Thursday, 5 February 2009

1987: Mavis Riley - The Culture Vulture Jet Setter

Thelma Barlow, as Mavis Riley, stepped into the Street spinster role left vacant by Emily Nugent and made it all her own. In the best traditions of the Street, Mavis filled the gap left by the newly-wed Mrs Bishop, but was also very much a character in her own right.

I loved Mavis.

In the 1980s, the character stepped further into the spotlight as the Street suffered the loss of several members of its early cast.

The character of Mavis was delightfully "sent up" in the '80s by comedians Les Dennis and Dustin Gee, who paired her with Vera Duckworth (not something which happened much in the series!) for some brilliantly funny sketches. "I don't really know!" said Mr Dennis - in OTT Mavis tones. Although I have accumulated hundreds of '80s era Corrie episodes, I don't believe I have a single one where Mavis actually utters these words. If she did say it, it was a rare occurrence. But, thanks to Mr Dennis, "I don't really know!" become a much parroted catchphrase up and down the land.

I've just been watching a Corrie episode from 1987, in which Mavis seems squeakier and funnier than ever before. Was the impressionist influencing the original, I wonder?!

But, although it's fun to have a laugh at Mavis, it's important to remember the serious side to the character...

This was the woman who wrote a novel in the mid-1970s and a radio play in the early-1980s; the woman who could cook foreign dishes before cooking foreign dishes was popular in Weatherfield; the woman who sought to broaden her horizons, through reading, evening classes and travel. This was a sensitive, cultured woman.

In 1987, Ken Barlow was in conversation with Mavis at The Rovers one lunchtime. Mavis, of course, was bogged down by her earthy surroundings, and had succumbed to a gentle grumble about one of the customers at The Kabin...

"She's one of these women who always complain about how big her paper bill is, and this morning she tells me that the whole family's off to the Costa Del Sol for a fortnight!"

Ken: "Well, lucky for some!"

Mavis: "I mean, not that I'd fancy it meself really - I've never been one for lying about in a bathing costume."

Ken (teasing): "You go in for this nude business, do you, Mavis - total freedom and all that?!"

Mavis (going all giggly and silly): "Oh, Ken! The very idea! Not that I think there's anything wrong with it, but... no, I've never been one for lying about on a beach all day. When I go on holiday I go more for the atmosphere. You know, ancient cities, different cultures, the romance of history."

Ken: "Yes, well, it sounds very nice. Have you got anything lined up for this summer?"

Mavis: "No, not definitely. I thought I might try Bridlington."


  1. Mavis was Marvelis ;) I never really liked Derek. He was a real nobhead, petty, arrogant, selfish and Mavis did know how to bring him down off her high horse when he really needed it. They were completely suited though.

  2. Yes, I adored her! I remember a splendid piece of 1980s pop music called "Absolute" by Scritti Politi. It may seem odd, but it always reminds me of Mavis - there's something coy and dithery in the singer's voice and style! If Mavis had made pop records in the 1980s, I think she might have sounded rather like that!