And he loves the continual feedback that comes from those seat-teetering viewers. A feedback that never comes,
however great the production may be, from a legitimate theatre play on the live stage. It's this non-stop audience response
that helps Ling and his scriptwriters form a programme that never fails to pull massive audiences. They may not actually
write in, or out, the characters that an ever enthusiastic viewing audience may demand, but they certainly judge the progress
of a character or a plotline by the volume and the type of response they get.
What, of course, makes Crossroads so continual a success is the rapport that Peter Ling has with the people
who work on the sets and those who are on the receiving end of his Motel dramas. "I think the secret of any long-running
serial is that under the guise of being about a group of people who are running a Motel they are really just a family.
Meg is at the head, David Hunter is an uncle, elder brother figure, Sandy is the son. And those that aren't actually
close relations, then they are cousins, and aunts and so on.
And he takes better care of his audiences, not to mention his family, than anyone who isn't closely tied into writing
the series could ever realise. For instance, one Christmas it had been decided that Hugh Mortimer was due for his heart
attack, on Christmas Day! "I thought against this. I knew that a lot of people would be sharing that Christmas
Day episode with the programme, and for them it would be joining in half an hour of a family party. And suddenly to
crash it all to the ground with bad news would ruin their Christmas too. By Boxing Day, of course ..." Peter
Ling would never want to be pious but he knows just how much the audience count.
Of course, he also realises the extent to which the Crossroads actors themselves have to play their part in
creating the show. And not only on the set. "If their is something really important happening we certainly consult
with the actors. For instance, we told Roger Tonge in great detail about his car crash and its results before we started
writing scripts about him in a wheelchair. But on the whole it's only something that's going to have a permanent effect
that is discussed with the actors. There are a whole crew of people who thrash the scripts out as it is."
Despite the immense output Peter Ling puts into his two soap operas, believe it or not, he still has time to write his
own one-off plays. Occasionally he works with his old partner Hazel Adair on film scripts "which is fun to do, and a
marvellous change of pace and tempo." He's also written the occasional radio play, the latest one deals with a personally
favourite character, St. Francis of Assisi, and way back during the war, when he was only eighteen, there was even a Peter
Ling novel available for the far-seeing. Titled 'Voices off Stage' it was duly published but, as Peter Ling is the first
to stress, it was hardly a runaway best-seller.
In the end, of course, Peter Ling's main love remains with his supreme success, the King's Oak Motel, Crossroads.
He is linked to the characters, and the original cast members in a way that he doesn't bother to deny. "If the programme
ended tomorrow, which God forbid, I would find it very hard to cut myself off from them. It would be a terrible emotional
shock in parting from something that has twelve years of emotional backlog, of shared group memories to it. If it does
end, as it must one day, it will come terribly hard."
One thing can be sure. If Crossroads does end, and after twelve years it has yet to show signs of flagging,
however great the emotional shock, its scriptwriter Peter Ling can assure himself of one thing. The show may end but
it has bequeathed the country a legacy that is a programme and a set of characters which, for better or worse, epitomise so much
of our country in the Twentieth Century.