Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Kemptville Tour - Day Five

Tuesday 31 August 2010

The day started with a book sale. Most of the 50th anniversary merchandise doesn’t come out until October and finding Corrie stuff in the shops is difficult so we always try and get a local trader to supply us with anything they have – and it’s brought to the hotel where it’s offered at a discount. Today we had books by Ken, Liz and Natalie, fridge magnets, the odd costume item and my new book called Lights, Camera, Location! which is a locations guide to over 100 film and TV shows shot in this part of England, including a big section on Corrie. It just came out last week so it was interesting to see what people thought of it.

The group on Coronation Street itself
Then we boarded the Healings coach  for the Granada Studios. Now, it’s not easy to get into the studios and it’s really only possible for groups and corporate companies who book a long time in advance. Anyway, we enjoyed a couple of hours looking around the Coronation Street outdoor set and the two indoor studios which contain the rooms of the houses. Everything is smaller than you might imagine but amazing.

Whilst at the studios we met the actors who play Jack, Sian, Sophie, Rosie, Fiz, Nick, Kevin, Peter, and Leanne and we also met Executive Producer Keiron Roberts and out-going Producer Kim Crowther, who both told us how much the international fans mean to the cast and crew.

The rest of the day was free – some people headed across the road to Liz Dawn’s pub to enjoy a pint and look at all the pictures on the walls, some went shopping. It had been an amazing day!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Kemptville Travel Tour - Day Four

Monday 30 August 2010

It’s a public holiday here today and we took the opportunity to have a noon departure giving anyone with jet-lag chance to lie in or the more adventurous to take some city air and explore the streets around the hotel.

We did a quick drive around the outside of the Granada Studios complex so that I could tell them the story of Granada itself – of the Bernstein brothers who founded it, where the name comes from, why Canadians were brought over to help start it, and just how many Corrie street sets there’ve been.

Next we crossed into the city of Salford, where creator Tony Warren was born and raised. First stop was a real Coronation Street. Yes, it has terraced houses and yes, that’s its real name. We found out why Prince Charles has visited it and how it’s featured in several TV shows. Then we drove past rows of terraced houses and back yards until we reached the park they use to film the Red Rec scenes. It’s also the spot from where they used to film the shots of roof tops and chimneys which were featured in the opening and closing credits. I say ‘used to’ because the houses here have been renovated and look nothing like they used to. As we drove to our next locations we passed a spot where someone (you’ll have to wait for this is Canada) escapes from an ambulance. ….

The Granada Studios
Then we had a surprise for our guests as we entered the Salford Quays area. We saw the locations where Don Brennan drove his taxi into the water (he had Alma with him!), where Steve proposed to Karen, where Leanne worked when she was a prostitute, where Mike Baldwin lived and where the first church ever used for a wedding (it was in 1961) stands. There waiting for us was the film crew shooting the up-coming Debbie Travis show ‘Corrie Crazy’ to be shown on CBC on the 50th anniversary (9 December). They filmed us arriving and chatted with some of the guests about the tour (I took Debbie on a tour a few weeks ago which was also filmed). They then joined us as we learnt about the Quays and its Canadian connections (did you know many of the waterways and streets are named after Canadian places – that’s why Mike lived in Montreal House at Weatherfield Quays) and passed the Manchester United Stadium, Archie Street (which was used as an early double for Coronation St when outdoor filming was required) and the new BBC studios.

Next stop was a little street where Weatherfield Community Centre sits (remember Blanche holding forth at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in there?) and it’s also been used when Roy and Ken were accused of drug dealing and when Chesney ran away. It also gives me an opportunity to explain how filming is done and what makes a good Corrie location (it was a bit odd giving this talk whilst being filmed!)

The film crew then left us as we headed to the Trafford Centre, a huge indoor shopping mall built in an Italian style. After an hour or two it was back to the hotel for a free evening. Again, we were lucky, ITV were airing a double episode focused on a big event!

Spoiler bit – Tony Gordon escapes and returns to Weatherfield.
Tonight ITV is showing Roy and Hayley’s wedding.

Kemptville Tour - Day Three

Sun 29 August 2010

As we drive around from stop to stop I talk about Corrie, its history, how it’s made and so on. We’re also keeping a note of the number of locations we’re visiting or seeing from the coach (I’ll try and give you the total at the end). We definitely added to that total today. We had a sort of weddings and funerals theme! We started with a quick tour of the city centre - we saw the concert hall built on springs, the building Hitler had earmarked as his Nazi headquarters, the building which played Parliament in the latest Sherlock Holmes movie, and the hotel owned by Sir Cliff Richard amongst other things. First stop was the location of Ken and Deirdre’s second wedding (it’s actually a museum!). Then we headed off to a funeral location – again, this episode hasn’t been aired yet in Canada so for those who don’t like spoilers, I won’t reveal who is buried there here - but it's at the bottom.  It was also used for Betty's wedding to Billy Williams.

We then drove into rural Cheshire where we were able to enjoy a couple of hours roaming around the beautiful Arley Hall and gardens. Mike married Linda here and Liam married Maria. This isn’t really a lucky wedding venue – you might recall that Mark, Mike’s son, let out a little secret at his father’s wedding – he’d been sleeping with his future step-mother, and Carla tried to ruin Maria’s big day! Anyway, we enjoyed our time there – it really is a stunning home with gorgeous gardens.

On the way back into Manchester we made a final stop at a location that’s not been seen on screen in Canada yet. However, there can be few people that know Blanche dies. The wonderful actress who played her, Maggie Jones, died earlier this year so filming Blanche’s funeral was an emotional time for the cast. Our last stop was at the church and graveyard where they filmed the funeral scenes. The church was opened up for us to look inside and we also discovered that John Stape's grandma was buried here and Joshua Peacock was christened here.  We all agreed that Blanche was a classic character and is sadly missed and we made donations to the church's tower appeal in her memory.

After an hour or two to freshen up it was back on the coach and across town to The Bridge, a quaint pub restaurant. We had a private room where we enjoyed a traditional Sunday roast dinner – and the company of a special guest, none other than Craig Gazey who plays Graeme. It’s the first time Craig has been a guest on the tour and he seemed taken aback by the numbers – and the response. He answered lots of questions and posed for pictures with everyone.
Introducing our special guest.

Gail's husband Joe is buried there.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Kemptville Tour - Day two

Sat 28 August 2010

And we’re off! This morning we left the hotel at 9am and headed out of the city (which is very busy and colourful this weekend as it’s the Pride Festival) into the rolling hills of Yorkshire. Tomorrow the BBC airs the last ever episode of the world’s longest running sit-com, Last of the Summer Wine. LOTSW is in its 31st series, and I know many Canadians and Americans love to watch it. So it seemed fitting that our first call was the pretty town of Holmfirth, where the series has been filmed for all those years. We had about an hour’s free time to explore – some visited the Wrinkled Stocking café, some Sid’s Café (as featured in the show). There was also the Summer Wine Museum, based in the house where Compo lived – and several members of the group took the opportunity to have a photo taken posing on Nora Batty’s steps.

We then boarded the coach and headed over the Saddleworth Moors to Ashton-under-Lyne. We passed the town hall, which doubled for Weatherfield Town Hall when Alf Roberts was Mayor, and called at the canal quayside where Richard Hillman tried to kill the Platts – but only killed himself! It’s also where David Platt staged his suicide to disrupt Sarah’s second marriage attempt to Jason.

Next, and final stop, was the wedding location used for Jason and Sarah’s first wedding attempt (he escaped through the toilet window) and Steve and Becky’s two weddings. Another couple marry there too (but as it’s not been shown yet in Canada, I’ll keep it quiet!).  Whilst we were there a real couple were tying the knot!

Now, this morning’s itinerary was hastily rearranged last week and we set off an hour earlier than planned and had a little less time at each stop than planned. The reason? When I attended the glitzy ‘opening night’ of the Corrie! Stage show at the Lowry I found out that they were adding some extra performances and that the show would now close today. Karen at Kemptville Travel immediately got working and managed to secure 40 seats for today’s matinee. What a treat for everyone and what a great way to get the tour off to a golden 50th start! Everyone enjoyed the show which is hosted by Charles Lawson (Jim McDonald) and in which 5 hugely talented performers appear as over 50 characters!

It was then back to the hotel for a couple of hours before we made for the historic Briton’s Protection inn, which is over 200 years old. We enjoyed a great dinner and a Corrie quiz with some fiendish questions (Do you know Derek Wilton’s middle name?) set by me and some great prizes of Corrie books published over the past 30 years.

Spoiler bit – Gail marries Joe there.
Derek’s middle name was Bernard.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Kemptville Travel Tour report 1

As promised here's my first blog entry about the World of Coronation St Tour:

Fri 27 August 2010

Most of the Kemptville Travel group arrived together today, landing at Manchester Airport this morning. I had advised them to keep clear of any dodgy tie salesmen (remember what happened to poor Deirdre!) and get through the airport as quickly as they could.

We were soon on board the Healings coach and heading into Manchester. They are staying at a great downtown hotel, which the group has used for many years, and which is in walking distance of the shops and attractions. Other members of the party who were making their own way there will check in later and this evening, it’s a sherry reception and dinner – then everyone will go off to their rooms to watch a special episode which happens to be airing tonight (I’d love to say it was all planned that way – but I’d be lying!).

We’ve been working on the tour for almost a year so by the time we get to this point Karen, the travel agent, and I are more than happy to see the guests arrive in the UK. Now the fun begins! This year we have 40 people, mainly returners but a few new faces too. Yesterday I had to work out where Canadian viewers were up to in the stories. To give you an idea, the episode CBC aired on August 13 was shown in the UK on October 23. Last year’s group watched the cast filming a scene outside the betting shop where Simon’s granddad arrived in Weatherfield. Canadian viewers should be seeing that about now/just have seen it! So I have to think where each story is up to. Mind you, our guests inevitably hear spoilers, you can’t not do. Of course, I have been known to make a few up just to cloud the issue.

In this posting I’ll put the spoilers at the bottom in italics – then if you don’t want to see them, don’t read the bottom!

The episode shown tonight was Hayley’s hen night.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A-touring we will go!

Tomorrow I'll be out and about down Weatherfield way on the first tour of an 11-day stint.  Tomorrow it's a one-day Corrie tour for Coronation Travel (coronationtravel.com) for whom I've done a day of their British tour for the past few years.  They're always a nice group, mainly from the east coast of Canada.
The real vicar of 'Weatherfield
parish church' talks about filming
in his churchyard.
Tomorrow we're calling at Weatherfield Registry Office, the canal where Richard Hillman perished, Weatherfield Parish Church, the Red Rec, Weatherfield Quays and Weatherfield Locks.  It'll be a busy day!  On our way round I talk about the history of the show, the history of Granada Television, Tony Warren, how the show is put together and so on.  On Friday they're off to the studios to visit the actual sets so it's a good introductory day.  I was asked to go with them to the studios but on Friday I have 40 Canadian and American guests arriving with Kemptville Travel (kemptvilletravel.com) on the 21st World of Coronation Street holiday.  I will be with them for 10 days and have a lot of surprises ready and waiting.  I'll be blogging all about that during the trip.
A lot of British fans ask me how they can do a locations tour and I'm pleased to announce that the Oldham Chronicle newspaper have booked me for a one-day tour on Wednesday October 27th.  It will depart from their offices (OL1 1EQ) at 10am and return at about 4.30pm.  We'll be taking in the Richard Hillman death spot, the registry office, parish church, Weathefield Quays, Red Rec, passing the studios and a number of other locations too - and I'll be filling you in on how it's all put together, the history and so on.  If you would like to know more or book - it costs £15 each - then call 0161 622 2130.  You'll find it listed on their website http://www.oldham-chronicle.co.uk/ then click on 'readers holidays' at the top and then 'our famous day trips' to open the pdf.  Please note that this day trip does not visit the studios nor include a visit to the sets.

Please note that the tour is not run by Granada Television or ITV

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Summer Wine & Corrie Connections

This is an article I wrote in 2006 - an interview with Kathy Staff and Roy Barraclough.  Since then Kathy has passed away but as the very last episode of Last of the Summer Wine is screened next Sunday in the UK, I thought I might dust off the feature which appeared in Lancashire Life, Cheshire Life and Fourmost magazines:


TV stars Kathy Staff and Roy Barraclough talk exclusively about their long friendship with Mark Llewellin.

If we believe the tabloid press then showbiz marriages, friendships and partnerships seem to hit the rocks with alarming regularity. So it’s refreshing to meet two actors who share a strong bond – Kathy Staff (TV’s Nora Batty) and Roy Barraclough (best known for his years with Les Dawson and behind the Rovers Return bar) fall into that category – as Kathy herself put it: ‘Pals for over thirty-five years!’

Kathy was born in Dukinfield, Cheshire whereas Roy is a Lancastrian, born in Preston. Their birthdays are the same though – both came into the world on July 12th. They think that is why they get on so well, Kathy points to a number of shared likes and dislikes. As jobbing actors their paths must have crossed – both did television extra work in the early days and also played small roles in many of the fledgling Granada TV’s output.

Kathy has early memories of watching Roy as a leading man at Oldham’s Coliseum Theatre. In those days, the mid 60s, he was a member of the repertory company alongside Barbara Knox (Corrie’s Rita Sullivan) and Jean Fergusson (Last of the Summer Wine’s Marina). Kathy and her family were members of the repertory theatre and tried to see as many productions there as possible.

However, it wasn’t until 1969 that they met – both being sent to audition in London for Yorkshire TV’s first soap opera, Castle Haven. At Manchester’s Piccadilly Station Kathy recalls spotting Alec Guinness as she ran for the train: ‘He was one of my idols and I thought seeing him like that must be a good omen.’ In London the pair joined a room full of hopefuls and they discovered that they were being auditioned for the roles of husband and wife Harry and Lorna Everett. Kathy told me: ‘Roy said, “You’re not taller than me. You stand with me and we’ll go in together” because the producers were seeing actors in pairs.’ After a long wait they discovered that they had been cast to work together. ‘I think we celebrated in the buffet car on the train back home!’ Roy laughs.

Castle Haven was the creation of former actor Kevin Laffan. Set in a large Whitby house which had been converted into flats, the weekly show revolved around the lives of the tenants and the local pub. Roy said: ‘We never got so far as Whitby, it was all filmed in the studios at Leeds.’ The Everetts were a struggling young couple with two children. ‘You never saw us at first, we were voices heard through the wall of one of the flats – there was a lot of arguing and shouting really!’ Kathy says. Despite a good cast – Jill Summers who later played blue-rinsed Phyllis Pearce in Coronation Street was the local landlady and the Everett’s son’s best friend was played by a young Colin Firth, it was destined to run for just a year.

Roy explained why: ‘Firstly, Granada wouldn’t air it as they felt it was competition for Coronation Street and ATV wouldn’t air it because they had their own show and so on. We just went out around the British coastline I think. Then, just months after we went on air, the Emley Moor Transmitter fell down and most of the Yorkshire TV area was blacked out. They had to beam down signals from an air-ship!’ Kathy chips in: ‘That’s right – until then tea in the studio canteen had been free but when they had to pay for a new transmitter we had to pay two pence a cup!’

Roy was commuting from his then home in Oldham, and Kathy from Dukinfield, so the pair met at Stalybridge Station and travelled on the train together every day. ‘They were great times and that’s when we became pals,’ said Kathy. The pair had also become recognisable TV faces. ‘Jess Yates did his Junior Showtime programme from Leeds and the girl who played our daughter wanted to be a singer so Jess invited her on and he asked us if we’d sit in the audience. He wanted to introduce her in her character’s name and we would dress up as the Everetts and play our parts too. Well, when we found that out Roy asked him what we would be paid – he went quite pale!’ laughs Kathy. ‘He had no intention of paying – he was quite taken aback and he said, “Well! I was going to give you a jelly tea!”’

In 1970 Castle Haven came to an end and creator Kevin Laffan invented the idea of a Yorkshire farm run by the Sugden family - Emmerdale. Kathy joined the Oldham Coliseum company for three plays whilst Roy teamed up with Yorkshire’s new comedy signing – Les Dawson. Roy told me: ‘I was sitting in the canteen when this producer came up and begged me to help them out. Les hadn’t done much TV before and this was his first series. The actor they’d employed to do the sketches with him had walked out and they needed someone to take over quickly. I did – and the rest is history.’

Kathy was to join the pair later on and she too became a regular on Les’ Yorkshire shows. ‘There was a running sketch called the Desponds, who appeared every week - a miserable family who were interviewed by Julian Orchard as the man from the BBC. They were my favourites.’ she says. During their years with Dawson the pair were also in demand for comedy roles in other shows – in 1972 Kathy was cast as Nora Batty in a Comedy Playhouse one-off which soon landed a series commission and she was cast in the recurring role of Doris Luke in Crossroads whilst Roy appeared in classics such as Rising Damp and George and Mildred.

Eventually Roy moved from Oldham to Stalybridge and the friends would meet socially and often travel to London together for work. ‘Roy was always known by my two girls as 'Daddy Number Two' and in fact, Katherine even became one of his neighbours for a time,’ says Kathy. In 1972 Roy made his first appearance as Alec Gilroy in Coronation Street, a role he would resume on a full-time basis over a decade later. ‘It was just a one-off, as were all the roles I’d had in the show since my first appearance as a tour guide in 1964,’ he said. A year later Kathy was cast as the show’s Vera Hopkins and made several cameo appearances before the whole Hopkins family were introduced as owners of the Corner Shop in 1974 but they lasted just a year. ‘I owned the shop at one end of the Street and Roy later owned the pub at the other!’ Kathy laughs.

‘Our paths kept crossing really,’ explains Roy. ‘But, although we were friends, we never met on stage or screen for quite a while.’ In 1984 Kathy was the subject of the programme This Is Your Life and Roy flew in from Germany to make a guest appearance on the show. She later suffered from shingles. Three years later and Roy was the subject of the tribute with Kathy and her daughters, the guests. Kathy says: ‘I reminded Roy of what had happened to me but it was no good – he got shingles too.’ Roy says: ‘It was very traumatic, I hated every minute of that show and it made me very ill.’

Keith Clifford & Roy Barraclough
filming Summer Wine
Amongst the many personal and career parallels the pair share is one which will perhaps come as a surprise to all of their fans – they have both danced in ballets. Kathy says: ‘As a child I always wanted to be a ballerina and in 1990 I was asked to appear on a show where celebrities were given the opportunity of doing something they’d always wanted to do – and so I asked to appear in a ballet. For one night only I danced in The Simple Man at Leeds Grand with the Northern Ballet. When you are asked to do these things, people often want you to be in character, Nora in a tutu. But I wanted to do it properly.’

Roy’s dancing skills were put to good use with the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1999. ‘Every year, at the Birmingham Hippodrome, they do a charity performance of the Nutcracker with a few surprise guests and I was asked to appear in drag at one point, coming out of a magic box, and also in the Arab Dance,’ he says. ‘What I hadn’t realised was that the Arab Dance was to be done straight with no comedy so I too had to rehearse properly with the corps de ballet – it was wonderful though!’

The pair were over-joyed when, in 1995, they were cast to appear on stage together. Kathy says: ‘We were offered the parts of dad and granny to Jason Donovan who was to play the lead in a West End production of the musical Billy. We did all the publicity together and then for no apparent reason it was pulled – we never did get to work with each other.’ Roy adds: ‘We did a photo-call in Blackpool and a palm reader came out of her booth to predict the show would be a hit. I’ve never gone back to her again!’

Bill Owen & Kathy Staff in LOTSW
These days the friends still live near by. ‘We meet up all the time, at charity events – we’re both heavily involved with the wonderful Willow Wood Hospice in Ashton-Under-Lyne for example – and of course, we pop round to each other’s houses for tea and to catch up on all the news, but we just never got to work together,’ says Roy. ‘For years I said to Alan Bell, who directs Last of the Summer Wine, that Roy should join us in the show – he’s so right for it - but it never seemed to happen!,’ explained Kathy.

That is until the casting of the 2005 series of the ever-popular show. ‘Yes, I played a man called Crowcroft, who is a bit of a hit with the ladies,’ Roy tells me with a wink. ‘He’s given his biggest challenge to date – woo Nora Batty!’ Kathy says: ‘So we finally got back together at long last – after thirty-six years of friendship.’ Roy laughs, ‘Yes, and only because we were the same height!’

Kathy, ironically, passed away at Willow Wood Hospice in 2008.

Text copyright of the author.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Fresh off the presses....

I'm pleased to announce that I had a new book published today.  It's a handy-sized (A5, 32 page) full colour guide to some of northern England's film and TV locations called Lights, Camera, Location.  It includes over 100 productions, each one with a trivia fact about it, and quite a few pictures.  We've also included a Coronation Street section.
It will be available through tourist offices, featured locations etc in the north at £4.50 - or via ebay (in due course) at £4 plus p&p.
It won't be available via Amazon or high street book shops.

If you are interested in any of my past books, they are out of print but you can still find used copies via Amazon or Ebay.
They are:
They Started Here! - the story of Oldham Coliseum Theatre.
The World of Crime - (written with Peter Riley) - true Victorian and Edwardian crimes and cons.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

You wait 50 years for a stage show ... (updated!)

.... and then two come along at once!

News reaches me of a Coronation Street stage show taking place at Toronto's John Bassett Theater in September.  This is not the show that is currently running in Manchester but something completely different.
This other show is written by John Stevenson, ex-Corrie writer of many years standing.  It will be interesting to see what format it uses.

See my previous posting about the Corrie! stage show currently running at the Lowry Theatre in Salford.  Incidentally, when Leanne was a prostitute and Janice turned up at a hotel in which she was working, those scenes were filmed at the Lowry Theatre.

Update: I spoke with John Stevenson today and his production is a play.  I'm hoping to be able to reveal more information in the next week or two.  Keep watching!

Corrie! The stage play - first night report


I have to admit that I wasn't sure whether I would like the Corrie! stage play or not.  The more I read about it in advance the more I was put off.  It just sounded like a send-up to me.  So I hold my hands up - I was wrong, it's a triumph!

How the actors must have been dreading last night - five of them play a long list of Corrie favourites - from Hilda and Ena to Mike, Roy, Hayley, Alec, Annie and more.  Not only did they have a full house to entertain last night - along with the reviewers of course - but they also had many of the actors they were portraying sat out in the dark too! 

It became a little surreal actually.  I had Johnny Briggs (Mike) sat right behind me watching an actor playing Mike on stage.  We went through the Deidre/Ken/Mike triangle and then, they acted out Mike's death in Ken's arms.  Johnny laughed away and afterwards told me that he thought the show was wonderful - adding that he wished he'd invested in it!  The audience included the actors who play/played Fiz, Sean, Alec, Molly, Amy, Simon, Mike, Richard Hillman, Roy, Rita, Sunita, Candice, Sally, Leanne and Julie Carp.  Fiz was right in front of me and laughed like a drain - and Sean, who was two along from me, was certainly loving  it.  In fact, at the end, the audience gave the production a much deserved standing ovation.

So, how does it work?  Blanche arrives at the pearly gates to be met by Jim McDonald/Charles Lawson/St Peter (the show's only weak point for me.  It requires a narrator with a bit more life in him/her).  St Peter isn't sure that Blanche should enter heaven so whilst she goes off to find God to complain, St Peter takes a look at her life and where she's from.  We then set off on a hilarious romp  through 50 years of stories.  Some are played very much for laughs - Steve McDonald is played bug-eyed and gurning, Jason is a complete plank and Brian Tilsley is a gormless womaniser.  Some of it is touching - Hilda returning with Stan's things after he's died, Hayley telling Roy that she's a transsexual.  Some of it works because we're in on the joke - every time Gail meets a fella she pronounces him ideal husband material, Deidre straining her neck with ever twist of bad news.  It's not a send up, it's an affectionate romp.

The five actors who play all the parts work their socks off and change costumes and wigs hundreds of times, the set is highly ingenious and even gets laughs when it becomes Gail Force (Gail and Joe's boat) for example, or when Deidre is locked up in the slammer.  Alan Bradley's death on the front of the Blackpool tram is very well done (Barbara Knox told me that she cried with laughter watching that) and the Tony Gordon storyline told as a ballet works very well.

After the show I had a chat with Tony Warren who pronounced it a hit and I also told the producer, Phil McIntyre, how well it would work in Canada and that he should consider a national tour.  Let's hope so. 

A fine birthday gift for Corrie!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Trams, trains, viaducts and crashes

In 1967 a goods train crashed over the side of the vaiduct at the end of Coronation Street.  It crashed into the middle of the street near the corner shop and Ena Sharples was feared dead underneath the wreckage.  In actual fact only one person died in the crash - a little girl.
At the time the 'outdoor street' scenes were actually filmed inside.  The houses were made of wood and canvas, the cobbles painted on the studio floor.  To create the train crash was an amazing feat in its day -  but to be honest, if you watch those episodes today, they don't stand up.
The train crash pushed the technical side of making the show to the limits and this caused the producers to seek somewhere to build an outdoor set.  Hence, in 1968 a former railway yard next to Granada Studios, they built a miniature version of the set with houses about 7 feet wide.
Now here we are in 2010 looking forward to the modern equivilant of that train crash - a tram crash.  Speculation is rife about who will die with the newspapers predicting a bloodbath.  I'm not so sure.  To have Jack Duckworth (a long-standing and popular character) die in such a way would squander some of the pathos you could gain by having such a character leave. 
I am wondering whether the tram story might go in a differnt direction.  At the moment we have Bill Webster and Owen working as builders.  Could it be that their work in the arches causes the crash?  Could Owen be on his way out and could there be repurcusions for Bill and Jason? 
We know that the change to filming in HD has meant that some parts of the outdoor set, which was built in the 80s, have had to be touched up.  Could the tram crash cause the demolition of the Kabin or the corner shop?  Would this give the show's designers a chance to rebuild that part of the set to meet the standards required by HD?
One of my bugbears is reading leaks, and advance stories given through press offices.  I think the show has more impact when you don't know what's coming.  We've all read an increasing long list of characters who are leaving the show but I hope there's an actor who knows they are leaving.  I hope their character dies in the crash and that we viewers only find out who the fatality is in the 50th anniversary episode.  Now that, along with the wonderful special effects I'm sure they'll be using, would have real impact.

Corrie Hilda Trivia

Did you know...?
Actress Jean Alexander once worked in the wardrobe department at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre?  This is the theatre where Ken's Martha was appearing when he went to see her in her play.

Jean's lawnmower is on display in the National Lawnmower Museum in Southport.

Last of the Summer Wine, the show in which Jean has played Auntie Wainwright for many years, has been axed by the BBC.  The very last episode airs in the UK on Sunday 29th August.

Stan Ogden bought his wondow cleaning round from a character called I-Spy Dwyer.  The part was played by Roy Barraclough, know best known as Alec Gilroy.  He also played a bed salesman in a shop where the Odgens slept outside overnight to get a bargain in the sale.

The Ogdens first appeared in 1964.

On Hilda's sideboard she had a plaster ornament of a mermaid sitting on a rock.

Hilda's brother ran a fish and chip shop.

The curlers worn by Jean Alexander in the show used to be on exhibition at Manchester's Science and Industry Museum.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Pantomime History

 A look at a very British art form:

For most British youngsters, their first taste of live theatre is at a pantomime – and the seasonal favourite seems to be as popular today as it always has been. Screams of “It’s behind you!” and “Oh, yes it is!” (for all British children know what to shout out) will lift the roof of many a theatre this Christmas and the brisk business at the box office will often be used to underpin the rest of the year’s theatrical programme.

Although one thinks of pantomime as being typically British it’s really a hotchpotch of ideas gathered from across the globe and commercialised by the Victorians as a seasonal treat. Look closely and you’ll recognise a generous dollop of Greek drama, a little Roman over-acting and more than a nod towards the Italian Commedia dell’ arte in there somewhere. It’s the Italian sounding Joseph Grimaldi (right) who is credited with establishing pantomime as a British entertainment. He made his first panto appearance at London’s Covent Garden back in 1806 – it was a run-away success playing for 92 nights and taking an incredible £20,000. Theatre managers up and down the land saw pound signs before their eyes!

The first pantomimes were based upon those Italian characters Harlequin, Columbine and Pantaloon with a Fairy Godmother usually thrown in for good measure. But with the rise of the music halls at the end of the 19th century so pantos grew into something we would recognise today. Dan Leno, a London-born entertainer, won a number of clog dancing competitions bringing him great public recognition. Aged just twenty-six, he played the title role in ‘Mother Goose’ at Drury Lane, taking the capital by storm – a star was born and it was he who first created the ‘dame’ character (the mother is nearly always played by a man) we know and love today – wearing a bun wig, a shawl and buttoned boots he made his first entrance on the back of a cart pulled by two donkeys, live geese scattering everywhere!

Leno’s success lead to pantomimes being packed with music hall stars of the day such as Marie Lloyd, Arthur Conquest and Vesta Tilley aided and abetted by speciality acts and featuring all the latest songs and jokes and of course, innuendo-laden routines. Men found they could milk more humour from playing the mothers whereas the girls in thigh-length boots and low-cut jackets attracted the dads! At this time pantos weren’t just Christmas treats – they were so popular that they often played from November until Easter, and sometimes beyond. As more and more pantomimes were staged in the regions so artistes travelled from town to town honing well-trodden routines and adding topical references.

The tradition continues today with 166 (at last count) professional pantomimes being presented this year in theatres large and small with of course, hundreds more amateur ones. The subject matters haven’t changed much over the centuries either - no doubt somewhere this Christmas, the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham will be despatching his niece and nephew to their doom in ‘Babes in the Wood’, one of the few home-grown tales. Mixed with the legend of Robin Hood it was first used for a pantomime in 1867. ‘Dick Whittington’ is another British tale, a mixture of fact and fiction. ‘Aladdin’ is adapted from one of the Arabian Nights stories and made its debut in 1813, 50 years later the characters had their names changed to make a topical pun out of the Chinese tea trade so the Princess became Pekoe and the dame, Twankey, both popular brands of tea at the time.

‘Cinderella’ will be praying that the Fairy Godmother can turn pumpkins into coaches up and down the country although in the original French story Cinders wore a fur shoe. ‘Mother Goose’ is another French tale and one of the earliest pantomime subjects, remaining popular with ‘dame’ performers because it’s the only one in which they get the starring role. ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is based on the German legend of ‘Jack the Giant Killer’ and achieved popularity after a production at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1855. Other subjects such as ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Snow White’ are more modern additions.

The late 'I'm Free' John Inman as panto dame
Maybe because of its rich historical past, pantomime is packed with traditions and superstitions handed down from generation to generation. The Demon should always appear from the left and the Fairy from the right (their right) – good being right whereas we throw salt over our left shoulder into the face of the devil – so that’s where he should lurk! The Fairy traditionally holds her wand in her right hand but when she speaks she should transfer it to her left so that it protects her heart. When the actors rehearse the production they never practise the rhyming couplets spoken at the conclusion of the finale, saving it until the opening night for luck. Actors are a superstitious lot at the best of times but pantomime seems to bring out a particular set of conventions and rules handed down over the years.

There will, of course, always be those who predict the end of pantomime often citing the casting of ‘one hit wonders’, sports personalities and the like. But according to many that is why it has survived - constantly remaining topical and reinventing itself. ‘The Theatre’ magazine ran an article proclaiming that, “Alas, pantomime is on its last legs!” But that was over a century ago – long may it continue to delight children of all ages!

Text copyright of the author.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

It's Panto Time - oh, yes it is!

“I love playing panto dame. It saves wearing a frock at home.” John Inman

I've just finished writing my last pantomime script for the year (hopefully!).  For those who don't know what panto is - I'll publish a blog on panto history soon, but  here's a bit about my scripts:

I really have my paternal grandparents to thank for my interest in theatre. They used to take my sister and I to see the pantomimes and Christmas shows at the Bristol Hippodrome each year. It was quite an occasion too! We used to go by taxi, which quite a thing, and invariably had seats near the front of the circle. This is still the area of a theatre I prefer to sit in. Front row of the circle, in the middle.

I can recall many of the people we saw – Danny La Rue, John Inman, Johnny Hutch and the Half-Wits, Jimmy Jewel. Wonderful! I also remember being fascinated by the musical director. I think his name was Derek New. Anyway, to me – remember, I was just a child – it always seemed like he was jumping up and down on his box as he conducted. He seemed to be having so much fun. Life is made up of such memories.

I still love pantomime today and so when the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, which represents the interests of amateur societies, asked if they could publish some of my scripts for performance by amateur societies I was thrilled. I dusted off some I’d written for performance at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre and worked with John Jardine and Roy Barraclough, both wonderful panto performers, to update some of their scripts. These are now performed up and down the country each Christmas.

Whether your society or group is a NODA member of not you need to apply to them for reading copies of scripts and for licenses if you are going to be performing in the UK. Visit www.noda.org.uk

For professional performances, amateur performances outside the UK and for commissions please contact volcano.associates@ukonline.co.uk

Published pantomimes: Dick Whittington, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk*, Robinson Crusoe*, Babes in the Wood, Sleeping Beauty, Father Christmas – the Pantomime, Cinderella*, Snow White, and Mother Goose.
*Co-written with Roy Barraclough MBE and John Jardine.

“Top-drawer double-entendre.” Rotherham Advertiser
“A pearl of a pantomime. Not to be missed. In fact, I went twice.” Retford Today
“Even on opening night, a ghost scene could still draw the kind of infant squeals of laughter you want to bottle!” Lancashire Evening Post
“This was the best pantomime I have seen whilst I have been the regional representative.” NODA Review

Please note the the pantomime posters displayed here are from previous years - don't try and book!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A Corrie Legend

I knew actress Jill Summers very well - and always loved her portrayal of Percy-chasing Phyllis Pearce.  Here's a reprint of an article I wrote for Lancashire Life magazine some years ago looking back on her life.

Honor Margaret Rozelle Santoi Fuller became one of Britain’s most famous grannies – but few of her devoted TV fans had any inkling of her colourful professional past. For Jill Summers, best known as Coronation Street’s Phyllis Pearce, the sandpaper-voiced old lady with the blue rinse, was once known for jokes that were as blue as her hair.

The diminutive Eccles-born actress came from a famous family of travelling players and was practically born in a stage trunk – her mother, Mary Power, only just made it home after a performance in time to give birth. Mary, stage name Marie Santoi, toured for many years with her own theatre company – one of the first women to succeed in what was definitely a man’s business at the end of the 19th century. She and Jill’s father, who was a wire walker, performed in variety staging romantic musical scenes with titles such as ‘A Night in Japan’, ‘Egypt’ and ‘Pearl of The Orient’.

Coming from such a richly theatrical family it is no surprise that the young Jill, or Honor as she was really called, should enter the profession. She chose her stage name by the way after her favourite time of year, summer, and the measurement of drink, a gill. Jill recalled later: ‘Life hadn’t always been easy for my mother but if a show fell on difficult times she would sell her furs and jewellery to keep the company going. The older members of the family soon joined her but I was too young.’

Jill’s half-brother, Tom F. Moss, was soon roped into the family firm and started out working in the orchestra pit until their mother heard him sing and he was instantly promoted. In fact he went on to achieve fame as a tenor at an early age and was often likened to the great Richard Tauber. Incidentally, Tom F. Moss was the son of Jill’s mother and Tom Major-Ball who went on to marry one Gwen Coates. Tom and Gwen had three children – one of whom is John Major, former British Prime Minister. With the advent of war Jill signed up with ENSA and in 1942 she and half-brother Tom teamed up to tour the Moss Empire circuit.

Tom sang romantic ballads like ‘On with the Motley’, ‘Because’ and ‘I’m Falling in Love’ dressed in trade-mark top hat, tails and white-tie with a monocle and small, neat beard. Jill too was considered a classical singer until her voice began to deepen and her mischievous sense of humour came to the fore – from then on she performed musical parodies.

The successful double act toured together for seven years but in true theatrical fashion life was not without its rows and bust-ups. Tom was something of a lady’s man which occasionally caused problems - and eventually Jill got a feeling that she was earning less than him. Her suspicions were confirmed when Tom fell ill and she was forced to deal with the wages herself. Her horror at discovering the truth that he was dividing their fees 60/40 caused them to split up and Jill took the first steps towards becoming a solo act.

Again Jill travelled the length and breadth of the country as a character comedienne appearing alongside the stars of the day and an amazing array of bewildering speciality acts. The picture above shows her whilst appearing at the famous London Palladium.  Welsh star Tessie O’Shea once told her: ‘Your mother may have passed on now but she’ll always live on in you.’ Jill had countless stories of the acts she worked with but two of the most memorable involve animals. On one bill was an act called ‘Mushie the Forest Bred Lion’. The lady who ran the act, dressed in full military uniform, pledged that the beast would eat raw meat from her chest and that she would risk death by placing her head inside its mouth. Jill recalled that Mushie was so old and toothless that the lady (Miss Ellen) had to wait for him to yawn before thrusting her head inside his gums, and that he couldn’t chew raw meat so it had to be chopped into tiny pieces before being placed on her ample bosom! The other act was a live bear who Jill worked with in the pantomime ‘Goldilocks’ at Folkestone. Jill recalled that the bear got so excited at being on stage that it used to wet itself thus fusing the footlights and plunging the actors into darkness!  It learnt to unlock the van the company travelled in and is said to have escaped whilst being driven through London!

During the fifties Jill became famous for her sketches including ‘The Landlady’, ‘The Bartered Bride’ and ‘The Lady Porteress’. Once again she toured the variety halls both with her own shows and as a club comic appearing alongside people like Dickie Henderson Jnr, Jimmy Charters and Jane ‘of the Daily Mirror’. One night she appeared with a husband and wife singing act. He would warble a selection of songs with roses in the title finishing with ‘Roses of Picardy’ during which his wife would walk along the footlights throwing red plastic roses to the ladies on the front row. Jill said that the effect was far from magical especially as the wife would hiss: ‘Hand them in at the Box Office on the way out!’

In 1948 she met and married her second husband, Doctor Clifford Simpson Smith, who took over the management of her career and toured with her whenever he could. It was in 1957 that Jill got her big break – her own television show entitled ‘Summers Here’, appearing alongside her were Michael Bentine and Wilfred Hyde White. She also toured for Paul Raymond as the comic in a strip show called ‘Paris After Dark – a tale of sin and sex!’

During the early sixties she continued with her stage appearances as well as pursuing a television career. Jill played the London Palladium, appeared in pantomimes and took part in the legendary ‘Thanks for the Memory’ tours for Don Ross, sharing the bill with such legendary names as Cavan O’Connor, George Lacey, Nat Gonela, Hetty King, GH Elliott and Billy Matchett.

During the latter half of the decade, with variety theatres closing, Jill re-launched herself on the club circuit with a show featuring songs and comedy, often quite blue comedy. She had many a tale involving being paid-off because her jokes were too much for the working men in the audience. But her professionalism and talent was beyond doubt as one critic put it: “She has a weaving-shed accent you could cut with a bread-knife and a sense of humour as keen as Gillette blue.”

In 1969 the newly formed Yorkshire Television launched its very first soap opera entitled ‘Castle Haven’. It starred Roy Barraclough (Alec Gilroy), Gretchen Franklin (EastEnders’ Ethel Skinner), Kathy Staff (Nora Batty) and Jill playing pub landlady Delilah Hilldrup. The series lasted just over a year and then it was back to cabaret and cameo TV roles, including a small role as a friend of Hilda Ogden's in 'Coronation Street'.  In 1982 fame came knocking again – Granada TV wanted to introduce a feisty old lady into ‘Coronation Street’, just for a few episodes. Her name would be Phyllis Pearce.

At the age of 72, Jill created another masterpiece and the nation took the blue rinsed busybody to their hearts. Her on-screen relationship with Percy Sugden kept us all entertained for over 500 episodes and she reached a whole new audience. In 1997 Jill died in her sleep aged 86, only months before she had taken a break from 'Coronation Street' but she'd always hoped to return to the famous cobbles.
A wonderful career - and I'm sure her mother would have been proud that she’d carried the family baton so well.

This blog is not endorsed by ITV or Granada Television.  Please note that the text and pictures on this posting are copyright of the author.


Corrie Trivia - continued

The Red Rec (the park in Weatherfield) is so called because it's a 'red brick recreation ground'.  In the picture on the right of the real park where they film most (but not all) Red Rec scenes you'll see the park has high brick walls.  In fact, under the park is a reservoir.

The first wedding filmed on location was Harry Hewitt's.  It was filmed at St Clement's in Ordsall.  The church is still there.  The road leading up to the church was Archie Street, and this was used for occasional outdoor street scenes.  Archie St is long gone though the name lives on.

Just up the road from the Red Rec location used to be a cinema.  Actress Violet Carson played the piano there for the silent films, long before Coronation Street had been invented.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Granada Studios Tours

I get quite a few people asking whether I can arrange visits into Granada Studios - and the answer, I'm afraid to say, is that I can't.  Of course, there used to be a 'theme park' based at the studios.  It's actually how I got to walk on the famous cobbles for the first time.  You entered off Water Street into a open-air New York set.  Once upon a time, that area had been home to the first outdoor Coronation St set!  It was also later used as Davenport's car showroom when Sally had one of her many flings.  Anyway, there were all kinds of things to do - a Baker Street set, a tram ride through Checkpoint Charlie, a Houses of Parliament set, a room where you appeared to have shrunk, even a mock up of the Rovers where you could buy lunch - and you could walk down the outdoor street set.  It was very good.  All that closed around 1999.  Since then access to the Coronation St set, and the studios, is very limited.  I have been to the odd corporate event there when a firm has hired part of the old tours area.  Sometimes a travel company books me for a locations tour and then they've managed to arrange a studio visit and I accompany them. 
However, what I do is offer visits to the 'off studio' locations.  Places like the one shown in the picture - it's where Richard Hillman drove the Platts into the canal.  He of course, died there.  Later, David drove his car into the water in an attempt to disrupt Sarah and Jason's wedding.  Other locations I tend to include are - the church where the majority of weddings and funerals take place, the hall where Steve and Becky married, the Red Rec, Wetherfield Quays (Don drove Alma into the water there.  Made a change!) where Steve proposed to Karen.  Places like that, out of the studios, but associated with some of the biggest stories.
If you still have a longing to visit the studios and the actual street set then look out for some of the competitions running for the 50th.  Check out the websites of some of the associated companies - Holland's Pies, Imperial Leather, Warburtons and so on.  Quite a few have studio visits as prizes.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Join me on a Corrie tour!

When ever Coronation Street fans hear that I give Corrie themed locations tours they always say things like 'Oh I wish I lived nearer' or 'I could never afford to do that'.  Well, in celebration of the 50th anniversary, I'll do the best I can to share a tour with you.
Between 27th August and 6th September I'm looking after 40 Canadian fans on the Kemptville Travel 'World of Coronation Street Tour'.  During that time I'll regularly blog what we've been up to, where we've been and who we've met.  Here's a basic rundown of the itinerary:

Sat 28 Aug: Visit to Holmfirth (setting of BBC sit-com Last of the Summer Wine), drive through Saddleworth villages, visit to two Corrie locations - where Richard Hillman's death was filmed and where Steve and Becky married.  Quiz night.
Sun 29 Aug: Visit two locations before we head to Arley Hall, where Liam married Maria and Mike married Linda (not really a lucky wedding venue for Weatherfield residents!) before we visit a final location for the day.  Evening meal with special guest!
Mon 30 Aug: A look at Granada Studios, the Red Rec, Weatherfield Quays, Weatherfield Community Centre.  Evening free to watch the latest episode on TV (it's two very special episodes in the UK!)
Tue 31 Aug: ....Now, that would be telling!
Wed 1 Sept: We call at the National Media Museum, at the village where Emmerdale was filmed for many years and take in the Yorkshire scenery.
Thurs 2 Sept: An almost non-Corrie day as we take in pretty Derbyshire villages and the National Tramways Museum.
Fri 3 Sept: The Castlefield district of Manchester and then we look for Martha's canal boat before we have time at the famous Bury Market and catch glimpse of a couple of locations.  This evening we are at the theatre...oh, and that's been used for filming too!
Sat 4 Sept: Audrey and Alma loved shopping in Southport - and we're off there too!  Then it's on to Blackpool for the famous illuminations and a look at the site where Alan Bradley died!
Sun 5 Sept: We go to the Coronation Street church for a special service followed by a tour of several locations.  Then it's the farewell dinner with a special guest.

I keep a lot of it vague so that there are plenty of surprises - so keep checking this blog for my unfolding report and pictures.  For more information on the tour - and to register your interest in joining next year's - visist http://www.kemptvilletravel.com/

Corrie Trivia

An occasional posting of Coronation Street trivia:

In the Coronation Street video set on the QE2 there's a sequence where Rita and Alec watch fireworks from the aft of the ship.  In fact setting off fireworks from a ship would be very dangerous and would be viewed as a distress signal.  Therefore, the fireworks you see were set off in a field in Cheshire and the sequence editted in.

Archie Street in Ordsall, Salford was used for the first 'on location' filming.  It didn't quite match the first street set (which was indoors at Granada Studios) but it was close. 

At one time in the Kabin there was a theatre poster showing  high-kicking chorus girls.  It was provided by the Oldham Coliseum Theatre, where actress Barbara Knox, who plays Rita, started her career.

Blanche's funeral scenes were shot at a different church than is usually used.  This was because the church in Prestwich, normally used for filming weddings and funerals, was having restoration work done at the time.

My upcoming talks and tours

26 Aug: One day Coronation Street locations tour for Coronation Travel.
27 Aug - 6 Sept: World of Coronation Street Tour for Kemptville Travel.
8 Sept: 10.15am 'Crimes and Cons' talk at Dukinfield Library, Greater Manchester.  Open to all.  Free admission.
19 Oct: 6.30pm 'On The Cobbles' - a talk covering 50 years of Coronation Street for Oldham Civic Society at the Local Studies Library, Union St, Oldham.  Open to all.  Free admission.
2 Nov: 10.30am 'Christmas Traditions' - a talk at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre for their Full Circle Club.
21 Nov: Hosting the 'Oldham Christmas Lights Switch-On' event from 4.20pm outside the parish church.
2 Dec: Hosting the 'Pride in Oldham' awards at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham.

Coronation Street - the first cast (continued)

Alan Rothwell – played David Barlow:

David was a footballer who married Stan and Hilda Ogden’s daughter Irma. He enjoyed a successful career until an accident put paid to his future. He and Irma moved to Australia in 1968 and were killed in a car crash two years later. Alan was cast after producers saw him in a TV version of Love on the Dole. Born just outside Oldham, Alan was a child star appearing in the Wilfred Pickles’ radio shows. After leaving the Street he had a long stint hosting the children’s show Picture Box. He has appeared in other UK soaps – Emmerdale and Brookside and now works solidly on TV and in theatre.

Arthur Leslie – played Jack Walker:

Jack, landlord of the Rovers, had a tough life with his wife Annie. He died in 1970 whilst visiting daughter Joan in Derby. Arthur Leslie (real name Broughton) was an experienced theatre actor with a career going back to 1916 – he had also run several of his own companies, most notably in Wigan. His real-life son was later to appear in the show as shopkeeper Les Curry.

Frank Pemberton – played Frank Barlow:

Ken’s dad was a postman who lost his wife in 1961. Three years later he won a great deal of money which allowed him to sell up and move to a more expensive area. He returned for Daughter-in-law Valerie’s funeral in 1971 and died at home in 1975. Frank was already a well-known face when he joined the show – he’d been in Emergency Ward 10 and films David Copperfield and Saturday Night Sunday Morning amongst many other roles. He died of a stroke in 1975.

Noel Dyson – played Ida Barlow:

Ida never went to the Rovers and spent all her time cleaning – she was knocked down by a bus in 1961 and killed. Noel was an experienced actress who planned to turn down the role of Ida – she only agreed to play her when assured that the Street would finish after thirteen episodes. When the show took off, Noel decided she wanted out – although hers wasn’t the first death in the show it was the first on-screen funeral. She died in 1995 – her last screen role being in Prime Suspect 3.

Margot Bryant – played Minnie Caldwell:

Minnie resided in the Street for 16 years, for some of that time with her cat Bobby. She almost died in a coach crash, was engaged to Albert Tatlock and held at gunpoint by an American looking for Elsie Tanner. She left to look after a friend whose wife had died. Actress Margot Bryant was a trained dancer – she had danced in the West End and even with Fred Astaire! She died in 1988 aged 90.

Doris Speed – played Annie Walker:

Annie ran the Rovers until 1983 when she retired to Derby to live with daughter Joan.  During her time in the Street she lorded it over many of her regulars and staff. Doris was from a theatrical family and was a highly experienced actress. Whilst performing in a Children’s Hour radio play she met child actor Tony Warren (he was only 12) but he remembered her – and when Annie was created he knew instantly who he wanted for the role. She fibbed about her age throughout her latter years and retired from the show to live in a home – she returned for the 30th anniversary special. She died in 1995 aged 95.

Betty Alberge – played Florrie Lindley:

Owner of the Corner Shop, Florrie was unlucky in love. She suffered a nervous breakdown and emigrated to Canada in 1965. The role of Ida Barlow had been written with Betty in mind but Tony Warren had a change of heart. Betty had a long career on stage and radio before joining the Street. The character was the last to go in the new producer’s cull of 1964. She continued to work extensively, working on films with Richard Burton and in the TV soap Brookside as Edna Cross. She died in 1991.

Anne Cunningham – played Linda Cheveski:

Elsie’s daughter, Ivan’s wife, was a headstrong young lady who emigrated to Canada only to make several return visits to her mother over the years. Her last appearance was in 1984. Anne was born in Yorkshire and brought up in South Africa. She returned to the UK to train as a nurse but got the acting bug instead. She worked with the great Orson Welles before arriving in Weatherfield. Anne played the Street’s first birth scene – having son Paul. When the actors were offered extended contracts, when the success of the programme became apparent, she declined and the Cheveski’s were written out – their exit episode got sixteen million viewers, a record-breaking episode at the time. Anne married a theatre director and, last I heard,  was running an antiques shop in London.

Patricia Phoenix – played Elsie Tanner:

With numerous relationships – and husbands – Elsie was the siren of the Street. She finally left Weatherfield for good in 1983 when she met old flame Bill Gregory and they headed off to Portugal together. Pat Pilkington, her real name, was born in Manchester in 1924, after working in an office she joined the local theatre and played varying roles. She married actor Alan Browning who played her screen husband but the marriage failed. On her death-bed she married actor Tony Booth, father of Cherie Booth, wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair. When she finally left the show she starred in a TV sit-com about a boarding house owner with a bitter rival – the rival was played by Prunella Gee who later played Maxine’s mother. She died of cancer aged just 62 in 1986.

Violet Carson – played Ena Sharples:

Ena was the scourge of the Street for twenty years – most famously, doing battle with Elsie or as caretaker of the Mission. She went to stay with an old friend in the seaside town of St Anne’s and never returned. When she left school Vi Carson was much in demand as a pianist in cinemas. She later worked extensively on radio and was famous as ‘Auntie Vi’ on Children’s Hour. Several actresses auditioned for Ena and the role was actually offered to Doris Hare (On The Buses) but she had theatre commitments. Vi turned Ena into a legend. She died in her sleep aged 85 in 1983.

Christine Hargreaves – played Christine Hardman:

After the death of her mother, Christine Hargreaves could see no future and the factory worker fell into a deep depression – even threatening to throw herself off a roof (Ken talked her down). She then met an old flame and eloped to London. Actress Chrstine Hargreaves was from Salford, raised in a terraced street very much like that depicted on the show. She had trained at RADA and appeared in Skyport with many of the other Street actors before landing the role. She passed away in 1984 aged just 45.

William Roache – played Ken Barlow:

Ken of course, still lives in Coronation Street – its longest surviving resident. He has been married 4 times – to Valerie, Janet and Deirdre (twice) and is father to Peter, Susan, Daniel (and soon, another!) and step-father to Tracy. William was born in Derbyshire and studied medicine before joining the army. He served in many countries across the world before returning to the UK and training as an actor. He appeared in many stage productions, married first wife Anna Cropper whilst they were at Oldham Rep together (she played Joan Akers in the Street in 1962). He appeared in a number of TV roles before landing the part of Ken Barlow. His second wife Sara died recently.  In November 2010 he will become the world record holder for an actor playing the same role continuously.

Lynne Carol – played Martha Longhurst:

Martha, the Rovers cleaner, was often to be found in the snug with Ena and Minnie. That’s where she died, glass of stout on the table before her, in 1964. Lynne came from a theatrical family – making her first stage appearance when only 9 days old. When the role was ‘killed off’ by a controversial new producer, the rest of the cast were furious. Lynne however returned to her roots and had a long stage career. She died in 1990 aged 76.

Elsie Lappin – played by Maudie Edwards:

Elsie, who had owned the corner shop for a number of years, had just sold up to Florrie Lindley. She was about to move to Knott End and indeed, episode two would be her last appearance. Elsie spoke the very first words on Coronation Street (apart from the sound of children playing that is!). Maudie Edwards was from Neath in South Wales where, for many years, she’d run her own theatre company at the Palace Theatre, Swansea. Her film and TV credits are numerous and include Under Milk Wood and Pink String and Sealing Wax. She had a beautiful singing voice and dubbed the voices of Margaret Lockwood and Diana Dors in I’ll Be Your Sweetheart and Diamond City respectively. She died in 1991.

Patricia Shakesby – played Susan Cunningham:

Ken’s girlfriend from university. They split up after a few weeks. Patricia was an ‘in-demand’ actress before the show – her first professional role being in the West End production of Where the Rainbow Ends co-directed by Sir Noel Coward. She continues to work extensively and is best known in the UK as Polly Urquhart in Howard’s Way but she has also appeared in many other classics such as Yes Minister.

Oldham's Good Old Days

I just love pictures like this one.  Makes you stop and go: "What on earth is that??"  For a couple of years now I've written a series of magazines called 'Good Old Days' for the Oldham Evening Chronicle newspaper.  It comes out twice a year and includes loads of pictures taken from their archives (like this bizarre bus). 
I'm currently working on the Christmas issue, which will be published at the end of October. 
You'll find all the photos we've used in past issues on their website http://www.oldham-chronicle.co.uk/ for purchase. 

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Coronation Street - the first residents

In the run up to the 50th anniversary, I thought I would share some of the articles about Coronation Street that I've written over the years.  To get it started, I'll post, over a few days, biographies of the original cast. 

Ivan Beavis – played Harry Hewitt:

The character lasted seven years – eventually being crushed under his drinking pal Len Fairclough’s van. After serving with the Royal Navy, Ivan was working in Northern Ireland when he contracted TB. Whilst resting, in the early 50s, he joined the local amateur dramatics society and decided to turn professional. He landed several jobs at Granada before the part of Harry came along. After leaving the show he said that he found it hard to find work – producers claimed that the public identified him too strongly with the popular Harry. He did however tour New Zealand with Pat Phoenix in Gaslight and he worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He died in 1997.

Jack Howarth – played Albert Tatlock:

Uncle Albert, Valerie Barlow’s uncle, lived in the Street for 24 years until his death. During his time there he acted as a lollypop-man and Ena Sharples’ assistant at the Mission. He almost married twice – to Alice Pickens and Minnie Caldwell but the plans fell through. Jack was born in Rochdale (he went to school with Gracie Fields) and had a long repertory career, even staging his own shows in Wales. He found fame as Mr Maggs in the radio series Mrs Dale’s Diary before joining the Street. He died in his sleep in 1984, he was 88.

Ernst Walder – played Ivan Cheveski:

Ivan was the Polish son-in-law of Elsie Tanner. He worked in the Rovers as pot man before emigrating to Canada with his family. He returned briefly when his marriage broke down and moved to Birmingham in 1967. Ernst, born in Austria, arrived in the UK in 1952 as a domestic servant. In his spare time he trained as an actor and carved out a good line in German soldiers – appearing in such films as Carve Her Name with Pride. He was one of the original cast of Castle Haven, the fore-runner to Emmerdale, alongside Jill Summers, Kathy Staff and Roy Barraclough. He now lives in Austria.

Philip Lowrie – played Dennis Tanner:

Dennis’ eight years in the Street caused nothing but trouble for mum, Elsie. He had already served time and the last we heard of him was when Elsie visited him in prison where he was incarcerated for swindling pensioners. Coronation Street’s creator Tony Warren admits to having had a yearning to play this role himself – but two actors got down to the final casting decision – Philip and Ken Farrington (he lost it – but landed the later role of Billy Walker!). Philip had a great CV and indeed, continues to act and write.

To be continued -
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Summer Wine - the very last!

The BBC recently announced that Last of the Summer Wine was to be axed.  Actually, the epsiodes which are currently being shown in the UK were filmed last year befaore the cast and crew had been given the news.  Sadly, that means the final episode (which is due to air on Sunday 29th August by my calculation) doesn't actually tie things up.  Shame!
Holmfirth, where the show was filmed, is still a hugely popular stop off for visitors from across the world.  In fact, I'll be taking some Canadians there on the 28th to enjoy a cuppa in the famous cafe, to stand on Nora's steps and to enjoy the moorland setting. 

Coronation Street - filming with Debbie Travis

About 12 years ago (maybe more) I got a call from a tour guide who was looking after a group of Canadian Coronation Street fans and was wanting to bring them to my place of work.  At the time I was working at the Coliseum Theatre in Oldham where many of the Corrie stars had appeared early in their careers.  As it happened, Malcolm Hebden, who plays Norris, was working with us and Kenneth Alan Taylor, who ran the theatre, had played brewery boss Cecil Newton.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, I arranged for the group to visit, meet Kenneth and Malcolm, and watch a play.  Little did I know then that within a few short years I would have taken over as the guide (I didn't force the previous one out, honest!) and now I'm the one ringing people and asking them to open up locations specially for us.  I've now taken hundreds of British, Canadian and New Zealand fans on tours around some of the famous off-set locations (generally, the studio sets are not open to the public) including the Red Rec, canal, church etc etc.  This year I even got to film with Canadian TV host Debbie Travis for a CBC 50th anniversary documentary to be aired in December.
I can either do a one or two day coach tour, a Manchester city centre walking tour lasting about two hours, or I do a talk about Coronation Street's history which I give for groups such as WIs, at libraries and so on.  For any enquiries contact volcano.associates@ukonline.co.uk
The tours and talks are not endorsed by Granada TV or ITV