Over 50 years ago, Yorkshire Television sent a team to watch The Riordans being produced in Dunboyne, Co. Meath. When they returned they were ready to film that country’s first outdoor drama television series, writes David Flynn
One of ITV’s most popular programmes which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this autumn owes its roots to an Irish tv drama series. Both series were set on the land, and depicted farming lives and the changing face of agriculture.
Today, Emmerdale bears little recognition to its early days, but it has continuously reinvented itself with each decade and has stood the test of time.
Kevin Laffan was a successful playwright in the 1950s and 60s, and in 1972 he was chosen by the Yorkshire Television company to write an agricultural drama series to be broadcast in an afternoon TV slot.
He was at first reluctant because he was worried that being involved with a continuing drama would ruin his playwriting career.
However, he came up with a writing plan to create a series, which would run twice weekly for thirteen weeks. It was originally titled, Emmerdale Farm.
In Ireland, the agricultural TV drama series, The Riordans had been a huge hit on RTE since 1964. It was filmed with an Outside Broadcasting Unit and featured scenes on farms, fields and in a small town. It was unlike anything being screened in the UK because the two main soap operas there, Coronation Street and Crossroads were both filmed indoors on sound sets.
Yorkshire Television sent a team to Ireland to watch The Riordans being produced in Dunboyne, Co. Meath. When they returned to the UK, they were ready to film that country’s first outdoor drama television series.
Filming began in Yorkshire of the Kevin Laffan scripts in early 1972 and the new soap opera consisted of the Sugden family of Emmerdale Farm, and their counterparts who lived around the rural village of Beckindale.
The first episode was screened in the UK on Monday, October 16th, 1972 with the second episode the following day.
The storyline opened with the Sugden family funeral of their patriarch, Jacob Sugden. It introduced the strong character of Annie Sugden, played by stage actress, Sheila Mercier. Annie had three grown up children, Jack, Peggy and Joe.