Saturday, 26 September 2009

1983: Pat Phoenix At The Pineapple...

From the Daily Mirror, December 17, 1983:

Sad Elsie makes her exit

Near to tears, actress Pat Phoenix leaves a TV location after recording one of her last scenes as Elsie Tanner of Coronation Street.

Pat, who is quitting the series after twenty-three years, would not say a word as she walked away from the Manchester pub where the scene was shot.

She stretched out face-down on the seat of the mini-bus that whisked her to the Granada TV studios 300 yards away.

Elsie is invited to leave the Street by old flame Bill Gregory, played by Jack Watson.

Bill, who gave Elsie her first kiss in the series, returns to give her the last one and provide the cue for her exit lines.

He asks her to join him in a new life abroad.

Jack said later that the scene had been "quite emotional" for both of them.

Elsie's final street appearance will be screened on January 4.

Of course, Pat Phoenix had not been in Coronation Street for twenty-three years, as the article stated. She left the show in 1973 and returned in 1976.

The 1983 pub location used for the scene with Elsie Tanner and Bill Gregory was the Pineapple, in Water Street, just up the road from the Granada Television studios.

The Pineapple was also the location for The Street's first birthday celebration in December 1961.

The pub later closed down and was bought by Granada Television.

In 1986, it was used for pyrotechnic scenes during filming of the burning of the Rovers Return story-line.

Some time afterwards, it was demolished and the site became part of the Granada Studios TV Tour car park.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Worst Story-Lines... The 1980s... Rita's Amnesia, Alan Bradley And A Blackpool Tram...

The Rita Fairclough/Alan Bradley/tram story-line of 1989 prompted some folk to write in more recent years that Rita's amnesia had taken her back to the time before she married Len, because of her use of the name "Littlewood" on her singing engagement in Blackpool. Rubbish! Rita ALWAYS sang under her maiden name, which was also her stage name, even AFTER she married Len. During the 1989 story-line, her mind had actually retreated to an unstated time during her marriage to Len (1977-1983). She referred to Len being at home because of a heavy work load, asked Bet Gilroy how he was coping without her, said he was joining her at the weekend, and then stated, studying the hotel's breakfast menu: "I know what Len'd have: kippers. You know, he never can resist 'em and I never get them for him. Can't stand the smell of 'em." Before Rita married Len, she wasn't in the habit of planning or cooking his breakfasts! Another fact is that a close up view of the hotel register, shown as Alan Bradley searches for Rita, reveals that Rita had signed herself in as Rita Fairclough. She was in Room 14, by the way!

"Cecil" has written to ask me what are my worst story-lines of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s...


I'm not a great fan of the early '70s Street at all and I don't know all the ins-and-outs of the 1960s. I'll have to think about that.

But as for the 1980s...

I think Rita's 1989 amnesia story-line stank to high heaven.

The OTT '80s played host to a variety of soaps: in one corner we had the "Thatcher's killing everything good" stance of some of our homegrown soaps, in the other, the preposterously rich fashions and ludicrous story-lines of the American soaps - remember when the 1986 season of Dallas turned out to be a dream? Remember when Fallon was taken away by a flying saucer in The Colbys in 1987?

And then, in 1989, a gritty story-line involving Rita Fairclough took a Dynasty-style turn to the bizarre, and I was worried for good old down-to-earth Corrie's future.

Rita and Len Fairclough had fought tooth and nail over her desire to continue her singing career as Rita Littlewood on an occasional basis. Rita won, of course. In 1980, Len and Rita almost split up - Len actually struck her - and Rita fled to Blackpool.

They were reconciled and enjoyed a few very happy years, until Len's death in late 1983.

In 1989, with a certain Alan Bradley exerting something of a reign of terror over her, Rita fled to Blackpool again.

Only this time she had amnesia.

Rita thought she'd left Len at home with a heavy workload whilst she was on a singing engagement in Blackpool.

When Bet and Alec Gilroy tracked her down, Rita had no idea that these two old acquaintances of hers were married, and was worried about how Len was coping at home without her. Still, she was going to make it up to him - he was coming to Blackpool at the weekend.

"She's shut everything out of her mind since before Len died," said Alec.

Rita couldn't stand the smell of kippers, but the whole story-line smelt distinctly fishy to me. Amnesia seemed so outlandish as part of a Corrie plot. And it was a trusted standby of the loopy American soaps.

And with Corrie having recently gone three days a week at the time, I thought the quality was starting to suffer.

Finally, Rita was shocked out of 1982 - or wherever she was living (no specific year was given) when she was confronted by Alan Bradley, who tried to drag her into his car to take her back to Weatherfield.

And then, of course, he was hit by a tram.

Some friends of mine tell me that this story-line was one of Corrie's best. But I'm not convinced.

There was something about it that brought to my mind Krystle Carrington of Dynasty.

And the harrowing time Fallon was believed dead in Dynasty and then turned up, minus her memory, calling herself "Randall Adams" in The Colbys.

Mind you, compared to some of the things that have happened in Corrie since, Rita's 1989 skirmish with amnesia seems as down-to-earth as an entire episode devoted to Hilda Ogden's washing day!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Coronation Street In 1980 - The Fantasy And The Reality...

From the 1970 Coronation Street TV Times souvenir magazine: Denis Parkin's view of the Street in 1980. Inset, the reality.

And so, there we were, in 1970, and Corrie was celebrating its one thousandth episode. The TV Times had come up with a commemorative magazine - very much as it had for the wedding of Elsie and Steve Tanner in 1967.

In the 1970 magazine, Denis Parkin, the Street's original designer, gazed into the future to give us his view of the Street in 1980.

Let's take a look at Mr Parkin's 1970 view of 1980, and the state of affairs in the real 1980.

The Rovers was all set for change, apparently. A grand revamp. Microwave ovens had arrived on the scene (at a price) in the 1960s and the Rovers would, apparently, be selling microwaved scampi and chips in 1980. And the punters would be able to watch ITV 2 (European Super League Soccer!). The regulars (joined by the inhabitants of a new block of multi-storey flats round the corner), would be able to order drinks anytime between 10.30am and midnight.

Piffle and bunk.

The '70s were a time of financial dire straits, and The Rovers was still a clapped out old boozer in 1980. Weatherfield had dabbled in high rise blocks in the 1960s, but quickly dropped the concept. There was no new colossal round the corner.

In 1980, microwave ovens were still not affordable to the vast majority - hardly anybody had them. I remember when a city centre cafe installed one where I live in 1981 - some of us were terrified of radiation poisoning! The microwave came home to roost in the 1980s, but in 1980 the Rovers certainly didn't have one.

However, Annie Walker did increase the pub's menu in 1980 - offering soup. Boiled in a saucepan, of course!

There had been talk of ITV 2 since at least the 1960s. But it never actually arrived until November 1982, as Channel 4. Plus, the Rovers had no television set in the bar in 1980. And as for the licensing laws...

Let's clack on down the Street:

Number 1 was as unchanging as Albert Tatlock.

Number 3 saw some change in 1980 - Arnold Swain, "husband" of Emily Bishop, had a new front door put on.

Denis Parkin did not foresee the changes at No 5. This house was completely modernised at the behest of cockney businessman Mike Baldwin in 1976. It reflected one of the great fixations of the mid-1970s to mid-1980s: having the middle wall demolished and knocking two cosy rooms into one great big one.

Back to Denis Parkin, and Len Fairclough and Elsie Tanner had done great things to their homes by the fantasy 1980: the frontages of No 9 and No 11 had been jointly renovated, with "neat, airy metal framed windows, re-pointed brickwork, and fancy porches".

And in the real 1980? Well, no, lovey, there was no dosh to chuck about in the 1970s, and by 1980 the frontages of No 9 and No 11 were unchanged. In 1980, Len and Rita Fairclough came close to breaking up. Len "belted 'er one" and she fled to Blackpool. When Rita finally decided to return, Len installed new kitchen units for her and, if I remember rightly, central heating. But, curiously, the draughty old wooden sash windows remained unchanged.

At No 11, Elsie Tanner had already made changes to her home in the late 1960s, installing a new kitchen. In the early 1970s, she installed a new pink bathroom suite. Very Elsie.

We'll clatter on past the Ogdens, where Stan had installed a serving hatch in 1971, and take a look at the fantasy 1980 Corner Shop:

"The Corner Shop is unrecognisable. With the nearby flats bringing more people into the area, it has been changed into a supermarket."

And in the real 1980? No, it hadn't.

The fantasy 1980 Street had been generally "improved":

"...the council have moved in, sealed off the street to through traffic and created pretty pavement triangles with flower beds and a bench."

Sounds fabulous. But, sadly, it turned out to be cobblers. It was still cobbles and cracked paving slabs in 1980.

And lastly, Mr Parkin took his fantasy 1980 view of the Street under the viaduct:

"... beneath the viaduct, British Rail have developed the arches and turned them into shops. A flashy boutique sells the latest 1980 catsuits, and over the viaduct the 150m.p.h London-Manchester express glides by on the hour."

Sadly, in the depressed (and depressing) 1970s, the viaduct arch was still associated with rag and bone man Tommy Deakin and its biggest moment of fame (I mean infamy) was Deirdre Langton being "molested" under it in 1977.

The catsuit, beautifully worn by Diana Rigg in the 1960s series The Avengers, had given way to the boiler suit in 1980.


All in all, in 1980, the Street was a bit of a dump.

Very much as it was in 1970.

Pat Phoenix - Designer Clothes And The Magic Of Elsie Tanner

Elsie, in a knock-out outfit, welcomes her grandson, Martin Cheveski (Jonathan Caplan), to No 11.

I don't know what it was about Pat Phoenix...

We've all read things about how the actress liked to dress way beyond Elsie Tanner's means. It's noticeable that Elsie, at least from the late 1960s onwards, was often very smartly (or flamboyantly) dressed.

The clothes Pat often wore as Elsie were definitely things Elsie could simply not have afforded. Not that we, the working class TV audience, of the 1960s to mid-1980s knew much about designer clothing. But we did know that Elsie often looked striking.

Elsie herself once commented that she liked to "spend a bob or two on clothes," but she still couldn't have run to some of the outfits she sported.

Bill Podmore recounted a few "Elsie dresses up" instances in his book, Coronation Street - The Inside Story (1990), including her memorable return to the Street in a designer raincoat in 1976.

Pat said that her appearance gave hope to women viewers of her age, but Mr Podmore questioned how they could possibly have afforded to emulate her?

At the end of the day, it mattered not. Whenever Elsie appeared on-screen, I was utterly convinced by her. The integrity and passion of Pat Phoenix's portrayal of 'er from No 11 somehow transcended her often way upmarket dress sense.

Miss Phoenix somehow managed to make Elsie real, whatever she was wearing.

I think, if Elsie had waltzed downstairs in 1983, in full Joan Collins Dynasty rig-out, shoulder pads, the lot, I would have been taken aback.

But if she had sat down at her table, picked up a letter and said something along of the lines of "I see the postman's been. Flamin' Nora - the gas bill, that's all I need!" I'd have been convinced that Elsie was real and struggling along on the breadline.

I rarely watch soaps now. But when I do see them, I see actors and actresses dressed in far more convincing garb than Pat Phoenix when it comes to their characters' income bracket.

But none of them seem as convincing, or as downright watchable as Elsie.

Pat Phoenix was, in my very humble opinion, absolute magic!

1983: The Mystery Valentine...

Sunday People, February 13, 1983:


Valentine's Day will set hearts in a tizz down Coronation Street tomorrow.

Marion Willis gets a card from fiance Eddie Yeats, but Elsie Tanner is surprised to find her lodger, Suzie Birchall, also has received one.

The card was pushed through the door with no name on the envelope, says Suzie. Inside the saucy message reads:

"With your gorgeous red hair and sexy looks,

"You'll always be Number One in my books."

But red-head Elsie, alarmed, has her doubts. She exclaims: "No name on the envelope, you said? How long have you been the only one round here with red hair?"

And Marion agrees: "It could be for any one of us."

No wonder the Street's red-heads are all of a flutter!

Who remembers the outcome of this story-line? Which of the lovely Number 11 ladies of 1983 was the card intended for?

Coming Soon...

Eee, flamin' Nora... When you look back...

I were just thinkin' last night, whilst Jack were in't cludgie, about the time Ernie Bishop went to a stag night - complete with strippers... and one of 'em, "Miss Rising Blood Pressure 1976" seemed right taken with 'im...

Sadly, Ernie were married to "Miss Victoriana 1976" and she weren't best pleased to find out what he'd been up to...

Flippin' 'eck!

More soon...

Monday, 7 September 2009

Ena Sharples And The High Rise Photograph - The Details...

I had an e-mail the other day that said some very charming things about this blog.

Very appreciative indeed it was.

So, I chortled in reply:

"My dear! But of course - this is The Annie Walker, The Gatsby, The White Swan, The... er... Laughing Donkey of retro Corrie blogs. Nothing is spared, no expense spent, in our quest to bring you somethin' you might fancy 'avin' a bit of a read of every now and then."

And every word of what I wrote to my appreciative audience of one is absolutely true.

And so, in our great tradition of sheer ruddy brilliance, we bring you the full details of the Ena-Sharples-on-a-high-rise balcony-in-the-1960s photograph.

Ena found her tenure as live-in caretaker at the Glad Tidings Mission Hall threatened in 1966. So, where would she live now? In a high rise block, perhaps?

Photographer John C Madden took the high rise photograph of Ena. The so-called "slum clearances" in Manchester were well underway by the mid-1960s.

In Moss Side, the area near Cornbrook Street had begun its transformation in the early-to-mid 1960s. The first new high rise blocks were named after the old streets they were replacing - Pickford Street, Clifford Street and Grafton Street were commemorated as Pickford Court, Clifford Court and Grafton Court.

And so there in Moss Side it was that Violet Carson posed as high rise Ena. With the rest of the old neighbourhood still intact and the gloriously industrial-looking Hydes Brewery in the background, this was the ideal setting for Weatherfield, which, as you will recall, succumbed to a few high rise flats, but not many.

The wide, busy road in the Ena photo was Cornbrook Street. And it's absolutely vanished.

Ah, you screech, but Cornbrook Street still exists - so how could it have vanished? Well, actually, lovey, part of Cornbrook Street still exists. It used to continue on the other side of the junction with Chorlton Road and ran up to Moss Lane West.

The part of Cornbrook Street seen below Ena is now parkland and modern housing.

The religious-looking building in the photograph was St Bride's Church of England Primary School, and the street with the replaced roof tiles was Dudley Street.

The chimney pots and brewery on Moss Lane West can be seen in the smoggy distance.

It was a different world.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

1983: Fred Gee, Bet Lynch, Betty Turpin, A Car And A Lake...

Sunday Mirror, May 1, 1983:

Looking ahead to the week's TV:

Coronation Street, (ITV, 7.30). It's time for a Bank holiday spree. Fred Gee (Fred Feast) takes Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear) and Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) out for a whirl around the countryside and a picnic lunch. But it doesn't work out quite as it should.

One of my favourite Coronation Street story-lines of the 1980s was the "Car In The Lake Outing" of May 1983.

Rovers potman Fred Gee (Fred Feast), trying to be a wow with barmaid Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear), tempted her with an afternoon out - a picnic somewhere "nice". He'd take her in his Rover 2000 motor car - the one which had once belonged to Rovers landlady Annie Walker (Doris Speed).

Bet was quite keen on the idea of a picnic, but not at all keen on being alone with "Fred Face", and so invited her trusted colleague Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) along for the ride.

And a "ride" it certainly was, with the Rover ending up rolling into a lake - with Bet and Betty inside it.

And when Bet finally made it back to dry land, it wasn't that dry either - because dear old "Fred Face" dumped her down in a cow pat!

Of all the women Of Weatherfield in 1983, Betty Driver and Julie Goodyear were the most called upon in the courage and endurance stakes.

Recalling the filming of the "Car In The Lake" scenario in the book The Coronation Street Story (Daran Little, 1995), Julie Goodyear said:

"I had on a pink skirt, a jacket and a very flimsy T-shirt and some plastic beads and a pair of white high-heels, and they gave me a brown plastic bin-liner with two holes in it for my legs. I stepped into that and it was tied round my waist. And of course the water went up as soon as we went in and the bag was immediately filled with lake-water. The car sank and we were both waist-deep in very, very cold lake water."

Betty Driver gave her account of the watery saga:

"Now, me wellies were full of water to start with, and I said to Julie, 'There's a stickleback in the water here, dodging all around me. I hope to God it doesn't go anywhere else!' We were terrified and there was a swan swimming by and every time it passed the window it hissed at us and I thought it was going to attack us."

The sequence took two days to film, and Julie Goodyear and Betty Driver received congratulatory bottles of brandy from producer Mervyn Watson, with notes thanking them for their hard work.