For Helena Bonham Carter, Noele Gordon 's defiant chat-show appearance after being sacked from Crossroads in 1981 shows exactly why she loved playing the soap legend in the new drama, Nolly.
TV bosses had fired Noele from her role as motel owner Meg Richardson after 17 years without any explanation, and the 61-year-old star strode on to the Russell Harty set to belt out a furious rendition of Some People, snarling…
Some people can be content, playing bingo and paying rent. That’s peachy for some people, for some hum-drum people to be, but some people ain't me!
Helena, 56, says: "She comes on and she sings Some People with such a lack of apology and such gumption and fierceness, I thought, 'Wow, we all need a Nolly in us'."
She relished playing such a strong character, a woman who refused to be cowed by the "sadism" of the men in suits at the top of Associated TV.
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Helena, who has two teenage children, says: "She's quite useful because she legitimises my bossy side. I've loved having her around, I don't think my family have because… she's got an engine to her. She's such a sensational woman."
When writer Russell T Davies sent over the script for Nolly - Noele's nickname on set - Helena found the character just "fizzed off the page".
She says: "She's a great force, and we're often so apologetic, particularly if we're British, going, 'Oh, I'm sorry', but she wasn't.
"She was very up front and deeply authentic, and she wore her experience. I feel she was sacked in her prime. She was 61, she couldn't have been better at what she was doing."
As Midlands motel owner Meg, Noele was watched by 15 million viewers three time a week.
When Meg got married, more than 10,000 fans turned up to watch the scenes being filmed at Birmingham Cathedral.
Nolly, a three-part ITV drama, also stars Augustus Prew as Noele's co-star and pal Tony Adams, plus Mark Gatiss as her great friend Larry Grayson.
Helena believes the series will appeal to everyone, even those who never saw Crossroads. She says: "It's for anybody who's been sacked, anybody who's been bullied, anybody who's been badly treated. It's people working in a workplace, it just happened to be Crossroads motel.
"You don't have to be a fan of Crossroads, although it's hilarious, because Russell's such a master storyteller. It's a brilliantly told thing. She's an absolute nutter. I loved it."
The timing of Noele's sacking was brutal, coming just four months after Roger Tonge, the actor who had played her screen son Sandy, died at the age of 35.
He had suffered Hodgkin's lymphoma, and Helena says Noele felt the loss keenly, having worked with him five days a week since he had joined the show as a teenager. She says of the ATV bosses: "There is a bit of sadism, I think. They weren't very kind. I suspect she was sacked because people were threatened by her. She was probably cleverer than most of people on the show. They resented her power."
Noele had studied TV production in America, returning to the UK as a TV executive who helped set up Associated Television and establish daytime telly.
When she was told Meg was being killed off - a decision she later persuaded them to reverse - she was devastated. Friends advised her to claim she had quit, but Noele would have none of it, announcing to the world she had been fired out of the blue.
Helena says: "She called it how it was, she was really appallingly badly treated. She said exactly what she felt – she wasn't going to be bullied. Any other person might have crumbled. She didn't." Within months of her departure, Noele was starring in a stage production of Gypsy.
Thinking back to her own start in the industry, Helena, who found fame in 1985 in A Room with a View, remembers how it was run by men who wanted women to behave in a certain way.
She says: "Definitely, one had to suck up to a lot of producers."
Because Noele was a single, older woman, the TV suits painted a picture of her as "difficult" and false rumours swirled that she was lesbian.
Helena says: "There's a wonderful speech that Russell wrote which is about women being defined by men, particularly then. She just said, 'If you're a woman, you're not married, you don't have children, then you're viewed as strange and odd'."
But researching the role, Helena spoke to actors who had worked with Nolly, and says: "It's so nice, because they were talking about somebody they really loved. They couldn't stop talking actually. I could win Mastermind on Noele Gordon now."
Nolly is streaming on ITVX from Thursday, February 2.
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