Broadcast on the 24th of December 1975, this episode sees the residents of Coronation Street putting on a pantomime to entertain the children. The chief pleasure is in seeing familiar faces playing dress-up. Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear) is the Prince, Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) is Buttons, Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley) and Hilda are the Ugly Sisters whilst Deirdre Langton (Anne Kirkbride) is Dandini. Tricia Hopkins (Kathy Jones) is Cinderella, although she’s fretting about the black eye which was given to her by Deirdre.
The panto takes up the bulk of the episode but it lacks much of an atmosphere, mainly because the child audience are very quiet – only coming to life on a few occasions. It doesn’t seem to be because they’re bored (at the end they give the cast a rousing reception) so maybe they weren’t efficiently directed. There was also plenty of comic potential to be gained from on-stage disasters, so it’s a little surprising they didn’t go down this route.
The closest we come to this is when Bet mimes to Rita’s (Barbara Knox) off-stage singing. Rita, with a glass of wine and a cigarette in hand, is effortlessly able to belt the tune out and amuses herself by changing the tempo of the song mid way through, much to Bet’s obvious annoyance. Afterwards, through gritted, smiling teeth, Bet tells Rita that “if you ever do anything like that to me again, darling, I will walk straight off and extract your vocal chords with a blunt knife, darling.”
A few random observations – Len’s wearing rather a lot of makeup as Buttons, Deidre has a fine pair of legs and why was Hilda playing one of the Ugly Sisters? Couldn’t they find two men in the street prepared to drag up?
The inexorable passage of time is highlighted by Ena’s brief appearance. She seems to be a shadow of her previous self – there’s no sharp retorts or acid observations, instead she’s restricted to looking after a child from the audience and wishing another of the characters well. Although Violet Carson would remain with the series until 1980, a stroke in 1974 had kept her off the screen for a while and her later appearances would be fairly sporadic.
Away from the panto, the return of Trevor Ogden (Don Hawkins) is the main news. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the Ogdens first came to the street with several children (mainly because they seemed to fade away quite quickly). When the Ogdens moved to Coronation Street in 1964, Trevor was fifteen. He spent the rest of the year getting into various scrapes before running away to London. Trevor resurfaced for a couple of episode in 1973 before returning again in 1975 for two episodes (this one and the previous one).
Trevor is married, with a young son, and his wife is expecting again. Although he’s rarely been in contact with Hilda over the last ten years, the news of another child pleases her, as does the fact he’s come all the way down to Weatherfield to see her. He does have an ulterior motive though – his wife isn’t well and has to go into hospital for a while, so he wonders if Hilda could come down and look after her grandson. This request is like a blow to the heart for Hilda, and despite the fact that she’s still dressed as an Ugly Sister you can see the pain on Jean Alexander’s face.
The realisation that Trevor wants her to act as a skivvy rankles, as does the fact that he’s never asked her to visit before – only now, when he needs something from her. It’s a downbeat moment to end the episode on and the strains of the music from the hall (“happy days are here again”) strikes a a very ironic note.