Thursday, 27 October 2016

Albert Tatlock - The Unsung Hero...

We were having a cuppa in our Albert Tatlock mugs the other day, when we suddenly realised that Albert must rate as one of the most under appreciated Coronation Street characters of all time! Of course, Coronation Street has always been a matriarchal society, often dominated by grumpy old women (from the days of fiercesome Ena and vinegary Martha right up to acid Blanche) but the Street has also had a few grumpy gents in its time - remember the awfully officious Percy Sugden, bombastic scourge of the neighbourhood in the 1980s and 1990s? And then, of course, there's noxious Norris.

But the original grumpy old gent was dear old Albert Tatlock, of Number 1, Coronation Street.

Male characters in the Street do tend to be under appreciated. As we say, it's a matriarchal society, but nowadays it's also a misandrist society - both the Street and the real world. But the Street would have shrivelled and died without the likes of gentle Jack Walker, lovable louse Stan Ogden, loud and proud to be male Len Fairclough, jittery Jerry Booth and so on.

And not forgetting Ken Barlow - the Street's very own intellectual.

And so to Albert.

Jack Howarth was a fabulous actor. Albert could irritate, amuse, and bring us to tears. And Mr H seemed to bring about these emotions in his audience effortlessly.

How we laughed at Albert's attempts to get free chocolate back in the late 1970s. Some will remember him drunkenly singing "If I Ruled The World" while sliding down a lamp post to the pavement back in the 1960s. And his "comforting" visit to Mavis Riley while she was in her sick bed in the early 1980s - where he assured her she was looking "gaunt" - is a treasured memory.

Albert could be so funny.

Like all great soap characters, he was totally unaware of his own foibles. When he stated that Annie Walker never did have a sense of humour, he meant it.

But his moaning and groaning could be a real drag - after all, he fought a war for us lot, etc. Come to that, he did, and perhaps we were a let down. But I'll come to that later. And he was so mean, he would have skinned a flea.

But underneath it all, Albert was lovely. The character had great depth.

Remember his distress when faced with losing Ken from No 1 in 1981, when Ken was set to marry Deirdre, and the way he offered Ken his house if only he'd stay? All Albert wanted was to end his days in his own home, his own neighbourhood, and continue to be with a man he'd come to regard as his closest family. Remember his sadness and confusion as Ken and Deirdre's marriage hit its famous first rocky patch in the Baldwin Barlow triangle of 1983? We wept buckets.

There was such truth in Jack Howarth's acting.

Torn from his familiar surroundings and tipped into the hell of the First World War trenches as a young man, Albert won a Military Medal. Although he was fond of banging on about the war, he didn't discuss the bravery that won him his medal.

Elsie Tanner once told Albert that he was being unselfish, probably for the first time in his life, when he expressed concern about Ken's son Peter. Elsie, of course, could let her gob run away with her, that's one of the reasons we loved her, but Albert, who could probably have told her a great deal about unselfishness amd true comradeship, said nothing.

Albert's wife Bessie had died in 1959. His daughter Beattie and her husband Norman were not the most caring of souls, and so Albert lived alone with rare (and usually faintly grudging) visits from his nearest flesh and blood relative.

Albert was fond of his niece, Valerie, and had a bond with Ken Barlow which was already evident in episode 1. So, when Val and Ken married, Albert was delighted.

And he doted on Peter and Susan, his great nephew and niece who were born in 1965.

Albert and Ena Sharples had a deep bond of friendship, going back many years. Sometimes they were rivals, and if they spent too much time together they drove each other barmy, but the bond was definitely there and was not portrayed through a veil of sugary sentiment. When Ena was in hospital in a coma induced by a head injury in 1977, it was Albert who kept a vigil by her bedside, talking to her about the old days. As she said, when she finally gained consciousness: "I wish you'd make less noise."

The modern world let Albert down. The "Peace And Love" era of the 1960s - or perhaps in reality drug abuse, daft youthful idealism and increasing promiscuity posing as Peace and Love - were beyond him. As what former Street producer HV Kershaw described as the "Swinging 60s" turned into the "Savage 70s", Albert was so depressed, he locked himself in his house.

And the uncaring '70s found Albert, a poor old pensioner living alone, having his electricity supply cut off because he was unable to pay the bill. Fortunately, Ken came to the rescue, proving that blood is not always thicker than water as Beattie was noticeably absent from the scene and unaware of the crisis.

Albert was insecure. He felt fearful even of losing his beloved allotment.

Life was now about instant gratification. The rules that Albert had grown up with were rapidly eroded in the post Second World War world, and he didn't understand. How could Ken live out of wedlock with married Wendy Nightingale? When a poorly Albert was roughed up by a yob in his own back parlour in early 1979, many of us were also thoughtful about the current state of things.

In the vapid 21st Century, where looking up "facts" seems largely to revolve around unreliable sources such as Wikipedia, it is easy to dismiss Albert Tatlock as simply a grumpy old man. Indeed, at the time of his tenure in the show, he was often described as "a grumpy old git", etc. And of course Albert was merely a soap opera character - his grumpiness and canny way with pence were accentuated to give him colour, to make him interesting viewing. But back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s he had many real life counterparts - those that had fought in the First World War for a better world, a "land fit for heroes", and found the reality sadly wanting.

Albert Tatlock was a piece of history, a character of depth who requires much more understanding than your average 21st Century web skimmer can give.

And Jack Howarth was one of the finest performers that Coronation Street has ever had.

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