Friday, 17 December 2010

Granada Studios - a history


The (current) home of Coronation Street

In 1954, brothers Sidney and Cecil Bernstein, the brains behind the Granada Cinema chain (founded in Dover in 1930 and named after their favourite holiday destination), bought the license to broadcast independent television to the north west region of England. Up until then the BBC were the only TV broadcasters. The Bernsteins chose the north west, not because they were from the region, but quite simply because of the area’s high rainfall. They figured that the poor weather would keep people inside watching the telly, giving them a greater chance of ratings success.

Their gamble – they actually had the Granada office building designed as a hotel as a fall back in case the company failed – was that Northern people were fed up with London-centric shows (almost all the BBC’s output came from the capital) and wanted to see people and places they recognised and could identify with. Their philosophy was to seek out regional acting and writing talent who had a desire to work on shows set in and around Manchester.

Of course, these days Coronation Street is the most famous show made at the city centre studios. Corrie has its own outdoor lot and two indoor studios - one either end of the street itself – this area is known as Stage One. In effect, although other programmes are made at this site, Coronation Street has its own self-contained area. The Corrie lot features the outdoor street set with indoor studios (containing the house and shop interior sets) at either end of the street. The arches behind the Kabin conceal one studio and the Victoria Court flats conceal the other. The buildings on the street are mainly empty shells used for storage and as offices, although the factory is often used inside as a police station, the medical centre houses the hospital set and the Victoria flats entrance housed the prison set during John and Fiz’s marriage story.

The current outdoor set, with the main Granada building
behind.  Today there's a viaduct in the gap to
the left of the Rovers and the Victoria St shops
stand where we are viewing it from.
 Other parts of the studios have also been used for Corrie filming – Carla’s flat entrance (when Rosie was spying on her) was the Corrie cast entrance, an old digital TV studio opposite Stage One was given a make-over and used as the temple where Dev and Sunita married with a fake street built across the Corrie cast car park! Remember when Sally and garage owner Ian Davenport were having a fling? His garage was constructed in old railway arches bordering the Corrie car park.

Today it’s not possible to visit the studios and security is tight. But this wasn’t always the case. The Granada Studios Tours, always a popular attraction in Manchester, particularly with Corrie fans, sadly closed at the end of 1999 and apart from the odd special occasion, it has remained closed. In recent years many of the attractions have been gutted and turned over to new uses – the Baker Street set is now used for Coronation Street filming with the front door of 221b Baker Street retained in the studio. The outdoor area used as an American street scene is used for car parking and the replica of the Rovers Return which used to be open to the public to dine and drink in (not the one used for filming) is now the staff bar.
Granada Facts:
1947: Through a partnership with Alfred Hitchcock the Bernsteins made movies Rope and Under Capricorn.
1959: The firm set up Granada TV Rentals
1965: Launched their first motorway services business.
1990: Bought the Forte Posthouse Hotels chain.
1991: Sold the cinema chain.
They have owned at one time or another: Harry Ramsdens, Granada Bingo, Camelot Theme Parks, 10% share of Liverpool FC, Granada Vending Machines.

Corrie's On The Move

The very first outdoor set
After years of speculation it's been confirmed that a whole new Corrie set will be built on land next to the Imperial War Museum of the North, which borders the Salford Quays area.  A bridge is currently being built across the Manchester Ship Canal which will link the Corrie site with the MediaCity development which will house new Granada offices and facilities.  This means that ITV and the BBC will, in effect, share some facilities.
We're waiting to hear what will happen to the current outdoor set - will it be demolished?  Will it open as a tourist attraction?  We wait further news!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Tram Crash TV!

Did you all catch it? The sparks flew, voices were raised and a few careers came off the rails ... yes, the Come Dine With Me Coronation Street Special was well worth watching (from behind the sofa).
In case you missed it (I'm sure you should be able to find it on Channel 4's i-player site) we had Ken Morley (Reg), Julie Goodyear (Bet), Phil Middlemiss (Des) and Tupele Dorgu (Kelly) entertaining each other to consecutive dinner parties at their homes (well, in true reality Tv style Julie's 'home' wasn't actually her real home). 
Ken Morley's behaviour crossed the line somewhat (think highly embarrasing uncle at a family do) which included leering, groping, spitting food, testing food with his finger, wearing his wife's knickers, and much more besides.  Julie's evening included a near-naked slave, a whip and ... well, you needed to be there (o maybe not).  Tupele looked like Alice in Wonderland trapped at this ludicrous, and slightly frightening, mad hatter's tea party.
If you can catch it, do - if only to see that Reg Holdsworth was obviously a watered-down version of Mr Morley.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Seemingly a dossier of storylines planned for 2011 were left on a tram - and they've been handed to me.  So, in the spirit of Wikileaks here they are....
A van pulls up at the factory as Carla is closing up for the day. Her five long-lost Connor brothers climb out and take over the business. They set about building another extension to the factory and in doing so discover just what that smell is in the ladies loo. It’s Colin Fishwick. Fiz identifies the rug he’s wrapped in as hers and she is arrested for Colin’s murder ... and crimes against interior design. John conveniently heads off on a teacher’s training course in Benidorm. Sian and Sophie decide to adopt a child and book a trip to Tibet to find one.

Gail enjoys a weekend away from it all at a retreat. Whilst there she meets handsome monk, Daniel, who asks to keep in touch. After exchanging a few religious postcards Daniel turns up on Gail’s doorstep having turned his back on celibacy and he moves in with her. Fiz is given a life sentence at her trial and uses her time in prison well – she makes another rug. Sian and Sophie jet off to Tibet.

Gail and Daniel announce their engagement, much to Audrey’s discomfort. She knows there’s something not right about him and is determined to discover his dark secret. Ken decides to commission a portrait of Deirdre but when he goes to see the painter (Trixie) he falls into her arms and decides he would have preferred to have lived her bohemian life. They embark on a steamy affair. Sian and Sophie return with a little Tibetan baby they call GaGa.

The Connors decide to make the factory smaller again and they remove the new extension over the course of a weekend. Two of the brothers die in the process, another goes back to Ireland and two more vanish. Carla is on her own again. Tracy Barlow offers to spring Fiz from prison if she’ll give her baby Hope. Fiz agrees. Tracy then offers the child to Becky and Steve for a few grand in unmarked notes. A deal is struck. GaGa isn’t settling in to Weatherfield life so Sian and Sophie post him back and agree to adopt Chesney instead.

Tracy visits Fiz in prison carrying a very large bag and smuggles Fiz out in it. Fiz gives her baby Hope, which Tracy accidentally leaves on a bus and Becky is furious that she’s lost the chance for another child. Ken presents Deirdre with the portrait but she isn’t struck with it and throws it back at him. Trixie arrives in her old VW Beetle and begs him to leave with her. Emily reminds Ken that Uncle Albert would be turning in his grave if he thought Ken would get into a German car. He is brought back to earth by this reminder of his past. Trixie leaves without him and Deirdre burns the painting on the Red Rec. She is arrested because Weatherfield is now a smokeless zone.

Deirdre is released from prison following the intervention of the Prime Minister. There’s a flood in the Rovers cellar and during the building works an old beehive wig of Bets is discovered with rats nesting in it. Norris gets very excited and Rita notices he changes just a little. His secret is out – he’s been Alec Gilroy in disguise all these years. Rita curses herself for not noticing the haircut and tank-tops were the same. He just wanted to be near Rita – he proposes to her, and she now finds herself owner of the Kabin once more .. and landlady of the Rovers, which Alec buys from Steve.

Gail and Daniel marry on the banks of Weatherfield Canal. While they are away on honeymoon in Blackpool Audrey rifles through Gail’s private papers and discovers a newspaper cutting from the trial of Brian’s murderer. It is Daniel. Audrey decides to keep quiet until the Rovers has a big do. Peter Barlow is back on the bottle and he joins Eileen for a night on the town. They end up in bed together and when Eileen discovers she’s pregnant Ken forces Peter to propose to her. Eileen says yes. Baby Jack is taken ill and desperately needs a kidney transplant. Tyrone’s offer of a kidney is rejected but he pleads with Kevin to give the child one of his. He agrees.

There’s a big do at the Rovers and Audrey produces the press cutting – Daniel is exposed as Brian’s murderer. Gail is having none of it and she forgives her new husband. However, later that night Daniel suggests a drive to their wedding location by the canal. As Gail gets into the car she questions his need to tie her up and Daniel admits he also set fire to the convent killing Ivy. He has a pathological desire to wipe out the Tilsleys. They set off towards the canal. Meanwhile, the residents are partying at the Rovers in celebration that Dev has learnt to do another facial expression at long last.

Daniel is about to drive his car into the canal when he spots a figure climbing from the water. It is Joe, who faked his death a little too well. He has returned and shoots Daniel and snogs Gail. She berates him for all the money she wasted on the funeral but they are reunited. Steve wins a fortune in a Cumbrian gurning competition and his prize is a modelling job in Hollywood. He and Becky decide to go and chase their dreams. Becky, on a hunch, visits the lost property office at the bus depot and finds baby Hope, whom she renames Hope Rover. Steve, Becky, Amy, Hope Rover and all the other kids they’ve bought along the way head off to Hollywood. At the airport they realise the tickets say Hollinwood, a suburb of Manchester.

Fiz notices that she hasn’t seen much of John since Colin Fishwick’s body turned up at the factory but then Sean spots a picture of him in the Weatherfield Gazette. It turns out he’s been leading a double life as the headmaster of Weatherfield County Academy so he’s not been able to see much of her. She confronts him at a parent’s evening and they fall into each others arms. He agrees to come home but only if Fiz will let him run a correspondence college from home. A bolt of lightening strikes the Websters causing Jason and Rosie to merge into one but Sally insists ‘Josie’ lives with her. Sally and Eileen have a fight in a vat of mud just for the sake of it – and the ratings. Eileen goes into labour and Sally helps deliver baby Blanche Barlow.

Sophie and Sian split up when Sophie announces she was just going through a phase. Sian agrees that she was too and she begins a torrid affair with Kevin.  Peter and Eileen marry with Leanne and Nick, who have found out that they never legally divorced, as their witnesses. Baby Jack comes home from hospital – he is now 18 and Kevin gives him a job at the garage having sacked Tyrone. Baby Jack rejects Tyrone as his father and changes his name to Baby Jack Webster. He is later diagnosed with a cotton allergy meaning he has to work in the garage shirtless.

Newton and Ridley announce that the Rovers is to get a new name and there’s a campaign to stop them involving Rita sitting atop the pub. It snows heavily and she’s stuck there for a fortnight with Alec too tight to pay the fire brigade to bring her down. Little does she know that while she’s up there he goes on a cruise with an exotic snake act from Crewe.  As the Platt/McIntryre family sit down for Christmas lunch Tina begins to doubt that Joe is who he says he is. He is later seen sitting on Maxine’s bench caressing an iron bar. 2012 might not be Gail’s year. Again.

Of course, it could just be utter rubbish.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Corrie Trivia


Bet and Alec - in panto guise
1. Julie Goodyear and Roy Barraclough (Bet and Alec) first worked together in the mid-60s when he was an actor and she was a stage hand.

2. When Barbara Knox (Rita) made her first professional stage appearance another actress cut the crown of her hat out in a jealous rage.

3. Thelma Barlow and Peter Baldwin (Mavis and Derek) worked together first in the theatre. They were in the same show but didn’t have a scene together.

4. The role of Peter Barlow has been played by more actors than any other. Recently Linus Roache, who played Peter some years ago, returned as another Barlow son – but in the back of shot during many of his scenes, in the Barlows, was a picture of him as a young Peter.

5. Bill Waddington (Percy) used to own a pig farm.

6. Sue Nicholls (Audrey) is well known for entertaining the cast by singing pastiches of musicals.

7. The Oldham Coliseum Theatre is where many Corrie actors have appeared over the years. Roy Barraclough played his first pantomime dame there, Kenneth Alan Taylor (Cecil Newton) was the dame there for many years, Peter Dudley (Bert Tilsley) also and in recent years Eric Potts (Diggory Crompton) was resident dame. Now, Fine Time Fontayne plays the dame – he appeared as Hilda’s lodger Henry Wakefield.

8. Michael Le Vell’s real surname is Turner.

9. One of Julie Goodyear’s first stage appearances was in ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’. She wore a leopard-print bikini.

10. Bill Tarmey (Jack) used to sing regularly at his local pub. He gave it up a few years ago.

11. Liz Dawn’s return as Vera for Jack’s death was to have involved her flying. The scene was shot but not used.

12. One of Katherine Kelly’s (Becky) first professional roles was playing a nurse in a play about British comedian Frank Randle. He was played by Keith Clifford who also played Corrie’s Charlie West, owner of the famous turkey.

13. Antony Cotton’s (Sean) real mum appeared in the recent TV play about Corrie ‘The Road to Coronation Street’.

14. Sarah Lancashire (Raquel) was once a waitress. Suranne Jones (Karen) later worked in the same restaurant.

15. Every actress who has played Ken’s wives appeared at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre before landing the job.

16. Kevin Kennedy and Ken Morley (Curly and Reg) were reunited on stage when they both appeared in the touring version of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’.

17. Bernard Popley was the real name of the actor who played Stan Ogden. One of his early jobs was appearing in a film shot in Manchester. An actress called Pat Pilkington was in it too – she later became Pat Phoenix.

18. Jean Alexander (Hilda) first appeared in Corrie in 1961 – three years before Hilda was invented.

19. Roy Barraclough played the man who sold Stan Ogden his window cleaning round and he also played a salesman who sold Hilda a bed.

20. Alan Rothwell (David Barlow) started out on the Wilfred Pickles radio show. Vi Carson (Ena) also worked on that programme.

21. Eileen Derbyshire (Emily) once mistook the real vicar at a filming location  for the actor vicar and had a long coversation with him about one of the storylines before realising her mistake.

22. Betty Driver, and her late sister Freda, once booked on a cruise to get a break from Corrie.  Imagine their surprise when it turned out that several of the cast were on board as guest speakers!

23. When Granada TV was 40 years old they held a special concert at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall hosted by Roy Barraclough and with guests including William Roache and Liz Dawn.

24. John Savident (Fred), Meg Johnson (Eunice) and Barbara Knox (Rita) all started their theatrical lives as amateur performers.

25. Actress Susie Blake (Bev) owns the bell cord from the Rovers set.  As part of a storyline it was changed and she was given the old one as a leaving gift.

Copyright: The author

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Another interview from the archives ... this time an interview with John Jardine from about five years ago:

Mark Llewellin chats exclusively with actor John Jardine

John Jardine will be instantly recognisable to long-standing Coronation Street fans for his portrayal of Randolph Taylor, affectionately known as ‘daddy’ by his wife. They were the parents of Curly’s former girlfriend Kimberley – ‘Daddy’ fond of slinking off, pipe in hand, to the greenhouse where he’d lecture ‘Norman’ on the blissful married life he had ahead of him! Despite it being some 14 years since John left Corrie he is still recognised by fans, including hundreds of Canadian ones who urge him to go into character and perform his most famous line: “That Battenberg cake is just the right side of moist mummy!” But John is now established as a member of the Hollyoaks cast – where he has been reunited with Kimberley’s alter-ego, the actress Suzanne Hall, as his daughter-in-law. “It was a wonderful surprise,” he tells me. “On my first day I was in the Green Room and Suzanne walked through!”

We were sat in the sun-dappled gardens at the Jardine’s pretty home, set at the foot of the beautiful Pennine hills, in his adopted home county of Lancashire. John told me that the charming cottage had been the butler’s accommodation for the adjacent large mill owner’s property and he and his Irish wife Kay have lived there for a number of years.

John was born in Harrow, west London, his parents running the nearby Swan Hotel in Northolt. Although none of the family worked in showbiz his parents were keen theatre-goers and John vividly recalls the weekly outings to either the Harrow Coliseum or the Watford Palace. “I remember gazing up from the car park, up at the back wall of the theatre where the windows of the dressing rooms were, and thinking I’d like to be inside there – maybe that’s where it came from.” But his parents were horrified when he later announced his hopes of becoming an actor. “I had an A level in religious studies and they rather harboured a hope that I’d go into the clergy so years later when I was playing the Archbishop of Canterbury I had a picture taken in the full robes and sent it home with a note saying ‘I got the top job!’,” he chortles.

Whatever his parents hope, he ended up in the RAF, with who he served until 1955. It was during this time that John got his first experience on the stage, taking part in shows and plays for the services – and he proudly showed me an award he won for his work. “My Oscar,” he beams. Aged 21 he left the RAF and needed work and although he did try to break into acting he ended up working in an outfitters in Harrow. “I was very good at the selling but I couldn’t wrap the clothes and as we were all on commission my colleagues weren’t best pleased that they had to wrap all my sales for me.” He landed an audition for the Central School of Speech and Drama, which he passed, but before he could accept the place someone advised him that he would be better off getting experience working in repertory theatre. So, he wrote off to, and got a contract with, the Harry Hanson Court Players in Swansea.

It was a time John confesses to having enjoyed greatly – appearing in some productions, working backstage on others, and some weeks, doing both. From Swansea he moved to Leeds (where the leading man was Leonard Pearce, now remembered as Granddad in Only Fools and Horses), which is where he first met Kay: “We met in a darkened room,” he says. Kay was a friend of his landlady and in the days when people watched television in the dark, he returned home to find the ladies watching the box. They were married in 1959. John continued to work in rep theatres all over the country and eventually he, Kay and son Terry found themselves residing in York. Then John landed parts in two plays in Oldham.

In those days – until just a few years ago in fact – Oldham Coliseum was widely regarded as a repertory theatre of distinction and one at which many household names began their careers. “I went, leaving the family in York, to do these plays and there seemed a possibility of more but I went to Carl Paulsen who ran it and told him that I’d have to have a proper contract because we’d all have to move to Oldham,” John told me. “It seems that he told his second in command that he wanted me to stay because I learnt the lines. So we all moved down.”

John found himself appearing in a different play every week and playing to packed houses. “Oldham audiences were very loyal and we got a bit spoilt there.” Comedy is John’s favourite medium and he recalls working with several co-stars who would go onto to join the Corrie cast – Peter Dudley (Bert Tilsley), Barbara Knox (Rita), Roy Barraclough (Alec) and many more. When John took over running Oldham in the early 70s he invited many of them back to star in his productions. After Oldham he joined the Library Theatre in Manchester under the direction of David Scase who also played Corrie’s Dr Lowther (the man Hilda Ogden left to look after).

But John isn’t only known for his theatre work of course – in the early 70s he was cast as the court foreman in the long-running daytime drama Crown Court. “It was wonderful because they filmed it at Granada in Manchester and you finished by 5pm so I could rush back to Oldham and appear on stage at night. I did that for a few years.” Being at Granada he was also able to make an impression on the Corrie casting directors and he landed a few Weatherfield roles over the years. “I think I’ve played four different people – I was Martin Platt’s dad, a press photographer, a solicitor. Then in 1990 John Stevenson created the Taylors and Marlene Sideway and I were cast. They were wonderful parts – I really enjoyed playing ‘Randy’ as Vera called him.”

Since the Taylor’s left in 1992 he’s appeared in shows including A Bit of a Do, Last of the Summer Wine (he jousted with Bill Owen’s Compo whilst the pair were dressed in full armour on bicycles: “It was so hot we literally roasted!” and he recently appeared as a supermarket manager), Brazen Hussies with Julie Walters, and the cult comedy The League of Gentlemen. One role which he is particularly proud of is in the series The Courtroom, made by Mersey TV: “It was a more modern take on Crown Court and I was asked to play a man accused of murder. He had carried out a mercy killing on his terminally ill wife, she’d asked him to do it.” Then last year he was offered the role of Grandpa Bill in the soap Hollyoaks. A new family, the Ashworths, had been created and the idea was that they had a granddad in a retirement home who they would go and visit – in fact, John’s portrayal was so funny that he’s now left the home and he’s moved in with the family (his son is played by former Emmerdale actor Jim Melia and his daughter-in-law by Suzanne Hall). “It’s a teenage soap and one of the lads playing my grandsons said to me on the first day: ‘We’ve never had anyone as old as you in this before!’”

“I’m enjoying doing Hollyoaks – and the new producer Bryan Kirkwood asks me to do Daddy’s ‘moist’ line every time I see him – so I’m hoping to be in the show for a while. I’ve just completed by second stint and I’m hoping to be back in towards the end of the summer. Other than that, as all actors know, you just wait and see what comes along……we’re well used to it in this family – my son Terry is a director of Autograph Sound who do the audio side of lots of big West End and international musicals and one of my two grandsons has already done a long stint in Les Miserables in the West End.”

Text and picture: The Author


Below is a reprint of an interview I did with Thelma Barlow some years back and which appeared in On The Air magazine:

Actress Thelma Barlow talks exclusively to Mark Llewellin as she celebrates 50 years in show business.

Not all Coronation Street characters have their names etched on that golden list – the ones we all miss so dearly, the very mention of whose name is sure to bring a smile to people’s faces – but Mavis Wilton is definitely up there with the best of them. Although writers invent the characters and create the situations that keep them busy it is the artiste who invests the written word with depth and actress Thelma Barlow is held in high affection by fans around the world for investing Mavis with so much. It’s surprising then to hear Thelma tell me that she never had any aspiration to become a performer during her formative years.

She was born in Middlesbrough just a few weeks after the death of her father. Her mother, who had also been born in the wake of her own father’s death, did what she had to do to keep herself and her two daughters fed and clothed – she rolled up her sleeves and worked hard. “There were no benefits in those days,” says Thelma. “We’re a line of small but strong women in our family!” The young Thelma was schooled in Huddersfield, Yorkshire and soon went to work as a secretary. “I studied short hand typing at night school but I didn’t enjoy it – one day my friend and I decided to change courses and the only one we could agree on was speech and drama so that’s what we changed to!” she says.

She was inspired to join the local amateur dramatics society and then took the momentous decision to head off to London in search of work. “I shudder now to think about it – I only knew one person there!” she laughs. Thelma had done a little radio work during which she had met a folk singer who told her to look him up if she ever went to the capital and he would send her to Joan Littlewood. “Joan ran a theatre company in the East End and later became hugely famous but in those days she was just starting out and she was putting together a company for a one-off project. I did an audition and got the part – alongside Michael Caine!”

That role led to another contact who passed her off as his girlfriend to land them both a contract with a touring company in the West Country. “We travelled round in an old van, putting the scenery up, learning lines for the next play on the way home – it was great training.” She tells me. “That’s where I first worked with Peter Baldwin (Derek Wilton) and my husband, the scenic designer Graham Barlow. We were married in Exmouth with a triumphal arch made of scenic braces covered in ribbons and we had a one day honeymoon in Budleigh Salterton before going back to work the next day!”

Stints at repertory theatres in Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham and Bristol followed. At Bristol Old Vic she was reunited with Peter Baldwin who played her husband in The Way of the World. “By now I had two sons and Graham landed a job in Glasgow so we moved up there – it was alright for a while but then I had a lot of difficulty getting work due to Scottish nationalism which was very strong at the time. I did a few jobs in England and then auditioned for Mavis. I did one episode of the Street in 1971 for Emily’s engagement to Ernest – then I went back a year later for the wedding, then another stint and so on until I joined the cast on a more regular basis. It was a great role and I loved playing her – I was lucky to get to work with Barbara Knox and Peter because they were both brilliant.”

When I ask whether she left because Derek was killed off by producer Brian Park she tells me the real reason: “No! That’s not true. I had already told them I was going a couple of years before and was persuaded to do two further years but I had told the producer that I would not be renewing my contract at the end of 1997. So they knew that when they decided to kill Derek off – I don’t know why Mavis didn’t die instead, maybe they wanted a bit of the grieving widow but either way, they knew I wanted to do other things – get back to theatre, most actors’ first love. My sons had left home, I was divorced, for the first time I had no responsibilities.”

Since leaving Coronation Street she has certainly been busy – making cameo appearances in top TV shows like Where the Heart Is and The Royal and she played Mrs Heap in David Copperfield plus of course her long stint in Dinner Ladies. Stage appearances have included Alan Bennett’s Enjoy, Blithe Spirit and Smoking with Lulu by Canadian Janet Munsil. She also appeared in London’s West End in the acclaimed revival of Arsenic and Old Lace. Her latest project has been a film, Mrs Henderson Presents, due for release at Christmas, in which she plays Lady Conway. “I’m the naughty friend of the title role, the lady who founded the saucy Windmill Theatre in London, played by Dame Judi Dench. It’s set in the late 30s and she’s very posh – lovely because I thought I was resigned to apron and slippers roles!” she laughs.

A couple of years ago Thelma moved from Yorkshire to the south coast where she is creating a new garden. “I garden organically – great fun! I also love cooking, travel, theatre-going and catching up with friends. I still see a lot of Peter. In fact Peter and I went to Toronto and Vancouver and we had a great reception – the fans there are brilliant!” she tells me. “I’ve been very lucky – very lucky indeed!”

Text Copyright: The author  Picture: ITV

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


Over the past decade or so I’ve been lucky enough to be able to take literally hundreds of Corrie fans to many of the locations used in filming the show, and in some cases, to the very cobbles themselves. How this came about is a long story but it started thanks to me agreeing to give a small group of Canadian fans a tour around the Oldham Coliseum Theatre where I worked at the time and which has strong links to lots the cast. I’ve also had, thanks to my proper job, the good fortune to get to know many of the cast – past and present, and to work alongside people such as the actors who play Chesney, Ken, Jason, Sean and many more.

I’m a fan myself and the earliest episode of Coronation Street I can recall watching was the one, in 1979, when a lorry ploughed into the front of the Rovers. Deirdre had left a young Tracy outside in her pram and everyone thought she’d been killed (now, looking back it’s a pity she wasn’t!) but of course, in true drama style she’d been kidnapped moments before the crash. The fact that, 30-odd years later, all those references will still mean something to viewers who weren’t even born at the time is one of Corrie’s strengths.

Each year I am asked to take groups around the many Corrie ‘off studio’ locations such as where Richard Hillman died, where the weddings and funerals take place, and so. It’s something I love to do and in the past 12 months or so I’ve looked after fans from the UK, Canada, Australia, Italy and New Zealand.

The following are just some of the more unusual incidents to have happened to me on my tours:

The park which is used as the location of the Red Rec overlooks several rows of houses which have been refurbished over recent years. In the build up to this the developers moved residents out of their homes so it was a bit controversial. On one of my visits, with forty fans in tow, a lady emerged from one of the houses to berate us. She thought we were the developers. When she finally accepted that we were Corrie fans she invited the group into her home to take a look at a two-up and two-down. As the last fan entered the house she suddenly looked at me and said: “Oh no, my husband’s asleep upstairs!” She’d quite forgotten in the heat of the moment.

We were at Ryecroft Hall, which doubles as Weatherfield Registry Office, when the six or so ladies I was looking after suddenly decided to run around the corner of the building shouting “Don’t do it – it’s me he loves!” I tried to think of what storyline they were re-enacting. I couldn’t place it. I asked them and they seemed confused. It turned out they were remembering something that had happened in entirely the wrong soap-opera!

When I recently filmed a segment for the upcoming CBC ‘Corrie Crazy’ show we were at the scene of Richard Hillman’s death, a canal bank. The director thought it would be fun if I were to lie out on the quayside like a dead Richard Hillman and have the presenter walk and talk to the camera and just step over me. Very funny except that the quayside is covered in Canada geese poo. Some things I draw the line at!

Filming Blanche's funeral.  ITV
Sometimes I have to go and identify a location and I often visit early in the morning because when you’re driving, studying a map and trying to look for the hidden location it’s easier when there’s no traffic around. This is how I found myself at the location of Blanche’s funeral at 6.30am. I was creeping through the graveyard in the gloom trying to find the exact burial spot when I stumbled across another chap. We sort of, like in a comedy sketch, backed into each other. I don’t know who was most frightened. It turned out he was doing some family tree research and was looking for a gravestone with his surname on it. Or at least, that’s what he said!

Sometimes I get an odd request from a group, and sometimes they have their own secret agenda – like the lady who had been a huge fan of Uncle Albert and wanted to visit the British Legion club he used to drink in or the lady who wanted a picture of her messing up William Roache’s hair for a friend – all achieved. Then there was a lady who was so obsessed with Hilda Ogden that she wanted to be taken to actress Jean Alexander’s home. I couldn’t help with that but we did take her to the British Lawnmower Museum where Jean’s own lawnmower is on display. That seemed to please her and she must have had fifty or so pictures of herself taken with the lawnmower! And what about the lady who recently asked if I knew the hotel and room number which was used by Kevin and Molly for their trysts. I assume she wanted to get in there for some reason. When I told her that the room had been a set in the studio she seemed very upset!

Mainly I have groups of ladies to look after – and more often than not they want to visit somewhere associated with Liam or Steve or Jason – one of the good-lookers. One lady practically fainted when she sat in Steve’s chair in the Streetcars office, another found her way into the toilet that Jason escaped out of when he fled from the first wedding to Sarah. She boarded the coach with some toilet paper as a souvenir!

I was lucky enough to walk down those famous cobbles when the studios were open to the public. Since then I’ve walked down the set dozens of times and met the vast majority of the cast. However, when I’m looking after a group of fans I still remember my first time in ‘Weatherfield’ and try and bring that feeling to others – even if they can’t actually get into the studios themselves.

You'll find my 50 favourite bits of Corrie trivia at

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Becky and Sean Interviews 2010

Last year I interviewed Katherine Kelly and Antony Cotton ahead of their visit to the British Isles Show in Canada.  The interviews appeared in the official show magazine, but in case you couldn't be there, here are the interviews as they appeared:


Katherine Kelly chatted to Mark Llewellin ahead of her visit to Canada

Have you been to Canada before?

Yes. My dad is Irish and has a large family. Some of them live on the east coast of America and when I was in my teens we went there on holiday. We also visited Toronto and Quebec but just for a day or two. I’m really looking forward to going back. When I was training at RADA my best friend was an actress from Halifax, Meredith McNeill. She’s coming with me on this trip and it’ll be our first visit to Canada together. It will be lovely to see her family especially as her sister is due to have a baby very soon.

How did you get the part of Becky?

Becky ties the knot.  Pic: ITV
 I’d done quite a bit of theatre and some TV roles already. I was asked to audition and was told to go along looking scruffy. However, earlier in the day I had an audition for something else and had been told to look glamorous. The first audition over-ran and so I was rushing on the train to the Corrie audition, trying to take my make-up off, pull my hair about … it was mad! Unusually, I didn’t have to go through a second audition; I got the part straight away. Becky was being looked after by Roy and Hayley. It was a job for a few weeks but I was kept on. That was in 2006.

What do you think of the public reaction to Becky?

She’s gone down a storm. Canadian viewers haven’t seen the best of her yet. She changes from a girl to a woman. She’s trying to become a good person, there’s still a big mountain to climb, but she’s trying hard. It’s an exciting time for me too and last year there was, in the UK, quite a bit of recognition for Becky, and for my playing of her.

As an actress, do you have to like her?

No, but you have to find a reason why she does what she does. Why she is who she is. Her past is an open book although sometimes she chooses to be vague about it all. Bill Ward who played Charlie Stubbs used to say that Charlie deserved to die but that he understood how Charlie had become so evil. Becky’s been a slow burner and I’ve had a lot of input into her clothes, make-up, hair, habits and humour. The whole team have enjoyed creating her, and developing her. It’s interesting that when I do public appearances I find a whole cross-section of fans – the other day I met a 94-year-old lady who had queued for two hours to tell me how much she liked Becky, there are 5-year-old mini Beckys . Girls seem to like her, which is a huge compliment.

Becky seems to get drama and comedy stories.

Yes – and she gets involved with so many different characters. I had a scene with Rita the other day, she’s taken to spending time with Claire Peacock. She’s now married to Steve so she has him, Amy and Liz around her. And she loves Roy and Hayley of course. People sometimes ask me how I can be happy playing her for so long. But she is like seven characters in one. The viewers have watched her grow up. In Canada they’ll see much more of this over the next year. The writers keep it mixed - slapstick and the most challenging of storylines. I hope I do her justice. Actors get pigeonholed – they’re good at comedy or drama, well playing Becky, I get to do both.

What have viewers got to look forward to?

In Canada they have Becky’s marriage to get through. Well, two weddings actually (I liked the pink one best!). Then Tracy Barlow returns and of course, Becky is bringing up Amy. We haven’t yet got to this in the UK but there’s going to be a three-way saga with Becky, Tracy and Steve. A mother’s love knows no bounds but Amy knows Becky better than her real mother. All the tricks Tracy has learnt in prison will come to the fore. But Becky already knows them.

When you are not working, what do you enjoy doing?

As with any freelance worker, you don’t get a lot of free time. However, I like the usual actor-ish things – cinema, reading, theatre. I’ve just taken up golf but I’m not very good … but I’m lucky, my work is doing something that were I in another job, would have been my hobby.

Any message for Canadian Fans?

I’ve met some in the UK and they are always lovely. I’m looking forward to meeting as many as I can during my visit. Please keep watching Becky – you’re about to see my favourite year playing her.


Antony Cotton spoke to Mark Llewellin ahead of his visit to Canada

Have you been to Canada before?

No, no it’s my first time. I’ve met lots of Canadians during my time on Coronation Street though, and they’ve always been really nice so I’m looking forward to it. I don’t think we’ll get much free time as we are visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia and St John’s, Newfoundland before flying into Toronto for the British Isles Show. I’m hoping to see Niagara Falls and a few bits and bobs. I’ll have to go again when I’m not working.

Your mum has been in Coronation Street hasn’t she?

She has. Well remembered! My mum, Enid Dunn, has played two roles in the show. She has also appeared in shows like Shameless, Phoenix Nights and Doctors, the BBC soap.

What can viewers expect for Sean in the next few months?

Canadian viewers are about nine months behind the UK, aren’t they? We’re now looking forward to all the stories building up to the 50th anniversary. As you know Sean and Violet had a baby but she took off with Jamie Baldwin so Sean never knew him. There’s going to be lots of baby talk in the Rovers over the next few months (in the UK) with Becky and Steve planning to adopt a child. This gets Sean thinking about his little boy, who would be two years old by now. He decides to track Violet down and does this using social networking websites. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens as Sean plans to reintroduce himself to his son, Dylan.

Do you enjoy playing him?

Oh yes. I love Sean in the Rovers because he gets involved in other people’s storylines. He doesn’t really need his own – he has this Weatherfield world to get mixed up in. With him being involved in the pub and in the factory there’s a lot for him to take an interest in! There’s always a love interest around the corner too. I’m not sure whether the Canadian fans have met Leon yet, but he’s a love interest who’s been and gone. There’s bound to be another. As we gear up for the special anniversary I’m intrigued to see what else comes along.

There are lots of rumours of past characters returning to the show for the 50th anniversary. Who would you like to see coming back?

There are a lot of rumours, aren’t there? It was in the papers yesterday that Bet (Julie Goodyear) was coming back but that’s not true. Everyone is asking us about this at the moment. Raquel would be my number one choice. Sean would like her I think. Then there’s Ena Sharples, I would like to see her back on the cobbles. Of course, Vi Carson died many years ago – I would have liked to have met her. I did once get to appear in a scene with her via some computer magic. They put me into a scene digitally. I replaced Martha Longhurst. It was that lovely scene where she says of a friend who has passed away, ‘She sat up, broke wind, and died.’ I think, whoever comes back, it would have to be for a reason. I’d also like to see Bet and Alec Gilroy behind the bar. That would be fun – but I can’t see any of my suggestions happening.

You’re always busy with other projects – what are you doing now?

You’re right – I had my own chat show and I write a lot. I’m writing something for ITV Studios at the moment. I had the first script commissioned and I’ve just submitted the first draft of that. It’s a comedy/drama set in a fictional part of Manchester. The central character is a woman and it revolves around her and her home. I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in her world. It’s a funny look at life. Hopefully it will be made sometime.

All packed for Canada?

Not yet. I’m really looking forward to going though. I’ve been to some of the dinners you host for visiting Canadian fans and I’ve always enjoyed them. They’re such lovely people and great fans of the show. Have you any tips for me?

Wear comfortable shoes and get ready to be amazed at the crowds of people who come to see you!

Text copyright of the author.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Fantasy Tram Crash

I have no inside knowledge and haven't read much of the press speculation but here's what I'd do (well, maybe!) with the tram crash ...

It's opening night at the Joinery and Nick and Leanne are holding a party.  Meanwhile, Liz has decided to have her own rival event and stages a  'Weatherfield's Got Talent' evening .  Many of the residents are torn between supporting one or the other and some have decided to play it safe by going to both venues in turn.  During the course of the evening there's an explosion at The Joinery and the roof caves in causing a tram to crash over the vaiduct and into the Kabin.  Debris is thrown across the street and the Corner Shop catches fire.  Inside, Dev has called in to collect a loaf of bread on his way back home to Sunita from the Joinery party.  He is thrown through the window and into the street, where he lies dead.  Sunita will eventually leave Weatherfield to start a new life elsewhere. 
Meanwhile, across the road Rita's been kept up by the loud music playing in the new club and as she watches TV in bed with a cup of Horlicks the tram slices the wall off and causes the roof to collapse on her.  She is trapped under the wood and slates and it will be several episodes before we see her rescued.  She survives with only cuts and bruises. 
Deirdre has been supporting Liz but Ken has not long left the Rovers for the Joinery do (he feels he has to show his face) and she dashes up the street shouting his name.  After a few neck-tightening moments Ken emerges from their house, where he's just gone to use the loo and read the latest issue of the Wetherfield Recorder.  Others emerge from the Rovers - Jim McDonald (who's been staying at the Rovers) and Becky, Fiz and John amongst them.  Tyrone, cradling baby Jack, steps out from his home.  Molly had stormed out after a row and he isn't sure where she is. 
Leanne throws debris off herself and touches the lifeless body of Nick.  He is dead.  Gail and David emerge from the dust but in doing so they trip over Janice's dead body.  Carla is rescued by Michelle.  Things will never be the same for Carla, who thought she was going to die.  She later embarks on charity work and she joins the Salvation Army. 
Jim knows Steve went to the Joinery, though Liz does not.  He rushes in to find him.  As he pulls him from the rubble a joist gives way.  Steve escpaes but Jim dies a hero so he does.
Norris and Emily arrive on the scene as Graeme and Tina arrive in a cab, back from a night out in town.  They try to help but then the emergency services arrive and they are sent to the end of the street where they huddle around Maxine's bench.  Tyrone begs them - have they seen Molly?  Carla says she did - she was sat next to her in the club.  Molly is later found dead. 
Kevin and Sally look desperately for Sian and Sophie but they can't be found.  It transpires later that they left the Joinery early and are in the gay village.  Kevin eyes baby Jack.
Sean's body is carried out. He'd told Liz he was having the night off because he was ill but he'd gone to support Leanne.  His body is discovered along with that of Peter Barlow.  Eileen and Jason thank their stars that they came home early until someone points a finger at Jason.  Just what did he and Owen do when they were refurbishing the club?
Lloyd and the Windasses appear on the scene.  Gail then starts screaming - Audrey went to touch her make-up up in the loo, where is she?  A woman's body is brought out.  David takes a look and announces that it's Audrey.  However, as the hours go by, Audrey is rescued but it's touch and go whether she'll walk again.  Betty eventually arrives in a taxi having heard the news of Weatherfield FM and she sets up a soup kitchen in the Rovers.  The Rev. Mike arrives and so do the media. 
Evetually, the site is searched and secured.  Dev, Molly, Nick, Peter, Jim, Janice and Sean are all dead.

Tinsel and Cobbles

I'm just back from what should have been a great trip to the US and Canada for the fall (New York, Boston, Rhode Island, St John, Halifax, Quebec, St John's).  Sadly the weather was pretty dreadful ... so it's was good rather than great!  My favourite was Halifax, where Corrie fan Mike Shacklock took me on a great tour!  However, I'm now back to work with lots of Corrie things to do and lots of Christmas things also.

I was at Granada the other day where I spotted a tram incongruously balanced on top of Stage One.  Many of the cast (past and present) were popping in to film bits for a tribute show to Bill Tarmey (to be aired on the day his final episodes get shown, which I think is Nov 8th) and for the show looking at the 50 'best' scenes/stories to be broadcast for the anniversary.  Incidentally, I am currently reading Bill's book and it's very good.

Over the next few weeks I'm involved in the following events, which I hope to see some of you at:

Tonight - Tue 19 Oct, 6.30pm: Oldham Local Studies Library, Union St, Oldham.  Talk on Coronation St (£2 admission)
Wed 27 Oct, 10am.  A day touring some Corrie locations.  £15 each.  Organised by the Oldham Chronicle newspaper and leaving from their offices on Union St, Oldham.  Call 0161 633 2121 or visit to book.  I believe there are still places to be had!
Sat 6 Nov, 12.45.  I'm donning a white beard and playing a role (guess who!) in Santa's Real Reindeer Parade in Oldham town centre.  This is my 11th year - and it's always something I look forward to.  The parade includes marching bands, panto characters, Sportacus and lots more - plus the real reindeer of course!
Sun 21 Nov, 4.20pm.  I'm hosting Oldham's Christmas Lights Switch-On and Fireworks.  They really are very good - and it's free!  Peppa Pig will be pressing the button at about 5pm.  See for more details.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Theatre's Corrie Links ... and Liam returns!

Here's an article I wrote, which appeared in a number of magazines, about the Oldham Coliseum Theatre.  A full history with lots of pictures can be found in my book They Started Here! which you can still find copies of on ebay now and again.  It's also where Martha was appearing when Ken Barlow went to see her in Corrie.


The extraordinary history of the Oldham Coliseum

The current Coliseum Theatre sits in a tiny back street off the busy Lancashire to Yorkshire road. I say ‘current’ theatre because the building started life in the town centre where the busy ‘Tommyfield Market’ stands today. In 1885 Oldham was visited by a Mr Myers who instructed local builder, and Mayor’s son, Thomas Whittaker to construct a round wooden theatre as a home for his touring circus. Circus was the latest craze - Wild West shows fronted by legends like Buffalo Bill and produced by firms such as Barnum and Bailey had just crossed the Atlantic to huge success and so small-time regional producers attempted to jump on the wagon. Mr Myers was doing just that – he called his show ‘The Grand American Circus’ but they’d probably been no further west than Ormskirk.

When the work on the building was finished Myers couldn’t come up with the funds to pay for it so Whittaker found himself the owner of the circus. Amazingly, with no experience to speak of, he decided to have a go at running it as a commercial venture – and even more amazingly, he had a success on his hands. The first shows were themed events – Chinese Festivals, recreations of Dick Turpin’s ride to York and so forth. A couple of years later and the council decided that they wanted the site in order to build a market hall so Whittaker moved the Colloseum (as the name was then spelt) further down the hill – plank by plank. The market, ‘Tommyfield’, bears testament through its name to the fact that Tommy Whittaker owned the land.

So, down in Fairbottom Street, on the site of a disused colliery, the new theatre was opened to great publicity. The theatre was made of wood but by now new fire regulations were being brought in and so Whittaker was forced to prove that his 3,000 seat venue wasn’t a fire risk. He invited the Oldham Fire Brigade to try and set light to it – they tried, it didn’t burn and so he was allowed to open to the public. Over the next 50 years or so the theatre played host to variety, musicals, pantomimes, circus and film. Charlie Chaplin is rumoured to have made a visit although actual written records and hard to find – the great Stan Laurel definitely did appear however, as a child actor in the pantomime ‘Sleeping Beauty’ alongside Wee Georgie Wood. By the 1930’s business was suffering from both the depression and the growth in the popularity of cinemas – a great many were opening up in the small town and in 1932 the theatre went bust and closed its doors.

Many in the town campaigned to keep live theatre and in 1938 they opened the Oldham Repertory Club in the former Temperance Hall in the street behind what is now called the ‘Coliseum’. They employed a professional team of actors and a professional director (a young Oldhamer called Dora Broadbent (now known as Dora Bryan) was one of them). Such was their success that in 1939 they leased the old Coliseum and moved the company in there – performing a different play every week.

During the war years the venue was used by companies who were forced to leave London such as the Old Vic, Ballet Rambert and Sadler’s Wells. The Coliseum company also gained a reputation for launching the careers of famous actors – Mollie Sugden (‘Are You Being Served?’), Alan Rothwell (‘Coronation Street’), Anna Wing (‘EastEnders’) and Bernard Cribbins amongst them. In 1947 the theatre caught the national headlines when an actor playing the title role in the often-fated play ‘Macbeth’ was accidentally stabbed on stage and later died. His ghost is said to haunt the theatre to this day.

In the late 50s when television was becoming a widely watched form of entertainment the theatre found itself a popular calling place for casting directors looking for new stars – many of the cast of ‘Coronation Street’ were discovered this way. In fact, William Roache, who was cast as Ken Barlow in 1960 had only just completed his first leading pantomime role at the Coliseum, as he told me: “I was cast as Robin Hood – and there I was in Lincoln green, with the tights, boots and a hat with a feather in it. We had a chorus of little girls – a horn sounded and they cried, “It’s Robin! It’s Robin!” as I came heroically down a staircase, centre stage. On the opening night, I made my entrance at the top of the stairs. I threw my arms back in greeting. The orchestra swelled. Then I tripped and bumped all the way down on my bottom! I never did panto gain.”

By the 60s the theatre was feeling the effects of the growth in the popularity of television and was forced to adapt. Smoking was banned from the auditorium, the building was extended and productions started to go out on tour. The strain of producing a different play each week was also causing problems as people now saw the technical achievements of TV studios night after night and they demanded an improving product. The actors had traditionally performed one play at night whilst rehearsing the following week’s production during the day. Under the direction of Carl Paulsen, a man not known for holding his own counsel, the pressure was increased – Carl’s standards were high.

“If he wasn’t happy about something you soon knew it!” actor John Jardine says. “I remember being on stage during a rehearsal when he called the props girl onto the stage. She was stood there holding a tray of props and he said something about not wanting props of such poor quality on his stage and he pushed the tray up in the air – everything fell onto the stage and smashed. What he didn’t know was that they’d all been borrowed from his house!”

At the end of the decade they were forced to make financial savings too – by making productions fortnightly rather than weekly. During the following decade they moved to monthly productions and the invited back many former company members – people like Patricia Phoenix (Corrie’s Elsie Tanner) in a bid to boost the box office takings. For a while it worked and the Coliseum seemed to be back on an even keel but gradually things began to slide again and the 80s were particularly turbulent times as the theatre struggled to maintain full houses and keep the doors from closing.

During the 90s the theatre became a charity and funding was sought form various national and regional agencies. Today the theatre continues to thrive and provides a rich diet of new and established writing using both the 580 seat main house and the smaller 60 seat studio theatre. Although not strictly a repertory theatre any more in that the company of actors largely changes for each production, Oldhamers are still rightly proud of the town’s ‘Rep’ – as I’m sure it will always be known.

• Film stars Ralph Fiennes and Minnie Driver have both appeared at the Coliseum.
• The theatre ghost is an actor who was stabbed on stage in 1947.
• Jean Alexander (Hilda Ogden) once worked in the theatre’s wardrobe department.
• Amongst other famous names to have worked there: Roy Barraclough, Jean Fergusson, Barbara Knox, Kathy Staff, Sarah Lancashire, Anne Kirkbride and Steve Halliwell.
• The late Dame Thora Hird enjoyed a huge success at the Coliseum with the comedy ‘Saturday Night at the Crown’. It was during this run that a booker from Blackpool signed the show for what would prove a record-breaking summer season and subsequent West End run.
• Oldhamer Eric Sykes claims that without a chance to shine on the Coliseum stage he would have continued working in the mills.
• The West End hit ‘Marlene’ starring Sian Phillips began life at the Coliseum.

Text copyright of the author.

Picture copyright ITV
NOTE: I am working on a project until the middle of October so this will probably be my last post until then.  On the recent 'World of Coronation Street' Tour several ladies (it's always the ladies!) asked whether Rob Collier-James, who played Liam, was doing anything else.  Here he is in the forthcoming ITV drama Downton Abbey which airs soon.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Meet the Vicar!

This article appeared in the Coronation St magazine produced for the British Isles Show this year.  It's by my former writing partner Peter Riley, who is no longer with us:

Jim Whelan is a face known to millions of Coronation Street fans throughout the world, and his character has been vital to some of the most controversial storylines in recent years, yet he can still pass largely unnoticed in the street.

For Jim, who has been a professional actor and entertainer for more than 40 years, has been the Vicar of Weatherfield for several years now, and his most recent appearances saw him officiating at the cremation of Vera Duckworth, following the exit of Liz Dawn from the show, and prior to that as the man who finally married Jason Grimshaw and Sarah Platt, played by Ryan Thomas and Tina O’Brien.

His character, Vicar Mike, was also responsible for the wedding of Steve and Karen McDonald, after first attempting to referee the fisticuffs between the bride (Suranne Jones) and her rival Tracy Barlow (Kate Ford) who were trying to tear each other apart under the watchful eye of the church congregation.

“It has become a way of life playing the Corrie vicar and I love it!” Jim said as we chatted at his home in Bury, just a few miles from the famous cobbles. “I am semi-retired now but if I get the call from the Coronation Street office to preside over a wedding or funeral then I am more than happy to do it. I have played the vicar for several years now and I think I should be the ‘official’ Vicar of Weatherfield, with my own vicarage! Seriously, though, I have enjoyed playing the part, though many people don’t realize that I have been in the Street before. In fact I have played six different characters in all but over the past few years the vicar role has been quite frequent and goes back a way.

The church used for Vicar Mike's parish
“Some viewers may remember the plot years ago when Terry Duckworth, (the wayward son of Jack and Vera) married his girlfriend Lisa while he was handcuffed to prison guards. Well when Lisa was eventually killed by being run over by a car I was the vicar who officiated at her funeral.”

For Jim acting has been a long process which started when he was a teenager and he knew he wanted to be in the profession. In 1971 he made his first Street appearance when he was a customer in the corner shop. In 1973 he appeared in the lunchtime drama series Crown Court as a jury foreman and in the same year appeared in the comedy series Last of the Summer Wine, in which he has now appeared four times. Other well known TV shows in which he has also appeared include Heartbeat, and long running rural soap Emmerdale in which he has appeared as many different characters.

But it is undoubtedly Coronation Street which has given him worldwide coverage, and from his first role as shop customer through to being a postman delivering the good news to Jack and Vera Duckworth that they had inherited £30,000 following the death of Jack’s brother Cliff, to his skill as the Street vicar the attraction of the famous cobbles are never far away.

It has also given him, for example, the chance to meet up with old friends whom he first met well before they were famous faces, including Bill Tarmey who plays Jack Duckworth, Barbara Knox, (Rita) and Anne Kirkbride (Deirdre).

An alternative church location - this is where
Betty married and where Joe is buried.
Jim said: “I first met Bill Tarmey many years ago. I had been fixing a table lamp at home when I was electrocuted because it was faulty. I ended up going to hospital and I came out with my hand and arm bandaged. In order to make a living I was singing in clubs in those days, between acting jobs, and one night I was at a club waiting to go on and sing, whether I had a bandaged arm or not, when I hears this gruff voice asking ‘what have you done to your arm then?’ I turned around and saw this chap standing there smoking a cigarette. It was Bill Tarmey.

“Bill had turned up to sing too, because he wasn’t famous then, he also had to make a living and he told me he’d had a heart attack not long before. So like two invalids we started talking and became friendly, so it has been nice to be able to meet him now and then whenever we have both appeared in Corrie at the same time, and it was particularly poignant when we met up to film Vera’s cremation service at Manchester Crematorium.

“It was the same with Barbara, as we worked together more than 30 years ago. And Anne and I go way back to when we both appeared at Oldham Coliseum acting in repertory. That is the nice thing about working on Coronation Street, as it allows old friends to come together again.

“I enjoy appearing in Coronation Street and I get to see some interesting places. For example, when we were filming the wedding of Mike and Linda Baldwin a few years ago we were on location at beautiful Arley Hall in Cheshire which was a treat. Of course there are also some less interesting locations such as Manchester's Crematorium where we filmed the funeral of Vera. But you can’t have glamour all the time!” he laughed.

During periods when he wasn’t acting Jim spent his days helping out by driving children to and from school for a local firm. But Jim, now 66, has now called it a day from full time work, unless he gets offered a full time role as Corrie’s vicar, of course.

“They have a full time vicar in Emmerdale, so what’s wrong with having one in Corrie?” Jim laughed.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Kemptville Tour - Day Ten

Sunday 5 September 2010

Something special this morning to get the last day off to a cracking start. The real vicar of the church where most of the weddings, funerals, baptisms etc are filmed is a real star. Rev. Hackett and I first met several years ago when he’d just taken over in his new post and had a call from me going on about a Corrie tour. He didn’t, I don’t think, watch Corrie at the time – but he sure does now! He’s seen a lot of filming at the church and has built up a collection of memorabilia from big stories such as Mike’s funeral, Bev and Fred’s wedding etc etc. Anyway, he invited us to join his congregation at Sunday service. It was very special indeed – we were guests at a baptism but, much to the delight of our guests, we were very much involved in proceedings.  Everyone was given a certificate to say they had attneded a service plus a knitted mouse to take away.  Each mouse had been given the name of a Corrie character and the idea is that we send postcards from our mice back to the church!  They've even knitted a cat - who has the name Tony Gordon Richard Hillman!  As the service finished, we all noticed that the organist was playing the Coronation St theme tune!

Afterwards we set off on a whistle stop tour of some final locations – the court where Rita and Deirdre were both sent down, Audrey’s house, Mummy and Daddy Taylor’s house (remember when Curly was going out with Kimberley and he endured several dreadful teas with her parents?), the church Tony Warren was christened in, Weatherfield Comprehensive, and so on.

Final stop was the heart of Salford. In the shadow of the town hall (where Les was sent down) I pointed out some of the inspirations behind the show, how it’s rooted in truth, about its matriarchal thread and so on. We were also in the shadow of Salford Cathedral where Maggie Jones’ memorial service was held. It was a fitting end to the tour to pay tribute to that great actress.  We finally had our tally of locations visited or seen - 61!

So, back to the hotel for packing! Glad I didn’t have it to do.

This evening was another wonderful occasion. We all met up at the Midland Hotel (itself used as a location) for a farewell gala dinner. Of course we also had a surprise guest. Now, normally we have one guest but this being a special year Kemptville Travel had two! We welcomed Julie Hesmondhalgh (Hayley) and William Roache (Ken) to the dinner. Again, both were wonderful and posed for pictures, signed autographs and answered hundreds of questions. A fantastic way to finish off the trip – for tomorrow it’s back to Manchester Airport.

Hope you enjoyed tagging along!

For more information on the tour and to register your interest in ‘The World of Coronation Street’ tour look at
For groups wishing to book a guide and coach/driver for one day or more visiting Coronation St locations with a commentary on the history of the show please contact

Kemptville Tour - Day Nine

Saturday 4 September 2010

Lovely – a little bit of a lie-in before we set off for Chorley and the Park Hall Hotel. It’s situated next door to a theme park called Camelot, which used to be owned by Granada TV. Anyway, we enjoyed a buffet lunch before setting out for Southport. The gentile seaside town was always used for Alma and Audrey’s shopping trips and it’s where Maria went into labour (remember Tony Gordon delivering the baby on the beach?) with only Ozzie as nursemaid?

Then it was off to the brasher Blackpool further up the coast. Again we had a bit of a surprise lined up as the BBC joined us (goodness, we’ll be more famous than the Corrie cast soon!) to record some stuff for an upcoming documentary about the Blackpool trams. You might just recall Alan Bradley being turned to strawberry jam on the front of one. We had some free time to explore the town and its attractions before we drove up the seafront – we saw the Tower (remember Norris ballroom dancing in there? And Tyrone proposing to Maria at the top?), the piers (as featured in a Peter/Simon storyline), the hotel where Rita was staying when Alan came for her and the spot where Alan (a much misunderstood man if you ask me!) coped it on the front of tram 710 (did you know that was 21 years ago this December?). We pulled up into a secret location and watched a Corrie video for an hour. Why? Because when the famous illuminations came on at 8pm we wanted to zip out from our secret place and straight into the line-up to see the whole thing.  Rob, our superb driver, did a great job in getting us right at the front of the queue.

The illuminations were switched on yesterday by Robbie Williams (he did ask to meet us but as he hasn’t appeared in Corrie we politely refused!) and they stretch 6 miles, have over a million light bulbs, and cost £2.5m. Quite a sight!

The BBC stuck with us ‘til the bitter end – recording my commentary and some interviews with the guests. We’re getting quite media savvy now!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Kemptville Tour - Day Eight

Friday 3 September 2010

Manchester was founded by the Romans in 79AD (they were called that because they did a lot of roamin’ about! – the group had to suffer that one, so why shouldn’t you?) We passed the Castlefield district where the Roman fort was and where Michelle and Steve split up, where Tony tried to drown Roy and where Les tried to kill himself (not a happy place really!) etc etc. We had a better time visiting the Science and industry Museum, which actually backs onto the Coronation Street set. Part of it is housed in what was the world’s first railway station - and the original outdoor Corrie set was built on the cobbles from the railway goods yards next door. The museum is being redeveloped at the moment so some parts were closed but we enjoyed the trains, planes, cars, steam engines (including Thomas the Tank Engine), underground sewers exhibit and the small Corrie exhibit where we could watch backstage videos and classic episodes.

Next stop was the green and canal bank where Martha lured Ken into her clutches! That Martha! We all stood on the bridge where Ken had been, carrying his suitcase, wondering whether to leave Weatherfield behind or not. Sad!

Then we drove out to Bury to look at a little corner where we found the prison John Stape was in and where Fizbomb sat outside waiting on her wedding day. Nearby was the location used in Monday’s big episode (spoiler below) and where Antony Cotton recently had his 35th birthday bash. We just had to have a peek!

Then we had time to explore the town and to do some shopping on the market. Actually, quite a few of the costumes used to be bought from here – and we were reminded of that fact when we spotted stalls covered in aprons and overalls (a la Hilda). It’s also the home of the Black Pudding, which is an acquired taste for many.

Back to the hotel for something to eat and then off to the Oldham Coliseum Theatre. Now, not only did many of the Corrie cast start their careers in the theatre company based here (Alec, Rita, Bet, Ken , Deirdre and others!) but this is the theatre where Martha was appearing when she dallied with Ken. Anyway, we weren’t there for that reason – but we do like our Corrie connections! No, we had come to see a production of Kes (Lynne Perrie, who played Ivy, was in the film!). A very moving play (and often hilarious) set in the industrial North of the 60s – so very Corrie really.

Roy and Hayley’s wedding featured the East Lancashire Railway Line which we saw today.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Kemptville Tour - Day seven

Thursday 2 September 2010

Another day in the country, but this time it was Derbyshire.

The route out of the city is great as we drop down into rural Cheshire and then through pretty towns, scenic valleys and up into the Peak District.

Our first stop was the spa town of Buxton. We had a break at the historic Pavilion and park where we stretched our legs and took in the views. Then it was on a bit further south and a stop at the Peak Village Outlet which is a café, shops and so on. It beats sitting on the coach too long!

Each year the tour has a different itinerary (obviously some of the Corrie locations come up each year - and that allows us to take in a good variety of places and means that so many people come back year after year. Our main stop today was the Crich Tramway Museum which has period shops, tram exhibitions (it’s 150 years this year that the first tram line opened in the UK) and unlimited rides on vintage trams. There was also a blue police box like Dr Who’s! It’s also set in the pretty village where the TV series Peak Practice was set.

After a three hours visit we made our way back to Manchester via a different route which took us past pubs which had been owned by Betty Driver and Pat Phoenix and near the pub in which Tony Warren penned the first Corrie episodes.

Some of our guests met Tyrone and Jessie whilst out and about!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Kemptville Tour - Day Six

Wednesday 1 September 2010

The joy with Manchester is that leaving the city you are very quickly into beautiful countryside. This morning we drove back into Yorkshire and the city of Bradford. The town hall was used for Tracy’s trial (and another trial yet to be shown in Canada but which involves Tracy again – I’m beginning to think she might be a troubled child). Our first stop was the National Media Museum, which has a large collection of exhibits relating to film, TV and photography. We were especially interested in viewing some of the old Corrie episodes they have available in their viewing area, in seeing the special EastEnders exhibition they had there (well, a bit of healthy competition and all that!) and visiting the shop (of course!).

It was then off to stop two and another nod to the soap rivals. This time it was the village of Esholt where Emmerdale was filmed for many years before a full replica was built nearby, which is where they film today. I’m told that the Woolpack serves lovely ale!

It was gloriously sunny and so we did a little detour to Skipton for a little picture stop.  Whilst there we spied their decorated sheep including this one, in a building society window, by Jayne Tunnicliffe (Yana).
We then had about an hour and a half’s drive back into Lancashire and the town of Colne. It’s home to Boundary Mills, a family owned department store where everything is heavily discounted. We enjoyed an hour in there before tucking into a fish and chip supper in their restaurant.

Some of the guests have bumped into cast members in Manchester this week - they include the actors who play Sean, Ciaran, Kevin and Janice!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Kemptville Tour - Day Five

Tuesday 31 August 2010

The day started with a book sale. Most of the 50th anniversary merchandise doesn’t come out until October and finding Corrie stuff in the shops is difficult so we always try and get a local trader to supply us with anything they have – and it’s brought to the hotel where it’s offered at a discount. Today we had books by Ken, Liz and Natalie, fridge magnets, the odd costume item and my new book called Lights, Camera, Location! which is a locations guide to over 100 film and TV shows shot in this part of England, including a big section on Corrie. It just came out last week so it was interesting to see what people thought of it.

The group on Coronation Street itself
Then we boarded the Healings coach  for the Granada Studios. Now, it’s not easy to get into the studios and it’s really only possible for groups and corporate companies who book a long time in advance. Anyway, we enjoyed a couple of hours looking around the Coronation Street outdoor set and the two indoor studios which contain the rooms of the houses. Everything is smaller than you might imagine but amazing.

Whilst at the studios we met the actors who play Jack, Sian, Sophie, Rosie, Fiz, Nick, Kevin, Peter, and Leanne and we also met Executive Producer Keiron Roberts and out-going Producer Kim Crowther, who both told us how much the international fans mean to the cast and crew.

The rest of the day was free – some people headed across the road to Liz Dawn’s pub to enjoy a pint and look at all the pictures on the walls, some went shopping. It had been an amazing day!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Kemptville Travel Tour - Day Four

Monday 30 August 2010

It’s a public holiday here today and we took the opportunity to have a noon departure giving anyone with jet-lag chance to lie in or the more adventurous to take some city air and explore the streets around the hotel.

We did a quick drive around the outside of the Granada Studios complex so that I could tell them the story of Granada itself – of the Bernstein brothers who founded it, where the name comes from, why Canadians were brought over to help start it, and just how many Corrie street sets there’ve been.

Next we crossed into the city of Salford, where creator Tony Warren was born and raised. First stop was a real Coronation Street. Yes, it has terraced houses and yes, that’s its real name. We found out why Prince Charles has visited it and how it’s featured in several TV shows. Then we drove past rows of terraced houses and back yards until we reached the park they use to film the Red Rec scenes. It’s also the spot from where they used to film the shots of roof tops and chimneys which were featured in the opening and closing credits. I say ‘used to’ because the houses here have been renovated and look nothing like they used to. As we drove to our next locations we passed a spot where someone (you’ll have to wait for this is Canada) escapes from an ambulance. ….

The Granada Studios
Then we had a surprise for our guests as we entered the Salford Quays area. We saw the locations where Don Brennan drove his taxi into the water (he had Alma with him!), where Steve proposed to Karen, where Leanne worked when she was a prostitute, where Mike Baldwin lived and where the first church ever used for a wedding (it was in 1961) stands. There waiting for us was the film crew shooting the up-coming Debbie Travis show ‘Corrie Crazy’ to be shown on CBC on the 50th anniversary (9 December). They filmed us arriving and chatted with some of the guests about the tour (I took Debbie on a tour a few weeks ago which was also filmed). They then joined us as we learnt about the Quays and its Canadian connections (did you know many of the waterways and streets are named after Canadian places – that’s why Mike lived in Montreal House at Weatherfield Quays) and passed the Manchester United Stadium, Archie Street (which was used as an early double for Coronation St when outdoor filming was required) and the new BBC studios.

Next stop was a little street where Weatherfield Community Centre sits (remember Blanche holding forth at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in there?) and it’s also been used when Roy and Ken were accused of drug dealing and when Chesney ran away. It also gives me an opportunity to explain how filming is done and what makes a good Corrie location (it was a bit odd giving this talk whilst being filmed!)

The film crew then left us as we headed to the Trafford Centre, a huge indoor shopping mall built in an Italian style. After an hour or two it was back to the hotel for a free evening. Again, we were lucky, ITV were airing a double episode focused on a big event!

Spoiler bit – Tony Gordon escapes and returns to Weatherfield.
Tonight ITV is showing Roy and Hayley’s wedding.

Kemptville Tour - Day Three

Sun 29 August 2010

As we drive around from stop to stop I talk about Corrie, its history, how it’s made and so on. We’re also keeping a note of the number of locations we’re visiting or seeing from the coach (I’ll try and give you the total at the end). We definitely added to that total today. We had a sort of weddings and funerals theme! We started with a quick tour of the city centre - we saw the concert hall built on springs, the building Hitler had earmarked as his Nazi headquarters, the building which played Parliament in the latest Sherlock Holmes movie, and the hotel owned by Sir Cliff Richard amongst other things. First stop was the location of Ken and Deirdre’s second wedding (it’s actually a museum!). Then we headed off to a funeral location – again, this episode hasn’t been aired yet in Canada so for those who don’t like spoilers, I won’t reveal who is buried there here - but it's at the bottom.  It was also used for Betty's wedding to Billy Williams.

We then drove into rural Cheshire where we were able to enjoy a couple of hours roaming around the beautiful Arley Hall and gardens. Mike married Linda here and Liam married Maria. This isn’t really a lucky wedding venue – you might recall that Mark, Mike’s son, let out a little secret at his father’s wedding – he’d been sleeping with his future step-mother, and Carla tried to ruin Maria’s big day! Anyway, we enjoyed our time there – it really is a stunning home with gorgeous gardens.

On the way back into Manchester we made a final stop at a location that’s not been seen on screen in Canada yet. However, there can be few people that know Blanche dies. The wonderful actress who played her, Maggie Jones, died earlier this year so filming Blanche’s funeral was an emotional time for the cast. Our last stop was at the church and graveyard where they filmed the funeral scenes. The church was opened up for us to look inside and we also discovered that John Stape's grandma was buried here and Joshua Peacock was christened here.  We all agreed that Blanche was a classic character and is sadly missed and we made donations to the church's tower appeal in her memory.

After an hour or two to freshen up it was back on the coach and across town to The Bridge, a quaint pub restaurant. We had a private room where we enjoyed a traditional Sunday roast dinner – and the company of a special guest, none other than Craig Gazey who plays Graeme. It’s the first time Craig has been a guest on the tour and he seemed taken aback by the numbers – and the response. He answered lots of questions and posed for pictures with everyone.
Introducing our special guest.

Gail's husband Joe is buried there.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Kemptville Tour - Day two

Sat 28 August 2010

And we’re off! This morning we left the hotel at 9am and headed out of the city (which is very busy and colourful this weekend as it’s the Pride Festival) into the rolling hills of Yorkshire. Tomorrow the BBC airs the last ever episode of the world’s longest running sit-com, Last of the Summer Wine. LOTSW is in its 31st series, and I know many Canadians and Americans love to watch it. So it seemed fitting that our first call was the pretty town of Holmfirth, where the series has been filmed for all those years. We had about an hour’s free time to explore – some visited the Wrinkled Stocking café, some Sid’s Café (as featured in the show). There was also the Summer Wine Museum, based in the house where Compo lived – and several members of the group took the opportunity to have a photo taken posing on Nora Batty’s steps.

We then boarded the coach and headed over the Saddleworth Moors to Ashton-under-Lyne. We passed the town hall, which doubled for Weatherfield Town Hall when Alf Roberts was Mayor, and called at the canal quayside where Richard Hillman tried to kill the Platts – but only killed himself! It’s also where David Platt staged his suicide to disrupt Sarah’s second marriage attempt to Jason.

Next, and final stop, was the wedding location used for Jason and Sarah’s first wedding attempt (he escaped through the toilet window) and Steve and Becky’s two weddings. Another couple marry there too (but as it’s not been shown yet in Canada, I’ll keep it quiet!).  Whilst we were there a real couple were tying the knot!

Now, this morning’s itinerary was hastily rearranged last week and we set off an hour earlier than planned and had a little less time at each stop than planned. The reason? When I attended the glitzy ‘opening night’ of the Corrie! Stage show at the Lowry I found out that they were adding some extra performances and that the show would now close today. Karen at Kemptville Travel immediately got working and managed to secure 40 seats for today’s matinee. What a treat for everyone and what a great way to get the tour off to a golden 50th start! Everyone enjoyed the show which is hosted by Charles Lawson (Jim McDonald) and in which 5 hugely talented performers appear as over 50 characters!

It was then back to the hotel for a couple of hours before we made for the historic Briton’s Protection inn, which is over 200 years old. We enjoyed a great dinner and a Corrie quiz with some fiendish questions (Do you know Derek Wilton’s middle name?) set by me and some great prizes of Corrie books published over the past 30 years.

Spoiler bit – Gail marries Joe there.
Derek’s middle name was Bernard.