Saturday, 3 January 2009

1982: The New Exterior Set

The original exterior set of Coronation Street was dubbed by some of the cast and crew "the street where the sun never shines". Overshadowed by surrounding buildings, it was often a bitingly cold place to work. Regular visits by local vandals added to its bleak and inhospitable atmosphere.

In his 1990 book Coronation Street - The Inside Story, Bill Podmore, producer/executive producer of the show from 1976-1988 wrote:

The set had to be made a mite more comfortable, and one improvement I engineered was to erect a six-foot wall a few feet behind each front door, and have it roofed over. In effect, a tiny hallway was created, complete with staircase in case the camera glimpsed inside. Most important, portable heaters could be installed in the worst weather, to give some warmth.

The Coronation Street exterior set, which was established in the late 1960s, was much smaller than life size, had no chimneys, and the cobblestones ran in a different direction to the house frontages!

But never mind. Until 1968, the production team had made do with a studio-built exterior set and the open air was vastly preferable, adding greatly to the reality of the programme, despite the drawbacks of what was known as the Grape Street lot.

To begin with, back in 1968, the wood and lath studio exterior set was brought outside but, according to HV Kershaw in his excellent 1981 book The Street Where I Live, a severe English winter wreaked havoc with it and so the decision was made, and the money found, to build the exterior in brick in 1969.

Original designer Denis Parkin oversaw the operation, employing a couple of bricklayers to do the main work and joiners to transfer the original studio set windows onto the bricks. Half a roof was built and filming could begin.

He related the tale in the book The Coronation Street Story, by Daran Little (1995):

"I think it was probably about eighteen months later that Harry Kershaw found some more money and I built the backs in the back yard."

The Street itself was a total sham - but the massive viaduct looming over it was impressively real.

A small viewing hatch was cut into the site entrance gates so that fans could take a peep at the Street, but there were no formal arrangements for fan visits to the site. Apart from Granada staff, various associates and visiting dignitaries, the only people that got beyond the gates were the vandals and a few lucky viewers.

Roger Nightingale was pretty darned miffed to discover that his wife Wendy was committing adultery with Ken Barlow in 1976. He bopped Ken on the jaw and dragged Wendy out of No 11 and into his car. In their angst, the Nightingales failed to notice the glimpse of cold grey sky and what appeared to be scaffolding and a plank walkway in the Ogden's house. Just take a look at the glass panel above the door.

The Daily Mirror, November 13, 1981, brought news of work commencing which would mean big change for the Street's exterior:

Drop In At The Rover

The Rovers Return, television's most famous pub, may open for real business.

The pub and the rest of the Coronation Street site are to be rebuilt on a three-and-a-half acre site in Manchester.

Yesterday actress Doris Speed, who plays the pub's landlady Annie Walker, cut the first turf on the site.

Granada said it hopes to allow the public to see the set when it is not being used.

Visitors may be able to call at the Rovers Return for refreshments.

This is Doris Speed apparently laying the "foundation stone" for the new outdoor lot. Is it that single brick laid on top?

Daily Mirror, 22/2/1982 - Hilda (Jean Alexander) takes a look at Number 13 as work on the new exterior set progresses.

The old exterior set was demolished in 1982 when work on its replacement was completed. The new one even has fibre glass chimneys!

On 5 May 1982, Coronation Street's new exterior set was visited by the Queen and Prince Phillip. Here's how the Sun, May 6, 1982, reported the event:

Prince Phillip popped into the Rovers Return with the Queen yesterday... and was chatted up by saucy barmaid Bet Lynch.

Bet - actress Julie Goodyear - welcomed the royal couple to Coronation Street and told Prince Phillip: "I would pull a pint for you any time."

Television's most famous street was decked out from end to end with red, white and blue bunting.

And Bet boasted proudly that she was wearing red knickers, with white suspender belt and blue bra.

She also sported three-inch earrings with pictures of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

When Prince Phillip asked: "Is it opening time?" she told him: "I'd even open the pub up specially."

The visit to the newly-built Coronation Street set near Granada TV's Manchester studios was a welcome break for the Queen.

She is being kept informed of events in the South Atlantic where her son, Prince Andrew, is serving on HMS Invincible.

Actor Peter Adamson, who plays Len Fairclough, passed on a message of sympathy.

He told her, quietly: "It must be a very worrying time for you and your family. Our hearts are with you."

The Queen smiled and said: "Thank you."

The Queen, who is said to be a big fan of the TV series, was greeted by Coronation Street's own version of royalty, Doris Speed. She plays "Queen" Annie Walker, landlady of the Rovers.

Then the royal couple walked the length of the street, built in a former railway yard to replace the old set which was not considered authentic enough.

At Number 16 [actually it was Number 13 - Andy's note], Hilda Ogden - actress Jean Alexander - had removed her hair curlers for the occasion.

The Queen made a few discreet inquiries about her relationship with lodger Eddie Yeats, played by heavy-weight actor Geoffrey Hughes.

Cheeky Stan Ogden, played by Bernard Youens, asked the Queen: "Can I have the contract to clean the Palace windows?"

But she told him: "I think it would take too long."

A surprise visitor at Number 5 was Brian Tilsley, actor Chris Quinten, who according to the scriptwriters is working in Saudi Arabia.

Chris said: "The Queen asked me what Saudi was like and I told her I had flown back specially to see her."

A few doors along, at Number 11. firebrand Elsie Tanner, alias Pat Phoenix, chatted with the Queen about their favourite subject... pet dogs.

The Queen went on to meet the rest of the cast, including Albert Tatlock - veteran actor Jack Howarth.

Woman magazine, July, 1982, had the interesting idea of mixing fact with fiction and reporting the event as though the royal visit had been to the street's residents, rather than the cast and behind the scenes staff of the programme.

Hilda’s eyes shone with joy as she breathed the words. “It was the greatest day of my life. I’ll never wash these gloves now she’s touched ’em. And thank God Stanley behaved himself.”

It was quite some minutes before she was able to contain herself enough to put on her coat and head down to the Rovers Return with Stan for a celebratory port and lemon.

“Stanley did me proud for once,” she beamed, patting his shoulder. “I told him to ask her Royalty about cleaning all them windows at the Palace; we’d give her a special rate of course, and she said that they’d be in touch.”

Annie Walker stepped forward wearing her most gracious manner. “At any rate, I’m sure it was a wonderful opportunity for all of you to be in the presence of true royalty. I did mention to Her Majesty during the course of our conversation that I was delighted the sun had shone on her today. If I do say so myself, she seemed charmed.”

And the sun certainly had shone, doing justice to the Street, which had surpassed itself for spectacle and colour with flags and flowers.

It was the most important day the Street had ever seen. The Queen and Prince Phillip were actually going to pay a visit.

Best clothes were brought out, shoes were shined and sprays of flowers pinned on. Bet stuck red, white and blue flowers in her blonde beehive and donned a large pair of Charles and Di earrings, prompting a look of disapproval from Annie.

Fred Gee, red-faced with exertion after polishing the bar glasses all morning, had struggled into a new shirt and stood smartly to attention on the front step of the Rovers.

Hilda had been busy for weeks. With pride and joy, she pinned up her first new net curtains for fifteen years and then set about scrubbing the house from top to bottom. Stan caught her washing the best china. “What’s all the fuss about, woman, they’ll never come in here,” he grumbled. But Hilda retorted: “You never know, Stanley. Her Graciousness might be thirsty after all that talking, and I’m not having the place looking like a pig-sty if she does decide to drop in…”

The Queen and Prince Phillip stroll the famous cobbles.

It was reported back in 1982 in some quarters that the new exterior set had been built "normal size" but, as Jean Alexander pointed out, it was actually "more normal size". It was still rather a dinky Street, although via the magic of the TV cameras it looked fine.

And the production team decided to try and lay to rest the ongoing mystery of the toilet doors in the Rovers Return, which appeared to lead into Albert Tatlock's house at Number 1. A small entry was inserted between the pub and Albert's bay window, probably not really big enough to accommodate the ladies' and gents' conveniences, but better than nowt!

As for viewers being able to visit the set and have a drink in The Rovers, the Granada Studios Tour was open to the public from 1988-1999 and made many dreams come true. You could stroll down the Street, visit other attractions (anyone for Baker Street?) and a replica of The Rovers was built where real beer could be supped.

The 1980s exterior set is still used today. Big change came in 1989 when Baldwin's factory and the Community Centre were demolished and work began on the new houses, shops and industrial units. Further additions have been made in more recent years.


  1. I like to think that the toilets in the Rovers are down a set of stairs. Mainly because most old buildings i've been in over there, in pubs, you have to go down or up stairs to get to the toilets!

  2. That's an interesting point - although I have episodes from 1976 featuring the Gents' conveniences at the Rovers and they were definitely on the same floor as the bar back then.

    I've been hearing tales that the architectural mysteries of the Rovers have increased recently - with spacious living quarters upstairs. The Street's architecture has always been a thing of wonder!

  3. As well as the living quarters in the Rovers, what about the Underworld factory whose interior is now comparable in size to that of Baldwin's Casuals yet (from the outside) only occupies a building one third the size of Mike Baldwins's former factory!

  4. I've always wondered about the enormous function room which was used throughout the 70's and early 80's. The width of The Rovers from outside just isn't big enough to have accommodated all that, plus the main bar. Interestingly enough this disappeared after they'd redecorated the pub after the fire in 1986. Recently though, I've noticed two small side windows appear either side of the fire place which have never been there before. Add this to the upstairs living quarters which suddenly appeared after almost 50 years and it seems that the Rovers certainly is a tardis.

  5. Actually, the enormous function room - the Select - was occasionally seen from the 1960s right through to the mid-1980s! Amazing, wasn't it?