© NGE 2006-2019. The Noele Gordon Website is produced by NGE Enterprises in cooperation with the executors of Noele Gordon’s (rights) Estate and previously Summerton Management.
Born   Joan   Noel   Gordon   at   139   Clements   Road,   East   Ham,   London,   on   December   25th   1919   she   became   a   leading   force   in the launch of ATV Midlands and a ground breaking television personality. Aged   two   she   started   to   attend   a   dancing   school   and   six-months   later   made   her   stage   début   at   the   long-demolished   East Ham   Palace   singing   ‘Dear   Little   Jammy   Face’.   When   Noele   was   a   teenager   the   family   moved   to   201   Woodford Avenue,   Gants Hill,   Ilford,   Essex.   In   1929,   aged   9,   she   won   the   top   prize   in   a   singing   contest   at   The   Ilford   Convent   where   she   studied   until she was 15. In   1934   Noel   attended   the   Royal Academy   of   Dramatic Art    –   RADA   –   performing   everything   from   Shakespeare   to   playing   Eliza Doolittle   in   Pygmalion.   This   lead   into   her   first   major   professional   work,   in   1940,   in   the   musical   Black   Velvet.   For   a   time   she worked   in   repertory   theatre   productions   touring   the   UK   –   starring   alongside   newcomers   such   as   Roger   Moore.   She   also worked alongside John Mills in the comedy Arn’t Men Beasts? In   1937   she   had   her   first   official   work   for   television   when   she   was   hired   to   star   in   the   BBC’s   first   major   live   drama   produced at   Alexandra   Palace.   As   an   Irish   maid   in   Ah!   Wilderness!   -   a   role   she’d   played   on   the   stage   -   she   found   her   first   television role   a   little   too   hot   to   handle.   Studio   lighting   back   then   was   much   more   intense   than   theatre   lamps   –   due   to   the   cameras needing   a   lot   more   light   in   order   to   transmit   decent   pictures.   Under   the   heat   of   the   lights   the   prop   tray   she   was   using   as the maid heated up and burned her fingers. However,   working   on   live   TV   dramas   for   the   BBC   lead   to   further   work   at   the   corporation   in   numerous   BBC   Radio   drama productions. Noele’s London base at this time was 45 Cumberland Mansions, Bryanston Square, London, W1. 1937   was   also   the   year   she   changed   her   name   from   Noel   Gordon   to   Noele   Gordon   at   the   suggestion   of   Theatre   Mogul George Black, so that theatre goers wouldn’t mistake her for a male performer in billings. A   year   later   TV   pioneer   John   Logie   Baird   hired   Noel   to   take   part   in   his   colour   television   experiments.   She   became   the   first woman   to   be   transmitted   in   colour   from   a   camera   to   television   sets   later   that   year.   She   also   worked   with   Baird   at   the Tottenham Court Road Cinema when he undertook some ‘widescreen television’ tests on their big screen. As   the   30s   became   the   40s   she   became   a   star   of   London’s   theatre   world   –   In   1941   she   made   her   West   End   debut   in   Let’s Face   It   with   Bobby   Howes.   Her   biggest   success   of   that   era   was   the   musical   Brigadoon   in   which   she   starred   in   over   1000 performances    across    its    two-year    run.    Composer    of    the    Brigadoon    songs,    Frederick    Loewe,    upon    seeing    Noele’s performance,   jokingly   offered   to   marry   her   –   so   impressed   with   how   she   Interpreted   his   words.   The   critical   reviews   for Noele were pleasing and positive at this time too. There   were   many   other   stage   shows,   including   Big   Ben,   The   Lisbon   Story,   Rain,   Suspect   and   pantomime   Humpty   Dumpty   at the   prestigious   London   Palladium. A   theatre   first   for   Noele   came   when   she   was   the   first   actress   to   star   concurrently   in   two West   End   shows.   While   taking   over   from   Julie   Wilson   in   the   starring   role   of   You   Bet   Your   Life   with   Arthur   Askey   she   also remained understudy in Call Me Madam to Billie Wort. On   the   28th   February   1941,   she   announced   in   the   London   Press   Newspaper   that   she   was   to   marry   Capt.   John   Robertson Dunn   Crichton .   His   ‘well-do-do’   family,   however,   frowned   upon   him   marrying   ‘an   actress’   and   at   the   last   minute   the wedding   was   cancelled;   something   it   seems   Noele   never   fully   accepted   –   refusing   to   marry   anyone   else.   In   later   years   she kept   his   name   out   of   any   interviews   relating   to   their   romance,   suggesting   she   didn’t   want   to   embarrass   him   as   he   was   by the   1960s   a   well-known   high   court   judge.   On   the   19th   May   1967,   at   Buckingham   Palace,   he   was   knighted   by   Queen Elizabeth II. During   the   Second   World   War   Noele   continued   to   work   in   theatre   productions   and   also   as   part   of   ENSA   –   Entertainments National   Service   Association   –   a   performance   organisation   created   to   cheer-up   troops   with   variety   shows   in   the   UK   and abroad.   Others   involved   with   ENSA   include   singer   Vera   Lynn,   singer/songwriter   Ivor   Novello   and   comedian/magician   Tommy Cooper   to   name   only   a   few.   Founded   in   1939   by   impresario   Basil   Dean   and   the   British   Government   the   scheme   became   the Combined Services Entertainment which continues to run to this day. In   1945   Noele   made   the   first   of   two   feature   films.   She   had   a   minor   part,   as   a   neighbour   Mrs   Wilson,   in   29 Acacia Avenue   for Columbia   Pictures.   In   1946   British   National   Pictures   made   a   movie   version   of   The   Lisbon   Story   –   which   was   produced   at   the Neptune   Studios   in   Borehamwood   (which   became   ATV   Elstree   in   the   sixties).   This   film   saw   her   in   a   much   bigger   part   as Panache. Unfortunately, it is believed the film has been officially ‘lost’ however it is circulated in film-fan circles. In   1949   she   starred   in   her   first   Royal   Variety   Performance   with   the   cast   of   Brigadoon   who   performed   a   segment   of   the musical for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. By   the   1950s   Noele   was   on   the   books   of   The   Grade Agency.   Knowing   of   her   previous   brush   with   TV   production   Lew   Grade    who   was   planning   to   launch   a   new   ITV   regional   television   company   –   sent   Noele   to   America    in   1954,   fresh   from   a   final   UK theatre   tour   of   Brigadoon,   to   study   and   observe   their   commercial   services.   She   studied   TV   production   for   a   year   at   New York   University   and   also   made   hours   upon   hours   of   notes   on   the   kind   of   programmes   the   USA   networks   were   broadcasting   including   their   hour-long   daily   soaps.   While   in   New   York   she   also   was   hired   by   a   local   CBS   affiliate   station   as   a   continuity announcer. In   1955   Lew’s   service,   Associated   Television,   was   given   two   ITV   licences   –   one   for   London   weekends   and   the   other   for   the weekday   Midlands.   Noele   became   the   first   female   television   executive   in   the   UK   when   she   was   hired   to   oversee   the lifestyle output, a role she would also oversee in the Midlands. When ATV   London   hit   the   air   in   September   1955   Noele   was   part   of   the   very   first   programme   ‘The   Weekend   Show’   which   fell under her lifestyle remit. As   well   as   being   boss   she   also   script-directed   some   of   these   programmes   and   even   appeared   on-screen   as   one   of   the ‘experts’   on   women’s   issues.   While   at   ATV   London   she   also   hosted   a   live   fashion   show   from   Oxford   Street   and   became   the host of ITV’s first chat show Tea with Noele Gordon. In   November   1955   Noele   spent   a   month   in   Birmingham   based   in   dressing   room   2   at   the   Theatre   Royal   with   senior   OB producer Stephen Wade and secretary Pauline Tyler, their task to find programme ideas for ATV Midlands’ schedules. In   1956   Noele   relocated   to   Birmingham   for   ATV   Midlands   in   her   role   as   Head   of   Lifestyle   and   Women’s   Output,   other Midland   management   included   Reg   Watson   as   Head   of   Entertainment,   Ned   Sherrin   as   Head   of   Factual   and   News   and   general Programme   Controller   Philip   Dorté.   Despite   being   based   as   an   executive   in   the   Midlands   Noele   was   also   an   on-screen presence   on   both   ATV   London   and   ATV   Midlands   -   Nolly   recalled   at   one   point   she   was   presenting   up   to   ten   programmes across both stations per week! For   the   Midlands   region   she   presented   an   ‘ad   Mag’   called   Fancy   That?,   became   the   first   female   sports   presenter   when reporting   and   hosting   Midland   Sport   and   later   hosted   her   own   fish-catching   sports   show,   A   New   Angle   on   Noele   Gordon, which   was   about   angling.   Somewhat   considered   the   ‘have-a-go-girl’   (the   original   Anneka   Rice   if   you   like)   she   also   fronted her own series Noele Gordon Takes The Air which saw her learning to fly a plane – which she succeeded to do. In   1957 ATV   launched   the   first   weekday   daily   live   lunchtime   variety,   chat   and   music   show   –   Lunchbox.   Lunchbox   was   a   huge success   for   Noele   and   the   company.   Numerous   times   the   Friday   outside   broadcast   proved   to   be   more   successful   than expected. In Nottingham, an expected 3,000 audience turned into 27,000! Her   ‘have-a-go’   image   was   certainly   used   to   its   fullest   with   Lunchbox.   Over   the   years   for   this   programme,   Noele   went   Skin- Diving,   became   a   fire-fighter,   went   out   with   a   sea   rescue   team,   trained   as   an Army   soldier,   rode   a   camel   and   horse.   Drove   a racing   car   and   steam   train,   performed   with   the   Chipperfield   Circus   –   including   bear   and   lion   training   –   went   mountain climbing,   became   a   coal   miner   and   sweet   factory   worker-   to   name   a   few.   With   her   success   Noele   was   able   to   afford   a   large house in the country, she moved into Weir End in Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, in 1963. As   a   reporter   for   ATV   News   in   1958,   she   became   the   first   woman   to   interview   a   Prime   Minister   –   Harold   Macmillan .   She fronted   ATV’s   first   and   5th-anniversary   shows,   interviewing   stars   such   as   Matt   Monro,   Rolf   Harris,   Joe   Loss,   Arthur   Askey, Morecambe and Wise, Ken Dodd, Bob Monkhouse and many more who had previously starred on Lunchbox. In   1961   she   was   celebrated   as   one   of   the   ‘Women   of   the   Year’   such   was   her   popularity   with   ITV   viewers.   She   was   also   by this point kept busy with fan mail thanks to The Noele Gordon Fan Club being founded by keen Lunchbox viewers. Her   private   life,   however,   was   still   quite   the   opposite   of   her   professional   success.   In   1963   a   twenty-year   affair   with   theatre and ATV   executive   Val   Parnell    came   to   an   end   when   he   dumped   Noele   and   decided   to   divorce   his   second   wife   of   25-years, Helen   Howell.   Noele   later   revealed   the   two   women   had   ‘happily   shared’   Val   on   their   terms   over   the   two   decades,   Noele quite   happy   not   to   have   to   deal   with   a   marriage   proposal,   however   when   they   both   were   ditched   for   a   younger   actress, Aileen Cochrane, she was left devastated. In   1964   Lunchbox   was   moved   to   a   teatime   slot   and   was   re-branded   as   Hi-T.   Throwing   herself   into   her   television   career between   1955   and   1964   Noele   also   hosted   many   other   ATV   series   including   Midland   Profile;   a   one-to-one   chat   show   with stars   of   the   day,   Midland   Scene;   which   took   a   look   around   the   region   at   its   everyday   people   and   places   as   well   as   Midland Farming   for   the   local   rural   communities.   In   the   summer   of   1964,   Noele   made   a   guest   appearance   as   herself   on   medical   saga Emergency Ward 10 – the storyline allowing for this was a hospital open day and garden party. August   1964   saw   Noele   told   that   Hi-T   was   to   be   axed.   It   was   to   be   replaced   with   a   faster-paced   version   of   the   American soap   opera   format   she’d   seen   years   earlier.   Cut   to   25-minutes   rather   than   an   hour   Crossroads   was   to   be   the   UK’s   first   full- length   daily   serial.   From   November   1964   to   November   1981   Noele   appeared   as   Meg   Richardson/Mortimer   the   owner   of   the Crossroads Motel in the fictional village of Kings Oak. As   Meg,   she   once   again   became   a   ground-breaker.   Nolly   became   the   nations   most   favourite   female   television   star   –   winning more   awards   than   any   other   between   1968   and   1981.   She   was   the   first   celebrity   placed   in   the   TV   Times   Hall   of   Fame   and even   was   honoured   with   her   own   fashion   range   in   a   department   store.   In   1975   Crossroads   popularity   reached   a   peak   when Noele’s   character   of   Meg   married   Hugh   (John   Bentley)   and   brought   Birmingham   city   centre   to   a   standstill   when   1000s   of the   shows   viewers   turned   up   to   see   the   couple.   Throughout   the   1970s   Crossroads,   a   daytime   soap   topped   the   TV   ratings often not only for ITV but also beating BBC productions too. The   ‘firsts’   kept   on   coming.   In   June   1969   following   Reg   Varney   being   the   first   in   the   UK,   Noele   was   the   first   person   to   use   a ‘cash   point’   or   ‘cash   dispenser’,   as   called   at   the   time,   in   the   Midlands   when   she   withdrew   £10   from   the   Bennetts   Hill branch of the District Bank Limited in Birmingham. In   1973   Noele   sold   Weir   End   Lodge   in   Ross-On-Wye   in   order   to   be   closer   to   the ATV   studios.   She   built   a   luxury   apartment   at 12   Handsworth   Wood   Road,   Birmingham.   In   February   of   the   same   year,   she   was   the   subject   of   a   This   Is   Your   Life   show   for Thames Television. 1974   was   the   year   she   returned   to   the   London   Palladium   to   star   alongside   close   friend   Larry   Grayson   in   his   variety   show and   later   in   the   year   she   took   to   the   stage   in   her   second   Royal   Variety   Performance.   This   time   Noele   was   the   host   of   the show   –   the   first   female   host   of   the   Royal   Variety   event.   Again   performing   in   front   of   the   former   Queen   Elizabeth,   The Queen   Mother.   There   was   also   a   romance   with   New   Faces   performer ,   and   former   fishmonger   turned   singer   Anthony   ‘Tony’ Waters . In   1976   Noele   recorded   an   album   for   EMI,   Noele   Gordon   Sings,   at   the Abbey   Road   Studios   in   London   with   Geoff   Love   and   his orchestra. After   Crossroads   she   was   offered   a   job   at   TV-am,   however,   her   theatre   commitments   limited   her   involvement   with   the breakfast   station,   although   she   did   make   several   appearances   for   the   fledgeling   early   morning   company.   She   also   took   part in   a   short   return   to   Crossroads   in   1983,   for   the   wedding   of   her   on-screen   daughter.   In   the   1980s   she   also   returned   to   the theatre   in   shows   such   as   Gypsy,   The   Boyfriend   and   a   revival   of   Call   Me   Madam.   She   also   in   1983   toured   in   her   own   ‘one- woman show’ on the life of Cosima Wagner. Her   theatre   roles   met   with,   just   like   the   1930s   and   40s,   positive   reviews   and   overall   a   hit   with   audiences.   This   triumphant return   to   the   stage   was   only   marred   by   an   incident   following   a   performance   of   Gypsy   when   a   ‘crazed   fan’   attempted   to   stab Nolly, who was saved by several other fans who stepped in to disarm the obsessed fan and his knife. Noele   died   from   Cancer   on April   14th   1985,   having   had   a   number   of   operations   to   try   and   beat   the   illness   over   the   previous two   years.   ITN   reported   that   her   funeral   was   for   ‘The   Queen   Of   British   Soaps’.   In   the   same   month,   Nolly   had   been   due   to be   seen   back   on-screen   in   Crossroads,   with   new   producer   Phillip   Bowman   luring   her   back   to   the   serial.   She   had   signed   the contract, and the scripts were written. Sadly it was never to be. She   was   buried   in   St   Mary’s   Church   Ross-On-Wye   near   Hereford   where   1000s   of   fans   turned   out   and   packed   the   grounds   to say ‘goodbye’. In   May   1985   a   memorial   service   for   Noele   was   held   at   Birmingham   Cathedral.   Guests   included   Susan   Hanson,   Jean   Bayless, Jane   Rossington,   Tony Adams,   Ronald Allen,   Sue   Lloyd   and   many   of   the   other   Crossroads   cast   as   well   as   many   of   her   friends such   as   Nicholas   Parsons,   Shaw   Taylor,   Fiona   Fullerton   and   Roy   Hudd.   Special   messages   were   sent   from   Lord   Lew   Grade   and Patricia Phoenix, former star of ITV prime time serial Coronation Street, who dedicated a poem to her ‘friend Nolly’.
Noele with mother Joan Gordon
Noele with her parents, James Gordon OBE and Joan.
Theatre publicity photograph from the 1940s.
Noele as Meg Richardson in Crossroads.
Mini Biography