10 March 2009

1980-1985 - Al Dixon As Emmerdale Farm's Silent Walter Of The Woolpack...

Walter's very first screen close up, October 1980.

For years, confusion reigned over the character of Walter, the silent Woolpack bar propper. When did he first appear? Did he ever speak? Why was he so quiet? What was his surname?

Well, our sister blog, The Beckindale Bugle couldn't, and can't, solve the last two mysteries, but it did manage to solve the others.

Regular readers of The Bugle will know that there were two Walters, one played by Geoffrey Hooper, on-screen from circa 1974 to early 1980, and the other, played by Al Dixon, on-screen from September 1980 to December 1985.

Geoffrey Hooper's Walter was often heard to speak - from episodes of the show available to me and my readers, I can state that he told the Woolpack about the train crash at the junction in 1976; I'm reliably informed he told Annie Sugden at a village dance that he would rather be having a drink with Amos - and an episode I recently viewed from early 1980 featured Mr Hooper's Walter telling Amos Brearly that he'd have a half - not his usual pint of beer! In fact, he wasn't particularly silent at all.

Al Dixon's 1980s Walter said much less - I heard him mumble "Thank you" when Mr Wilks handed him his change in a scene from November 1980, and he laughed out loud when Amos planned to fix the plumbing at The Woolpack - but then who wouldn't have?! But apart from that he was pretty darned silent.

Actually there was a third Walter in Emmerdale Farm, played by Meadows White in a few early episodes, but as that Walter wasn't particularly quiet, nor a Woolpack bar-propper, I assume he was unrelated to the subject of this article! According to Meadow White's IMDB entry, he died on 20 November 1973. Read it

Here, in screen captures, is how Al Dixon's Walter was introduced into the story. The Woolpack was absolutely Walter-less for much of 1980. A non-silent character called Wilfred was sometimes seen at the bar, but then the Emmerdale Farm production team decided that a new Walter was required.

In Emmerdale Farm's early days, Al Dixon had posed for a photograph as Jacob Sugden, with Sheila Mercier as Annie, to be used as a prop on the farmhouse mantelpiece!

In 1980, Al was auditioned for the role of Walter and later revealed: "They asked me to take my teeth out and that's how I got the part!"

His on-screen introduction - episode 597, broadcast in early September 1980 - went like this...

Amos was ranting away to Mr Wilks - in high dudgeon about "summat and nowt" - one morning before Opening Time. As he stalked out of the bar, there was a knock at the door. Amos told Mr Wilks it was Walter knocking, it was time to open up, they had the good name of the house to consider, and so on.

Amos went into the living quarters, leaving easy-going Mr Wilks to open the pub. He made his way to the door and the episode switched scenes to elsewhere in Beckindale so that we didn't get to see Walter at that point.

Screen capture from Walter's very first scene, September 1980.

Later in the episode, Amos was putting Seth Armstrong to rights in no uncertain terms and Walter made his very first appearance, sitting quietly in the shadows. Walter would soon become associated with the corner of the bar nearest the till, but made his debut at the opposite end by the hot food cabinet. In his early episodes, he switched bar ends several times.

At first, Walter was quite low key, but he quickly became more prominent. It was in October 1980 that he got his first screen close up.

Walter's bizarre silence and highly expressive face added something very distinctive and slightly surreal to the atmosphere at The Woolpack. He contributed to Amos' growing reputation as a barmpot as the Woolpack landlord stood wittering away to him about all his latest fads. Walter never answered, but this didn't bother Amos who simply wanted to be heard and not ridiculed. Very occasionally, early on, Walter was heard to laugh at certain particulars of Amos' daft doings, but in the main Amos' chunterings were greeted by an attentive (or sometimes blank) expression and much head nodding.

Bliss for Amos - somebody who would listen to his strange flights of fancy.

Although Walter was silent, his facial expressions spoke volumes. Neither he nor Amos were at all impressed when the uncouth John Tuplin, NY Estates worker, rapped on the bar with his glass in an attempt to get service in October 1980.

Mr Wilks is bemused, bothered and bewildered by Amos' behaviour, Seth is amused, Walter is blank.

By 1983, viewers were campaigning for Walter to speak. But Al Dixon said in 1984: "I hope Walter never speaks. If he did, I think I'd be finished because the character wouldn't be a novelty any more!"

Al Dixon suffered a stroke in late 1985, and Walter last appeared on screen in December of that year, in the village's Christmas play Toad Of Toad Hall. The scenes had been recorded before Mr Dixon was taken ill.

In early 1986, Walter was reported to have gone to visit his sister in Worthing. The production team hoped that Mr Dixon would be well enough to return to the role soon. But, sadly, this was not to be and he died a few months later.

Walter was a tremendous favourite of mine - he brought a great deal of fun to the show from 1980 to 1985, and was a lovely, quirky and gentle character.

Fondly remembered.

Read further details about the 1980s Emmerdale Farm characters at The Beckindale Bugle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Al Dixon was a stand up comedian at the Amphitheatre on RHYL promenade during the late 40s/early 50s as part of the Billy Manders Show also featuring the Lemisky Young Ladies, a line up of high kicking dancers.