On July 6, 1992, the first episode of the BBC's eagerly awaited 'sun, sex and sangria' soap opera Eldorado aired. Months of trailers had promised viewers a glimpse into the exciting expat lifestyle on Spain's Costa del Sol.
Offering a combination of domestic drama in a sunny setting, the big-budget soap was created as a hybrid of EastEnders and Neighbours, yet despite arriving to a huge fanfare, Eldorado ran for just a single year before it was cancelled in 1993.
The series followed the lives of British and European expats in the fictional town of Los Barcos on the Costa del Sol in Spain, and was broadcast three times a week until it was pulled from TV schedules after 156 episodes, signing off just three days after its first birthday, on July 9, 1993.
In spite of its relatively short lifespan the show was popular, pulling in 9-10 million viewers by the end of its run and gaining some fiercely loyal fans. Here we look back at some of the main stars of the series, and find out what became of them after it ended.
Campbell Morrison – played Drew Lockhead
The Lockheads were the main expat family on the series, and patriarch Drew was a central figure throughout the show’s run as he dealt with a marriage on the rocks, a troublesome son and the makings of a drink problem across his 132 episodes.
The failure of Eldorado certainly didn’t affect the career of Glaswegian-born Morrison, who went on to appear in several hit TV shows, including playing recurring characters in EastEnders, Hamish Macbeth, Dream Team and The Bill. He died in 2008 aged just 55.
Patricia Brake – played Gwen Lockhead
Well-known character actress Patricia Brake played Drew’s long-suffering wife Gwen, a teacher at the local expat school who also wrote and edited the Los Barcos residents’ newsletter. She appeared in 128 episodes.
Best known as Fletcher’s daughter Ingrid in Porridge prior to joining the Eldorado cast, Brake went on to play short-term recurring characters in established soaps EastEnders, Coronation Street and Doctors. She still appears on the small screen, most recently in an episode of Casualty, and is a regular on the British stage.
Jesse Birdsall – played Marcus Tandy
Marcus was the resident bad boy of Los Barcos, combining brooding good looks and shady business dealings like a continental version of EastEnders’ Mitchell Brothers. Never far from trouble, Marcus was seen in the series’ final scenes, fleeing Spain to avoid the authorities.
Something of a heart-throb at the time, after completing 124 episodes of Eldorado Birdsall went on to star in BBC science fiction/crime drama Bugs. He has featured in dozens of TV shows including Morse, Midsomer Murders and New Tricks. He had recurring roles in The Bill, Footballers’ Wives and most recently Hollyoaks, and is married to Gwyneth Strong, Only Fools and Horses’ Cassandra.
Polly Perkins – played Trish Valentine
Trish was a well-liked but somewhat faded nightclub singer who supplemented that career by running the Los Barcos video shop. Initially seen dating toyboy German windsurfing instructor Dieter (played by former timeshare salesman Kai Maurer), she later reunited with her old flame, the decidedly dodgy Alex Morris.
Polly Perkins had had some success as a young singer and cabaret act in the 1960s and moved into television the following decade. She became a real-life expat when she moved to Spain in 1985. Since Eldorado her acting career has taken a back seat, though she did return to the UK to appear in EastEnders as Dot Cotton’s half-sister Rose in 2011-12.
Julie Fernandez – played Nessa Lockhead
Nessa was the independent daughter of Drew and Gwen, described as a ‘stroppy teenager’ by the wheelchair-bound actress who played her, Julie Fernandez. Nessa had a relationship with builder’s son ‘Razor’ Sharp, played by Kevin Hay, which Fernandez later revealed continued off-screen.
A first-time actress on Eldorado, Fernandez went on to appear in the series Dangerfield before landing the role of Brenda in The Office. In 1998 she set up The Disability Foundation, a charity providing complementary therapy to the disabled. She also formed a production company called The Wheelie Good Company. She lives in Cambridgeshire.
Leslee Udwin – played Joy Slater
The owner of Joy's Bar, Joy Slater was a popular and well-liked figure among the Los Barcos residents. Played by Leslee Udwin, who had previously starred in Shadow of the Noose, she went to Spain to escape an unhappy marriage and became a good friend to Trish.
Born in Israel and brought up in South Africa, Udwin had set up her own production company Assassin Films even before joining the soap. After it ended she moved into production, scoring a notable hit with the feature film East is East. Her 2015 documentary India's Daughter was critically acclaimed and has won 32 awards. She now lives in London.
Los Barcos - What became of the set of Eldorado?
Some £2 million of Eldorado's £10 million budget was spent creating a purpose-built set near Coin in Andalucia. The 'village' of Los Barcos boasted whitewashed houses and apartments, swimming pools, and shops, restaurants and bars in a village square, all overlooked by a traditional Spanish church.
After the show ended part of the site became a hotel called Hotel Cinema City, while co-producers John Dark and James Todesco started a company, Coin Film City, with a view to running a film school on the site as well as showing tourists around the set.
The site was used as the location for many succesful TV show and movies, including long-running Spanish soap Arrayán and 2015 rabies drama Rabia.
Today shoots of a different kind take place at Los Barcos - the buildings that made up Los Barcos are still standing but part of the site is now used for paintballing.