Corrie’s creator caught the essence of our Manchester

Monday 7 March 2016

Picture credit: Twitter/@Daily_Express

Early in my TV career I was a lowly runner at Granada Television in Manchester, mostly working on Coronation Street. It was my job to make sure all the actors were in the right place at the right time.

I was young and starstruck and particularly in awe of two very haughty ladies in the cast – Pat Phoenix and Doris Speed, who respectively played the brassy Elsie Tanner and Annie Walker, pretentious landlady of the Rovers Return.

When I had to get them to the studio set for filming, I would knock timidly on their dressing room doors and they would sail past, far too grand to say much to a low-life like me. That was in the early 1970s, the great days of Coronation Street.

I’m not saying it’s not great now, it’s just different. And some of the difference lies with the sad departure of those women, including of course Violet Carson who played Ena Sharples.

I got to know Tony Warren, who died this week, quite well back then. Tony created Coronation Street. He was gay and like a lot of gay men he adored strong women. He was brought up by them and Elsie, Ena and Annie were based on the kind of women who ruled the roost in northern terraced streets in those days.

Women who went to the shops wearing hair nets, as did Ena. Strumpets like Elsie Tanner, and would-be posh types such as Annie. I used to tease my mum that she was like Annie Walker, with her carefully set hair and her posh phone-answer voice.

She’d be furious with me. Mum never liked Coronation Street, even though it was in fact a version of the North Manchester working class life she’d led herself. But mum had bettered herself (we now lived in a semi, no longer a two-up two-down. We had a bathroom and a garden instead of a yard) and she was a bit too snobbish to watch Coronation Street.

Tony Warren understood how to make his female characters at once autocratic and comic. Annie was always sharply funny – as was he. Creating Coronation Street was an amazing achievement; it caught the absolute essence of post-war working class Manchester to a tee. And it’s still immensely popular now. What a tribute to a clever, tenacious man.

Read more in Richard and Judy's column for the Daily Express.
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