Coronation Street‘s debut episode (it, like the following eleven, was written by series creator Tony Warren) uses Florrie Lindley (Betty Alberge), a newcomer in Coronation Street herself, as the audience identification figure. So as she slowly begins to learn about her new neighbours, so do we. Florrie’s just taken over the corner shop and is strongly advised that whilst a little credit isn’t a bad thing, there are some she has to watch. The Tanners at Number Eleven for example ….
It’ll be a little while before we see a full street set, so for the moment Coronation Street consists of a brief exterior shot of the corner shop whilst the rest of the street is represented by photo captions. Jumping to Number Eleven immediately after we’ve been warned about the Tanners wayward ways is an obvious touch, but it serves as a decent primer for the audience. This is clearly a family to watch.
Head of the household Elsie (Patricia Phoenix) is middle-aged and regards herself with a critical and weary air (“Ee, Elsie, you’re just about ready for the knacker yard”). Her general air of stress isn’t helped by her wayward son Dennis (Philip Lowrie). As the sixties wear on, Dennis will become a much lighter, comic character but at this point he’s firmly cast in the role of a juvenile delinquent. Just out of prison, unemployed and facing an uncertain future, he radiates teenage angst. And in another fairly seamless transaction, he mockingly tells his mother that no doubt she’d much prefer if he was like that nice young Kenneth Barlow at Number Three ….
It doesn’t take long to realise that we’ve now cut to that household, which sees Ken (William Roache) and his father Frank (Frank Pemberton) and mother Ida (Noel Dyson) having their tea. As with the Tanners, Warren wastes no time in developing generational conflicts (Elsie might believe that the Barlows never argue, but as we’ll see, she’s a little wide of the mark).
Frank is an honest-to-goodness, blunt, plain-speaking man – working-class to the core and proud of it. Ken – thanks to his scholarship – has a chance to better himself and the fact he’s already started to move in rarefied circles is causing a little tension between him and his father. But it’s not as simple to say that Frank’s an ogre and his son is the innocent party – since we see that, even this early on, Ken’s somewhat insufferable. For example, the way Ken rolls his eyes as his father sloshes sauce onto his food does support the suggestion made later by next-door neighbour Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth), that he’s turning into something of a snob.
True, Frank does lay down the law in no uncertain terms – telling Ken that he can’t meet his lady-friend at the Imperial Hotel (since Ida works in the kitchens, it goes against his principles for a son of his to fling money about in the place) – but this is something he later regrets. But it’s plain that Frank’s much more connected to his other son, David (Alan Rothwell). Frank and David can easily bond (chatting casually and repairing a puncture on David’s bike) in a way that Frank and Ken can’t.
There’s a brief visit to the Rovers Return (where the extra at the dartboard makes the most of his five seconds of fame). Annie Walker (Doris Speed) has a brief scene, although it exists mainly to develop the characters of both Dennis and Ken. Their meeting is as awkward as you might expect, with Dennis (chip firmly on shoulder) gently mocking the young wonder-kid Ken.
Later we learn that Dennis was unfairly accused by Elsie of pinching two bob out of her purse. Instead it was her daughter, Linda Cheveski (Anne Cunningham), who took it (in order to buy some ham from the corner shop). Linda’s marriage problems are touched upon, but we’ve yet to meet her other half – Ivan. This scene has another example of Warren’s fine ear for dialogue (something which later writers would mimic). Elsie gently tells Linda that her legs are nothing to get exited about. ” I’m afraid you’ve got the Tanner side of the family to thank for that. You know, without a word of a lie, your grandma Tanner were that bandy she couldn’t have stopped a pig in an entry”.
There’s one more notable person that we have to meet in this opening episode, Ena Sharples (Violet Carson). Ah, Ena. Right from this first scene, Violet Carson makes an indelible impression. Here she’s discussing religion with Florrie (who’s non-committal on the subject).
Oh, it’s like me sister’s husband. You know he were made head of the plumbing where they live and it give her ideas. She said, ‘We’re civic dignitaries now, we must head for t’church’. Within a week they were received, christened and confirmed and within a fortnight she was sitting up all night sewing surplices. I’ll take a packet of baking powder.
A star is born.
There’s just time to twist the knife about Ken’s angst concerning his common family once more as we observe that his lady-friend, Susan (played by Patricia Shakesby, later to be a Howards’ Way regular), has turned up at his house. She’s had to sit and watch Frank and David’s bicycle repairs (although she seems fairly unconcerned, even when David offers her a greasy hand to shake).