Coronation Street – 26th December 1966

c01

As you might expect with a Jack Rosenthal script, there are so many sparkling dialogue moments scattered throughout the episode. But it also contains a very downbeat story thread which won’t be resolved until the New Year. Ena’s daughter, Vera, is terminally ill (Ena knows this, but Vera doesn’t).

The episode opens with Elsie attempting to push a little more food into her already stuffed friend, Dot (Joan Francis). Dot tiredly declines before Elsie moves on to contemplate a sausage lying on the floor. “You know there’s been a sausage lurking underneath that table just before dinner time. He knows I’m not going to shift it and it’s not going to shift itself so we’re just sitting here, staring each other out”. Dennis’ first stab at a fancy dress costume for tonight’s contest (Biggles) is good for a laugh.

It’s heartbreaking to watch Ena attempt to care for Vera, but the mood is lightened when Minnie turns up (she’s come dressed as Old Mother Riley). I love the way Minnie enthusiastically recites Christmas is Coming when she’s on the other side of the Vestry door. Once Ena opens it and Minnie claps eyes on her stern face, the singing gradually tails off ….

Any Ena/Minnie interplay is always welcome, although this brief scene is the only time they meet during the episode. The way that Violet Carson could machine-gun through her lines so rapidly is something that never fails to impress. A good example of this is when Ena caustically wonders why Minnie has decided to go to the party dressed up as her own mother.

A visit to the Ogdens is always a Christmas treat. There’s Stan, puffing away on a large cigar without a care in the world, whilst Hilda does all the work (although heating up frozen food possibly wasn’t the most taxing chore ever). Meanwhile their daughter Irma (by now married to David Barlow) delights in sitting on the sidelines, sniping at both her parents whilst David attempts to act as a peace-maker.

As the episode progresses more fancy dress suspects turn up.  Len and Jerry as Batman and Robin raise a smile – especially for the way a bashful Jerry attempts to hide his costume under a mac (leaving a perplexed Jack Walker to wonder if they’re actually wearing anything underneath). Len stirs the pot by saying they’ve got nothing on but fig leaves ….

Ken, as Lawrence of Arabia, appears to be narcissistically proud of how dashing he looks, whilst Val is a fairly sedate Nell Gwynne.  Hilda hasn’t made much of an effort, instead she spends her time sniping at Elsie, who’s sporting a suitably vampish outfit.  Dennis also comes dressed as Batman, so there’s a brief Bat-off between him and Len.

Pride of place has to go to Annie though. She arrives quite late, but doesn’t disappoint – as Queen Elizabeth I she’s impossibly regal (perfect casting for Mrs Walker). As Elsie says to Len: “I don’t think she’s pretending. I think she’s always been Queen Elizabeth dressed up as Annie Walker.”

Who will be judged best in show? By the way that Annie casually calls the whole contest just a bit of fun, you can just tell that’s she’s incredibly keen to walk away with the prize (inconsequential though it is). So when Jerry is declared the winner it’s no surprise that she begins to storm out, sporting a face like thunder.

But all is well when Annie is then awarded a prize as the best dressed female (all her bonhomie comes flooding back).  She quite happily shares her spoils – a box of liqueurs – and harmony is restored.

This is a lovely one. As touched upon before, it zings with so many incisive lines (we can forgive director Michael Apted for the way microphone booms often pop into shot – given the production treadmill, it often happened).  Although most of the episode is very light, the spectre of Vera’s illness does cast a pall over proceedings, even though it’s only a minor plot-thread today.

In years to come, a death would be grist to the Christmas soap mill. It’s interesting to observe that back in 1966 it wasn’t something which was allowed to interfere with the optimistic post-Christmas tone.

c02

Coronation Street – 23rd December 1964

C1

It’s panto time in the Street (Cinderella). This means several things, firstly that poor Miss Nugent is an absolute bag of nerves. Mr Swindley, cast in his familiar role of impresario, is implacable though – giving her, and the rest of the players, a very stirring speech before the curtain goes up.

Arthur Lowe was, of course, so good at this sort of comic business. And speaking of comic business, it’s easy to imagine that the way Swindley recoils after almost bumping into Ena following his impassioned homily was an unscripted extra.

Ena’s not been called upon to tread the boards and neither has Minnie.  But Minnie does have a vital role – she’s the prompt.  I love the fact that she’s spent all night memorising the play from start to finish, meaning that she can now recite everyone’s lines perfectly.  Another nice moment is the tender way Ena wakes up the slumbering Minnie – for all her bark, there’s clearly a caring side to Mrs Sharples.

The regulars have a packed hall of children to play to.  The camera often cuts away to their rapt faces and it seems like they were genuinely enjoying themselves (either that or they were very good actors).  The panto is a real time capsule of the period, with numerous pop culture references dropped in (most notably The Beatles and Ready Steady Go).

Both Elsie (Prince Charming) and Miss Nugent (Dandini) display fine sets of pins whilst Dennis is endearingly gormless as Buttons (not much acting required then) and Lucille makes for a winsome Cinders.

Any guesses who’s playing the fairy godmother? Mrs Walker of course.  There’s a nice moment early on when Annie asks Jack to serve her a crème de menthe (to steady her nerves before the show). Jack slyly enquires if she intends to pay for it, or whether he should simply make a note!

Also stocking up on Dutch courage is Albert, who seems to find the prospect of playing Baron Hardup more terrifying than living through two world wars ….

It’s not a highbrow sort of panto, but nobody wants highbrow at Christmas. We want to see Len get a custard pie in the face, don’t we boys and girls?

The sixth and final 1964 script by Tony Warren (he wouldn’t return to the series until 1967) it’s an episode very low on drama. This isn’t a criticism though – in recent decades it’s become de rigueur for Christmas soaps to ramp up the drama and excitement (and misery).

Today’s episode is a reminder of a simpler time, when all that was required during the festive period was a bit of indulgence on the part of the viewers as we watched our Coronation Street friends letting their hair down and enjoying themselves.

It’s a pity that the telerecording is so grotty, but it’s better to have it in this state than not at all.

Favourite exchange of the episode. Mr Swindley and Minnie are standing in the wings, admiring Lucille’s performance.

Mr Swindley: I wouldn’t mind adding my signature to a letter recommending her for the Royal Society of Dramatic Art.

Minnie: Last time I spoke to her she said she wanted to go on’t buses.

C2

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

corrie 061230.jpg

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

corrie 601228

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”.