Ok, let’s start with the good bits, shall we? The soap opera Eldorado was set in the beautiful, sunny climes of Spain, so there was always a lovely blue sky backdrop to the action. The sea always looked inviting as well. And – erm – oh, surely there must be something else?
Well, sadly not. Eldorado will probably always be remembered as one of the BBC’s biggest disaster: the acting, the script, the sound and the storylines were all pretty dismal. I’d like to be more positive but there’s really not that much to be positive about. But let’s plough on, shall we, and see if we can discover just why Eldorado wasn’t the golden hit the Beeb were hoping for.
Created by Julia Smith, Tony Holland, John Dark and Verity Lambert - who between them were responsible for producing EastEnders (Smith and Holland), Half a Sixpence, Shirley Valentine (Dark) and Doctor Who, The Naked Civil Servant, Minder and G.B.H. amongst others (Lambert) – you would think that their credentials would have ensured that Eldorado was, if not a huge hit, then at least watchable. Well, I suppose it was watchable, but mostly for the wrong reasons…It was one of those programmes that you watched either open-mouthed at its terribleness or with a confused expression on your face as you struggled to comprehend what was going on.
Set in Los Barcos on the Costa del Sol (a made up town, filmed at a hugely expensive set created specifically for the show, near the Spanish village of Coin) it was based around the lives of the ex-pat community that lived there as well as their interactions with the locals. What the BBC was hoping for with its £10 million investment was that the soap would capture the viewer’s fascination with the characters’ lives, à la EastEnders, but with the sunshine and allure that Aussie soaps Neighbours and Home and Away had. Smith also said that she hoped her programme would help change supposed us English’s xenophobic attitudes towards our continental cousins…
A huge marketing campaign went out across the media before Eldorado was first broadcast on 6 July 1992. The theme tune to the show was composed, somewhat inevitably, by Simon May – who had also been responsible for the music for Howard’s Way and EastEnders – a tune which was given added lyrics for the last show’s closing credits and transformed into single ‘When You Go Away’, sung by Johnny Griggs. This was comparable to Nick Berry’s EastEnder’s theme ‘Every Loser Wins’ (also composed by May) in terms of how much it made you want to stick hot needles in your ears to stop them hearing the sickly sweet lyrics: ‘And when you go away, you gotta tell me where you’re going to, so I can dream I’ll see you once again….’
It began its short-lived on-air life on Monday 6 July 1992 at 7pm and went out three times a week, occupying the space that Terry Wogan’s eponymous chat show had filled on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the previous ten years.
Eldorado made life hard for itself from the outset; many of the ‘actors’ hired for the roles were extremely new to the profession and it definitely showed on film. There was also a decision made – presumably in an effort to make the show seem exotic and cosmopolitan – to allow some of the international cast to occasionally speak in their own language, without employing the use of subtitles, which rendered parts of the show incomprehensible to anybody who weren’t fluent in it. And in the case of those characters that were meant to be from mainland Europe but who were played by actors definitely not from those countries, the accents that could be heard were – well, let’s say, interesting. They definitely didn’t help the show come across as realistic.
The set itself was instrumental in one of Eldorado’s biggest problems – the sound. A studio set is small and insulated but these were real buildings that were spacious and, like most Spanish houses are, non-carpeted. The sound that was recorded and played out through British television sets during Eldorado made it pretty hard to follow what was going on; voices came and went, others sounded echoey and any incidental background noise often drowned out what the actors were saying.
Another criticism hit the show the moment the first episode was broadcast. Perhaps this was done deliberately in order to ensure maximum publicity but the initial storyline featured a middle-aged man bringing his new teenage bride back to his Eldorado home; a plot that was derided as sleazy and improbable. Personally, the idea of a podgy older man impressing a much younger woman with his money didn’t strike me as improbable but their names did: Bunny and Fizz. Really, BBC?
The soap also had the might of a television heavyweight thrown against it; when Eldorado first went on air, ITV decided to broadcast a one hour Coronation Street special at the same time.
High stress levels caused Julia Smith to leave the show fairly soon after it went on air and Corinne Hollingworth (EastEnders, Casualty) stepped into her shoes. She immediately set about making some necessary changes (new scriptwriters, getting rid of the actors who weren’t cutting it etc.) and the results helped the upward turn of Eldorado’s ratings. Unfortunately this wasn’t enough to keep the show going and a year later Alan Yentob, Controller of BBC1, cancelled it. After 158 episodes, the final one went out on the 9th July 1993 and the progamme has been repeated several times, on channel UK Gold – albeit in the wee small hours – since then.
Was it fair to axe the soap that early? It had only been on for one year, after all; the producers had shown that it was addressing the problems that it had been criticised for and it was beginning to show slight signs of more promising plotlines (this was reflected in the viewing figures: by 1993 around 10 million people were watching each episode). There was that incredibly expensive purpose built set, a complete old town with a heart shaped swimming pool, (which stood empty once the soap was shut down, before being turned into a holiday camp for a while and now houses seven film stages) and all the effort that the writers, crew and performers had put in to it.
Many people were angry at Yentob’s decision (including the bus load of fans that protested outside the BBC’s Television Centre when the announcement that it was finishing was made) but it stood and Eldorado was consigned to the soap scrapheap, nestled just on top of Albion Market: ITV’s contender for worse long-running drama serial set in a covered market.