Nolly's celebration of Noele Gordon as a British gay icon is long overdue
Russell T Davies's ITVX drama pays homage to the queen of Crossroads.
ITVX describes Nolly as "a sharp, affectionate and heartbreaking portrait of a forgotten icon". Now, that much is true. With his latest series, Russell T Davies has crafted a gorgeous love letter to Crossroads legend Noele Gordon, shining a much-needed light on her legacy and the struggles she faced in her later years.
But what that description fails to mention is Gordon's status as a gay icon, which is one of the central reasons why this show was commissioned in the first place.
The general public's memory of the actress is about as wobbly as the sets on Crossroads used to be, but for older generations, and queer fans specifically, the 'Queen of the Midlands' was up there with the greats - and rightly so.
Like Elsie Tanner, Dot Cotton, Kim Tate and more, Gordon's Meg Mortimer was the kind of complex, gutsy female character that queer viewers live for. Yet, for reasons still unclear, she is rarely mentioned in the same breath as those soap legends, despite being the first to capture our hearts on telly.
But that's all set to change, thanks to Nolly.
In just three episodes, Davies has distilled his fascination with Crossroads into a compelling depiction of Gordon's exit from the soap and the years that followed her controversial sacking. But crucially, the drama isn't solely concerned with Gordon's pain.
Before the main storyline kicks in, each episode starts with a celebration of her extraordinary accomplishments across the entirety of her career.
We first meet the actress in 1938 when she's helping John Logie Baird test colour TV at the BBC. Yep, Gordon was the first woman to be seen on a colour television set. In episode 2, we're taken back to 1958 where we watch Gordon become the first woman to interview a British prime minister, and on her own daytime chat show – the first to be hosted by a woman, no less.
Finally, episode 3 brings us to 1978, with Gordon winning a special achievement award from the TV Times because she had already collected most popular television actress on eight previous occasions. Iconic, no?
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Anyone who's been on gay Twitter around Oscars season knows just how much we love to see an actress thrive in this way. But those accomplishments alone aren't why Gordon became a gay icon.
At a time when gay representation on British TV was reduced to short-lived shows such as Agony and Brideshead Revisited, or closeted stereotypes in Are You Being Served?, gay viewers looked to camp icons in the absence of overtly gay ones. Enter Gordon's Meg.
She was perhaps the campest masterpiece of all; the kind of fiery yet dignified role that got gay men tuning in at 6:35pm every day across the country.
Crossroads itself felt intrinsically queer, too, even without any major gay characters, and that's largely because the whole show was originally built around Gordon, a matriarchal figure who truly earned the title of 'mother' for gays from a certain generation.
Can we also talk about this fourth-wall breaking Christmas ditty? A masterclass in flamboyant, festive joy.
And there's also Noele's final scene in Crossroads. Among the multiple endings that were filmed to throw journalists off the scent, producers chose the one in which Meg survived a blazing fire to then dramatically sail away on the QE2.
Gordon truly ate that scene up, and '80s gays were living.
Off screen, Noele also had strong ties to the gay community. One of her best friends was comedian Larry Grayson, a gay man who remained closeted until his sexuality was revealed in memoirs after his death. The pair were so close they even encouraged rumours that they were married following an appearance together on This Is Your Life (as seen in episode 2).
Mike Garrett, who runs the Crossroads Appreciation Society, recently told The Mirror that Gordeon was also a strong ally to queer women, too.
"There was a gay bar that didn't let women in until Noele rolled up and said, 'I want to come in'. She wouldn't go until they'd let all women in... So she sort of trailblazed for the lesbians in Nottingham."
Was there a particular reason why Gordon advocated for gay people back in the '70s and '80s? Because she didn't marry or have children, rumours suggested she might have been a closeted lesbian (god forbid a woman doesn't choose either path). We'll never know for sure, and it would be a misstep to speculate.
But Garrett believes there might also be another reason why Gordon felt a kinship with queer people. "I think after all the disappointment of the men who didn’t marry her or left her, she always found with gay men that sense of security. They weren't going to do anything that she didn't like or leave her. So I think she always loved that community because they were loyal to her and she adored them."
And that community loved her too. Even though Gordon wasn't outspokenly queer herself, the resilience she showed in the face of men who felt threatened by her strength is exactly the kind of defiance that gay men are so often drawn to in women, particularly those who have been wronged by society in some way.
Sexism and ageism are not the same as homophobia, but there is a common thread nonetheless.
Gordon died in 1985, just four years after Meg sailed away and two years after her return to Crossroads in a one-off Venice-set special. It's reported that when she was axed from the show, a producer told her that "all good things must come to an end". But four decades later, Nolly proves that isn't the case.
Through the drama, Gordon's legacy will live on for a whole new generation of queer fans who will kick themselves for not knowing about this gay icon sooner.
Nolly is available to stream free on ITVX from Thursday 2nd February 2023. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.
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