Thursday, 14 October 2010

1966 - Coronation Street In Australia...

Arrival in Australia: Pat Phoenix, Arthur Leslie and Doris Speed.

Coronation Street had been seen on-screen in Australia for three years, to avid response, and on 17 March 1966, Doris Speed, Pat Phoenix and Arthur Leslie (better known as Annie Walker, Elsie Tanner and Jack Walker to Street fans), together with the show's executive producer, Harry Kershaw, set out for "Down Under" to meet the fans on a three week tour. Granada Press Officer Norman Frisby was already there - having departed from England on 12 March. The tour came about via an invitation from the three Channel 9 stations which screened the show in Aus. - TCN 9 Sydney, GRV 9 Melbourne and NSW 9 Adelaide.

A wonderful first hand account of the trip exists in HV Kershaw's excellent book The Street Where I Live. First published to celebrate the show's 21st anniversary in 1981, an updated version was published in 1985 to celebrate the 25th anniversary.

Here's a brief extract:

The cynic might rightfully argue that the happy-go-lucky Lancashire bonhomie was now second nature to all "Coronation Street" artists but anyone looking down, say, at twenty thousand upturned smiling faces at the new City of Elizabeth and listening to their cheers of welcome could well have been forgiven for becoming a little 'difficult'. But Pat, Doris and Arthur stayed on an even keel. Not only did they carry out a gruelling programme, they each had time for the spontaneous gesture. I remember one morning in Adelaide, standing outside the Hotel Australia waiting with the party to move off on another well-filled day when a thirty-year-old woman pushed her way through the watching fans and nervously approached Pat Phoenix. Her mother, she explained, a great "Street" fan, was bed-ridden and, sorely disappointed at having missed a sight of her favourites, had asked if she might have an autograph.

'Where do you live?' asked Pat. The woman told her. 'Where's that?' Pat asked Rob Carless, our South Australian host. Five minutes away by car, said Rob. 'Come on!' said Pat and the surprised woman found herself being bundled into a limousine and driven home. Not that her surprise was anything to her mother's when, sitting up in bed she watched as the door opened and a glamorous, smiling Elsie Tanner popped her head round, said 'Hello, love! They tell me you're poorly!' and stayed for a chat and a cup of tea.

The secret of the tour's success was perhaps best summed up by a sardonic member of the Australian Press corps. We had been warned that the Aussie journalist was the most murderous of the breed but the trip was going so well we took our courage in both hands and agreed to a full-scale Press reception. The junket was held at the Great Eastern Hotel in Littlehampton in the hills above Adelaide and, after a wary start, artists, assassins and associates began to enjoy the boar's heads and barons of beef, the Foster's lager and the native (and excellent) champagne. At two o'clock in the morning I was buttonholed by a gaunt Pressman who pressed a glass of something-or-other in my hand and plied me with a few searching questions. Then he paused and looked at me.

'I'll tell you something!' he said. 'When we heard that you Poms were coming over we got out the knives and we sharpened them good. We were really going to carve you up!" His eyes flickered to Pat and Doris, fresh as the morning dew, Pat regaling one group with some tale of home, Doris holding court with another. And, between them, Arthur Leslie demonstrating to a bleary band of reporters the gentle art of opening a champagne bottle. 'But these bastards...!' the Pressman went on, his voice full of wonder, '... these bastards'd charm the birds from the bleedin' trees!'

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