Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Speak Easy - July 2013

Got something to say? Well, spit it out, chuck! Here, your voice can be heard. Well, read really... 

Thanks for all communications received... here's a little round-up of recent goodies...

Firstly, thanks to Kevin, who e-mailed us about the late actor Paul Lowther, Colin Jackson in The Street in 1981. Kevin sent us a later publicity photograph of Paul, and recalls living in a shared house in Balham, "Gateway To The South", London, with him in the mid-1980s. He remembers having great fun acting jokingly about life up North with Paul. Thanks for that, Kevin! As we said before, we were very impressed with Paul's portrayal of Colin Jackson and wished the character had become a regular on the Weatherfield scene.

Pauline asks:

Why did Coronation Street employ a full-time archivist, but still messed about with the age of the Barlow twins in 1978?

It's a puzzle, Pauline! We do know that archivist Eric Rosser disagreed with the move. We can only imagine that Bill Podmore and co didn't want to wait until the character would have been old enough before launching the story-line about Peter Barlow wishing to join the Navy. As we say, the Barlow twins' age was righted in 1986, when they celebrated their twenty-first birthday and as far as we know further such tweakings of established facts (or retcons as they become known in the world of popular fiction during the 1980s) were resisted until the 1990s.

 Craig asks:

When did Annie Walker retire? I've read 1984, but I've also read that Doris Speed last appeared in 1983.

Easy one, this, Craig. Doris Speed last appeared on-screen in October 1983, when the actress disappeared from the show due to ill health. It was hoped that she would return, so Annie didn't actually retire from the Rovers until 1984.

Sara says:

I'm looking forward to your "Once Around Weatherfield" feature as I fancy trying my hand at writing a biography of a minor character. When do you think the first part will appear? Keep up the good work, by the way!

Cheers, Sara! The first "Once Around Weatherfield" challenge will appear next week, so please stay tuned.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

1984: The Other Side Of Alf Roberts...

Bell: DING! Corner Shop customer: "Oooh, Alf! What 'ave you got on?"

Alf: "I'm doing me New Romantic today. Barm cake is it, lovey?"

Customer: "Barm CAKE? Barm POT more like!"

We were great fans of the character of Alf Roberts here at Back On The Street, especially during his 'Corner Shop cornerstone' era of 1980 to the early 1990s. There was summat about Alfie being the main person behind that shop counter... as Street producer Bill Podmore once said, he was "a Mr Green the grocer waiting to happen if ever there was one", and, although essentially not a very exciting character, he was a brilliant example of Mr Average, played with great integrity and skill by actor Bryan Mosley. We loved Alfie.

But as for exciting, impulsive, etc, etc, well, no he wasn't, lovey. But Bryan Mosley was not Alf, as Weekend magazine revealed in May 1984:

Did you know that Bryan Mosley was a founder member of the Society of British Fight Arrangers? He taught the likes of actors Terence Stamp and Tom Courteney how to handle a rapier and sabre. Couldn't see Alfie doing that, could you? Anyway, back to the Weekend magazine article for some edited highlights...

There's more to Bryan Mosley than the staid shopkeeper of Coronation Street

It's always a dull day for Alf Roberts in Coronation Street. He's about as interesting as the rows of baked beans in his corner shop.

That's how most people, even the show's diehard fans, see poor old Alf, who is played by Bryan Mosley. Alf's never happy unless he's worrying about something and despite having man-mad Bet Lynch as a lodger, his only excitement is going off to a council meeting.

But he doesn't have to be a bore. He could be lively, witty - even a bit of a ladies' man. That's what the man who knows him best reckons. Bryan Mosley should know. He's been Alf for more than 20 years and feels that the character has become a forgotten soul.

That could all change this year. Will leap year's tradition of encouraging women to propose to the men they fancy bring romance into Alf's loveless life? He's not had much luck with his amorous adventures since Renee, his screen wife, died - in spite of a brief skirmish with Gail Tilsley's mother (played by Sue Nicholls).

"Alf did actually propose to her," says Bryan. "But secretly I think he was rather relieved when she turned him down. It would have been an uneasy alliance although it might have livened old Alf up a bit. He certainly needs that."

He chugs through the least dynamic lines of script, making as much of Councillor Roberts as he can but convinced that the character has hidden depths.

"I see Alf as a man with hobbies - like studying for an Open University course or wood-whittling. I know he collects magazines about the two world wars bought from Rita Fairclough's Kabin and I suspect he is fairly knowledgeable on the subject but nobody ever does find out.

"Once in the early days he fell out with a character called Brian Rawlinson who insulted a pal of his. Alf laid into him furiously and had to be pulled off by Len Fairclough. And remember the first thing that he and Renee did after returning from their honeymoon? They had a blazing row. But these days Alf never seems to lose his cool."

Beneath the calm, predictable character, Bryan thinks that Alf is pretty lonely - secretly looking over the available women in The Street.

"I don't think that it's only marriage that he is after - a steady companion and a bit of affection would be enough, I feel."

Well, there's always dear old dependable Mavis Riley (played by Thelma Barlow) who's got the biggest library of Mills and Boon romances. "Oh, no. Definitely. She's not Alf's fancy at all. There's no way they could get together."

Bryan thinks that Alf would prefer a younger version of Annie Walker as his 'steady'. "Annie has a snobbish attitude, but Alf enjoyed her company when she was his Lady Mayoress, because she shares his sense of decorum."...

He has plenty of fan letters and proposals from women who see Alf as their ideal mate: "They write saying he's cosy and comfortable, reliable and solid," he says, "and their idea of a perfect husband.

"But I think Alf would rather stay as a batchelor, with a few more flirtations and the chance of finding the companionship he needs. He's very fond of Deirdre you know. Her presence in the shop brightens him up no end and she brings out his sense of humour.

"I'm happy to play Alf. He's a friend and a cornerstone in the dramas of The Street."

So he was. And we loved him for it. We always loved Alfie, but the era 1980-1993 stands as our favourite for the character. We never thought his marriage to Renee worked (although we loved Renee too - as an individual!), but from 1980-1985 the shop scenario settled with Alfie, joined by Deirdre, behind the counter to become a lovely cosy part of Street life. In 1985, things certainly livened up for Alf when the dear old 1960s-style shop went all modern as a mini-market and he married wonderfully awful Aud. 

But he remained the dedicated shopkeeper - a natural Mr Green the grocer, just as Bill Podmore had envisaged.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Tracy Langton/Barlow - The Way She Was...

Christabel Finch, seen here in a signed photograph from the early '80s, was the very first Tracy Langton. The photo made me think of the first few years of Tracy's life, back in the days when soap operas were so much less sensationalised and so much more sane. Well, usually!

Poor little Tracy Langton! Born in January 1977 to proud parents Ray and Deirdre (Deirdre wanted to call her Lynette but Ray baulked at that as a first name and registered her as Tracy Lynette), this little girl soon found life was a bit of a puzzle.

In 1978, Tracy's loving daddy moved away to Holland, and, in 1979, she and her mum moved from No 5 Coronation Street to live next door at No 3 with "aunty" Emily Bishop. 1980 brought another change of residence, as Emily married Arnold Swain (or thought she did) and Deirdre and Tracy relocated to the flat above the Corner Shop, where Deirdre began work after the death of Alf Roberts's wife, Renee.

1981 brought yet another move, with Deirdre marrying Ken Barlow and moving with Tracy into that glorious museum piece, No 1 - home of Mr Albert Tatlock, grouch of that parish.

So, by the time she was five, our Tracy (luv) had lived in four different locations in one tiny terrace. What a feat!

But, apart from that, life was pretty simple for Tracy back then. Wasn't it?

Hmmm... well...

In the late 1970s, as well as her father walking out on her, she was kidnapped from outside the Rovers Return, moments before a lorry careered out of control and hit the pub. And in the early 1980s she managed to lock herself in the lavatory at the Corner Shop. What a calamity!

More on the early life and times (and changing faces) of our Tracy soon.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

On The Menu To Celebrate the 2000th Episode...

Here's the Sun newspaper's wonderful cartoon image of Ena Sharples jumping out of a cake to celebrate the 2000th episode of Coronation Street in 1980. But what was REALLY on the celebration menu? Well, we took a peek, and would you believe there wasn't a barm cake to be had? Nope, the big nosh-up included smoked salmon, saddle of lamb and "strawberry surprise" (whatever THAT was!).

Eee, lovey, weren't it posh?!

The mouth watering menu for the great 2000th episode celebration...

Friday, 5 July 2013

Colin Jackson - Played By Paul Lowther

What the Mrs doesn't know... Colin Jackson (Paul Lowther) faces a stressful time at the Tilsleys' in 1981.

I've had a couple of enquiries about the "Once Around Weatherfield" Quiz, and so have decided to demonstrate how it should work, using the first character selected, Colin Jackson, played by the late Paul Lowther.

The idea is to identify the pictured character and the actor concerned in each instalment of the quiz, and then write a piece about the character, the story-line and the actor who played the role. It must be as accurate as you can make it, but you can include your opinions - as long as you make it plain that they ARE your opinions, and a spot of humour never goes amiss. This, to show how it's done, is my piece on Colin Jackson and actor Paul Lowther.

Colin Jackson turned up in the Street's story-line in May 1981, the husband of Sue, played by Kate Lock. Sue was a friend of Gail Tilsley's and a neighbour on the Buxton Close estate, where Gail and Brian lived with their baby son, Nicky.

Sue sat at home "staring at the walls", while Colin worked as a salesman - selling fitted kitchens. Colin had done his time as an electrician, and made it plain to Gail and Brian that he had "drive". Sue was quite a strong person herself, but seemed happy to let Colin make the decisions. For instance, there would be no baby until they had a video tape machine (very expensive in those days and very rare in the nation's living rooms!) and a larger house. Sue thought that the estate was snobbish, that people walked by your house pricing up your curtains, and was glad to have found a friend there in Gail.

Colin was of the "I Love Myself, Who Do You Love?" breed of men. He fancied himself something rotten, and thought that Gail fancied him too.

The Jacksons seemed rather more modern than the Tilsleys, and were something of a breath of fresh air. It was good to see other residents of Buxton Close, and to break away a bit from the financial worries and squabbles of Gail and Brian.

Unfortunately, the Jacksons didn't last long. Colin offered to fix Brian's record player, and when Gail said he'd be useful if the TV went wrong, Colin took it as a green light to make a pass at her. He leeringly told her that she should tell Sue he was needed to attend to the TV (or "the box" as he called it), clearly inferring that would be a cover for something quite different, if she wanted him to visit. For some reason, Gail (I would have thought she'd have had some inkling of trouble brewing after Roy Thornley - she wasn't exactly Snow White) did not pick up on Colin's double meaning, and the next thing we knew was that the Tilsleys and Jacksons were off on a riverside picnic together.

Once again, Colin made comments to Gail that most 1980's women would have seen for exactly what they were, like the fact he'd rub her sun tan lotion in if ever she wanted him to, but Gail was blissfully oblivious.

Get the feeling Gail was a bit of a plank?

Colin made his pass at Gail after the picnic, with Brian out at work for the evening. Gail was outraged and slapped his face. Colin retreated, but the next day caught up with her while she was out with Nicky, and asked her not to tell Sue. She said she wouldn't.

Colin heaved a huge sigh of relief, which made my wonder about his feelings for his wife. He clearly DID value his marriage, and I wondered about the Jacksons' relationship. It seemed fertile ground for further exploration, and I was impressed by the energy and sensitivity the actor brought to the role.

Playing a cad is not easy! Stopping the cad from becoming a stereotype, particularly with rather a thin script (the Jacksons, being brief stayers, were not very rounded characters) is even harder.

Sue wanted Gail and Brian to go away for the weekend with her and Colin. She and Colin visited them and Sue was determined to get them to say yes. Colin's expression flitted from tight smile to discomfort and on to fear as Sue made her case. The Tilsleys had conferred, and Brian had agreed not to spill the beans to Sue about Colin's unwanted attentions to his wife. But they couldn't possibly go away with the Jacksons for the weekend! They were all ready with their reasons not to: Brian couldn't get time off work. Sue told him to tell his boss his pet duck had died; Gail's mother was coming for the weekend. She could come anytime, Sue said...

Sue quickly became offended by Gail and Brian's excuses. Colin looked even more stressed (I admire actors who can subtly convey a great deal of emotion simply with facial expressions!) and the friendship was declared over. Sue flounced out, Colin made to follow and Brian grabbed hold of him by the collar and warned him never to go near his wife again. That was the end of the Jacksons.

Gail said it was a pity because she liked Sue.

But Colin was, of course, a thoroughly bad lot. She didn't need to say that!

Five years later, Gail revised her opinion about adultery and had an affair with Brian's cousin. Those TV times were changing...

RADA trained actor Paul Lowther also appeared in Dr Who and Casualty later in the 1980s, and the 1991 TV movie Prisoner of Honor.

I found his portrayal of Colin Jackson very convincing and particularly admired the way he played the scene in which Sue tried to persuade Brian and Gail to go away with her and Colin for the weekend, unaware of Colin's play for Gail. A baddie Colin may have been, but Mr Lowther's portrayal at that point almost made me feel sorry for him!

Colin couldn't keep up that tight smile as Sue tried to tempt the Tilsleys into a weekend away from it all...

I think the Street really needed some racier couples on a permanent basis back then. But it wasn't until 1989 and 1990, with the arrivals of Liz and Jim McDonald and Des and Steph Barnes that it got any.

The Jacksons were a vague hint of the shape of things to come!

I was very sorry to discover, whilst researching this article, that actor Paul Lowther died in 1992. His work as Colin Jackson - husband of Sue, former-electrician-turned-fitted-kitchen-salesman, the man who wanted a video tape machine before he wanted a baby, and the man who fixed Brian and Gail's record player, before disgracing himself with Gail - remains a fond memory of an outstanding minor character from the Street's glory days.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Coronation Street, 1989...

October 1989... and the Street is undergoing a revolution. A whole new street is coming to the old street, with new houses, shops and industrial units...

How the production team teased us! What would the new side of the Street look like? On 11 December 1989, an episode filmed in November, we glimpsed the nearly completed building which houses the salon today. The building work was to be completed by the end of 1989, as the show filmed in advance, and complete unveiling was due on-screen in early 1990.

In October 1989, the Daily Mirror reported:


BY 'ECK! Whatever are they doing to our Street?

They must be glued to their nets over there between the Rovers and Alf Roberts's corner shop, gawping at all the amazing goings-on on the other side of the country's most famous cobbles.

For this is the Street as we've never seen it before. The bulldozers have moved in. Mike Baldwin's factory has been demolished. In its place they are putting up a complete new block of buildings. The site is sealed off, with high boards to keep out peeping Toms, nosey journalists and visitors who daily tour the TV studios, trying to catch sight of the stars at work.

All the lorries and bulldozers bear the name of Maurice Jones, the fictional character who has brought out Baldwin and is developing the site, throwing the whole Street into turmoil. Actor Alan Moore laughs mischievously as the cameras roll and the actors go about their business, while the brickies work away. He says: "I've become the new Mr Nasty of the Street - and I'm enjoying every minute of it."

But what exactly are they building? The producers are keeping that a strict secret. But one thing is certain. The Yuppies won't be moving in on the people's street.