Coronation Street – 24th December 1969

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Broadcast on the 24th of December 1969, this edition of Coronation Street opens with Annie Walker (Doris Speed) dolefully eyeing two Christmas turkeys.  One of them was ordered by her from the butcher, so the other, bought by her long-suffering husband Jack (Arthur Leslie), is surplus to requirements and Mrs Walker minces no words when telling him that he needs to dispose of it.  The relationship between Annie and Jack was a continual source of comedy throughout the first decade of the series – only coming to an end after Leslie’s sudden death in 1970.

Doris Speed paid tribute to him by saying that “the qualities of sweetness and kindness in Jack Walker came in fact from Arthur Leslie himself.” That certainly seems to come across over the screen – Jack Walker is a thoroughly decent man who loves his wife (no matter how much of a trial she can be at times).  There’s a good example of his desire to act as peacemaker later in the episode.

Hilda (Jean Alexander) and Betty (Betty Turpin) are far from happy.  Both have been accused by Mrs Walker of pinching a necklace lent to her by her friend, Mrs Hepplewhite (Betty England).  Betty pops round to see Hilda and they discuss whether they should work to rule.  It’s interesting that there’s no ducks on Hilda’s wall yet – clearly they didn’t appear until the 1970’s.

The confrontation between Mrs Walker, Hilda and Betty is another classic moment.  Mrs Walker has a face like a granite statue as Betty declares they should have a moratorium until after Christmas (“yes” agrees Hilda, before realising she has no idea what a moratorium is!).  Mrs Walker tells them that she stands by what she said – she has reasonable suspicions.  “Reasonable suspicions, my bunion!” explodes Hilda.  Lovely stuff.

Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) casts a critical eye on the decorations in the Rovers Return.  “Now what have reindeers got to do with Christmas? There were no reindeer in the holy land. Nor Robin Redbreasts I wouldn’t wonder.”  As the decorations go up, they discuss the concert, organised by Emily Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire) and Ernest Bishop (Stephen Hancock), due to be held later on in the select.  The pressures of planning has made Emily even more nervous than usual, as she snaps at Ernest and tells him to shut up!

The concert is another of those moments which engenders a sense of community – one of Coronation Street‘s strengths during the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Highlights included Minnie Caldwell’s (Margot Bryant) recitation of The Owl and the Pussycat, Ken Barlow (William Roche) playing Edelweiss on the trumpet and Irma’s (Sandra Gough) impersonation of Hylda Baker – complete with Bernard (Gordon Kaye) dragged up as Hylda’s sidekick Cynthia.

There’s also the memorable sight of Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth) dressed as Father Christmas and his reappearance later in the Rovers still wearing his beard (the glue he used was too strong and he can’t remove it).  Stan (Bernard Youens) solves the problem by ripping it off, much to his discomfort,

But sans beard he’s able to close the show, reciting The Girl I Kissed on the Stairs, and with the revelation that Mrs Hepplewhite had already taken her necklace back (without Mrs Walker’s knowledge) order is restored.  Jack attempts to pour oil on troubled waters by giving Hilda and Betty a present of a pair of nylons each.  He knows that Annie could never bring herself to apologise to them direct (“being the way she is, a spoken apology would go very hard.  So for my sake, as well as hers, accept them please.”).  This they do, although they can’t help but complain that they’re very poor quality!

This episode is just a joy from start to finish.

Coronation Street – 24th December 1975

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Broadcast on the 24th of December 1975, this episode sees the residents of Coronation Street putting on a pantomime to entertain the children.  The chief pleasure is in seeing familiar faces playing dress-up.  Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear) is the Prince, Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) is Buttons, Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley) and Hilda are the Ugly Sisters whilst Deirdre Langton (Anne Kirkbride) is Dandini.  Tricia Hopkins (Kathy Jones) is Cinderella, although she’s fretting about the black eye which was given to her by Deirdre.

The panto takes up the bulk of the episode but it lacks much of an atmosphere, mainly because the child audience are very quiet – only coming to life on a few occasions.  It doesn’t seem to be because they’re bored (at the end they give the cast a rousing reception) so maybe they weren’t efficiently directed.  There was also plenty of comic potential to be gained from on-stage disasters, so it’s a little surprising they didn’t go down this route.

The closest we come to this is when Bet mimes to Rita’s (Barbara Knox) off-stage singing.  Rita, with a glass of wine and a cigarette in hand, is effortlessly able to belt the tune out and amuses herself by changing the tempo of the song mid way through, much to Bet’s obvious annoyance.   Afterwards, through gritted, smiling teeth, Bet tells Rita that “if you ever do anything like that to me again, darling, I will walk straight off and extract your vocal chords with a blunt knife, darling.”

A few random observations – Len’s wearing rather a lot of makeup as Buttons, Deidre has a fine pair of legs and why was Hilda playing one of the Ugly Sisters?  Couldn’t they find two men in the street prepared to drag up?

The inexorable passage of time is highlighted by Ena’s brief appearance.  She seems to be a shadow of her previous self – there’s no sharp retorts or acid observations, instead she’s restricted to looking after a child from the audience and wishing another of the characters well.  Although Violet Carson would remain with the series until 1980, a stroke in 1974 had kept her off the screen for a while and her later appearances would be fairly sporadic.

Away from the panto, the return of Trevor Ogden (Don Hawkins) is the main news.  It’s sometimes easy to forget that the Ogdens first came to the street with several children (mainly because they seemed to fade away quite quickly).  When the Ogdens moved to Coronation Street in 1964, Trevor was fifteen.  He spent the rest of the year getting into various scrapes before running away to London.  Trevor resurfaced for a couple of episode in 1973 before returning again in 1975 for two episodes (this one and the previous one).

Trevor is married, with a young son, and his wife is expecting again.  Although he’s rarely been in contact with Hilda over the last ten years, the news of another child pleases her, as does the fact he’s come all the way down to Weatherfield to see her.  He does have an ulterior motive though – his wife isn’t well and has to go into hospital for a while, so he wonders if Hilda could come down and look after her grandson.  This request is like a blow to the heart for Hilda, and despite the fact that she’s still dressed as an Ugly Sister you can see the pain on Jean Alexander’s face.

The realisation that Trevor wants her to act as a skivvy rankles, as does the fact that he’s never asked her to visit before – only now, when he needs something from her.  It’s a downbeat moment to end the episode on and the strains of the music from the hall (“happy days are here again”) strikes a a very ironic note.

Coronation Street – 9th December 1960

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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).

 

Coronation Street – 14th December 1960

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Poor Florrie hasn’t been in charge of the corner shop for more than a few hours and she’s already in trouble with the police.  Although you do have to say that the undercover officers (a man and a woman) were a bit naughty – acting as agent provocateurs, they asked for a packet of fire-lighters after 7.00 pm, knowing full well that such a sale would be illegal.  If Florrie had been a little more experienced maybe she would have picked up that the pair were acting in a somewhat shifty manner (I think it was the man’s moustache that did it for me).

What really upsets Florrie is the prospect that she might be fined and see her name in the newspapers.  The thought of such public humiliation causes her obvious pain.

More of the regulars are introduced in this episode.  I absolutely love Jack Walker (Arthur Leslie), the long-suffering husband of Annie.  Although this era of the series has a strong matriarchal streak, which reflects Tony Warren’s own experiences when younger, most of the men are more than simply fall-guys.  Jack may find himself somewhat under the thumb of the dominant Annie, but there’s always more of a dash of humour and lightness in Leslie’s performance.

Ken continues to fret that Coronation Street is no place for a girl like Susan.  More than once he tries to dissuade her from visiting the Rovers, but eventually she has her own way (another sign of female dominance?).  She’s made a good impression with Ken’s parents (Frank seems especially taken with her) although Ken himself is still incredibly tense (ashamed of his humble surroundings, no doubt).

Susan’s borrowed her father’s car to visit Ken.  It would have been impractical in such a small studio to show it, but the illusion is neatly created when we hear, off screen, a number of small urchins playing with the horn.  They also scratch the bonnet and shove nails into the tyres – making it plain that Coronation Street is very much at the wrong end of town.

Ena continues to dominate every scene she’s in.  She’s incensed when Florrie refuses to serve her with some ham, but even better is to come when Christine Hardman (Christine Hargreaves) pops into the corner shop to give Ena a piece of her mind.  One of Ena’s defining character traits – she’s a woman who speaks her mind, irrespective of the hurt it might cause others – is made plain here.

Christine’s mother has suffered a nervous breakdown, but Ena seems to have displayed little sympathy (on the contrary, we can assume that she’s relished talking about it).  Ena uses the phrase “pots for rags” to describe Christine’s mother (presumably anybody who gives away good pots to the rag and bone man in exchange for rags must be a little loopy).  There’s little else you can do but just stand back and admire Ena in full flight.

Over at the Rovers we meet Harry Hewitt (Ivan Beavis) who seems rather cheerful, despite the fact that his daughter’s stuck in an orphanage.  We later learn that Harry’s wife died the year before and since he was unable to cope with his daughter, Lucille, the poor girl was placed in care.

Also at the Rovers, the triumvirate of Ena, Martha Longhurst (Lynne Carrol) and Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant) take up their positions in the snug.  It’s noticeable that Minnie doesn’t speak a single word – all she does is nod vigorously as the other two make various points.  A pity, but she’ll make up for it later with a score of deliciously vague bon mots.

We’re denied that here, but Ena and Martha do have this wonderful, oft quoted, exchange.

Ena: You know sometimes I think I’m just about ready to go off down to that cemetery, but if I had my way I’d just like to go like me mother did.
Martha: Eee, that were a beautiful ending.
Ena: Oh, lovely. She just sat up, broke wind and died.

What can you say? Simply wonderful.

Elsie and Linda spend a quiet evening in (although this illusion is somewhat spoilt by the sound of someone coughing elsewhere in the studio). Their scenes help to put a little meat on the bones of both their characters – especially Elsie, who doesn’t appear to have adjusted to the fact that the war is over. Back then, with a GI on her arm, she was someone. Now she’s just another faded woman with ever decreasing horizons.

Both decide to go for a drink at the Rovers Return, where they find Ivan waiting …..

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Coronation Street – 16th December 1960

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The opening of this episode has something of a Coronation Street rarity – a restaged cliffhanger.  This gives us an opportunity to marvel once again at the man who’s quickly become my favourite extra (you can’t miss him, he’s wearing a checked cap and has a habit of staring straight into the camera).

Linda and Ivan have a set-to in the Rovers bar, their every move observed by Ena, Martha and Minnie (watching from the safety of the snug).  As you might expect, the trio exhibit a mixture of prurient disapproval (the language!) and sadness that they can’t quite hear all the juicy details ….

Minnie gets to utter her first words, but it’s plain that she’s very much at the bottom of the pecking order at present – Ena first, then Martha, then Minnie.  When Ena decides to head home for a cup of cocoa, she invites Martha but doesn’t include Minnie.  Not that Minnie seems too bothered (presumably she’s used to this sort of treatment by now).

Ena and Martha’s cocoa is interrupted by Leonard Swindley (Arthur Lowe).  Making his debut here, Swindley is the chairman of the Glad Tidings Mission Hall (Ena acts as caretaker).   Although she’s not paid, she does receive free board (and coal) which is the reason why Swindley feels able to tell her that the committee aren’t at all happy with her conduct – namely the fact that she frequents licenced premises.  Oh dear ….

Ena’s not going to take this sort of thing lying down.  At one point she raises her arm as if to strike the unfortunate Swindley, but instead settles for a frank exchange of views.  Ena’s isn’t prepared to change her habits for anyone, something which she makes abundantly clear to the unfortunate Swindley.  Arthur Lowe only has a brief scene here, but it’s long enough to sketch out Swindley’s main character traits – he’s a pompous and officious type.  Of course, Lowe would later play a not dissimilar character in Dad’s Army, meaning that it’s easy to draw parallels between the two.

We finally learn why Linda’s been acting so erratically – she’s pregnant but was convinced that Ivan didn’t want children (hence the reason why she ran away).  But he seems more than happy with the thought of becoming a father, so all seems well.  For the moment.

The confrontation between Ivan and Dennis is interesting.  Dennis makes a disparaging comment about Linda’s unborn child, which infuriates Ivan.  Although Dennis cast a menacing shadow across the opening episode, when Ivan squares up to him he’s dramatically reduced in stature (it’s rather like a man facing a boy).

Once again, children provide a sense of discord.  Last time they vandalised Susan’s car, here they’re shouting abuse at May Hardman (Joan Heath).  May’s troubles (she’s suffered a nervous breakdown) were touched upon in episode two and it’s clear that she’s more than a little worried about the reception she’s going to receive from the neighbours.  Right from her first scene she’s marked as a victim – so it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that her time on the street will be very limited.

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.

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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 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 – 23rd December 1964

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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.

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Coronation Street – 26th December 1966

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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.

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