Thursday, 27 May 2010

1989: The Duckworths' Stone Cladding - An Abomination?!

February, 1989: the cladding of No 9, Coronation Street...

After my recent post commemorating the 21st anniversary of the stone cladding at No 9, Val has written to say:

The cladding's an abomination! I've read it's coming off soon. High time - it looks ridiculous!

You sound like Prince Charles in 1984, Val - the "monstrous carbuncle" speech! I think the stone cladding is fun and although I never watch Corrie now, I'm glad it's still there - a tribute to Vera and the days when the show was a little quieter.

As for the cladding coming off, yes, I've heard it too.

Reminds me of the summer of 1989, when Donna, a work colleague and good pal of mine, went to Manchester for the Granada Studios Tour.

She returned, chanting: "Cue, cue, Sally Webster, Sally Webster!" and with the hot gossip that in a future story-line the Duckies' stone cladding was going to fall off!

Of course, it didn't.

Vera: "Great, ennit? Dead exclusive!"

Jack: "They'll all want it doin', yer know - I reckon every 'ouse in the street'll be after 'avin' it done!"

Vera: "Ooh, I 'ope not! No, if they all 'ave it done, well... won't stand out, will it?"

"Does that look straight to you?"

"When you cover one eye, it looks to go down at one side..."

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Death Of Martha Longhurst

Regular readers of this blog will know that my favourite Coronation Street era is the 1960s. Many modern day Street fans can't understand this, some declare that the crackling old black and white episodes and occasional rough edges are interesting, even enjoyable, but find it hard to cope with the sometimes naff sound quality and the fact it was in black and white until 1969.

"Black and white? Well really!! How... how... archaic..."

Others feel, as I do, that the Street lost some of its grittiness when it went into colour, and that the golden era was definitely, beyond any shadow of a doubt, its first decade.

Watching Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) confronting Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix) in the street whilst the Salvation Army band played, Mr Swindley (Arthur Lowe) and Miss Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire) struggling along at Gamma Garments, or Valerie Barlow (Anne Reid) being confronted by an escaped convict in her own home, absorbs me far more than anything that came later.

And yet I'm too young to actually remember the '60s era in the show!

Thank goodness for VCRs (the Street's very first video release, which contained early 1960s episodes, dates back to 1982) and DVDs, which have both given us wonderful opportunities to witness the Street as it was in the black and white days. Thanks also to the three Coronation Street novels written by HV Kershaw in the 1970s - all set in the 1960s, which, along with a special clips episode of the show, featuring Annie Walker (Doris Speed) and Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) reminiscing, first aroused my interest in the mighty first decade.

The '60s had great comedy (contrary to Wikipedian myth, the Ogdens had wonderful comic story-lines from their very early days onwards), and brilliant drama. The acting was usually top-notch and still makes a tremendous impact on viewing the episodes all these years later.

Wondrous days.

A grotty backstreet with a nice publican and his snobbish wife, a grumpy old First World War veteran, a cheeky scouse rascal with a flat cap, a pompous lay preacher, a gossipy little shrew in curlers, and a dress shop employee who was "no better than she ought to be"!

What a setting! As Mary Malone of the Daily Mirror once wrote:

The Street is either a place you would like to live in or be glad you got out of. It is intimate, nosey, brutally sharp-spoken, and no-one gets away with a thing.

And in the middle of all the action, often desperately craning their necks to find out the exact details, sat three old ladies in the Snug of The Rovers Return - one, the leader, a hair-netted battle axe, one a cat-loving whimsical sweety, and the third a vinegary feeder on the misfortunes of others.

The three old ladies were, of course, the aforementioned Ena Sharples, Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant) and Martha Longhurst (Lynne Carol).

They provided the Street with some of its funniest scenes ever, and were a tremendously popular ingredient in the show's already rich brew.

They reigned supreme from 1960 to 1964.

Illustration from a Coronation Street jigsaw puzzle - c. 1963: the scene is Rosamund Street. Gamma Garments can be seen in the background (was Mr Papagopolous visiting that day, we wonder?!) and outside Minnie Caldwell helps her beloved Bobby across the road, with Albert Tatlock officiating as lollipop man. Martha Longhurst and Ena Sharples look on.

Eee, the old Snug days...

Gossip and milk stout. Fierce arguments and milk stout. Ramblings about Bobby the cat and milk stout.

It was bliss.

And then, in May 1964, Martha Longhurst died of a heart attack all alone at the table the three ladies usually shared in the Snug bar.

An absolutely stunning tragedy for the show and its viewers.

And with the actress Lynne Carol, who played Martha, in good health and happy to continue in the role at the time, it's a puzzle to work out why it happened.

What was going on?

During the reign of producer Tim Aspinall, a decision was taken to shake-up the show. Coronation Street had taken a slight tumble in the ratings, and several established characters, including Florrie Lindley (Betty Alberge), Frank Barlow (Frank Pemberton) and Concepta and Harry Hewitt (Doreen Keogh and Ivan Beavis) were to be written out.

And Martha.

Some who faced the axe - including Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth) and Ken Barlow (William Roache) - were reprieved, but Martha was not so lucky.

Lynne Carol came from a family containing six generations of actors. She was born in Usk, Monmonthshire, where her parents were on tour in a stage play.

Miss Carol auditioned for the role of outgoing Corner Shop keeper Elsie Lappin in November 1960. She didn't get it, but instead was awarded a week's work as a temporary character called Martha Longhurst.

Upon leaving the Granada TV studios after completing her week's stint, Lynne Carol was stopped by Margot Bryant, who remarked that Martha had a lot to say in next week's scripts.

This came as news to Miss Carol, who was not even aware that Martha was in the following week's episodes!

Had the part been recast? She returned to her dressing room to find the script for the following week awaiting her.

Martha was vinegary and not the kindest of souls. But she was also quite a sad character. She doted on her daughter Lily and Lily's husband Wilf, and boasted of their achievements to her friends, but truth to tell Lily and Wilf simply saw Martha as a free babysitter - when they saw her at all.

One had the feeling that, given a bit of care and attention, Martha might have been very different.

But it was not forthcoming.

And so there she was, taking on a cleaning job at The Rovers to eke out her meagre pension, and living alone in misery at Mawdsley Street.

Martha: "You know, the more I think about the way Ena's behaving, the madder I get. I wouldn't care, but I know for a fact that in her own mind she thinks she's beautiful."

Lynne Carol said of her character: "She is such a pathetic old thing, you can't help feeling sorry for her. She is crusty and very disappointed with life. She has a daughter she idolises, but who is clearly not interested in her. But underneath, Martha is quite a sweet old soul, though the sweetness doesn't get much chance to come out."

In early 1964, the Corrie cast read newspapers rumours of cast changes to come, but were told by Granada to ignore them.

Lynne Carol recalled a few years later:

"At one time there were about ten of us supposed to be due for the axe. We read rumours about it in some of the newspapers, but we were told by Granada not to take any notice of the Press because they didn't know what they were talking about. But it turned out the Press were right. The artists themselves knew nothing about it until quite suddenly one day when a number of us were told, 'You, you, you and you... are all going out!' "

Violet Carson protested strongly to Granada against Martha's proposed demise: "You cannot take one of Ena's cronies away from her. Martha is essential to Ena."

In the story-line, Martha's death tied-in with the farewell story-line of another of the Street's original characters: Frank Barlow had come up on the Premium Bonds and was celebrating his good fortune and planned move to Bramhall with a party at The Rovers.

Martha had gone along to the party, clutching her brand new passport. Lily and Wilf had invited her to go with them and their kids on holiday to Spain.

It was a moment of glory for poor Martha, despite Ena's taunts that she was only wanted as a babysitter and wouldn't be seeing much of Spain outside of the hotel room.

At Frank's party, nobody seemed that interested in Martha's passport.

And she didn't feel well.

No, she didn't feel well at all.

As Ena led the regulars in a sing song round piano, Martha retreated to the Snug and sat down at the old familiar table.

Eileen Derbyshire, the Street's Emily Nugent/Bishop, recalled many years later:

"Even at the filming, everybody was having that outside hope that there would be a reprieve for Lynne Carol the actress and Martha the character. There was this terrible double bind of having to be singing and laughing whilst your throat was being constricted by the tears. It was a really horrible emotional experience."

Despite the hopes still flickering at that late point, there was to be no reprieve.

In the little Snug bar, Martha was overcome by a heart attack. Knocking her best hat from her head, revealing her hair net, she slumped down on to the table, all her dignity gone.

And her life.

Peter Adamson, the Street's Len Fairclough, bet five pounds that Granada would not go through with Martha's death story-line. It was Len who pronounced Martha dead in the Snug at The Rovers, and he deliberately paused before delivering the fatal line, so that it could be cut and Martha rushed to recovery in hospital.

Said Lynne Carol a few years later:

"It seemed like an eternity waiting for Peter to say that last, awful line. I can remember lying there thinking, 'Well, say something, mate, if it's only goodbye!' "

The episode complete and in a state of some distress, Lynne Carol joined her husband, the actor Bert Palmer, who was also working at Granada at that point. He retrieved Martha's hat and glasses from the Coronation Street set (they belonged to Lynne) and made a cine film of Martha's death from the television screen the night the episode was broadcast, 13 May, 1964.

Miss Carol said of Martha's death and funeral episodes: "It's a funny thing to watch yourself dying on the screen. I don't think the death was morbid, but the way they did the funeral was outrageously morbid. They took the body through all the rubble of the back streets. It was depressing."

Interviewed about her ousting from the Street later in the 1960s, Lynne Carol said:

"I didn't blame Tim [Aspinall] particularly. Everyone passed the buck. Nobody would really admit who was responsible for the sweeping changes they made in 1964. It was, as far as I'm concerned, Mr Nobody who ordered the big reshuffle."

In 1981, HV Kershaw's book, The Street Where I Live, stated that the decision had been Mr Aspinall's, and Mr Kershaw lamented the decision, pointing out that the famous trio had been reduced to "a rather sad duet" because of it - and that many future stories had been denied the writers. But, balancing out this negative aspect of Mr Aspinall's reign, Mr Kershaw also pointed out that Stan, Hilda and Irma Ogden - "the best dramatic inventions since the original characters were conceived by Tony Warren" - had been introduced during that time. And Mr Aspinall had been largely responsible for their casting and characterisations.

Corrie Producer Bill Podmore appeared with Lynne Carol on the BBC's Open Air programme in 1988, to pay tribute to the recently deceased Margot Bryant. Ironically, Miss Carol could still have been appearing in the Street as Martha at that point, preserving a link to the original trio of the early years.

Mr Podmore and Miss Carol discussed the idea of her reappearing in the show as Martha's twin sister, who had been living in Australia. The idea never came to fruition.

For many years, the killing of Martha has been seen by many as the greatest mistake ever made in Corrie's history.

And watching Ena Sharples and Minnie Caldwell together in the Rovers in later years, it was evident that something rather wonderful had been lost. They really were, as HV Kershaw stated, "a sad duet".

On one occasion, in the early 1970s, Ena asked Minnie if she was looking after herself. Minnie assured her that she was.

"Good!" replied Ena. "Because there aren't that many of us left!"

After leaving the Street, Lynne Carol bought a house near Blackpool's South Shore.

She named it "Longhurst".

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Lynne Carol, 1914-1990.

Monday, 24 May 2010

1989-2010: 21 Years Of The Stone Cladding...

With a bit of dosh to spend (if they were lucky) some working class folks did lovely things to their houses in the 1980s - "the decade of style".

Ooh, 'eck! We missed an important anniversary here at Back On The Street. Something that happened in the very crucial year of 1989.

Nope, we're not talking about the invention of the World Wide Web, the Fall of the Berlin Wall or the launch of Sky TV. Sure, they were all "crucial" events of 1989 - and their 21st anniversaries are well worth marking - but the event we have in mind makes those things pale into insignificance.

In February 1989, Mrs Vera Duckworth (Liz Dawn), a resident of No 9 Coronation Street since 1983, had her house covered in stone cladding.

Thus ensuring that the neighbourhood was set on an "upwardly mobile" path.

Just look at the posh houses which were built opposite later in 1989!

Would builder Maurice Jones ever have chosen that site if Vera hadn't made the grotty little terrace opposite so attractive?

We're so sorry we forgot the anniversary. It's unforgivable of us and a right kick in't teeth to't memory of the lovely Vera.

Sorry, chuck!

To make amends, we've included a "lovely" photograph in this post of the most attractive house in Coronation Street, taken when the Duckworths were still in residence. The handsome guy at the door (we've blanked out his face because he's too devastatingly good looking to be seen on-line) is the chief cook and bottle washer of this blog, calling round for a cuppa and a natter with Vera a few years back.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Kathy Jones - Coronation Street's Tricia Hopkins - New Website

Kathy Jones sings, 1976.

Via Flaming Nora at the very excellent Coronation Street Blog, comes news that Kathy Jones, the Street's Tricia Hopkins in the 1970s, has started her own website.

This is a welcome development. Tricia was a favourite character of mine when I was a kid "back in the day", and I was sorry to see her departure from the show in 1976.

As well as having a family that ran the Corner Shop for a time (remember her brilliantly monstrous granny?!), Tricia was a great pal to Gail Potter (Helen Worth).

When they weren't arguing, that is!

Picture it, Weatherfield, 1976:

Tricia Hopkins (Kathy Jones) and Gail Potter (Helen Worth) are working together in the Corner Shop. Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) has just come into the shop to make a purchase, and the recently-returned Elsie Howard (Pat Phoenix) is the subject of conversation.

Tricia thinks that Gail is jealous of Elsie's glamorous appearance. Gail is outraged.

Gail: "Jealous?! What, of somebody 'er age?!!"

Tricia: "I'd like to see you when you're 'er age. You're grotty enough now!"

Gail: "Have you seen yourself lately?!"

Ena (annoyed): "Look, I don't like to break up a first class row, but would somebody give me a packet of tea?"

Tricia: "I've 'ad a sickener round 'ere just lately - no money, no job..."

Tricia left the Street in 1976 - the character was a victim of the grim unemployment situation of the time. Although she only moved to the other side of Weatherfield, back home to her parents' house, she was never seen in The Rovers again - which was a shame - I thought she was a very natural character, and she balanced beautifully with Gail. Whilst Tricia was down-to-earth and enjoyed a good moan about life, Gail tended to be far more dreamy, her head a bit in the clouds.

I remember Tricia fondly, and I also remember Kathy in the children's show A Handful Of Songs, which my two little sisters always enjoyed.

Good luck to Kathy with her new website.

You can see it here.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Coronation Street - Newspaper Quiz Fun, '81!

Tabloid Street fun from 1981! The Sun, October 31, 1981, featured two quiz questions with Street relevance.

This sultry young lady later found fame playing the notorious femme fatale in one of Britain's most popular telly serials.

She is still* getting in her six pennyworth in the long-running show. Who is she?

*Remember, this was 1981!

Don't bother to write or phone - if you don't know the lady concerned, then I'd be very surprised indeed!


Fancy yourself the champ in your family at knowing all the top talent on telly? Here's your chance to find out just how good you are.

Just crack the clues to come up with the right names. And we've even given you some pictures to make things a little easier.

Well. 'er in't curlers is easy to recognise. That's 'er from Number 13. But do you know the other hot celebrities of 1981?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Uttered In The '80s - Part 6...

Audrey Potter (Sue Nicholls) had never had it so good! Having secured her desired status in life by marrying Mr Alfred Roberts (Bryan Mosley) in 1985, she soon found herself mistress of her own castle at No 11 Coronation Street.

And mistress of her own hair salon, too, as the front room became Weatherfield's answer to Teasy-Weasy.

The idea of moving into No 11 hadn't appealed at first, but Audrey had finally found some security and status in life and was blissfully happy.

The front room at No 11 became a centre for fun and gossip, as well as 1980s shaggy perms, and one day Audrey managed to get prickly Percy Sugden (Bill Waddington) to try on a wig she was selling.

Of course, he was not impressed. Even less so when Hilda Ogden (Jean Alexander) and Mavis Riley (Thelma Barlow) arrived.

Mavis was there for an appointment, but told Mr Sugden that she didn't want to interrupt his wig fitting.

Percy was outraged! "You want your bumps feeling - all of you!"

Audrey, to whom most things had a naughty connotation, intervened: "Now, keep the party clean!"

Percy exited, in high dudgeon.

Mavis, slightly embarrassed, moved to put Audrey right:

"I think he means the bumps on your head. It's called phrenology!"

"Well, either that or he needs arresting!" said Hilda, highly amused.

Audrey got back to business.

"Well come on, Mavis my petal, follow me!"

"Where to?"

"Upstairs to wash your silken locks. I'm not equipped for it down 'ere, yer see!"

Mavis was slightly taken aback - she hadn't expected to have her hair washed in Audrey's private bathroom. "Oh, right!"

And Audrey continued: "If you 'appen to see Alf's spare dentures, just shut yer eyes - even Vidal Sassoon 'ad to start somewhere!"

Monday, 3 May 2010

Ida Clough - Unsung Heroine Of The Street

Looking through my newspaper collection this morning, I was very happy to find the above photograph of Helene Palmer - the Street's Ida Clough from 1978 to 1988 - and for several years in the mid-to-late 1990s.

Ida was one of my favourite Street characters "back in the day". She didn't follow the route of her two colleagues at Baldwin's sweat shop, Ivy Tilsley (Lynne Perrie) and Vera Duckworth (Liz Dawn) by eventually moving into the Street, which I thought was a shame, but nevertheless Ida was excellent.

And so real. I could just imagine her in the queue at my local pork butcher's, or popping into my local to meet her pals before going on to bingo.

Ida was the mother of Bernard (Jeffrey Longmore) - something of a gormless puddin' - and the beautifully cartoonish Muriel (Angela Catherall), I'm sure the Cloughs would have made their mark as Street residents.

Ida/Helene newspaper and magazine articles are few and far between, so I was especially pleased to find the one featured here, in the Sunday People, September 4, 1983.

Helene Palmer had been successfully dieting, and so the People decided to give her a glam makeover to celebrate.

"Even Mike Baldwin wouldn't recognise me now!" said Helene.