Looking Back at Eldorado
Unbelievably, a full two decades have now passed since Eldorado left our screens. What happened there?
It has been heartening though, to see that interest in the show seems to be higher than ever, no doubt much to the annoyance of the BBC’s upper echelons. As a reminder, Alan Yentob was responsible for axing the programme less than a year after production began, very shortly after being appointed Controller of BBC1. He later told The Guardian he cancelled it because it ‘wasn’t good enough’, before going on to commission another soap called Castles, which was a huge success and highly memorable. Ahem.
Yentob despatched his Head of Drama to the Eldorado set in March 1993, to deliver the bad news to the cast and crew. Many have never forgiven him for the decision, with all sorts of theories as to the motivations behind it.
With 20 years’ distance, it’s interesting to look at the history of the show, one of the most ambitious television projects ever undertaken. In conjunction with two independent production companies, Verity Lambert’s Cinema Verity and J Dark y J Todesco, the new BBC soap had been talked about for months before it arrived on screen. Creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland had previously brought the UK audience EastEnders, which had been running for more than 7 years by the time Eldorado arrived in July 1992.
Smith spoke to Radio Times about the show and what she hoped it would achieve, in the weeks running up to its launch. ‘The inescapable fact’, she said, was ‘that the English are bloody racists. They still talk of Krauts, Frogs and sneer at brilliant Spanish cooking as ‘foreign muck’’. She was asked what she would do: reflect it, parody it, or try to change it. ‘All three’, she replied. ‘But finally, I hope, the latter’.
Looking back, you wonder if she was right, and whether this attitude was a factor in much of the negative coverage of the show and its untimely and highly premature demise. Her dream of ‘people learning to be real Europeans’, was possibly just too much to ask at the time. ‘We are in 1992’, Smith said, ‘the year of Europe. But being out here you realise how little progress we have made… people are as narrow as ever’.
Much of the press coverage the show received did little to contradict this view. But anyone who actually watched Eldorado on an ongoing basis well knows that long before its cancellation, the programme had addressed its early issues, becoming a refreshingly different soap offering a variety of engaging storylines. Following the cancellation announcement, no lesser man than the late Clement Freud wrote a rather touching open letter imploring Yentob for a reprieve, clearly endeared by the show’s characters.
It’s not only its fans who recognise the show’s value. Nicholas Prosser, one of the programme’s directors, said: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed directing 9 episodes during my 4 months’ stay. It wasn’t until my return to the UK in December that I really appreciated the potential for this programme. Off air, I viewed the programme until its conclusion the following spring and I observed its improvement from its very shaky beginnings to offer a real contrast to its competitors. Of course there was still much more to be accomplished in many departments but this project still had a great deal to offer. So for me, the decision to axe it, particularly with such a high degree of investment, was both a mystery and a tragedy’.
Writer Gilly Fraser also sees that potential: ‘I worked on Eldorado right from the initial concept by Tony Holland and Julia Smith. The show was to be about the Brits in Spain, with of course Spanish characters and a few from other countries, but basically about the Brit community. It then became far too overreaching and overblown, however, it was a great concept and there certainly is room for a tighter, simpler version on our screens now, possibly on daytime TV. I am sure it would be very popular’.
Former Eldorado crew member Paul Davies began a campaign to revive the programme in the BBC’s in-house magazine Ariel, in 2012. He notes the show’s enduring appeal: ‘Like the mythical city of gold, Eldorado continues to cast its spell. Audiences crave a return to quality drama under a blazing Costa sun’. It’s surely fair to say that Eldorado has a special place in the heart of its fans that most other defunct soaps simply don’t (Albion Market, anyone?)
Perhaps times have changed, in these days of the EU, cheap flights to mainland Europe and Scandinavian crime dramas, and audiences are now more receptive to a programme featuring foreign accents (something of a rarity back in the early 90s). Maybe – with the subsequent rise of the internet – fans who were always there in the first place now have the opportunity to make their support of the show known.
The question is, should there be a new Eldorado? Could it replicate the charm of the original, without the majority of the 1992 cast? A re-run, a box set and a little contrition from Yentob would be nice, although one suspects Los Barcos may need to freeze over before any of these were forthcoming. It seems that Eldorado is still a dirty word at the corporation. The Yentob kinda lingers at the BBC and present Director of Television Danny Cohen is thought to be less than enthused about even contemplating a revival… tsk. Man up BBC and give the people what they want!
The original production may not have been without its troubles, but with plenty of public interest in the show even after 20 years, and the benefit of hindsight, could it be worth considering?
Nicholas Prosser: ‘In any consideration to resurrect it, I believe there would now need to be many questions answered, but if I was in a position to decide, certainly I would be receptive to proposals and I would make the decision based on the content of the application with a firm eye on the financial practicality’.
Find out how Eldorado’s actors feel about their experience on the show, and the idea of a revival, in brand new interviews here.