Monday, 31 January 2011

This Blog Makes Top Ten

I was delighted to have forwarded to me the following, which is atke from the newsletter produced by the Canadian store Blightys.  They'd compiled a list of the top 10 websites (in no particular order) for Canadian Corrie fans.  I'm delighted to find I'm on it - so thank you Blightys (

#6 The Undisputed Expert’s Blog (Spoiler Caution)

Many of Canada’s greatest fans have had the privilege of meeting Mark Llewellin. Mark lives in the UK’s Greater Manchester area but has visited Canada several times. You may have met Mark at Toronto’s British Isles Show or, if you are very fortunate, you have accompanied Mark on one of his tours of Coronation Street’s studios and outside filming locations.

Mark knows Coronation Street almost as well as it’s creator Tony Warren. His many contacts within Granada Studios and among the cast make him a knowledge resource par excellence. He is a freelance tour guide, public speaker, event host, event planner and writer (mainly of books, magazine articles and pantomime scripts). Mark has been a contributor to some of the excellent Corrie fan magazines that have found their way across the great big pond to Canada.

Mark’s blog can be found at: Some of the information on the site could be considered as spoiler material. You might hear about characters or actors who will be joining or leaving the show. Mark’s post of 8th January is an interesting one for Canadians; he talks about the Canadian tours he will be hosting this year.

An excellent blog; every Corrie fan should read it.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Roy Barraclough interview

Roy Barraclough MBE, about to
tread the famous cobbles once more.

.... Talks about his 50 year career

How did you first get the acting bug?
I was about ten years old and my parents had taken me to see a touring production of The Desert Song, which was playing the Royal Hippodrome in Preston, my home town. During the interval I went off to get an ice cream and I came across a door marked ‘private’. I was curious as to what went on behind there so I opened the door and went inside. Here was a world quite unlike the front of house. A stage manager told me to clear off, so off I went with my tail between my legs. But my imagination had been fired. When I got home I built a model theatre.

But you didn’t go onto stage school?
No. I never had any formal training. I studied as a draughtsman. Whilst I was at college I saved up and got a season ticket for the theatre. I also joined a couple of the local amateur societies and acted, played the piano, directed – and, whilst I should have been working – designed scenery.

So, when was your first professional role?
I was about sixteen when I was asked to play a schoolboy in a production at the local theatre. I got paid £4 for the week. However, then there was a long gap until I landed a summer contract as an entertainer at a holiday camp on the Isle of Wight. I then went back to being a draughtsman again. I was desperate to join a repertory company and wrote so many letters of application. In 1962, when I was 27, I finally got a contract with the Nita Valerie Company in Huddersfield. I had many happy years there and then I went to Stoke and then Oldham. Working in rep, you rehearsed one play during the day and performed another at night. A different play every week, that was better than going to drama school.

Most people will know you from television but you’ve always appeared on stage too, haven’t you?
Yes. I always have done, even when I was in Coronation Street, I always insisted on time out to do a stage play each year. That’s why Alec (Gilroy) used to vanish on cruises. I’ve done a whole range – a lot of Arthur Miller, musicals, pantomime of course, more drama than comedy though. Theatre has always been my first love.

What were your first television roles?
Oldham is on the outskirts of Manchester and when Granada Television opened, the casting directors used to come and watch the plays there. Many of us – William Roache, Barbara Knox, Anne Kirkbride – ended up as regulars at Granada. I appeared in some of the early programmes like City 68, Nearest and Dearest and Coronation Street, which I first appeared in around 1964. In 1969 I got my first big role on TV, which was as a regular in Yorkshire TV’s first soap, Castle Haven. Kathy Staff and I played husband and wife. I then starred in a popular children’s series called Pardon My Genie which ran through the early 70s.

You met Les Dawson during that time, didn’t you?
I did. Les had won Opportunity Knocks and had landed his first series at Yorkshire. They had employed an actor to do sketches with him but actors like scripts and Les really liked to make it up as he went along. He didn’t care for rehearsals either. This poor actor walked out on the show and they needed someone to take over – fast! I happened to be on site and they asked me. We got on straight away. He was a lovely man and we worked together for a long time. On screen and on stage. The famous Cissie and Ada sketches came about because we both loved the comedy of Norman Evans and his Over the Garden Wall monologues so when we were bored we used to amuse each other by doing them. The producer overheard us and they got put into the show.

Did you enjoy your Coronation Street years?
Yes, although I always worried about being type-cast. I played quite a few different roles in the show before Alec came along including the man who sold the window-cleaning round to Stan Ogden, a tour guide taking the Rovers regulars on a trip and so on. They brought me in to run a drinking club as they had a story where the Rovers was going to burn down and would therefore be out of use for some time. They then decided to team Bet and Alec up and they then married us off. They always had a struggle to get me to sign a new contract because I was always tempted to go and do something new. So I had breaks every now and again – but if you add it all up, I played Alec across 25 years and from my first Corrie appearance until my last was 34 years.
Do you keep in touch with any of your Corrie co-stars?
Yes, I do – I have a chat with the actors who played Bet, Jack and Vera, Mavis, Betty and Rita now and again. I also have a very close relationship with Chloe, who played my granddaughter Vicky.

So what do you do these days?
Well, I’m very happy to be semi-retired. I’m 76 this year and if you tot it all up, it’s my 50th year in the business so I think I’ve earned a rest. I’m very fortunate in that I’m offered quite a few TV and stage roles but I turn most of them down. It has to be something that really appeals. I did a series called Funland which was set in Blackpool because I loved the scripts, I played the vicar in All the Small Things because it was filmed locally and the rest of the cast were wonderful and it allowed me to work with Sarah Lancashire (Raquel) again. I’ve also played Santa on stage in Southampton, Birmingham and Liverpool over the past few Christmases because the production values of the shows were so good.

And you're about to return to the cobbles - on stage at least.
Yes, Coronation Street has played such a big role in my career and this being my 50th year in the business it seemed like a great way to celebrate by going on tour with the Corrie! stage play by Jonathan Harvey. I’m playing the narrator at Cardiff, Bradford, Southampton and Malvern. I saw the play when it premiered at the Lowry and absolutely loved it. I wasn’t sure how Jonathan was going to get 50 years of stories and characters into a two-hour show but he does it very well indeed. As I sat in the audience I thought then that if it went on tour I’d love to be involved so when they asked it was an instant yes.

For more information on the show go to

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

What a Carry On!


In tribute to the showing tonight on BBC4 of 'Hattie' - the story of Hattie Jacques, here are some Carry On facts:
They are considered quintessentially British – the bawdy honour, the innuendo and the host of famous British faces placed in the most daft, and often ludicrous, situations that the Carry On producers could dream up for each film. The films are so familiar – but did you know….?

Carry On Cleo was filmed on the sets that had been created for the Burton and Taylor epic Cleopatra.

One day Charles Hawtry brought his elderly mother to have tea with the cast at Pinewood Studios. Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims joined them and as usual, Hawtry smoked continuously. The pair noticed a long smouldering tip of ash fall from the cigarette into his mother’s open handbag. Sims shouted, “Charles, your mother’s handbag is on fire!” Without batting an eyelid he threw the cup of tea he was holding into the bag, closed it, and continued with his anecdote.

When filming on location for Carry On Cabbie, Sid James was waiting to shoot a scene, sitting in his fake taxi. An elderly lady climbed in, thinking it was real, and asked to be taken to the station. James drove her there and refused the fare.

In Carry On Sergeant there is a scene where the recruits are made to swing across a water filled, muddy pit on a rope. Every time Bob Monkhouse had to do his shot he slid down the rope and into the mud. It later turned out that Williams had coated the rope with a pound of butter!

In Carry on Teacher there is a scene where the children cover the teacher’s clothes in itching powder. Kenneth Connor bribed the wardrobe girl to ensure Kenneth Williams’ powder was the real stuff!

Joan Sims had a long scene in Carry On Regardless where she had to get drunk – they used real wine when they shot it so there’s no acting involved.

When filming Carry On Follow That Camel the cast were taken to Camber Sands to film the desert scenes. The crew had tried to find a stuffed camel but had no luck so a real one was borrowed from the local zoo. Unfortunately it didn’t like sand and they had to lay planks down for it to walk on.

In Carry On Doctor Kenneth Williams has to fall into a bath of ice cubes. The props men carefully carved plastic blocks to look like the ice but Bernard Bresslaw, who was fed up with Williams’ endless pranks, had the bath filled with the real thing.

Charles Hawtry made his own way to the studios by bus. One day he was walking up the long drive to Pinewood when a Rolls Royce stopped and Sir Laurence Olivier climbed out – he was horrified to find Hawtry didn’t have a car so he had his meet him off the bus each morning.

Carry On Camping was filmed under the most appalling conditions – there was so much rain that the field used for the camp site shots was awash with mud. They sprayed it with green paint to look like grass and tied fake leaves to the trees. All the cast were in foul moods and when they were alone they called the director every name under the sun. However, they had forgotten that Barbara Windsor was wearing a microphone and Gerald Thomas played them back his recording the following day!

Kenneth Williams often amused himself by flashing at fellow actors and studio staff. One day he did his party trick to the elderly tea lady who ignored him and continued serving his cuppa. “One lump or two?” she asked. He was furious and replied, “I don’t take any!” to which she quipped: “And from where I’m standing, you ain’t got none either!”

Gerald Thomas is heard in two of the Carry On’s – as a monster in Carry On Screaming and a bird in Carry On Behind.

When Carry On Up The Khyber was released the studios received a complimentary letter from an old soldier who remarked how wonderful it was to see the old Khyber Pass on the big screen – it had brought back so many memories – it was exactly how he recalled it. The film was shot in Wales!

Hattie Jacques described Sid James as having: “The general appearance of an ancient and dissipated walnut.”

In the very first film, Carry On Sergeant, the actors included Dora Bryan (Roz in Last of the Summer Wine) and Bill Owen (Compo).

Carry On Cabbie introduced Amanda Barrie (Corrie’s Alma) who later played the lead in Carry On Cleo.

Barbara Windsor made her Carry On debut in Carry On Spying in 1964. She appeared in just 9 of the 30 films.

Carry On Screaming features Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served?).

Carry On Doctor (1967) features Penelope Keith (The Good Life), Brian Wilde (Foggy in Last of the Summer Wine) and comedian Frankie Howerd.

Johnny Briggs (Mike Baldwin) appears in several of the films – notably, Carry On Up The Khyber.

Carry On Again Doctor features Shakira Baksh who went onto become Mrs Michael Caine.

Heartbeat’s Bill Maynard, Dad’s Army’s James Beck and Bill Pertwee and entertainer Kenny Lynch are all in Carry On Loving.

Geoffrey Hughes (Eddie Yates) appears in Carry On at Your Convenience whilst Wendy Richard (Are You Being Served? and EastEnders) is in Carry On Matron, as is Bill Kenwright (Corrie’s Gordon Clegg).

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tony Warren's inspiration?

Pat, Doris and Vi ... did Vi's
singing inspire Tony Warren?
There are all kinds of stories about what might have inspired Tony Warren to come up with the characters in Coronation Street.  I used to know an old actor who claimed he'd paid Tony's train fare from London to Manchester and he'd talked to him about the people he knew back home in Wigan as they waited for the train.  Then, lo and behold, Tony invented Corrie.  Another possible inspiration was the Samuel Laycock poem Bolton's Yard, which is about the back streets of Stalybridge in Cheshire.  This was set to music by Eddie Cotty, a local folk singer and member of the folk group Fivepenny Piece.  Eddie died in 2009 and I was reminded of him today as I passed what used to be his family deli shop.  Anyway, here's a modern translation of Bolton's Yard (it was written in local dialect originally) for you to judge.  One other interesting side to this is that Vi Carson (Ena Sharples) used to sing it, and indeed, sang it to a young Tony Warren.  On his This Is Your Life programme she sang it again and reminded him that it could have inspired him. 

 At number one, in Bolton’s Yard, my granny keeps a school, But hasn’t many scholars yet, there’s only one or two; They say the old woman’s rather cross, - well, well, it may be so; I know she boxed me good one time, and pulled my ears, and all.

 At number two lives widow Burns – she washes clothes for folk; Their Billy, that’s her son, gets jobs at wheeling (transporting) coke (coal);They say she courts with Sam O’Neds, who lives at number three; It may be so, I cannot tell, it matters not to me.

 At number three, right facing the pump, Ned Grimshaw keeps a shop; He has church cakes, and gingerbread, and treacle  beer, and pop; He sells oat-cakes, and all, does Ned, he has both soft and hard; And everybody buys off him that lives in Bolton’s Yard.

 At number four Jack Blunderick lives; he goes to the mill and weaves; And then, on the weekend, when he has time, he pours (drinks) a bit, and shaves; He’s badly off, is Jack, poor lad; He’s rather lame, they say, And his children keep him down a bit; I think they’re nine or ten.

At number five, I live myself, with old Susannah Grimes; But I don’t know that she likes me very well – she turns me out sometimes; And when I’m in, there’s never any light, I have to shower in the dark; I cannot pay my lodging brass (rent), because I’m out of work.

At number six, next door to us, and close to the side of the spout, Old Susie Collins sells more drink, but she’s really always about; But how it is that is the case I’m sure I cannot tell; She happens to make it very sweet, and drinks it all herself.

 At number seven there’s nobody lives, they left it yesterday, The bailiff came and marked their things, and took them all away; They took them in a donkey cart, I know not where they went. I reckon they’ve been taken and sold because they owed some rent.

 At number eight – they’re Yorkshire folk – there’s only the man and wife, I think I’ve never seen nicer folk than these in all my life; You’ll never hear them falling out, like lots of married folk, They always seem good tempered like, and ready with a joke.

At number nine the old cobbler lives – the old chap that mends my shoes. He’s getting very weak and done, he’ll have to leave us soon; He reads his Bible every day, and sings just like a lark, He says he’s practicing for Heaven – he’s really done his work.

 At number ten James Bolton lives, he has the nicest house in the row; He has always plenty of something to eat, and lots of brass, and all; And when he rides and walks about he’s dressed up very fine, But he isn’t half as near to heaven as him at number nine.

At number eleven my uncle lives - I call him uncle Tum, He goes to concerts, up and down, and plays a kettle-drum; In bands of music, and such things, he seems to take a pride, And always makes as big a noise as all of the place beside. At number eleven, my uncle lives - I call him Uncle Tom.

At number twelve, at the end of the row, Joe Stiggins deals in ale; He has sixpenny and fourpenny, dark-colored and pale; But I never touch it, for I know it’s ruined many a bard, I’m the only chap that doesn’t drink that lives in Bolton’s Yard.

And now I’m done, I’ll say goodbye, and leave you for a while; I know I haven’t told my tale in such a first-rate style; But if you’re pleased, I’m satisfied, and ask for no reward; For telling who my neighbors are that live in Bolton’s Yard.

Coronation Street Walks - NEW

I'm always being asked whether it's possible to visit the Coronation Street set.  Granada do allow occasional groups to pre-book visits but they charge quite a bit for this.  For those who can't manage this and don't want to go to the expense of booking transport, I now offer a couple of options:


We meet in the foyer of the famous Midland Hotel in central Manchester (itself a Corrie location) and I guide you on a walk around the city centre which takes about 1.5 hours.  During this you'll hear all about Tony Warren and how the show began as well as the history of Granada TV and some of how Corrie is made today.  We'll pass a few locations used in filming storylines in recent years, pass the studios (perhaps getting a glimpse of a corner of the outdoor set, and the original outdoor set) and you'll also hear something of Manchester's colourful history too.  We end (subject to opening hours) at the Old Grapes, owned by 'our Vera' and full of Corrie memorabilia.  I'll gladly answer further questions in there.  So that takes about 2 hours in all and is an very easy, gentle and flat walk.


Tony confronts Roy - one of the locations
you'll see on both tours.
Picture: ITV
 So we start with the guided walk as described in option one.  After a quick drink and sit down in the Old Grapes we walk to the tram stop outside the Midland Hotel and we take the tram to Salford Quays.  Along the journey I'll explain how Salford plays its part in the Corrie Story.  In Salford I'll show you some further locations including the site where the Corrie set will be moving to.  The tram journey takes about 20 minutes and the walk around Salford Quays takes about an hour (again, gentle and flat).  I can then either leave you there to explore the shops (there's a Cadbury's discount store and a food court amongst other things) or I can wait while you have something to eat/do some shopping)
and escort you back to the city centre.

These tours are available for groups of 1+ and take place during the day (I am available 7 days a week).
If you wish a price, please email me with a suggested date and the number in your party.
Everyone receives a free locations guidebook as a momento.

If you wish to book transport (I can do this for you) from a car and driver to a coach, then I can offer a tour taking in a wider variety of locations across Greater Manchester. I am also available as a guide for groups wishing to have Non-Corrie days too!

Contact me at

UPDATED! Since this first appeared I've had lots of questions, so I'll try and answer the most common here:
I really want to visit the set, can I?  Granada do allow some organised groups to visit the studio set but this is very rare and is only available on 'Corrie holidays' like those organised by Kemptville Travel, Coronation Travel, CAA and so on.  You'll find details elsewhere on this blog.
What can you tell me that I don't already know? Lots!  I give lots of talks and tours to Corrie fans each year.  Most fans know the basic history etc but I'll share inside info, funny stories etc.
Do you work for Granada TV? No.  I've worked for and with lots of cast members over the years and I've visited the studios many times.  I've also contributed research info to the official Corrie archives, but I work for myself.
I'm on my own - can I join other people on a tour? All I can do is - if you want to keep the costs down by joining with other people, you can let me know what dates you are in Manchester.  I'll try and match up another enquiry and come back to you if I do.
I'm from Canada and we're 9 months behind, I don't want to know any spoilers, is that okay? Yes.  I've given tours and talks for fans in the UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand, and I've visited each country too.  If you don't waant spoilers, that's fine - if you want some, that's fine too.
I want to see where the stars live in real-life, can you do that?

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Happy New Year! - 2011 diary dates

Whatever you did over Christmas, I hope you had a great time.  I'm just back from a cruise around the Canaries, where it was 60 degrees warmer.  In the run up to Christmas I was very busy - hosting events, staging events and of course, doing quite a few interviews about the 50th anniversary of Coronation Street.

Filming at the Lowry for the CBC
'Corrie Crazy' show
 I can now announce that I will be tour guiding for the following Corrie holidays:
Coronation Travel: This takes place in May out of eastern Canada and is a tour of the UK which includes a couple of days in Manchester.  I will be with the group for two days, which will include a visit to several Corrie locations and a visit to the studios themselves.
CAA: Also in May, and out of eastern Canada, this tour takes in much of Britain and includes a couple of days with me.  We'll visit some locations and the studios.  There's also a Corrie dinner with mystery guest.
Kemptville Travel: This is the longest running Corrie tour and takes place in September.  I'll be with the group for four days and we'll visit Chester, several Corrie locations, enjoy great fish and chips, do some shopping, see some of the Yorkshire and Lancashire villages, visit the studios and enjoy a gala dinner with mystery guest.

I will also be speaking at the World Book Day event entitled 'Between the Covers' at Oldham Central Library in Greater Manchester on 5 March between 6 and 8.30pm.   I'm also talking about Corrie at Stalybridge WI on 4 July and at Failsworth Historical Society on 5 October, both in Greater Manchester.  Email me if you require more information on any of these.

Private Tours, Talks etc:
If you are coming to Manchester and would like to book me for a walking tour of Manchester city centre (I talk about the history of the city, Granada and of course, Coronation Street) lasting an hour or two, then do get in touch.  I'm happy to do them for one person or up to twenty people.  I am also able to arrange transport if you would like a longer tour visiting locations.
I have a one-hour talk on the history of Corrie and everything which goes into making it and I'm happy to travel anywhere within the UK.  Again, if you'd like to know more please email me.

My business email address is: