Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Taxi for Emmerdale

I NEARLY laid down my life for Emmerdale. It's unlikely, absurd even - and entirely true. just a few weeks into my - very short - stint as a storyliner for the show (which is celebrating it's ruby anniversary with a live show even as I type!). I was mugged on my way to Leeds station. Two lads after my laptop, on which were copies of all the new storylines. If I lost them to these hooded weasels we would have to do them all again and the prospect was a horrific one. Clearly I wasn't going to go through all that again, so I shouted, I roared, I kicked out and most of all I kept a stubborn grip on the strap of my lap top bag.

I'm no hero. I'm not tough. But a middle-aged man needs very little excuse to go nuclear these days. Over 40, it needs almost nothing to send us off into a scary, volcanic murderous rage. Losing your glasses can do it, a dodgy mobile signal can do it, never mind a kid laying his ferrety fingers on your Lenovo. And in any case I think these boys were probably junkies and, as we well know, heroin is not a performing enhancing drug. Not for street fighting anyway - if you are recording A Kind of Blue or Exile On Main Street, it seem to work rather better.

So, the fight was a short one. And they ran off to ring their probation officers or whatever, to complain that the nasty shouty man wouldn't do the decent thing. And left me to have palpitations about how it could have turned out. A stanley knife in the guts, the family turning off the life support with me locked in by own body, and unable to tell them that I was still alive... and then the grave-stone. Here lies the grave of Stephen May... Died So The Sugdens and The Dingles might live.

Except that you don't know who the Sugdens and the Dingles are do you? Or, if you do, it's a distant folk memory like the way people who have no conscious knowledge of George Formby still somehow know the words to 'Leaning On a Lamp Post' or 'When I'm Cleaning Windows'.

During my time on Emmerdale I rarely met actual fans of the show (and I include the cast and crew here). In fact I rarely met anyone who admitted to watching it. I used to hear 'My mum watches it.' or, most hurtfully of all, I once got 'My Nan used to watch it.'

Which, to be fair, was more than I did. I can admit it now. But don't tell anyone.  The whole time I worked on Emmerdale I didn't watch a single episode. Not all the way through. I couldn't actually bear to. So it wasn't much wonder that my storylines weren't much cop. Amusing things for the old people to do with chutney, that was what I found myself tasked with. This is the TV soap equivalent of being made to clean the toilets with a toothbrush. Punishment detail.

But there was one storyline I - sort of - came up with. A big one. Now, it's possible that other people will claim this didn't happen. That I am suffering from false memory syndrome. That they came up with this story. They have their truth, and this is mine (to coin a phrase) and bear in mind the adage about success having many fathers while failure is an orphan. And it's true that in soap storyline writing you are often working in groups so the contribution of one individual is hard to measure. Except in this case. Because in the case of the Paddy\Chas story the authorship is - to my mind anyway - completely clear. It came from a Hebden Bridge taxi driver.

Now because you don't know who the fuck Paddy and Chas are (you're now singing When I'm cleaning windows and playing air ukulele) I'll tell you. Paddy Kirk (brilliantly played by Dominic Brunt. It is a strange fact that some of the actors on Emmerdale are amazing. Dom, Mark Charnock -the guy who plays Marlon and - especially - the guy who played Eli Dingle, whose name I forget.  And Jane Cox who plays Ma Dingle. All superb actors.) Paddy Kirk is the village vet. An amiable, good-hearted, permanently flustered oaf. Unlucky in love and a bit of a buffoon. Chas is the village vamp. A tart with a heart (Chas is short for Chastity. Ho and, indeed, ho.) Chas has chequered sexual history. The streets of Emmerdale are littered with the hearts she's broken... Nevertheless she walks in hope that one day her dark prince will come along. Someone who can tame her...

Anyway, one night on my way home from a hard day on chutney duty, I took a cab. I mentioned what I did and the taxi driver went into paroxysms of joy. She WAS a fan. She LOVED the show. In fact she loved it so much she knew what should happen... And what should happen was that Paddy - amiable idiot that he is should get entangled with Chas.

'Really?' I said

'Yes, really.' She said. And went on.  She told how Chas, fragile after her the wreckage of her latest doomed romance, will - one desperately lonely night - bestow on her favours on Paddy. And the scales will fall from her eyes and she'll see the honest virtues of Paddy are far better than the dubious charms of the self-absorbed shits she's been falling for up to now... Plain, good-hearted, sturdy yeoman Paddy he's the man. Paddy - sure his heart will be broken if he falls for Chas - resists. But she is determined. She woos and wins him and finally convinces Paddy that she's serious. That she loves him Goddamit. That the self-absorbed shits are a thing of the past, that it's only good-hearted vets for her from now on. Paddy has never been so happy. Except that... Chas can't help herself and, having reeled Paddy in, finds she still has a thing for Carl - the bad boy haulage company owner and her former partner. She has a for old times sake fling with Carl. And breaks Paddy's heart.

And which point she realises that it really IS Paddy she loves and has to work to win him back a second time and of course he's doubly watchful, doubly resistant... It's like one of those 19th century French novels. Like something out of Zola or Flaubert. And genius... And she succeeds 'And then they're an item for a long time' concludes the tax driver.

So the next morning I'm in to those offices on the Kirkstall Road and I'm saying 'You know what should happen? Paddy and.... Chas should happen.'

And they're all scoffing  'Really? Paddy and Chas... '

And I'm all 'Yes really...' And I begin to explain, just as the Hebden taxi driver explained it all to me. I was the girl with the golden straw, she was Rumpelstiltskin - and she didn't even want my first born daughter in return.

And that my friends is the story of how Paddy and Chas came to be. Other people will claim the credit, other people will tell you that it wasn't like that... but we - you and I - we know the truth...

Like we all know the rot set in when they stopped calling it Emmerdale Farm...

The First episode of Emmerdale Farm was broadcast Oct 16 1972. The same year Ziggy Stardust came out... 



  1. When and why did the name change come about, please?

  2. Phil Redmonds - who flattened the place with a plane in about 1990...

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