Emmerdale stars who appeared in the first episode and where they are now 50 years on
Do you know where the original stars of the first episode are now? Emmerdale turns 50 this week.
The inaugural episode of the ITV soap opera, then known as Emmerdale Farm, debuted a plethora of well-known characters, including Annie Sugden and her son Joe, as well as the endearing Woolpack Pub owners Amos Brearly and Henry Wilks.
They established themselves as constants in the dales, and several of them later returned back to play the same parts for important anniversaries or dramatic plots.
This weekend, on October 16, 2022, Emmerdale will air its 50th anniversary episode. The Daily Star looks at some of the original show’s stars’ current whereabouts.
Sheila Mercier (Annie Sugden)
One of the most recognizable families in the Dales is the Sugdens, who were first led by matriarch Annie in the pilot episode.
Between 1972 to 1994, Sheila Mercier portrayed Annie Sugden; she later appeared as a guest star in 1995, 1996, and 2009.
Sheila chose to stop acting after leaving Emmerdale, despite appearing in a 2000 online Emmerdale tie-in.
However, the actress had a successful playing career until she retired, featuring in films including Uproar in the House, Simple Spymen, One for the Pot, Chase Me Comrade, and Dry Rot.
Outside of the spotlight, Sheila had a son named Nigel with fellow actor and subsequently agent Peter Mercier, whom she was married to starting in 1951.
The celebrity also commemorated a significant milestone when she turned 100 on January 1, 2019, but tragically passed away in her sleep on December 4 just one year later.
After an ITV spokesman issued a statement confirming Mercier’s passing, Kim Tate actress Claire King tweeted a homage to the star.
She uttered: “It is always tragic to learn of the passing of a performer who was vital to the success of Emmerdale.
Even more so since that actor was in the pilot and whose family the show was centered around.
Mark Charnock, who played Marlon Dingle, also paid tribute to the late actress by saying: “The legendary Sheila Mercier has passed away. What a well-known figure Annie Sugden was.
When I was a youngster, my grandparents used to watch it with me, so it was exciting to finally meet her.
Frazer Hines (Joe Sugden)
Between 1972 and 1992, Frazer Hines portrayed Joe Sugden for more than 20 years.
However, Frazer Hines achieved popularity as a Doctor Who companion long before he played his legendary Emmerdale part.
He appeared in 117 episodes with Patrick Troughton’s second doctor and in specials like 1983’s The Five Doctors, more than any other actor ever did as a companion.
The actor has continued to appear on our screens in addition to Doctor Who and Emmerdale in TV shows and movies like Doctors, Two Days In The Smoke, and most recently 2020’s Lost At Christmas.
In a 1999 interview with The Mirror, Frazer also discussed his horror at learning he had colon cancer: “The surgeon says you have bowel cancer, immediately you feel like you’ve swallowed a bowling ball.” Did I consider my death? For certainly, yes.
After an 11-year struggle with the disease, the actor had major surgery and chemotherapy before being informed that he was in remission.
He added, “I always claimed I’m not healed, I have not fought cancer – because there is always the danger it can come and bite you in the bum again. But it also affected my decision not to have children, which contributed to the breakdown of my marriage.
“Liz yearned to have a child. But I pondered, “Why?” in my head. I may pass away. The marriage was then starting to fall apart, I discovered.”
Added him: “You have self-doubt. It was my fault; I simply retreated and declared that I didn’t want a family. It was quite egotistical.”
The actor’s first marriage lasted from 1981 to 1984 to Gemma Craven, and his second marriage lasted from 1994 to 2003 to Liz Hobbs.
Ronald Magill (Amos Brearly)
From the very first episode of Emmerdale, Ronald Magill, who played Amos Brearly, earned a reputation as the local gossip.
Later, in 1991, he left the soap opera, but in 1994 and 1995, when his character married Annie Sugden, he made brief cameos.
Although his final acknowledged TV performance was in Emmerdale, the actor had a long and successful career on stage, appearing in plays including Measure for Measure.
The actor, however, also experienced heartache in his private life after the 1997 passing of his 32-year boyfriend, David Soar.
Ten years after his partner, Ronald Magill passed away on September 6, 2007, at the age of 87.
The Standard also revealed that Ronald had received a Bells Palsy diagnosis in the years before to his passing.
After his passing, it was later discovered that Ronald had given the man who had cared for him in his final years more than a third of his £1.3 million fortune.
According to his will, Ronald’s two brothers would each receive £830,000 (before inheritance tax) and the remaining £550,000 would go to the man.
Arthur Pentalow (Henry Wilks)
In Emmerdale, Arthur Pentalow played Henry Wilks, who co-owned the Woolpack Inn with Amos Brearly until 1991.
Prior to Emmerdale, the actor had had a very successful career. He had appeared in TV shows including Z-Cars and a competing soap opera as George Greenwood, Hilda Ogden’s companion in Coronation Street in 1971.
On August 6, 1991, while traveling from his home in Birmingham to Leeds, where Emmerdale is filmed, Arthur suddenly passed away at the age of 67 from a heart attack.
Arthur’s demise in real life led to the character’s removal from the soap opera in October 1991.
The actor had two boys named Nick and Simon with his wife Jennifer, with whom he had been married.
Gail Harrison (Marian Wilks)
From 1972 until 1978, Gail Harrison portrayed Marian, Henry Wilks’ daughter, for six years.
In contrast, Debbi Blythe’s portrayal of the role from 1987 to 1988 saw her return to the dales.
Just one year prior to her Emmerdale debut, Gail made her acting debut in the TV show Budgie. She then went on to appear in the 1970s films David Copperfield, A Roof Over My Head, and The Great Riviera Robbery.
She also made appearances in the popular comedy series Hi-Di-Hi and Only Fools And Horses, the drama series Brass, and the TV movie The Things You Do For Love: I Still Believe after leaving Emmerdale.
However, IMDB indicates that Gail’s last credited acting appearance was in the TV Movie, and it appears that the actress has since stopped performing.
Gail tends to keep her personal life secret, therefore it is unknown what the celebrity is now up to.
Frederick Pyne (Matt Skilbeck)
Between 1972 and 1989, Frederick Pyne portrayed the sympathetic farmer Matt Skilbeck for more than 17 years.
Before becoming well-known for his work on Emmerdale, he had already made appearances on TV shows like Talking to a Stranger, The Three Princes, and Dixon of Dock Green.
The actor’s final credited acting performance, though, was in Emmerdale, according to IMDB.
According to reports, Frederick was also a trustee for five acting charities, served on the Actor’s Equity Council, and presided over the group from 1994 to 2002.
Frederick appeared to maintain a private personal life, much like his Emmerdale co-stars, and it is unknown if the actor is married or has any children.
Toke Townley (Sam Pearson)
Between 1972 to 1984, Sam Pearson portrayed Toke Townley, Annie Sugden’s father, and made a name for himself by using the line “In my day.”
Repertory theatre was where he started his acting career, and he later got parts in movies and TV shows like Three Men in a Boat, Scars of Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, The Two Ronnies, and Out of the Unknown.
The actor passed away from a heart attack on September 27, 1984, while still appearing in Emmerdale, at the age of 72.
Later, Toke Townley’s uncharacteristic death in the soap opera was used to kill off his character.