Updated August 2018
Sue Nicholls vocal, piano
This talented actress and world-famous Coronation Street star was once a hit-making pop singer! Though not typically playing an active role in the 1960s West Midlands live music scene, Walsall-born Susan Nicholls first found fame as part of that legendary Brummie television series "Crossroads".
Susan Yvette Nicholls was born into a working-class family on November 23, 1943 in Walsall, Staffordshire. She had an older sister named Judith and her mother's name was Peggy. Sue's father Harmer Nicholls (later Sir Harmer Nicholls) went on to serve as a councillor and chairman of Darlaston Urban District Council. He was later elected as Conservative Member of Parliament for Peterborough - a position he held for more than twenty years.
Many years later, Susan said during an interview; "Sadly, I've got my mother's long face and my father's little eyes. I'd rather have had Father's face and Mother's beautiful eyes. My mother was heard to say "Well, as you look like a bloody packhorse, you might as well work like a bloody packhorse!"
A born performer, Susan's parents remember her first public appearances at a very young age was at The White Lion pub in Walsall owned by her grandfather where she would sing to the amusement of the many patrons there. She also entertained at home by putting on song and dance shows with her friends. Her first school was at Woodland Grange in nearby Wednesbury.
Sue attended boarding school at St Mary and St Anne in Abbots Bromley until age seventeen when she went to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London from where she graduated in January 1963. She recalled; "I was kind of shy and blushed a lot when I went to RADA when I was 17. But I'd said I wanted to act when I was three. I loved singing and dancing. What a precocious little sod I must have been!"
This was followed by a job as assistant stage manager and roles in various plays and musicals for which she received good reviews. Susan said; "I went into weekly rep and loved it. I've never had any plan, I've tasted a little of everything."
Sue's big break came in 1963 when she auditioned for and was selected to play the role of teenager "Marilyn Gates" in a new television series called "Crossroads". Filmed at the ATV Studios in Birmingham, the serial followed the lives of characters who worked at the fictional Crossroads Motel located in the West Midlands.
Star of the show was "Meg Richardson" played by legendary presenter/actress Noel Gordon who had hosted the "Lunchbox" live daytime TV show featuring many local pop groups and performers from the West Midlands. Crossroads gained a huge following, attracting more than ten million viewers at its height and making the characters household names.
The memorable theme music for Crossroads was composed by Tony Hatch who was famous for writing and producing big hits for The Searchers and Petula Clark. He formed a songwriting partnership with vocalist Jackie Trent (who he would later marry) and one of the pop groups he produced was The Montanas from Wolverhampton who were very well-known locally.
In 1968, Sue Nicholls performed a song in a night club scene on Crossroads that was composed for her by Tony Hatch. He recalled; "A song was written for Sue's character Marilyn Gates. As soon as it was broadcast, well the telephone lines went mad, the public wanted it and so we released it as a record and it became a hit."
The song was titled 'Where Will You Be' which entered the charts in July 1968 where it remained for eight weeks and reached Number 17. It was recorded at the PYE Records Marble Arch Studio in London along with the single's B-side titled 'Every Day' and also written by Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch.
At the time Sue, who lived in a flat in Birmingham, said she had no intention of pursuing a full-time career as a pop singer but was happy to concentrate on her acting career. Years later she said; "I've been bloody lucky. I went into Crossroads in 1964, and had my first big salary. I had a ball!"
Despite this, Susan Nicholls left Crossroads for a singing career and recorded a follow-up single that was released in early 1969. 'All The Way To Heaven' backed with 'I'll Be Waiting For You' was another well-produced Jackie Trent/Tony Hatch original production and got some good reviews, but this time Sue's latest 45 failed to make the charts.
It was likely that Sue's first record was bought mainly by many fans of Crossroads so her departure from the show for a recording contract may not have been a wise choice. Out of her depth as a vocalist, she ended up in cabaret and eventually travelled to Vienna, Austria where she performed in a show called "Les Girls" at a glitzy night club that also featured strippers.
Starting over, Sue Nicholls went back to the UK where she returned to her first love - acting. She took on parts in pantomimes and plays, eventually touring North America for six weeks in 1976 with the Royal Shakespeare Company for a classic play called "London Assurance".
Returning to television, Sue's next big break was in the popular comedy/drama series "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" starring Leonard Rossiter on which she played the character of his secretary "Joan Greengross". This and appearances in the children's shows "Pipkins" and "Rentaghost" returned her to mass recognition.
The stage was now set for Susan Nicholl's appearance on that pinnacle of all popular television dramas "Coronation Street" on which she was seen for the first time in April of 1979. Her character on the show as Gail's mom (Audrey) was made full-time in 1985. The rest, as they say, is history!
Married in real-life to veteran actor and former Coronation Street star Mark Eden (who played memorable villain Alan Bradley), Sue said; "You couldn't want more than to be in the top soap. And I'm in the top soap!"
Copyright © John Woodhouse 2018
Sources: 'The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles' 5th edition 1985; 'This Is Your Life Sue Nicholls' with Michael Aspel, BBC 1996; 'The New Musical Express (NME)' June 1968; plus selected quotes from Sue Nicholls interview with Nina Myscow.
(highest UK chart position in brackets)
Visit the Tony Hatch official web site at; tonyhatch.co.uk
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