Sunday, 13 October 2013
Violet Carson on Ena Sharples...
When I was a kid in the 1970s, Ena Sharples of Coronation Street was a lovely character. OK, she could speak out occasionally - as when Bet Lynch moved in with Mike Baldwin as his... er... "housekeeper" in 1976, but, in the main, Ena was a very lovable figure, cherished by the community around her.
It wasn't always so, of course. The original Ena Sharples of the crackling black and white days of the early 1960s had been a fiercesome, fiesty harridan, often completely unreasonable, often almost foaming-at-the-mouth.
I was unaware of that Ena until the mid-1970s. I wasn't born until 1965, you see, and, being so young, had no memory of the days when Ena had told Elsie Tanner, Florrie Lindley, Christine Hardman and many, many others where to get off.
Then, one bleak mid-1970s Christmas, I saw an episode of the Street in which Annie Walker and Betty Turpin reminisced about days gone by in Weatherfield. The episode was largely composed of flashbacks and there, suddenly, was Ena, in a hospital bed in 1960, letting her "friend" Martha Longhurst have it, all guns blazing. Ena's awesome tirade ended with her furious face close up to the camera, and I found myself shrinking away from the TV set. It was almost a "duck behind the sofa" Dr Who-style moment!
After that episode, I looked upon Mrs Sharples rather differently!
WOW! What a baggage she had been!
During the 1970s, a gentler and far more reflective Ena was often absent from the Street as Violet Carson's health declined, and she made her final appearance in 1980. Not that it was planned that way, and Ena's departure that year was low key as it was fully intended she would return.
Violet Carson died in 1983.
So, how did she become Ena? What did she think of Ena? What was Vi Carson really like? Here are a few choice observations from the actress who created a soap legend...
ON ENTERING SHOW BUSINESS:
As young girl, Vi had learned to play the piano, and her sister, Nellie, was learning the violin...
"Harold Jones, the musician who was teaching Nellie, was leading the orchestra at the old Market Street cinema in Manchester. One day, they wanted a relief pianist in a rush - they always want you in a rush or not at all - and Harold suddenly said, 'Send Vi down and see what she can make of it.' I was petrified with fright. I was only fifteen and I clutched the sheaf of music so hard it was all squashed out of shape. But once I put my fingers on the keyboard, everything seemed to come right. In fact, they gave me the job on the spot and I stayed for two wonderful years."
ON BECOMING ENA:
"When this 'Ena' thing cropped up I didn't want to know. I was getting out of the Northern scene - not that I despised it. I am fiercely North Country (being Mancunian). But I was moving. The magic of Shakespeare swept me off my feet. And then I'm back saying 'Eee, by gum' in the Street. It has trapped me. It has made me, if you like. But it has destroyed me. Nobody sees me or anything about me..."
"When they said she was difficult to play, and they couldn't find anybody to play her, I said: 'Don't be ridiculous. I've lived with this woman all my life.' There's one in every street, every town, every country in the world. She's always there. She pontificates. She routs those who won't work. She praises those who will. She's there when there's a new baby. There if anybody's sick. We had one next door when I was a little girl. When anything was wrong, she was there. I said to them at Granada: 'Why do you find this casting difficult?' They'd had twenty-four actresses down for the thing. It was ridiculous.
"I said I was too large for the part. That it was written for a little woman. It wasn't until afterwards that I found Tony Warren had based the character on his grandmother, a big woman. That is why the others had fallen down. I romped home. It was easy. I was back in my childhood with the woman next door. And that was it."
ON HER SIMILARITIES TO ENA:
"I'm a bit like her. I don't suffer fools gladly. I can't stand hypocrisy. I'm a plain Jane really, like she is. I speak my mind. I actually like household chores such as cleaning the fire grate But in lifestyle and outlook she and I are poles apart.".
ON MILK STOUT:
"I loathe milk stout. I only pretend to drink it in the Rovers. I like good food and brandy and ginger is my favourite tipple."
ON BEING OVERSHADOWED BY "SHARPLES":
Vi had a long career before Ena Sharples, including six years as pianist for Wilfred Pickles on the popular radio show Have A Go! There is no doubt that Ena eclipsed that success and in some ways eclipsed the real Violet Carson, the actress, the personality. Back in the early 1960s, with the Street just beginning to take off, Vi said:
"I don't want to be Sharples - that old bag - all my life. I want people to remember Violet Carson."
I think Violet was a victim of her own success. Had she not been such a fine actress, then Ena would never have become the legend she was - and, indeed, still is - and would never have been able to eclipse the already established media personality who played her in the eyes of the public.