Entertainment & Arts

Could Eldorado make a comeback?

It is 20 years since the BBC decided to axe the early evening TV soap Eldorado, saying it "wasn't good enough" and unpopular with viewers. But was the £10m show really that bad and could it even return?

Sun, sand, sex and sangria. What wasn't to like about Eldorado?

OK, the sets weren't great and the non-English dialogue (without subtitles) might have alienated viewers. Some of the acting, at least to begin with, was not quite award-winning.

But the drama, set and shot on Spain's Costa Del Sol, attracted fans who liked the colourful, largely expatriate characters and wanted a bit of much-needed fun during the recession-hit winter of 1992-3.

Critics still describe it as the biggest disaster in the corporation's history, a £10m embarrassment. But after so long, is it time to return to Los Barcos, the fictional setting for the thrice-weekly show?

Julie Fernandez, who played disabled teenager Vanessa Lockhead, thinks so.

"The thing that people loved about Eldorado was the sunshine, and the sense of escapism," she says. "They should bring it back. I'd definitely think about doing it."

Fernandez later appeared in The Office, one of the BBC's most successful comedies. "But the funny thing is," she says, "many more people who come up to me in the street remember me from Eldorado.

"The problem with so many British soaps these days is that they're so gloomy. They're full of arguing, shouting, killing and misery. We need another Eldorado, especially as things aren't that good for a lot of people at the moment."

Bath death

Iker Ortiz de Zarate, who played Spanish doctor's son Javier Fernandez, agrees, although his return might prove more difficult. His character died in the bath on the eve of his wedding, soon after his gay affair with retired nurse character Freddie Martin became known to viewers.

"It would be great to come back, but I'm not sure how they would get Javier back from Heaven," he says. "I would love to have been Freddie's lover on screen for a lot longer, rather than die so suddenly. I used to dream Javier would come back as a ghost.

Image caption Couple Marcus and Pilar rowed constantly but they formed a romantic centre to the show

"Eldorado was a really good show and had a lot of depth," Ortiz de Zarate adds. "Javier became a very interesting role. It was one of the first times a gay relationship had been portrayed on screen like that. It was very original."

To its fans, Eldorado - like Javier and Freddie's doomed romance - never had much of a chance. The BBC wanted a hit soap to compete with ITV's Emmerdale and Coronation Street, and quickly.

Its debut was brought forward by several months, giving the producers and cast little time to prepare.

The £2m purpose-built set in the hills near Malaga was not ready on schedule and, in a bizarre quest for realism, some of the cast were taken on without having acted before.

Prior to transmission, Eldorado was also extended from two to three episodes a week.

The first show, broadcast at 7pm on 2 July 1992, looked unprofessional. The reviews were brutal and ratings soon fell below three million.

However, one viewer, James Robson, who has set up a website to commemorate the series, was mesmerised.

'Totally different'

"I've never been a big soap fan," he says. "But Eldorado was completely different to EastEnders and Coronation Street.

"The setting was different - far less depressing. It was also fascinating to see how ex-pats lived, why they would go and live somewhere totally different."

The best-remembered error of the early episodes was to expose a peak-time UK audience - lukewarm to foreign dialogue even when accompanied by subtitles - to a host of untranslated alien tongues.

Just what were the French children arguing about and why was that earnest young Swedish woman getting in such a tizz?

Fernandez admits this was a "stupid mistake", but it was one which was quickly corrected.

Yet Robson liked this esoteric aspect. "I thought it was quite daring," he says. "I think you got the gist, whatever the language. But I suppose subtitles would have been a good compromise.

"The whole show was ahead of its time. The UK didn't feel quite so much a part of Europe in those days. You look at all the troubles in the eurozone today and wonder how Eldorado might have handled the story."

Riots around the swimming pool in protest at the European Union's Spanish bailout terms? Viewers live in hope.

But they are unlikely to experience once more Eldorado's long-suffering Pilar Moreno ineffectually berating caddish boyfriend Marcus Tandy with cries of "Marrrr-coos". The dubious crooning of washed-up nightclub singer Trish Valentine will never again echo through the beachside bars.

'Not good enough'

Eldorado got off to a bad start, but under the leadership of a new producer, Corinnne Hollingworth, the audiences slowly improved.

Yet, on 13 March 1993, newly appointed BBC One controller Alan Yentob announced that the soap, still seen today by many as an expensive calamity, had to go. The new management felt Eldorado was not of sufficient quality and the schedules needed to go upmarket.

Yentob said at the time: "It was a very hard decision. The whole team has put great effort into refreshing the programme in recent weeks but it is still not engaging the attention and affection of viewers to a level to warrant investing in a further year.

"It has been a brave venture, but I believe it is better to call a halt now."

A month later, he told the Guardian: "I didn't take Eldorado off because it only had an audience of four to five million. I took it off because it wasn't good enough and it was misconceived."

On 7 July 1993 it all ended, with a show attracting more than 10 million viewers.

In the final scenes the identity of Freddie's new secret lover was revealed and Marcus, having faked his own death, sailed off on a yacht with Pilar into the Mediterranean night.

Marcus's closing line - "You can't trust anyone these days, can you?" - was a less-than-coded rebuke to the BBC top brass.

After decommissioning, Eldorado was sold abroad, proving popular in Russia and Poland. It was also a huge hit in a more unlikely recruiting ground for sun-hungry escapists: Mauritius.

The Los Barcos set became a hotel for a while but is once again empty.

Paul Davies, a cameraman who worked on Eldorado, thinks this creates an opportunity.

"They've built a stage next to Los Barcos which they've used for Hollywood films, so all the facilities are there," he says. "The set's still there. It wouldn't take much to get it going again."

The BBC says it has no plans to re-start the show, but fans say another channel might like to take it on, possibly as part of the daytime schedule.

Might the lost 20 years be tossed aside - in true soap style - as one character's bad dream?

"There's no reason why not. It will return some day," says Davies. "I can just see it now. The first episode could start with Alan Yentob rolling up in a taxi to begin a holiday in Los Barcos."

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