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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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.