Soap Matriarchs: Helping Your Decide


Our poll this week is asking which of the soap matriarchs was the best – a hard choice considering there are so many fine candidates. Some of you may not even recognise some names – you may be wondering who Meg Mortimer or Miss Ellie Ewing are. So to help refresh memories, inform the younger ones and help you decide we’ve assembled a small feature which gives you a little more information on each of the candidates.

Our poll this week is asking which of the soap matriarchs was the best – a hard choice considering there are so many fine candidates. Some of you may not even recognise some names – you may be wondering who Meg Mortimer or Miss Ellie Ewing are. So to help refresh memories, inform the younger ones and help you decide we’ve assembled a small feature which gives you a little more information on each of the candidates.


Meg Mortimer: Crossroads. 1964 – 1981, 1983

[Played by Noele Gordon]

When some think of the soap matriarchs they’ll immediately think of Meg Richardson-Mortimer of the Crossroads Motel; the infamous ATV midlands soap which for over 20 years entertained millions of viewers even if critics didn’t like it. At the heart of the soap was the Motel owner Meg Richardson who to many simply WAS the soap, after all the soap was created for actress Noele Gordon following the cancellation of her chat-show Lunchbox. Meg’s family didn’t just include her son Sandy and daughter Jill for all who worked for her, local residents in King’s Oak and any troubled soul who checked into the Motel and needed help. When Meg departed the Motel in 1981 it was never quite the same again though her brief return, in Venice, in 1983 was a welcome treat for fans sadly Noele and Meg never returned to that infamous midlands motel.


Nicola Freeman: Crossroads 1985 – 1987


[Played by Gabrielle Drake]

In 1985 after 21 years on air it was felt that midlands soap Crossroads needed a little bit of glamour added to it and so enter Nicola Freeman; the new owner of the Motel. The introduction of Nicola was an attempt at creating a new leading lady for the soap which it had, arguably, lacked since the exit of Meg in 1981. The new producer felt that the soap needed a central character like Meg to draw audiences in and unite the soap – give it a sense of purpose. Like Meg before her Nicola had the troubles of her family to deal with will struggling to maintain order in the Motel. While Nicola was a popular addition to the soap she could never quite top Meg for popularity but then who could?



Miss Ellie Ewing: Dallas 1978 – 1990


[Played by Barbara Bel Geddes 1978 – 1984/1985 – 1990.

Donna Reed 1984/1985]

The tough but lovable matriarch of the Ewing family who you wouldn’t want to cross lightly. While many feared crossing J.R Ewing – he was always plotting and scheming – in all honesty it was Miss Ellie that held the real power in the Ewing family. Miss Ellie wasn’t afraid to stand up to husband Jock or even JR himself – telling him a few home truths on more than one occasion. It was Miss Ellie who was really the first to warm to Bobby’s controversial choice of wife, Pamela Barnes, and because Miss Ellie liked her the res to family had to be nice to Pam or else – though JR did plot against her it was far more discreet. Actress Barbara Bel Geddes was forced to leave the show due to ill health and was replaced by Donna Reed but audiences didn’t take to the new Miss Ellie and so producers tempted back Bel Geddes and Reed was dropped from the series. Miss Ellie’s love of the Southfork ranch stopped JR from drilling for oil there but in 1990 she knew her time had come to move on.


Shelia Grant: Brookside 1982 – 1990

[Played by Sue Johnston]

The first matriarch of Brookside and one of its most memorable characters; it was the role of Shelia Grant in Phil Redmond’s new soap that gave actress Sue Johnston her first big break in television and set her up for all her subsequent roles. As any soap fan knows that a great soap matriarch needs a family to really try her and needs to go through ups and downs but come out fighting. Shelia’s husband was a big union man which caused some trouble; especially when he went on strike, while her sons Damon and Barry were always in trouble and tragically Damon was knifed and died from his wounds. Shelia’s marriage with her husband Bobby broke down and she later remarried. Shelia left in 1990 though later returned for several straight-to-video adventures but her place in Brookside history was assured thanks to the superb acting from Sue Johnston.



Pauline Fowler: EastEnders 1985 – 2006


[Played by Wendy Richards]

When EastEnders launched in 1985 the head of the Fowler house-hold, and family matriarch, wasn’t Pauline but her battleaxe mother Lou who was quick to announce her dis-approvement at the slightest bbcthing; especially Pauline’s late pregnancy. However, following her mother’s death in the late 1980s Pauline very slowly turned into her mother and she sought to keep control of her family and children’s lives. Pauline interfered on a number of occasions into Michelle, Mark and Martin’s lives which didn’t always go down well with her children. Memorable in the early 1990’s she attacked husband Arthur with a frying pan following his affair with Christine Hewitt but Pauline never really got over Arthur’s death in the mid 1990s. Although Pauline did eventually remarry it was a troubled second marriage and ended unhappily. By the time of Pauline’s death her marriage had broken down and she had alienated her friends and family; she died in the square an unhappy woman.


Elsie Tanner: Coronation Street 1960 – 1984

[Played by Patricia Phoenix]

While it could be argued that Annie Walker, Hilda Ogden, Vera Duckworth and Ena Sharples are all great Coronation Street matriarchs – and we wouldn’t disagree – the one we selected for the poll was the ever iconic Elsie Tanner. Elsie’s time on the street was frought with drama and mayhem whether it was her latest romance or marriage [ she was married several times] or her children’s causing her new problems. Son Dennis Tanner was, to begin with, in trouble with the law before trying to turn his life around and finding his fortune through various wild and silly schemes. Daughter Linda meanwhile was in a marriage to Ivan that she wasn’t always happy in and often turned up on Elsie’s doorstep having walked out yet again. Perhaps it was Elsie’s long-standing feuds with Ena and Hilda that produced her some of her  most memorable moments though – many an argument they had in the street. Years later these arguments have been replicated with Gail Platt and Eileen Grimshaw but their firmly belong to the legacy of Elsie and her cat-fights with neighbours.


Helen Daniels: Neighbours 1985 – 1997

[Played by Anne Haddy]

It is perhaps no surprise that when Neighbours launched in 1985 it featured a leading-lady who would dominate the soap over the following 13 years. After all creator Reg Watson was the first producer of Crossroads and gave us Meg Mortimer so the fact he gave us Helen Daniels in Neighbours shouldn’t come as any surprise. Like Meg with Crossroads to some fans Helen simply was Neighbours for them and her kind, gentle ways in trying to help out her neighbours and friends was what made the soap so enjoyable. Of course Helen faced her fair share of problems over the years; Paul was often in trouble of some sorts and Lucy was problematic too; her health wasn’t always good and some of her romances ended in disaster. If there was a feud going on though it was Helen who helped resolve it and in 1997 she did so for the final time when she stopped the feud between the Martin’s and the Bishops as her family and Madge & Harold, old friends of hers, sat down to watch the wedding video of Scott and Charlene…sadly Helen passed away while watching it.


Annie Sugden: Emmerdale Farm 1972 – 1994, 1995/1996 & 2009

[Played by Sheila Mercier]

When Emmerdale Farm launched in 1972 it knew it had to have a leading lady; after all Crossroads Yorkshirehad Meg and Coronation Street had several! So Annie Sugden, or Ma as her sons called her, was created. Often stuck in the kitchen cooking for her brood Annie loved the farm and her family and would do anything to protect them both. Annie sorted out the many problems that her family threw up over the years but she’ll always be remembered for her scenes in the kitchens – cooking dinner. In the early 1990’s Annie remarried and decided to leave Emmerdale Farm for a new life in Spain but in 1993 her husband was killed when a plane crashed onto the village. Annie returned recently to Emmerdale for the funeral of her son, Jack.


Pippa Ross: Home & Away 1988 – 1998 [recurring thereafter]

[Played by Vanessa Downing 1988 – 1990,

Debra Lawrence 1990 – 1998, recurring thereafter]  

Along with her first husband Tom she ran the Cavern Park in Summer Bay and they were both foster parents – which gave them plenty of scope to help out the troubled children and teens that would come through their doors. As this is soap the teens and children certainly did have issues to put foster parents Pippa and Tom through their paces but they duo stood firm and continued to help those who needed it. In 1990 Tom died from a heart attack and stroke and although Pippa later remarried her second husband also died – in floods that struck Summer Bay in 1996. Pippa remarried for a third time but by then had realised that sticking around in Summer Bay was like a death sentence for her husband’s but she has frequently returned to help out those who needed it.


Angela Channing: Falcon Crest 1981 – 1990

[Played by Jane Wyman]

Falcon Crest was like Dynasty and Dallas but without the oil – it had wine instead. While Dynasty had the ruthless Blake Carrington and Dallas had the cunning JR so too did Falcon Crest have someone heading it up – Angela Channing; the corrupt and despotic matriarch who ruled the vineyards with an iron fist. Angela needed to be strong because just like its oil-based cousins Falcon Crest certainly had storylines to test the characters; serial killers and Earthquakes to name but a few. Angela wasn’t without challengers but she always fought them off and won – though in the show’s final season Angela was confined to her sick bed in a coma. This resulted in various powerplays between her rivals as they tried to gain control of the vineyards but once again Angela came back fighting in the final three episodes.