A handful of new (to me anyway) episodes of Coronation Street have recently surfaced on YouTube. Chronologically, this is the earliest one – episode seventeen – which was broadcast in early 1961.
We open at Number 11 with Elsie and Dennis. By this point Dennis has evolved from the malignant delinquent of the earliest episodes although he’s still not quite the loveable idiot he’d later become. True, he’s fairly charming and solicitous towards Elsie, but that’s only because he wants to tap her for a loan (and when she exits the house after a row, he’s quite happy to search the place for money). He comes up empty handed though and as the scene ends with him looking resigned rather than angry, it confirms how the softening process of his character had already begun.
Next it’s over to the Barlows for breakfast. As always, Ken and his father Frank are bickering – Ken wants to buy a record player on (effectively) H.P. but Frank quickly lays down the law (nothing comes into this house that they haven’t paid for). The payoff to this plotline doesn’t occur until later this episode and the next, so the scene is chiefly memorable for Frank Pemberton’s unscheduled coughing fit which causes his co-stars (chiefly Noel Dyson) to ad-lib until he gets over it.
Highlight of E17 is scene three inside the Rovers. Annie Walker was somewhat less regal in these early installments than she’d later become – not only is the accent slightly coarser but it’s difficult to imagine the 1970’s or 1980’s incarnation of Mrs Walker wearing a headscarf.
Feverish activity is occurring because Annie and Jack’s daughter, Joan, is due to arrive with her fiancé, Gordon Davies (Cavan Malone). Well, Mrs Walker is feverish while Jack and Billy are their usual phlegmatic selves – both drawing pints at 10 am to test the beer as Mrs Walker looks on disapprovingly. As ever, Arthur Leslie is such good value – this might be a matriarchal series, but Jack always more than holds his own.
The arrival of Joan and Gordon is splendidly awkward – the bookish schoolteacher Gordon is left in Jack’s care and he finds that conversational topics quickly dry up ….
Doreen and Sheila spend some time in the corner shop, deciding what they’ll have to eat. They decide on two barm cakes (yes, this was an era when not every scene – or indeed any of them – were crash, bang, wallop action ones). You won’t find me complaining though as it’s all good character stuff.
The other episode highlight is a fairly brief Ena scene where she berates the hapless Harry Hewitt (“do you know what jobs carry the highest mortality rate through stomach ulcers?”).
This was the only installment of Coronation Street written by Alick Hayes and it shows that even this early on the writing team had already managed to successfully mimic Tony Warren’s style (Warren had written the first twelve episodes and I’d say that the casual viewer would be hard pressed not to believe this was another Warren script).