Coronation Street – 25th December 1963

Episode 317, written by H.V. Kershaw, is a game of two halves. Part one has a slew of small pleasures, beginning with Miss Nugent timidly asking Len if the rumour she’s heard (that the evening’s entertainment at the Mission Hall will be the Street’s version of This Is Your Life) is correct. Len confirms this is so and offers Miss Nugent a swig from his bottle. She declines (“I know it’s the season, but I don’t much like drink”).  Nobody could squirm quite like the young Emily Nugent.

Christmas dinner with Ena, Minnie and Martha is a sedate and trouble-free occasion. Whilst Minnie and Martha do the washing up (their way of thanking Ena for the unseen fare) Ena muses. “If every family in England bought a leg of pork this Christmas and said ‘blow your turkeys’ they’d be three bob a pound next year”.

Who will be the This Is Your Life subject? Ena seems to relish the possibility that it might be her (seeing it as an opportunity to air some home truths in public) whilst Elsie has a simple request for Dennis (who has cast himself in the Eamon Andrews role) if she turns out to be the chosen one. “No Americans”.

Len and Elsie find themselves flung together in a deserted Rovers. His sweet talking (well, sweet for Len anyway) charms her and she accepts a gin and tonic from him (he elects for a pint of mild). This costs him the princely sum of four and two.  Those were the days ….

Just before the end of part one it’s revealed that Annie Walker is the recipient of the big red book. This should be fun.

It does seem a little mean to leave an old man like Albert outside in the cold, waiting for the arrival of Annie and Jack’s children – Billy and Joan. The wind (a sound effect of course) helps to sell the illusion that it’s rather a nippy night. This was long before the outside street had been built, but the studio street – dimly lit – does look very effective, although the sound is rather dead (making it obvious at times that we’re inside rather than out).

The Street’s version of This Is Your Life mimics the television original, right down to having guests who are unable appear in person relay a pre-recorded message.  Arthur Forstythe-Jones (Ian Collin), who earlier in the year had seemed a little smitten with Annie, is cast in the role of her long-distance admirer.

The date of Annie and Jack’s arrival at the Rovers is a subject of mild debate. Dennis maintains it was January 1939 whilst Annie is convinced it was the 4th of February 1939. Ena, brought on with Minnie and Martha, elects to stick her oar in, also supporting the January date. That’s a nice moment, as is Minnie’s air of desperation when Dennis asks her what happened on that never-to-be-forgotten day when she met Annie in the Rovers for the first time.  Of course, Minnie’s forgotten. She eventually does remember, only for Ena to flatly contradict her story!

Doris Speed is called upon to switch between happiness (as Billy and Joan are wheeled out) and disgust (as her performance as Lady Godiva is dragged back into the light).  Nobody could do disdain quite like Doris Speed, so we’re in safe hands.

These embarrassing moments help to give the episode a comic spark, but it’s essentially a warm-hearted tribute (nice to see some old pictures of Doris Speed too). Most soap stars would have to wait until they were due to leave the series before receiving such acclaim, but not Mrs Walker.  An enjoyable twenty five minutes.

Coronation Street – 24th December 1962

This year’s Christmas entertainment is an all-star performance of Lady Lawson Loses at the Mission Hall.  Miss Nugent has the plumb role of Mrs Gilda Montefiore (aka Lady Lawson), a notorious jewel thief who has eyes for young Gerald, Duke of Bannock (Ken Barlow) much to the dismay of his mother, the Duchess of Bannock (Annie Walker).

You won’t be surprised to hear that before the curtain goes up Miss Nugent is all of a fluster and works herself into a pitch of maximum anxiety. Mrs Walker is perfectly serene though – and offers Miss Nugent a little something to soothe her nerves.

The play is a somewhat impenetrable drawing room drama, but it draws some big laughs from the audience (unintentional ones, of course).  All of the pitfalls of am-dram are present and correct, from a curtain which refuses to open, doors which are similarly problematic and numerous forgotten lines and stumbles.

At one point, Minnie (cast in the role of Lady Rhona Philbeach) observes backstage that the audience really seems to be enjoying themselves. A beat later she concedes that they shouldn’t be laughing, but no matter – at least they’re having a good time.

Minnie looks very regal, it’s just a pity that we don’t actually see her perform on stage (we do hear second-hand that she delivered her big line without a stumble though).  It would have been nice to see Ena on stage as well, but she’s relegated to providing the pre-curtain entertainment with some tunes on the piano.  Once this duty’s over she’s able to take her place in the audience, where she and Martha offer a waspish commentary (plus they rustle a mean sweet paper).

The most interesting thing about Pauline Shaw’s direction is that until the final scene all of the on-stage performances are viewed from the point of view of the audience at the Mission. This denies us any close-ups of the sweating actors, but it helps to sell the illusion to the viewers at home that we’re in the thick of the action.

Lady Lawson Loses is deliberately long-winded and not terribly interesting, which is a slight problem since it does take up a fair portion of the episode.  The mishaps are amusing enough (plus it’s always nice to see the regulars dressed up) but this is one of the less essential Christmastime episodes. I do like Mr Swindley’s closing speech at the curtain call though, which is rudely curtailed by Jed who closes the curtain with alacrity (like the audience, he’s clearly keen to hot-foot it to the pub!)

The final moment with a swooning Miss Nugent (buoyed through the second half thanks to a mixture of pills and alcohol) is another good touch. 

Coronation Street – 25th December 1961

To begin with, there seems to be a clear division of the sexes. Whilst the men – in the shape of Albert, Frank, Ken, Harry and Len – are heading off to a football match, the women (such as Concepta and Elsie) are fretting about their Christmas lunches.

The episode opens with some boisterous children running down the street, but their antics are mild compared to Len – who’s waving his football rattle, bellowing at the top of his voice and dancing in the street with Annie Walker. Goodness, he’s irritating – not the sort of person you’d want to run into first thing on Christmas morning.

As for the match, it’s between two teams of ladies (which might be the reason why all the lads are up and about so early – if not, then they really, really, love football).

The notion that the menfolk have all the pleasure whilst the women are confined to the kitchen is challenged after we see Jack slaving away. Clearly that’s one household where the roles are reversed.  Jack, as always, has to be a man of many talents – not only doing a spot of cooking but also serving behind the bar. Annie must be taking it easy.

This year it’s Minnie’s turn to cook Christmas dinner for the others.  There’s a vague air of melancholy at work here (Martha decides that it’s “a funny Christmas isn’t it? More like a very long Sunday”).  Martha’s still grumbling as she tucks into her meal, but Ena – for once – is in a good mood. “Martha, goodwill to all men, including Minnie Caldwell. She may be wilful but she is human and she is our friend”.

The fragile peace doesn’t last long though (Ena swallows one of Minnie’s sixpences and chokes). Classic, classic comedy then ensues (Martha wonders if they should pat her on the back but Minnie decides not, as Ena might hit them back!). Poor Ena, all four sixpences (wrapped up in tissue paper and cotton) found their way into her portion of pudding. “Have you never heard of windpipes?” mutters a despairing Ena. Lovely stuff.

Prior to this, there’s another touch of sadness after Martha and Ena grumble that their families steer clear of them on Christmas day. It’s worse for Minnie of course, who has no family. But at least she has friends around her.

Ena/Minnie/Martha might be the Christmas highlight, but there are some nice character moments elsewhere as well. Ken and Frank share a moment of reflection as they celebrate their first Christmas without Ida. Lucky that Esther was on hand to cook them something, otherwise no doubt they would have gone hungry …

Hapless Harry continues to get an ear-bashing from the very shrill Concepta. You can see her point though.  Mind you, his present to her – a gold watch – does cheer her up somewhat.  At least for a short while.

Interesting that the Queen’s speech is still seen as the centrepoint of the day, at least for some (Annie, Concepta).  Annie’s total devotion to Her Majesty even extends to exhorting poor old Jack (who lest we forget has been on his feet all day) to stand up when the National Anthem is playing.

Christmas at the Tanners is rather fraught. Dennis, having seen that the cupboard was bare, went out for his meal, not knowing that Elsie had rustled up something as a surprise. So when he does return she’s determined to force-feed him, whether he likes it or not. Pat Phoenix and Philip Lowrie raise the roof for a few minutes, but things then settle down. Elsie and Dennis may scrap on a regular basis, but since neither has anybody else the spats don’t last for long.

The episode had a slightly fraught production, as Derek Grainger disliked elements of Tony Warren’s first draft. Warren allowed Grainger to rewrite it, but insisted that his name didn’t appear on the credits (so the fictitious Carol Nicholas was used instead).

Coronation Street – 30th December 1960

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May is still cutting a very forlorn figure. Constantly complaining of headaches, she receives no sympathy from her daughter, Christine, who continues to believe that she’s putting it on.  As we’ve seen before, once May is alone a rudimentary camera trick (zooming in and out of focus) illustrates her current low status.  The grams operator is on their game today as they also help to indicate May’s current distressed frame of mind.  The sound of clocks slowly increases in volume, eventually becoming unbearable, but as the picture cuts to the next scene at the corner shop the sound of the clocks abruptly cuts off to be replaced by the tinkle of the corner shop bell.  A nice cut.

Florrie is bemoaning her appearance in the paper to Harry (she’s been fined one pound for selling goods out of time) but that’s not the main reason for this scene.  They hear banging from next door (clearly the walls are paper-thin), so they – along with Elsie – go along to investigate.  Given the abundance of strong female characters in the series it’s interesting that Florrie and Elsie hang back when they discover May’s body (Harry is the one who checks for a pulse and gently shakes his head to indicate that they’re too late).

So EastEnders wasn’t the first soap to pile the misery on at Christmas.  This is bleak stuff, especially Christine’s tearful reaction.  Luckily for her, the ever-practical Esther is on hand to help her through – but there’s nothing she can do to ease the guilt Christine feels.  It’s a heart-breaking moment.

If the grams operator was on form today, then some of the other cuing was a little off.  The most notable example occurs when a huddle of residents are awaiting Christine’s arrival back from the hospital.  They react to Christine’s reappearance, but sadly they’re a few seconds early (when the camera cuts to the outside of the corner shop, Christine’s yet to walk around the corner).   You win some, you lose some.

Dennis’ transformation into a less threatening and more gormless character starts here.  Sans trousers, he’s stomping about the house looking for his tie.  He won’t say at first why he’s smartening himself up, but even given his non-committal nature Elsie can’t help but be a little indulgent towards him ( by shining his shoes).  He’s got a nice line in sarcastic retorts today, telling Linda that he’s applying for a job in “a place where they make crutches for lame ducks”.  That 1960 was very much another era is demonstrated when Elsie turns her nose up at his aftershave, calling him a big Jessie (“if you go out reeking like that, people’ll be saying things about you”).

Ena looks to have met her match with Dr Tinsley (Cyril Luckham).  This is another of those wonderful Ena scenes – which kicks off with her unable to speak, due to the fact that a thermometer’s been wedged in her mouth!  She’s convinced she’s come home to die, but Dr Tinsley has news for her – there’s nothing life-threatening about her current condition, its simply old age (or as he more brutally puts it, senile decay).  Ena agrees that the best years of her life are behind her (reminiscing about how she was a beauty in her youth – with long hair and a remarkably thin waist) but Dr Tinsley cuts these maudlin thoughts short by curtly telling her to “shut up”!

A pity that Luckham only appeared in two episodes as it would have been lovely for him to have crossed swords with Ena a few more times.  I like the way that Ena reacts to his sharp tongue – with a faint smile, she clearly respects the fact that he’s not cowed by her.  This suggests that Ena’s prepared to steamroller weaker opposition but respects anybody who will take her on.

Ena and Martha continue their face off.  Martha is in possession of Ena’s own personal feather duster – uh oh!  Ena then tells her former friend to sling her hook.  “It’s time for you to abdicate, I’m back!”

Dennis returns from his new job (at a nightclub) and drops a bombshell.  He’s seen his estranged father in the club ….

Coronation Street – 28th December 1960

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Christine and her mother, May, continue to have a fractious relationship.  Today, the boiling point occurs when they disagree over the dress Christine plans to wear to a swanky dinner dance.  Prior to May’s reappearance in the Street, Christine played the dutiful and loving daughter – keen to protect her mother’s reputation by squaring up to the likes of Ena Sharples.

But now May’s back home, it appears that just her presence is causing Christine grief.  May’s constant complaints (her head hurts, she feels faint) are casually dismissed by her daughter as nothing more than attention seeking, but it seems plain that this isn’t the case.  Some four minutes in, the camerawork supports this by suddenly switching in and out of focus as May sits alone in the living room.

May’s looking after Lucille, who proves to be a bit of a handful.  It’s not entirely her fault though, as even innocent questions (such as wondering why May had to go to hospital) are loaded ones.  Cue another moment when May looks pained.  But when May pops out to the shops and Lucille decides to try on Christine’s dinner dance dress, you get the feeling that everybody’s going to be pained ….

I’m also not sure how the frock can not only fit the very diminutive Lucille but also the much larger Christine.

Dennis is accused by the police of breaking and entering.  Since he doesn’t have an alibi, things look bleak for him with Elsie thinking the worst.  This is a re-run of the plotline from the first episode, which also saw Dennis under a cloud (although the crime there – pinching money from his mother’s purse – was rather more trivial).  After yet another confrontation between mother and son, the peacemaker Linda knows what to do (“don’t worry Mam. You sit down over there and I’ll make you a nice cup of tea”).

But as with the purse incident, things work out in the end as Harry witnessed Dennis’ success at the dog track and is therefore able to provide him with an alibi. Yet again, bad-boy Dennis isn’t quite as bad as he first appeared.

Ena’s still in hospital, stuffing her face with a box of chocolates and complaining about her fellow patients.  She seems in rude health, but that doesn’t stop her from believing that she’s not long for this world.  Ena quizzes Vera about what she knows, but the perplexed Vera naturally can’t tell her anything, as she doesn’t know anything.  “How long have they given me?” mutters Ena darkly.

Ena and Martha then have a cracking stand-off, with Ena still fuming over Martha’s underhanded duplicity.  “Ooh, you’re bad minded, that’s what you are” retorts Martha.  Ena then responds that Martha isn’t a woman, she’s a snake!  The scene concludes with another zoom into Ena’s face as she stares down the camera lens.  Brrrr! Frightening stuff.

There’s more direct-to-camera shenanigans, as a group of carol singers (having successfully taken some money off the initially intimidating but ultimately soft Elsie) turn to face the audience to include them in a brief post-Christmas serenade.

Later, Martha confides in Minnie and tells her that she’s considering taking legal action against Ena.  Incidentally, it’s a little strange that Minnie hasn’t been in to visit Ena (unless it’s happened off-screen).  It’s clear at present that Ena and Martha are the dominant characters in this part of the series, with Minnie currently only called upon to comment on what the others are doing.  This scene is chiefly memorable for the ear-wigging extra in the background who pulls some remarkable faces.

Ena’s had enough of the hospital and walks out. Her absence is discovered by one of the nurses who delivers the following memorable piece of dialogue.  “Sister, that Mrs Sharples. You know, the one who calls me ‘speccy four eyes’.  She’s gone”.

Coronation Street – 23rd December 1960

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The episode begins with Elsie and Dennis rowing (which so far seems to be their default setting).  Elsie’s suspicious about the fact he returned home with twenty five pounds but eventually she believes his story about winning it on a dog race.  It’s another good scene between the pair of them although Philip Lowrie does suffer a major dry some two minutes in (luckily Pat Phoenix covers for him and he soon gets back on script).

Martha asks Mr Swindley if he has any news about Ena.  He tells her that she doing quite well at the local hospital, which reassures her and she resolves to make a visit shortly.  There’s a lovely little character moment when Martha tells him that she would have telephoned herself, but she’s “never learnt the phone”.  It’s just about credible in 1960 that some older people might still have a lingering suspicion about telephones.

Mr Swindley bemoans Ena’s absence and wonders if Martha might like to lend a hand in the hall.  He tempts her with the prospect of money, which seems a little odd (previously we’d learnt that Ena doesn’t receive a wage – only lodgings and coal).  Martha is interested, but I wonder what Ena will have to say about it?

This is the first time we see Ena with a hairnet (from this point on it’ll be her headwear of choice).  So what sort of patient do we think she is?  Patient and pliant or endlessly complaining and argumentative?  The latter of course.  Nobody’s safe from her acid tongue – as her daughter Vera (Ruth Holden) finds out.

It’s true that Vera’s something of a drippy sort, but you have to imagine that a childhood spent with Ena as a mother would have sapped the will of even the strongest of types.  Ena’s not pleased with the gift she’s brought (a pot plant) and is even less impressed when Vera decides to nip off almost as soon as she’s arrived.  Vera tells her that she’s desperate for a cigarette, something which cuts no ice with her mother.  “If god had intended women to smoke he’d have put chimneys in their heads”!

There’s a score of great lines from Ena.  Here she waxes lyrical about her doctors and her food.  “You know I had three doctors around me this afternoon and one of them was black as the chimney bag. Oh he was clean, you could tell. His face shone like black leather. Oh the food’s terrible, They’re always trying to make me eat boiled fruit. I said to that nurse, I said ‘it’s all right for folks as like it, but I like something that has looked over a wall'”.

Then Martha turns up and Ena learns that her friend has been helping out in the mission.  Or as Ena sees it, attempting to snatch her job whilst she lies close to death in hospital.  Ena bellows “I know what you’re after, you’re after me vestry” before the camera closes in on her for an extreme close-up.  After this frightening moment, there’s a moment of peace as a group of young choir boys entertain the sick with a carol or two.

The Barlows appear for the first time for a few episodes, but they don’t drive any plot threads themselves in this one – instead they get caught up in the hunt for the missing Lucille.  The absence of Lucille has made Esther frantic with worry, but although she tells Ida that she’s primarily concerned about the girl, Ida makes a face which suggests she believes Esther has set her sights on snaring Harry.  But it looks like Esther has competition, as Concepta Riley (Doreen Keogh) has just returned from Ireland and also seems interested in Mr Hewitt.  Clearly Harry has hidden depths ….

Don’t worry about Lucille, she turns up safe and sound and bearing gifts.  It’s quite noticeable that Esther seemed much more worried about her than Harry.  I’ve still not warmed to him yet – goodness knows what Esther and Concepta see in him.

Concepta is welcomed back by Annie and Jack, who are more than happy to let her take up her old position behind the bar.  The first of several rather jarring moments when characters look straight into the camera occurs when Jack and Annie see Concepta for the first time.  This is slightly unsettling, but as discussed above, it’s nothing to the sight of Ena on the warpath (that’s that stuff of nightmares!)

Ray Mort, a very familiar face, makes the first of a handful of appearances as the chirpy insurance salesman Ron Bailey.  And for trivia fans, this is the first episode to mention Rosamund Street.

Another well-known actor, Anthony Booth, also appears for the first time as Christine’s boyfriend Malcolm Wilkinson.  Unlike Mort, Booth isn’t as recognisable at first – with his dark hair he doesn’t look like the “randy scouse git” he’d later be best remembered for.  Malcolm only appears in three episodes, but Booth would later pop up decades later as a different character (he also married Pat Phoenix shortly before her death in 1986).

Although peace on earth seems to be the order of the day at the Tanners, this fragile entente cordiale is broken when a policeman comes looking for Dennis …..

Coronation Street – 21st December 1960

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Poor old Jack’s in the doghouse.  Annie’s been giving him filthy looks since the second episode but it’s only at the start of this one that we find out the reason why.  Tucked in the back of his bowling bag was a copy of London Lovelies Number 4.  Annie is incensed – it’s not only a sure sign of moral deviance, but it also poses other disturbing questions ….

Is Jack entertaining a fancy woman?  Quite why Annie should jump to this conclusion isn’t quite clear (surely if Jack had another woman he wouldn’t need a magazine!).  But she’s also concerned about where he bought it from –  surely not from somewhere local.  As we see time and time again in these early episodes, many of the characters are very much concerned with the opinions of others.  This is very plain in Annie’s case – her social status would take something of a knock if it became known that her husband was a purchaser of off-colour books.

We never really learn too much about London Lovelies, although it does seem to be pretty tame stuff (pictures of young women in bathing costumes possibly).  And whilst Jack squirms for a few minutes, the truth soon emerges – Harry lent it to him, since they both believed that one of the Lovelies was the granddaughter of a hoity-toity chap down at the bowling club.  So all is well.

Ena, Martha and Minnie have taken up their usual position in the snug and are joined by a mysterious fourth woman.  Rather like Minnie in episode two, she’s mute (she also spends the scene with her back to the camera so we never see her face).  Director Michael Scott chooses a slightly unusual high angle for some of the snug shots – given the cramped nature of the sets it’s good to see something different being done.

With Christmas fast approaching, the weighty topic of Christmas cards is broached.  Ena’s incensed that Minnie’s not received hers (since she posted it the day before) and is also acerbic on the topic of carol singers.  Maybe the pennies and halfpennies donated to the church carol singers helps to explain why the vicar’s wife can afford a new fur coat ….

We then hear the sound of carols from the public bar, although this cue seems to have been a little bit late (both Violet Carson and Lynne Carrol take a few extra swigs of their drinks whilst waiting for the action to start).  It turns out that Mr Swindley is leading them – surely his only intention was to catch Ena in the act of forcing down a milk stout.  All of Ena’s defiance from episode three seems to have dissipated, as she now seems incredibly conscience stricken (a little odd, but maybe Ena’s just relishing being a drama queen).

Ena’s later rendition of My Drink is extraordinary.  Back in her room in the mission, she warbles “my drink is water bright from the crystal stream” for the benefit of Mr Swindley, ear-wigging from the other side of the door!  All this stress and singing is too much though and she swoons into Mr Swindley’s arms.  He calls for Miss Nugent, although the unnamed extra who pops her head around the door isn’t Eileen Derbyshire (who wouldn’t appear until episode fifteen).

Is Harry having his daughter Lucille (Jennifer Moss) home for Christmas?  Nope, he seems to think she’d be much better off in the orphanage.  This is very hard to understand – it’s true that Harry’s working over Christmas, so looking after her would be a problem (but if he really wanted to, surely he could have booked some time off?)  The inference seems to be that he’s decided to work because otherwise he’d be all by himself over the festive period.

So Lucille decides to take matters into his own hands by running away from the orphanage and back home.  Eventually a reluctant Harry does agree she can stay for Christmas, although his burden is lifted when the ever-understanding Esther Hayes (Daphne Oxenford) at Number Five offers to lend a hand.  Fair to say that so far Harry’s come across as a rather selfish and self-centered character.

As with the previous episode, the credits play out over a rolling caption of the street – stopping to flash up the names of the characters who live at each house. Although here the Mission Hall is shown to be next to the Rovers, not on the other side of the street.