Monday, 29 December 2008

In Search Of Mr Papagopolous...

Just who was Mr Papagopolous, the owner of the Gamma Garments chain of haberdashery shops in the Coronation Street serial in the 1960s?

When Miss Emily Nugent merged her baby linen business with Mr Leonard Swindley's haberdashery emporium in Rosamund Street, Weatherfield, way back in 1961, both were hoping that the venture would be successful.

There was no reason why not: Miss N and Mr S were of like mind, already knowing each other well from their work at the Mission Of Glad Tidings in Coronation Street and, in Mr Swindley's case, haberdashery was well and truly in the blood. However, the two were soon facing the harsh reality that their business was heading for bankruptcy.

There was only one thing to do - Swindley's became part of a chain of shops called Gamma Garments. Mr Swindley was manager and Miss Nugent his assistant in the new regime, so things hadn't really changed very much. Or had they? The very mention of Gamma's owner, Mr Papagopolous, was enough to send Miss Nugent and Mr Swindley into a panic. This Greek businessman was not to be trifled with - and he was certainly not in the business for the love of it.

The Greek tycoon suddenly had a couple of English wallies in his employ. "Oh, Mr Swindley! Somehow I always saw you as more of a Batchelor of Arts..."

Mr S and Miss N were no longer their own bosses, simply struggling to stay afloat financially, and answerable to nobody else. They now had a boss. And, to all intents and purposes, a pretty terrifying one at that!

So, what did this fearsome Street character look like? And who played him? The answer to Question One is we don't really know, and the answer to Question Two is nobody. Despite Mr P's talent at sending Miss Nugent and Mr Swindley into a spin, the closest we ever came to encountering him was in "No, Mr Papagopolous.... yes, Mr Papagopolous.... but of course, Mr Papagoplous..." style telephone conversations with Mr Swindley and Miss Nugent. And, of course, we never actually heard what Mr P was saying first hand and never heard his voice - his missives were always relayed by Mr S or Miss N!

Forever off-screen but often referred to, Mr Papagopolous was rather like Arthur Daley's "'Er indoors" in the 1980s - a mysterious, unseen presence.

So, what do we actually know about Mr P? Well, we know he was Greek, we know he owned a chain of stores called Gamma Garments, we know he was a tough, even ruthless boss - and we know that his staff (well, at least Mr Swindley and Miss Nugent at the Rosamund Street branch!) were greatly in awe of him.

So, is there any further information to be gleaned?

For a strong mental image of the man I recommend HV Kershaw's 1977 novel Elsie Tanner Fights Back. Mr Kershaw was involved with The Street since its inception and fulfilled several roles over the years - script editor, producer, executive producer, script writer and novelist. He wrote the three Coronation Street novels, Early Days, Trouble At The Rovers and Elsie Tanner Fights Back from 1976-1977. Each novel covered stories from an early 1960s year of The Street's existence.

In Elsie Tanner Fights Back, which was set in 1963, Mr Kershaw decided to have some fun and write Mr Papagopolous into a scene with Mr Swindley. As Mr Kershaw was heavily involved in The Street during the Papagopolous era, his vision of the character is obviously important.

Miss Nugent was facing the sack from the shop - because profits were down. Mr Swindley embarked on a bus ride to Manchester, to Gamma's head office at Sunlight House, to plead Miss Nugent's case with Mr Papagopolous.

Mr Kershaw spelt the surname "Papagopolos" - minus the 'u'.

The first thing we discover in Mr Kershaw's Gamma chapter is that Mr P's first name is Spiros and his initials S.N.

Mr Papagopolous weighed seventeen stones, four pounds; he was olive skinned and his head was fringed with jet black, greasy hair; his eyes were dark and lifeless; his mouth full-lipped and crowned by twin pencil lines of moustache.

His manner was cold, and business-like ("How are you?" asked Mr Swindley. "I'm waiting, Swindley, that's how I am! Waiting for you to tell me what you want!" said Mr Papagopolous).

When Mr Swindley advanced his case for keeping Miss Nugent on at the Rosamund Street branch of Gamma Garments, he went so far as to describe her as his "right hand".

"In Piraeus we have a saying," said Mr Papagopolous. "If your right hand interferes with business, cut it off!"

Mr P was very canny. He decided that Mr Swindley's obvious devotion to Miss Nugent could be used to his advantage - driving Swindley to put more effort into improving business at Gamma Garments. Mr Swindley offered a twenty per cent increase. Mr P agreed that Miss Nugent could stay on, but warned him:

"You'll have to tell her that if business doesn't improve, somebody would have to go! And this time it could be you!"

"But of course!" said Swindley, wondering what kind of a trap he'd walked into.

"Twenty per cent, you say! I'll give you three weeks! Okay?"

"What can I say?" asked Swindley.

"Say 'good-bye!' said Papagopolos.

The character of Spiros Papagopolous was also mentioned in the 1985 publication Coronation Street - 25 Years, but in 1992, the epic saga of Corrie history, Weatherfield Life, by Daran Little and Bill Hill, referred to him as Niklos!

So, what became of Mr Papagopolous and Gamma Garments? Well, Mr P went bankrupt in the summer of 1968, the year after the transformation of Gamma into a trendy boutique.

Arthur Lowe (Mr Swindley) left the show in 1965, taking Mr Swindley into a comedy spin-off series called Pardon The Expression and then into the short-lived Turn Off The Lights, another sitcom, this time featuring Mr Swindley as a ghost hunter. After his encounters with Mr Papagopolous, Mr S must have developed nerves of steel!

In 1968, Arthur Lowe became better known as Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army.

Eileen Derbyshire (Emily Nugent) remains with Corrie to this day, although for Emily, with all she has endured over the years, Gamma Garments and Mr Papagoplous are now probably very dim and distant memories indeed!


  1. Andy, you're fairly knocking out these great posts thick and fast! Brilliant.

    I'd love to see the two Swindley spin-off sitcoms, Pardon The Expression and Turn Out The Lights, but they seem so elusive (although I know there are a couple of episodes of PTE on the Jack Rosenthal DVD box set). Have you got any info on those?

    Have a great New Year!

  2. Sorry, Sky, I'd love to see the two Swindley spin-offs, too - but have no idea how! I must look into the Jack Rosenthal DVD box set you mention.

    Thanks as ever for your feedback. I'm currently splitting a lot of my leisure time between the blogs, and thoroughly enjoying it.

    All the best for 2009, mate, and please keep in touch!

  3. WHUT?

    all these years, more than 40!, and here's me always thought it was Mr. PAPADOPOLOUS!!!

    I had no clue.
    Illusions completely shattered.

  4. Never mind - the only difference is a 'g' instead of a 'd'! My wife thought it was "Papadopolous" too.

    I recall Pauline and Dot talking about a Mr Papadopolous who owned the launderette where they worked when I used to watch EastEnders years ago.

  5. Andy - You're probably aware by now, but a bit of manna has just fallen from heaven... this first series of Pardon The Expression is being released on Network DVD (let's hope they do a thorough job of the blurb on the packaging!). Have a look at this story.

  6. It's great news, Sky...

    I've put this blog on the back burner because the 1980s Blog is going great guns and I've been tied up with it, but I must really publicise this news here at some point.