The Real Coronation Street by Ken Irwin

I’ve recently added this slim, but fascinating, volume to my collection. Published in 1970, Ken Irwin meets the cast and gently dishes the dirt – if it’s gossip you want then you’ve come to the right place.

It’s not really a salacious read though – Irwin (despite his bumpy relationship with the series) clearly had affection for the majority of the cast. Famously, as the Daily Mirror’s television critic, he predicted, after the first episode, that the series was doomed to failure. Like the Decca executive who told Brian Epstein that “guitar groups were on the way out”, Irwin’s comment was something he had to spend the rest of his life living down.

Even in 1970, he wasn’t predicting that the series would run for ever – the final chapter in this book suggests that another ten years might just be possible though ….

With 32 chapters across 173 pages, The Real Coronation Street is a very dippable tome. After briefly detailing the creation of the series, the book then tends to focus on one actor per chapter – with Irwin crafting brief but incisive portraits of his subjects (his experience as a newspaperman was clearly put to good use here).

Virtually all the cast members you would hope to have been interviewed – both past and present – make an appearance. Some familiar stories – the senior actors’ reluctance to interact with guest performers and the way they jealously guarded their rehearsal room chairs – are given an outing.

Frank Pemberton’s chapter (Tragedy on the Way to the Dole) catches the eye. Pemberton (Frank Barlow) was axed from the series in 1964 and the following year suffered a stroke which severely limited his mobility. Talking to Irwin, he still wistfully hoped for an acting job where he could sit down all the time. He did make one final Street appearance (in 1971) but sadly suffered another stroke shortly afterwards and died at the early age of 56.

Sandra Gough (Irma Ogden/Barlow) is another who had a more than interesting relationship with the series as she found herself cold-shouldered by some of her fellow cast members due to her strident Christian views. It’s notable that Irwin doesn’t name names – but, given that he didn’t want to burn his professional boats, you can’t really blame him. Gough would abruptly exit the series (she was fired in 1971).

Illustrated with a selection of photographs that were mostly new to me, if you can find a decently priced copy then I’d strongly recommend adding The Real Coronation Street to your library.

9 thoughts on “The Real Coronation Street by Ken Irwin

  1. Interesting to note that the cover describes Coronation Street as a televsion serial. The pretentious term soap opera hadn’t come into common usage until later.

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  2. 1970 was an interesting year for the Street. It was the year that marked the sudden death of actor Arthur Leslie who played Jack Walker and a new producer made the bold decision to axe young couple Audrey & Dickie Flemming, and brother & sister Sandra & Bernard Butler who helped to appeal to a younger audience.

    Sandra Gough who played Irma Ogden/Barlow was brought back this year as a regular after it was decided to kill off her husband David and son off screen in a car accident in Australia. Unfortunately, Sandra’s time in the programme was permanently cut short the following year when she took unofficial time off.

    Interestingly, for several years in the early 1970s Coronation Street’s future was called into question as viewing figures began to slip. It wasn’t until Producer Bill Podmore came onboard in 1976 that the Street was preserved as a long term fixture for decades to come.

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  3. Must look out for this. I started watching on the 60th anniversary, and due to the availability of episodes, have managed nineteen years in just under two! Last night I reached New Year’s Eve 1979

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  4. A couple of years ago, I watched the episodes from Nov & Dec 1970 which revolved around the Joe Donnelli story.

    Most are still available to watch on You Tube. Having first gone to colour in 1969, Corrie was plunge back into monochrome again 12 months later because of the technicians strike at Granada.

    This added to the atmosphere of the episodes, making them that but more enjoyable to watch. At this stage of the programme Violet Carson (Ena) was a prominent regular before her health began to deteriorate and she reduced the number of episodes she did each year.

    I would love to see more of the early 1970’s episodes, but they seem rarer than those that were originally televised by Granada Plus (from April 1976 onwards).

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    • The Susi Hush era is a very interesting one. it’s unfairly been tagged as rather dour and humourless (the received opinion is that Bill Podmore ramped up the comedy as a reaction) but it’s not all grim (plus some of the more dramatic storylines still pack a punch).

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      • The one sad thing about the Colour Strike is that it would have been very interesting to see Frank Pemberton’s final appearance in colour.

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