) in the ratings.

By the 1980s, the production team had increased the number of regular characters simply because otherwise they were in danger of reusing old stories. A nearby town - Hotton - was featured more heavily, and the new farming conglomerate NY Estates was introduced. Gradually the series began to introduce 'racier' storylines, such as Jack Sugden's adultery, and business deals and management buyouts ran alongside the latest crisis with cattle or sheep. It was around this point that Les Dawson described the series as "Dallas with dung", and if this wasn't quite true at the time, the later contrast of the bickering Tate family with the clownish Dingles certainly made it so.

Once ITV belatedly realised that the show was a success, it decided to capitalise: in a short time the show was networked; renamed Emmerdale (to lose the unglamorous connotations of farming); and Brookside (Channel 4, 1982-2003) creator Phil Redmond was brought in to beef up the storylines. The most famous of Redmond innovation was the Lockerbie-style plane crash which killed a number of cast members. This created headlines and also brought censure from the ITC, but from then on Emmerdale became notorious for its sensational 'event' episodes, which are still regularly used to this day.

In many ways, Emmerdale has pushed back the boundaries of British soap more than any other programme: it was the first major soap to move to five episodes a week; the first to make a storyline fully interactive (the killing of Tom King); and it even used a reality show (Soapstars, ITV, 2001) to choose cast members. This 'try anything' approach has brought frequent success in the ratings, but arguably at the cost of sacrificing drama and character for sensation and melodrama.

John Williams

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Video Clips
Complete 1976 episode (24:19)
Emmerdale Farm - The 1970s
Emmerdale Farm/Emmerdale - The 1980s
Pobol y Cwm (1974-)
Weavers Green (1966)
Soap Opera