Tuesday, 28 July 2009

1979: A New Beginning For The Tilsley Family...

Ivy and Bert (Lynne Perrie and Peter Dudley) - the housewarming party.

Bert Tilsley would have been quite happy to stay in Inkerman Street. It was his wife, Ivy, who was the driving force behind the decision for the family to relocate to No 5 Coronation Street - extensively modernised by Fairclough and Langton for one Michael Vernon Baldwin in 1976.

When the house went up for sale in 1979, Ivy set her heart on it.

There was trouble before the family even moved in. At one point, it seemed as though previous owner Deirdre Langton would not be going through with the sale. But the Tilsleys' house was already as good as sold, and Ivy argued fiercely with Deirdre, who for this, and other reasons, decided to move in next door with Emily Bishop.

The first major event after the Tilsleys had moved into their new home was a row with Hilda Ogden. Stan cleaned the Tilsleys' windows, despite Ivy telling Hilda she'd clean them herself. Ivy refused to pay Stan, and Hilda threw a bucketful of mucky water all over No 5's bay window.

Would you flamin' credit it?

What a start!

Still, all was forgiven (just about), if not forgotten, in time for the housewarming party, and Ivy made an effort to welcome Hilda when she turned up unexpectedly.

As Ken Barlow made a speech to welcome the Street's new arrivals, Ivy, Bert and son Brian smiled and looked forward to a happy future in their smart new home.

If only they'd known.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Bobby Header Pic Enquiry

Dave asks via e-mail if the cat featured in our header pic is really Minnie Caldwell's Bobby?

Yes, Dave, although it's not Toby, the original Bobby, but, I believe, the second cat to take the role, used from the late 1960s onwards. I'm not sure how many Bobbys there were in total!

I got the Bobby image from this pre-printed Margot Bryant Corrie card, which was sent to me by Granada Television not long before Minnie departed from the Street in 1976.

Read our Minnie and Bobby article here.

1977: The Mystery Woman At Len And Rita's Wedding...

The wedding of Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) and Rita Littlewood (Barbara Mullaney, now Knox) in April 1977 was occasion enough for a TV Times special souvenir magazine.

On-and-off like a flippin' light switch the relationship between them two... flamin' nora.

Then, in 1977, with the songbird from the Kabin about to fly off on a singing engagement abroad, wedding bells were suddenly in the offing.

And this time their relationship was definitely on.

What a grand wedding it was - complete with slap-up reception at the Greenvale Hotel.

Mrs Annie Walker commented: "What amused me was all that church business. Really! I mean, when all's said and done, he is rather uncouth. Still, I suppose they're well-suited."

But we, the viewers sat at home, liked it. Here's the happy couple at the altar... and there's the aforementioned Mrs Walker watching from her pew and... who's that curious blank-faced woman behind Albert Tatlock? She looks weird... no face... strangely outlined... like something out of this world...

Was Len and Rita's wedding being subjected to a Close Encounter?

Nay, lovey, rest assured.

The mystery woman was none other than Pat Phoenix as Elsie Tanner.

But Elsie did not attend Len and Rita's wedding, only the reception, I hear you say. Quite right. Pat Phoenix was ill and unable to attend the filming at the church. So Elsie had to miss the wedding. But the TV Times photographs of the event had been set up specially sometime before the actual filming of the wedding scenes, and as the original intention of the scriptwriters was that Elsie should attend the wedding, there she was, large as life, in the TV Times photographs.

So, when Pat Phoenix didn't make it to the church, and Elsie missed the wedding on-screen, some hasty editing of the TV Times photographs had to take place. As Elsie did not make it to the wedding ceremony on the telly, she certainly couldn't be seen to have made it to the wedding ceremony in the TV Times magazine.

Way back then, in those prehistoric, non-computerised days, correcting the situation was not easy. Pat's presence on a group photograph outside the church was eradicated with a simple snip and splice. But this was not possible with the church interior pics, so Pat, although still visible, was simply blanked out as best as possible.

Pardon The Expression On DVD And A Gamma Garments Van...

The first series of the mid-1960s Coronation Street comedy spin-off, Pardon The Expression, starring Arthur Lowe as Leonard Swindley, is now on DVD - and the release of the second series follows in early August.

What a treat!

I'd also love to see more of the Gamma Garments Corrie years available on DVD - Mr Swindley and Miss Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire) in a spin over Mr Papagopolous, and cheeky young Doreen Lostock (Angela Crow), anxious to escape (she joined the Army in the end!). Just look at the photograph above - Mr Swindley pontificating and preening away, egged on by the very enthusiastic Miss Nugent, and that great twin-mounded beastie behind him.

Simply the best Corrie comedy.

The Gamma Garments die-cast model van sometimes turns up on eBay. It's great to see that fondly-remembered scenario recognised in this way, but it would be even better if there were more Gamma-era episodes available on DVD to accompany it!

Suzie Birchall - Screen Capture Request

Mike has written to ask for a screen capture of the lovely Suzie Birchall (Cheryl Murray). Certainly, Mike - here she is in 1979. Suzie was a great favourite of mine - a cynical '70s teen, very much of the times, but not a bad lass underneath it all.

However, by Street teen standards, she was pretty naughty and was known in my neighbourhood as Suzie Bitch-all!

Her attempt to bed Gail's Brian on her return in the early 1980s confirmed the appropriateness of the nickname.

But what a great character!

We'll be featuring some material about Suzie and her final departure from the Street soon.

1980: Who Shot JR? In Dallas And An Outbreak Of Flu In Coronation Street...

Here's a certain Mr Ewing, alone in his office. But IS he alone?

Eee, 1980. Seems like yesterday! But a real dinosaur year this one - three TV channels, computers were a mystery to most people, Space Invaders were just cementing their hold on us, and Pac-Man (or Puckman as it was originally called) was wheeled out in Japan in May. But the world was a much bigger place without the World Wide Web (invented in 1989 and not up-and-running until the 1990s), and I don't recall hearing of the little muncher at all in 1980.

It's funny how the real past often differs from modern day telly programmes, web sites and books on the subject... you may have watched I Love The 1970s on the BBC, but face it, the series actually spanned the late 1960s to the early 1980s (by the time we reached I Love The 1980s, several '80s crazes had wrongly fallen into the '70s). You may have watched Margaret and Life On Mars, but even the snazzy red trimphones featured in those programmes were not actually available in reality until 1982.

In the pop world of the real 1980, we bopped to DISCO, sat down on the floor for Oops Upside Your Head, goggled at Buster Bloodvessel and his waggly tongue, loved Baggy Trousers, and saw Adam And The Ants flounce in. David Bowie's Ashes To Ashes video was groundbreaking.

The personal stereo, invented in Japan in 1979, reached the UK in 1980 as the "Sony Stowaway" - they cost a packet! In 1981, the Walkman name was patented here.

1980 was hugely important in shaping the decade. Ronald Reagan was elected President of the USA in November. The '80s would have turned out very differently had it not been for that event.

No yuppies in 1980 (the acronym was coined in the USA a little later in the decade). We were in a recession. Brighton gained England's (and I believe the UK's) first nudist beach, and a young woman called Lady Diana Spencer burst into the headlines.

The Rubik's Cube, a re-manufactured version of the obscure Hungarian Magic Cube, was released. America got it in May 1980. Although the trade name was also registered in the UK that May, we had to wait until just before Christmas for its arrival. And then it was in short supply.

Life was so different. 1980 was... well, prehistoric.

But 1980 did have something great - 1980 had "WHO SHOT JR?"

And we obsessed over it all that summer after the episode was shown in May. The scenario is now a TV legend, but only came about through a last minute decision of the show's producers to change that season's cliff hanger.

Daily Mirror, May 26, 1980: JR got shot, of course, but what was happening in Corrie? Well, Stan and Hilda Ogden both had flu, and Hilda was making a gallant effort to turn up for her cleaning job at the Rovers. Corrie was moved from its traditional 7.30pm slot and screened half-an-hour earlier so that a thrilling film about killer bees could be shown. ITV bosses hoped (in vain) that this might distract people from switching to the BBC at 8.10pm for the big moment in Dallas.

I don't actually have the Stan and Hilda flu episode, but here's a screen cap of our Hilda being poorly on another occasion.

Other Corrie events of 1980 included Eddie Yeats landing a job as a binman and moving in with the Ogdens, Renee Bradshaw meeting her untimely end in a road accident, Elsie Tanner accidentally setting her armchair on fire, Annie Walker arguing with the binmen, and Emily Bishop marrying bigamist Arnold Swain.

But nobody in Weatherfield got shot.

Thank goodness!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Uttered In The '80s - Part 3...

1988 - Derek Wilton to Mavis Riley: "Mavis... is Mr Sugden all there?"

Friday, 24 July 2009

Ena Sharples - 1960 To 1980, First To Last...

The first episode: "I'm Mrs Sharples..." Ena (Violet Carson) introduces herself to Florrie Lindley (Betty Alberge), the new owner of the Corner Shop. 1980 - Ena departs: "I never was one to stay anywhere where I wasn't wanted. I'm off first thing in't morning!"

I had a question in the blog comments today:

Has anyone seen Ena's final appearance on the street?

Yes, I have a copy of the episode. No great farewell for Ena, I'm afraid, as nobody suspected that Violet Carson was making her final appearance - not even Miss Carson.

Ena returned to the Street after a short spell away to find that the Council had not finished redecorating her flat at the Community Centre.

After a brief stay with Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix), and facing the prospect of a stay at No 1, much to the chagrin of Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth), Ena announced to Albert and Ken Barlow (William Roache): "I've been on the phone to Mr Foster. He says he'd be very glad to see me."

"Oh, I see!" said Ken, "Yes, perhaps you would be better off in St Anne's and happier there, wouldn't you? I'll let you know the minute the decorators move out!"

"You've no need to bother," said Ena.

"Sorry, I don't follow you?" Ken was totally puzzled.

"I've been mucked up by you and your committee for long enough. I'll be the one to say when I come back, if I come back!"

"What do you mean - 'if' you come back?!" asked Albert.

"I'm fast coming to the conclusion, Albert Tatlock, that the air up there is much more to my liking than it is round 'ere these days. And you can take that any way you like! I don't suppose either of you thought of puttin' the kettle on, did yer?" and she disappeared into the kitchen. And into Street history.

Albert had seen her leave the Street in high dudgeon before and didn't take her seriously. He actually laughed in response! Ena had been absent from the Street for lengthy periods several times during the previous decade. But she had always returned.

And in fact Violet Carson would wear that famous hairnet one last time. She appeared on the cover and within the pages of a TV Times magazine - Coronation Street 2000 - which celebrated the screening of the show's 2000th episode in June 1980.

1960s glory days: Ena, a poor, vulnerable old woman (!) in hospital, suspects that her friend Martha Longhurst (Lynne Carol) is a snake in the grass: "You, you, you, Martha Longhurst, you snake - I know what you're after, you're after me vestry!"

Ena was a howling harridan in the early episodes!

When Ena announced that she may not be coming back in 1980, Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth) actually laughed! He'd heard it all before.

Ena's glower was a trademark of the character in the 1960s, but rarely glimpsed after that. During her final episode in 1980, she bestowed the famous look on Fred Gee (Fred Feast).

Speak Easy - 2 - When Was The Golden Age Of Coronation Street? Reality Bites - It WASN'T The 1970s!

Back to The Speak Easy, where your views can be heard... Free and easy, bright and breezy, that's Speak Easy.

Christine has been reading up on Corrie history on-line and writes:

I keep reading that the Street's "Golden Age" was the 1970s, I even read it on some DVD blurb, but I disagree. Does nobody remember how bad the first half of that decade was for Coronation Street, and how the show tumbled in the ratings?

Well yes, Christine, I do. Some people seem to feel the need to make out that the 1970s are the be-all-and-end-all in a variety of ways, and I don't quite understand why.

Street historians also need to back up their assertions with more than "a lot of people think the 1970s were Corrie's Golden Age," which is something I've recently read on-line. Why do they? Is it really that many people? Is the belief based on reality? Was it? What do the ratings and media of the time tell you?

Personally, I find the majority of episodes from around 1970-1974 very painful to watch! It was the low point of the Street's career in my humble opinion. And the ratings dropped disastrously. The show's ratings were consistently higher in the 1980s than they were in the 1970s, too. Bill Podmore wrote of the problems the Street was experiencing before he became producer in his 1990 autobiography, Coronation Street - The Inside Story.

My own favourite era is the 1960s - I'm too young to remember, but I've thoroughly enjoyed all the episodes I've seen from that decade. My favourite era as a viewer was from 1976-1983. Things don't have to neatly fit into decades!

And the disappearance of the last of the original 1960s characters marked a new Corrie low point for me.

I run a few blogs - including some about recent decades, and the amount of nonsense I've come across whilst researching the 1970s you wouldn't believe!

It's as though the 1970s are also the 1960s and 1980s.

Strange how some people delude themselves. A lot of what we believe is based on hot air and hype.

And sadly the WWW. has not helped.

Mind you, lovey, here you get only the best information. I mean, would we seek to delude? By the way, the boiled ham's very nice today, and I think I've got some sweet piccalilli in't back...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

What Happened To Renee?

James has written to comment on the disappearance of Renee from this blog's header:

I like the new header design here but I'm sorry Renee Bradshaw/Roberts doesn't feature as I remember her fondly from my childhood. I thought your original header picture really caught the character. Any chance of a copy?

Certainly, James. Madge Hindle is a great favourite of mine - in Nearest And Dearest, The Street, and in more recent times, Barbara.

The screen cap here shows Renee at Christmas 1978, "conversing" with Annie Walker!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

1965: Violet Carson, OBE

Violet Carson and singer Frankie Vaughan with their OBEs at Buckingham Palace, 1965.

Ena Sharples was, and is, quite simply a Coronation Street legend.

Played by Violet Carson, Ena appeared in the very first episode of Coronation Street, lambasting new Corner Shop owner Florrie Lindley (Betty Alberge). In that first episode, she didn't wear a hairnet. But that quickly followed.

Early Ena was a fiery treat, a real harridan, with nowt good to say about her neighbours and, in particular, Mrs Elsie Tanner (Patricia Phoenix) of No 11. Clashes between Ena and Elsie in those early days still make breath taking viewing today.

Ena sat in the snug at the Rovers in the early years, with her two pals, Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant) and Martha Longhurst (Lynne Carol), providing the show with many a moment of high class comedy. What a trio they were! Ena headed the group, vinegary Martha often sought to usurp her, but never succeeded, and Minnie was largely away with the fairies.

Over the years, Ena mellowed more than somewhat. Never afraid to speak her mind, and a stern upholder of "good", old fashioned morals, Ena was also a friend and confidante to many. And her relationship with Elsie evolved - these two very strong, very different woman, developed a respect and fondness for each other, and when Ena found herself temporarily homeless in 1980, it was Elsie who came forward to offer her a roof over her head.

Ill health caused Violet Carson to take several lengthy breaks from the show in the 1970s, and when she made her final appearance in 1980, none of us were aware of the fact that we had seen the last of the glorious old battle-axe.

Ena was in her heyday in the 1960s, and in October 1965 that fact, and Violet Carson's long career in show business before The Street, were recognised when Miss Carson was awarded the OBE.

From The Real Coronation Street, by Ken Irwin, 1970:

When Violet Carson received an important-looking envelope bearing the Royal crest through the post at her home in Blackpool, one morning in the autumn of 1965, she had absolutely no idea what it might be.

She even hesitated before opening it. Then, with much surprise, her trembling fingers pulled out the official notification - she was to be awarded the OBE by the Queen.

She was stunned but immensely pleased. Yet a little puzzled. She could not explain the Royal award. "I do not know why I have been singled out," she said. "I would like to think that it was some sort of recognition for the whole of my career. People tell me I have managed to make a lot of folk happy. I hope I have."

The Real Coronation Street by Ken Irwin, the Daily Mirror TV critic who declared that Coronation Street had "little reality" and was "doomed from the outset" back in 1960! The book - "The fascinating, true story behind a TV serial and how it has affected the lives of the actors involved in it over a period of ten years" - sometimes pops up on eBay and is well worth a read.

1989: Rita Fairclough And The Huge Blue Shoulder Pads...

Watching past Corrie episodes is a delight, reflecting as they do many of the trends and fashions of the times in which they were recorded: Ken Barlow off on a Ban The Bomb March in the early 1960s, hippies at No 11 during the same decade, skateboards and rising youth crime in the 1970s, the CB radio craze and unemployment in the early 1980s. And HUGE shoulder pads as the '80s went on.

And I do mean HUGE.

I've just watched an episode from 1989, and the lovely Rita Fairclough (Barbara Knox) waltzed into the Rovers Return, wearing a bizarre bright blue jacket thing, with what looked like about a dozen tea towels stuffed into each shoulder.

Talk about Popeye!

I backtracked to a 1980 episode. The shoulders were quite ordinary. Miniscule in fact. Fast forward to '89 again and WOW!

I was used to shoulder pads at the time, even favoured them myself - in my Miami Vice-style linen jackets (big shoulders detract from big belly) - but seeing them now...

Good grief!

The mid-to-late '80s were a different planet!

Those fashions...

At the time I thought: "Brill!"

Now I think: "bleeurgh!"

Alec Gilroy (Roy Barraclough) is confronted by a huge blue shoulder pad in the Rovers Return. Will his nerve break?

Uttered In The '80s - Part 2

Eee, 1989 - what a year! The Berlin Wall came down, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, the Game Boy was released in America, and in Coronation Street Mrs Phyllis Pearce (Jill Summers) crept up on Mr Percy Sugden (Bill Waddington) in the Rovers Return:

Phyllis: "Boo!"

Percy (furious): "I wish you wouldn't do that! I'm a coiled spring, y'know! I act very quickly and very aggressively when startled!"

Phyllis: "Ooh, I wish you would!"

The Arrival Of Audrey - Gail's Changing Family Background...

Their first scene together on-screen: a despondent Gail (Helen Worth) greets her newly invented mother, Audrey (Sue Nicholls).

In 1976, Gail Potter told randy Roy Thornley that her father always called her his "dizzy blonde". When Mrs Thornley decided to cite Gail as co-respondent in the divorce case she was bringing against her husband, Gail wept horrified tears. What would her Dad think? And, worst of all, what would her Mam think? We got the impression that Gail's Mam would be shocked. Very shocked indeed. In fact, we got the impression that Gail's Mam was an easily shocked homebody.

We were able to piece together Gail's family background from various things she said over the years: Mam. Dad. Not well off. But comfortable enough. A happy and secure family unit.

Of course, Gail was not cited as co-respondent in the Thornleys' divorce proceedings in the end, so an appearance by her distressed and outraged parents at Number 11, where Gail lodged with Suzie Birchall, under the watchful eyes of Elsie Tanner, was unnecessary.

Nothing more happened to upset Gail's idyllic family set-up until 1979, when the Coronation Street script writers suddenly ripped up the cosy scenario and invented Audrey Potter. She was squawky, flighty, and no better than she should be. And she was the unwed mother of Gail.

Suzie Birchall invited Audrey to Gail's 21st birthday party and Gail was very distressed.

She didn't want her (newly invented), tarty, flashy mother on the scene.

But the birthday party turned out well, and Audrey would return to the Street several times before becoming a permanent regular character in the show in 1985.

The character of Audrey developed - her desire to be upwardly mobile after her wedding to Alf Roberts in the 1980s aroused many smiles.

And she suddenly sprouted a never-before-mentioned grown-up son called Stephen.

Our Aud is always good for a laugh - and a story-line.

Right up to the current day.

It's now thirty years since Gail's re-invented mother first put in an appearance in the Street, and twenty-four years since she became a permanent regular cast member.

Good old Audrey - far more interesting than a Dad who called Gail his "dizzy blonde" and a Mam who would have been shocked by her daughter being cited as co-respondent in a divorce case.

Monday, 20 July 2009

From Coronation Street To Beckindale...

Here's a few mid-1980s soap crossovers - from Corrie to Emmerdale Farm.

First, we see Sandra Gough, formerly Irma Ogden/Barlow of The Street, with Mr Wilks (Arthur Pentelow), Amos Brearly (Ronald Magill) and Malt Shovel landlord Ernie Shuttleworth (Peter Schofield). Sandra was playing Doreen, a saucy new barmaid at The Shovel, who soon had Mr Wilks drinking from her glass slipper. I kid you not. And who's that bloke on't far right of't picture? Surely, it's Joe Dawson, a brief-stint Corrie character of 1978, owner of Dawson's cafe in Rosamund Street? Peter Schofield stepped into the role of Beckindale's Ernie Shuttleworth in 1984.

Drinking from the barmaid's slipper... Amos was horrified!

Daily Mirror, January 14, 1984.

Joe Dawson, apparently about to get a biff on't beezer from that respected local businessman and councillor, Mr Leonard Frankland Fairclough.

Here's the very excellent Ruth Holden with the equally excellent Stan Richards. Ms Holden was once Vera Lomax, tragic daughter of Ena Sharples, who popped her clogs in the late 1960s. In Emmerdale Farm, Ruth took over the role of Meg Armstrong for a brief stint in 1986. The character was transformed from being Seth's downtrodden, long-faced Mrs, to a comic barmpot with a cleaning fixation who called Seth "poppet". Much to his dismay!

The Granada Studios Tour - Appearing In The Rovers!

Appearing in the Rovers by the miracle of chroma key. One has blanked out one's physog as one finds it displeasing.

This is isn't strictly about the '60s, '70s or '80s, but, did you know that, at the start of the 1990s, Granada Studios Tour in Manchester was offering, for a very small fee, a VHS cassette of your very good self, stood in the Rovers Return, nattering with Betty Turpin and that Mike Baldwin (you know 'im, little fella, thinks he's it!).

It was all achieved by something rather technical and rather wonderful called chroma key, and you never actually met Betty or Mike at all - you simply stood in a little cubby hole, waiting for your cues to speak. And at the end of it all, there you were, obviously superimposed, on video in a Rovers scene, yacking away about buying one of them posh new houses on't t'other side o't street.

It were lovely. And you could keep it and keep it again.

Simple pleasures? Have a heart: the World Wide Web, which opened computers up to the vast majority of us dimwits, wasn't even invented until 1989 and not up and running till the early '90s, so we had to do other, simpler, things to keep ourselves amused.

During my hotpot chroma key experience, I was so nervous I might miss a cue that I ending up sounding rather like Margaret Thatcher.

One of my lines was something like "I've been looking at the houses for sale," and it came across sounding flat, sombre and sinister, which was odd because in the recording booth I was sure I sounded like just the sort of neighbour anybody would love to have.

A former work colleague of mine visited the Granada Tours in 1989 and came back chanting: "Cue, Sally Webster, cue, Sally Webster, Sally Webster, cue..."

We've lost touch now and I never did get to the bottom of it.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

1983: Jack Duckworth And Vince St Clair Get A Contract - And A Home In Coronation Street...

Here we are, in the summer of 1983, and William Tarmey (Jack Duckworth) is still not a permanent Street regular...

Daily Mirror, June 15, 1983:

As Bill Tarmey walks towards the TV studios, an army of autograph-hunters surround him.

Surprisingly, they're not middle-age women, but teenagers and schoolkids.

And it's not the name of Bill Tarmey they want in their books. Or even Jack Duckworth. "Sign it from Vince," they scream.

For the past couple of years, Bill has had to get used to being called Jack Duckworth - the Jack-the-lad character he plays in Coronation Street. But since he got into trouble with his wife Vera for signing on at an escort agency as Vince St. Clair, the new name has suddenly caught on.

Bill says: "Everywhere I go, people call me Vince. It was all meant as a bit of fun in the scripts. But I'm not going to be able to live down Vince St. Clair in a hurry."

Tarmey has no long-term contract. But he pops up for a spell every few months in The Street - usually for a slanging match with wife Vera, Elsie Tanner's factory-mate.

"It's amazing the way the characters of Jack and Vera Duckworth have caught the public imagination," Bill says.

"The trouble is, every one thinks I really am like Jack Duckworth, who spends his life ducking and diving. And I'm quite the opposite."

Bill says: "I love the character. He's a bit of a head banger is Jack. I suppose you'd call him a lovable rascal."

So, no long-term contract for William Tarmey at the time of the Daily Mirror report on June 15th, although the viewers' interest in Jack Duckworth - and Vince St Clair - appeared to be booming.

But, move on a few days...

The Duckworths are going to be moving into Coronation Street!

Sunday People, June 19, 1983:

The move will arouse even more resentment against "the family the rest love to hate".

But for night-club singer Bill Tarmey, who plays Jack, it means a long-term contract in Britain's top soap opera - the chance of a lifetime.

That lifetime was almost cut short seven years ago when Bill, then 35, had a massive heart attack on the stage of a Manchester club.

"I thought it was the end, and that I'd never work again." he told me.

But helped by his wife Alma and showbiz friends, he returned to the club scene, and did some small walk-on parts in Coronation Street.

Then he played a tough-guy in The Strangers - the ITV thriller series - and really caught the eye of producers.

He was offered the part of dizzy Vera's husband and made an impact in the Street recently, posing as Vince St Clair at a video dating agency.

"Life has turned full circle for me, but that's showbiz," said Bill, who lives with Alma and their two children in Gorton, Manchester.