Saturday, 30 October 2010

1983: Pat Phoenix

Sunday People, December, 1983: partying with Pat - spot the famous faces!

Elsie Tanner left Coronation Street very quietly on 4 January 1984. As she took a last stroll up the Street, her mind lurched back to the 1960s and confrontations with Ena Sharples, Annie Walker and son Dennis. Then she was whisked away in a taxi.

In reality, Pat Phoenix's decision to leave Coronation Street was anything but quiet, the whole nation was saddened, and behind the scenes Pat invited many of her Street cast pals to a big party to celebrate her sixtieth birthday and engagement to actor Anthony Booth.

Pat was looking forward to the Phoenix spreading its wings again and had even more reason to celebrate, as the Sunday People, December 4, 1983, revealed:

There's a special expression of happiness on the face of Pat Phoenix as she whoops it up at her joint sixtieth birthday and engagement party.

It's the look that says clearly, it's just great to be alive!

For six tormenting weeks Britain's most enduring sex symbol has lived in fear... of having cancer of the breast.

And it was only days before the star-spangled party thrown by her fiancé Anthony Booth that the Coronation Street legend learned she had been worrying needlessly.

Her doctor told her that the troublesome lump was only a fibroid.

"I've never been more relieved," said Pat, showing off her specially-designed ten-diamond engagement ring.

"When I found the lump I kept quiet and I didn't tell the doctor. I couldn't bear the thought of anybody messing about with me. At the same time I wanted to know what was wrong."

Eventually Pat, who is coming to the end of her 23-year career as the Street's colourful Elsie Tanner [Andy's note: less than 23 years in reality. Pat had also left the Street once previously and was absent from 1973 to 1976], confided in fiancé Tony. He helped convince her to go to her G.P.

"I asked the doctor for a straight answer and he said: 'Don't worry, it's not what you think.'

"All I needed was a course of tablets to dispel the lump. As he handed me the pills, the doctor added, 'And don't go and flush them down the toilet.'

"But I've been very good. It's wonderful to know I've nothing to worry about."

As the champagne corks popped at the party, in a Cheshire hotel, Pat told of her plans as a pensioner.

"Although I've collected my first perk, a concessionary bus pass - I deserve it after all the tax I've paid! - I'm not planning to slow down," she said.

"Tony and I will go on working and enjoying every minute of it until we drop.

"Life really begins at 60 - and I'm going to prove it."

Pat has theatre, TV and radio work lined up. She and live-in lover Tony are co-starring in a mystery-thriller at Eastbourne next summer.

"I still love life and enjoy being an actress," said Pat. "OK, I can't go to parties every night of the week then go into work, like I used to, but life is better in many other ways.

"It's taken Tony and me a long, long time to grow up and I'm not even sure we have done now.

"There's none of the daftness or silly pride between us that you have when you're younger.

"If we're having a row, one of us will say, 'Is this serious?' And usually we end up laughing."

Pat puts her youthful looks down to a zest for life. And she has been taking a yeast-based tonic three times daily for 16 years.

"Half the rest of the cast are on it now," she said.

"I don't diet, but I try to eat sensibly, and I swim."

Pat will be sad to leave her friends in the Street.

"But I haven't been too happy recently. Elsie is played out. She hasn't been getting the story lines and I've been feeling tired of her.

"I've had hundreds of letters from fans begging me to stay. One old dear even said she felt her own life was over. That saddened me."

Pat has also received a "come back" offer from Granada chairman Sir Denis Forman.

Shortly after she told the company she did not wish to renew her contract he invited her to tea.

"Sir Denis said the door was wide open for me to pop back from time to time," said Pat.

"He is a lovely person and it was a very nice thing for him to say. I suppose I could take up the offer if I wasn't working on something else.

"But for the present... I'm a bit of a gypsy and I've got to move on.

"The security of the Street is fine - but my happiness is more important."

In 1985, Pat said:

"Not bad for a pensioner, am I? And why not, I've got the best relationship I've ever had in my life, I'm doing all the work I want, earning all the money I'll ever need, and I'm enjoying everything I do."

We all know that tragedy was just around the corner, with a genuine diagnosis of cancer - lung cancer - in March 1986 and Pat's death in the September of that year, but I draw some crumbs of comfort from reading interviews with Pat before then, and the fact that she seemed to be enjoying life. I also draw comfort from the fact that her decision to leave the Street because she was dissatisfied with Elsie Tanner - the second time she had done so - had this time given her some happiness.


  1. Here's an Elsie question; if she was born Elsie 'Grimshaw' ('Tanner' when she moved into No.11) is she any relation to the current Grimshaws in No.11?
    I am slowly reading your entire blog, but backwards, so I'm sorry if you've already touched on this.

  2. I think it's a lovely touch and there's a possibility there is a link, but I really don't know. As far as I know, it's never been stated.

  3. I remember Elsie Tanner from watching with my mother when I was young. I always liked her character. Was interested to read what had happened to her. Many thanks.