David Morgan remembers the launch of the new opening credits for the Midlands’ most famous motel in March 1985, but filmed in September 1984 complete with an MG Maestro 1600.
Its 6.05pm on a weekday and the Findus Crispy Pancakes are slowly cooking under the Creda Carefree’s grill. Suddenly, conversation is stopped mid-sentence by that familiar 9-note rally call from the Pye 26-inch signaling it is time to enjoy 30 minutes of three-star escapism watching the latest happenings from the Midlands’ most recognised motel: Crossroads.
As an avid viewer of this fictitious motel – probably fuelled by my mother working in a motel at the time and often having a tale to tell – it was compulsive viewing. In many ways Crossroads came at a time when soap operas were still gentle on the audience and swearing and violence were the last resort for creating impact. But the year was 1985 and this 21-year-old saga, rather like the décor in the motel’s reception, was in need of a refresh.
Unfortunately, in my eyes, the quest to add some polish to Central Television’s ‘gem’ ended up wiping away some of its intrinsic charm. If it wasn’t the less-than-convincing Nicola Freeman as the new motel boss, played by Gabrielle Drake, then it was the softer piano rendition of Tony’s Hatch’s soundtrack created by Johnny Patrick. Even the opening credits received an overhaul, gaining for the first time what were full-length proper opening credits. However, for Austin Rover aficionados, these credits were definitely a step in the right direction as the car chosen to feature in them was an MG Maestro 1600.
A title sequence or a car advert?
For 40 seconds the full-length opening credits created a storyline in themselves, as a married couple took a journey from a dual carriageway followed by leisurely meandering through some of the scenic parts of the Midlands before arriving outside the entrance of the Crossroads Motel. The roads were quiet and the Maestro looked composed and tasteful in its Targa Red hue. It was a fitting juxtaposition between fictional Midlands soap and real-life Austin Rover Group.
I will admit that a number of years ago my curiosity about these opening credits and the car itself saw me checking into the Crossroads Appreciation Society’s (CAS) website . Responding to my enquiry faster than Jill Chance on reception was Mike Garrett, who runs the CAS website which helps to keep memories from cast and crew alive. Seriously, if you have a yearning to take a trip down this particular memory lane, then you will be quickly overwhelmed by the dedication of its members to compile new information for this ever expanding archive.
Mike disclosed that filming for the new opening credits took place in September 1984 at the same time as the final examples of the MG Maestro in twin-Webber 1.6-litre S-Series guise were rolling out of Cowley. For reasons unknown, the chosen car wasn’t loaned to the film crew by Austin Rover Group themselves, but by local dealer P. J. Evans based at 10-14 Essex Street in Birmingham. For the filming the car would wear the registration number of B911 YOE.
An MG Maestro with heritage
Mike also confirmed that the occupants of the MG Maestro were husband and wife Geoff and June Farnall, who had been regular background extras in the show since it started back in 1964. When the new opening credits started to be aired from 6 March 1985, Terry Wogan had said the couple looked a lot like Ronald Allen and Sue Lloyd, who played the characters David and Barbara Hunter. This started the popular myth that it was Allen and Lloyd in the Maestro, when it reality it wasn’t.
The opening footage featured an aerial view of the Aston Expressway showing the Maestro overtaking what looks like a Nissan Bluebird before moving onto quieter roads such as a minor road between Hockley Heath and Tanworth. The shot featuring the gatehouse on the bend can be found at Umberslade Hall and Park’s East Lodge, although in more recent times the road has been diverted away from the gatehouse and goes over the M40 motorway.
Additional locations in and around Sutton Coldfield were also used, including the fire exit of the Penns Hall Hotel (now the Ramada Birmingham Sutton Coldfield) which served as the arrival entrance for Crossroads Motel featured at the end of the opening credits.
But what was the Maestro’s real identity?
One mystery that does remain is of course the actual identity of the MG Maestro 1600 used for the filming. It is likely that the registration number had been specially created by Central Television for filming purposes as it has never been recognised on various online websites used for checking registration numbers.
Of further interest, P. J. Evans did capitalise on their car’s association with Crossroads by running alongside the television programme its own commercial using an MG Maestro. They even went as far as having print advertisements in various publications using the strapline ‘One Successful Midlands Series to Another…” although the car featured was actually an MG Maestro EFi displaying the add-on registration number PJE 1.
Sadly, with so few MG Maestro 1600s left these days, it is likely this starring car is no more. But how many of us when watching these opening credits back in 1985 felt inspired to one day go out and buy one? And, if you did, did you end up with the ‘real McCoy’ 1600 version or the superseding 2.0-litre O-Series EFi?
If you want an excuse to get all misty-eyed over this cult classic, whether television programme or the MG Maestro, enjoy the titles in full: