I’ve recently added this slim, but fascinating, volume to my collection. Published in 1970, Ken Irwin meets the cast and gently dishes the dirt – if it’s gossip you want then you’ve come to the right place.
It’s not really a salacious read though – Irwin (despite his bumpy relationship with the series) clearly had affection for the majority of the cast. Famously, as the Daily Mirror’s television critic, he predicted, after the first episode, that the series was doomed to failure. Like the Decca executive who told Brian Epstein that “guitar groups were on the way out”, Irwin’s comment was something he had to spend the rest of his life living down.
Even in 1970, he wasn’t predicting that the series would run for ever – the final chapter in this book suggests that another ten years might just be possible though ….
With 32 chapters across 173 pages, The Real Coronation Street is a very dippable tome. After briefly detailing the creation of the series, the book then tends to focus on one actor per chapter – with Irwin crafting brief but incisive portraits of his subjects (his experience as a newspaperman was clearly put to good use here).
Virtually all the cast members you would hope to have been interviewed – both past and present – make an appearance. Some familiar stories – the senior actors’ reluctance to interact with guest performers and the way they jealously guarded their rehearsal room chairs – are given an outing.
Frank Pemberton’s chapter (Tragedy on the Way to the Dole) catches the eye. Pemberton (Frank Barlow) was axed from the series in 1964 and the following year suffered a stroke which severely limited his mobility. Talking to Irwin, he still wistfully hoped for an acting job where he could sit down all the time. He did make one final Street appearance (in 1971) but sadly suffered another stroke shortly afterwards and died at the early age of 56.
Sandra Gough (Irma Ogden/Barlow) is another who had a more than interesting relationship with the series as she found herself cold-shouldered by some of her fellow cast members due to her strident Christian views. It’s notable that Irwin doesn’t name names – but, given that he didn’t want to burn his professional boats, you can’t really blame him. Gough would abruptly exit the series (she was fired in 1971).
Illustrated with a selection of photographs that were mostly new to me, if you can find a decently priced copy then I’d strongly recommend adding The Real Coronation Street to your library.