Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Coronation Street - Part 1

First broadcast: Friday, December 9th, 1960 in the UK
Description: Granada Television soap opera created by Tony Warren, set in and around a small terraced backstreet in the fictional town of Weatherfield (based on the real-life city of Salford, near Manchester). Initially broadcast twice a week between 1961 and 1989, the soap then broadcast three episodes a week between 1989 and 1996, four between 1996 and 2009, five regularly between 2009 and 2017, and a sixth was added in September 2017.

There have been several spin-offs over the years, including:

  • Pardon the Expression, a sitcom featuring Arthur Lowe as Leonard Swindley, a clothing store manager who left the parent show in 1965, but appeared in two series and 36 episodes of this spin-off between June 1965 and June 1966. Pardon the Expression itself had its own spin-off, Turn Out the Lights, which ran for one series and six episodes between January and February 1967, also featuring Lowe as Swindley.
  • Albion Market was intended as a sister soap to Coronation Street, set in Weatherfield's undercover market, but only ran for one year (between August 1985 and August 1986) and 100 episodes.
  • The Brothers McGregor, a sitcom set in Liverpool featuring two characters who had appeared in one episode of Coronation Street (Eddie Yeats and Marion Willis's engagement, May 1982). The sitcom ran for four series and 26 episodes between September 1985 and August 1988, but the two leads were not the same actors who's played the wheeler-dealer brothers in the parent show. In Coronation Street, Wesley and Cyril were played by Carl Chase and Tony Osoba, whereas in the spin-off, they were played by Philip Whitchurch and Paul Barber.

Please note: This series of blogs will look at what became of cast members who appeared in more than 500 episodes, and have now passed away (obviously!). However, there will be an additional blog looking at well-remembered actors/ characters who deserve honourable mentions, but were in fewer than 500 editions.

JILL SUMMERS (born Honour Margaret Rosell Santoi Fuller)
Played: Phyllis Pearce (nee Grimes) (1982-96)
Birthdate: December 8th, 1910
Location: Eccles, Lancashire, UK

Died: January 11th, 1997
Location: Salford, Lancashire, UK
Cause of death: Kidney failure

Jill first appeared as Phyllis on The Street at the age of 72 (a decade older than Phyllis), working in Jim's Cafe, and was renowned for her gravelly voice and purple-rinsed hair. But she'd actually had an earlier appearance as a cleaning colleague of Hilda Ogden's at the Capricorn nightclub, called Bessie Proctor, in November 1972.

Jill, aged 47, in a publicity photo for
her ITV series Summers Here
Jill started out her entertainment career as a music hall performer and comedian, entertaining the troops during World War Two, when she was known as Jill Summers, Pin-Up of the British Railways, and performed the act The Pipes of Pan. During these music hall days she often performed alongside her later Coronation Street co-stars Bill Waddington and Tom Mennard.

Into the 1990s, Jill suffered increasingly from angina, but although she was ill more and more, refused to let Phyllis be written out, and made occasional, fleeting appearances until her final scene, at the age of 85, on May 1st, 1996 (her 509th episode). Phyllis moved into a retirement complex at Mayfield Court, and the last we heard of her was in 1998, when she was reportedly living happily in retirement with old sparring partners Percy Sugden and Maud Grimes. Her final line on the programme (to Maud) was: "There's three wheelie bins under my window, and I've never turned my gas low."

Jill as a young music hall star
Jill died of kidney failure on January 11th, 1997, just over eight months after she'd left The Street. She was 86 years old, and twice widowed - once in the late 1920s to an unidentified man 20 years her senior, and again in 1984 to her musical hall scriptwriter, surgeon Dr Cliff Simpson-Smith. Jill's funeral was held at Eccles crematorium on January 22nd, 1997, attended by many of her Street co-stars, including Geoff Hinsliff, Sally Whittaker, Barbara Knox, Sarah Lancashire, Kevin Kennedy and Elizabeth Bradley.

A little-known fact is that Jill shared part of her family tree with UK Prime Minister John Major - although there's no blood-link, Jill's mother Marie Santoi once had offspring with the politician's father, Tom Major-Ball.

Coronation Street stars at Jill Summers's funeral, 11 days after she died.

Played: Eddie Yeats (1974-83 & 1987)
Birthdate: February 2nd, 1944
Location: Wallasey, Merseyside, UK

Died: July 27th, 2012
Location: Isle of Wight, UK
Cause of death: Prostate cancer

Geoffrey made his debut as bin man Eddie Yeats on the Street on December 23rd, 1974 and was a regular in the soap for the next nine years (he'd played thug Phil Ferguson in the soap seven years before, in 1967). During his time on the cobbles, Geoffrey did make a handful of appearances in other productions, such as the sitcom Don't Drink the Water (1975) and the film Confessions of a Driving Instructor (1976), but he made his final regular appearance as Eddie on December 7th, 1983. Eddie got a transfer on the bins from Weatherfield to Bury so that his wife Marion could care for her mother Winifred, who had suffered a stroke. Behind the scenes, Geoffrey had misgivings about the direction the character was going in, thinking the fact Eddie was now married meant he would be less fun to play, and more in demand ("I just found it harder and harder to do. I was unable to concentrate and I was really tired.")

Geoffrey as Eddie Yeats with Veronica
Doran as Marion in Coronation Street
In 1984, Hilda received a phone call from Eddie to say that his and Marion's daughter Dawn had been born, and Hilda relayed the information to those in the Rover's Return. Geoffrey made a brief return to Coronation Street four years later to take part in the departure of Jean Alexander as Hilda Ogden, who had recently been attacked and injured in a burglary. Eddie's brief return lasted two episodes, broadcast on November 30th and December 2nd, 1987. His last line was to Hilda: "Keep smiling!". After that, the producers of the soap asked Geoffrey to return as Eddie many times, but the actor always declined the offers.

Geoffrey on his Coronation Street return
in December 1987, aged 43
Geoffrey's career certainly didn't suffer after leaving Coronation Street, and he had roles in many series, from The Bright Side (1985), Doctor Who (1986) and Flying Lady (1989), to Making Out (1990-91), Casualty (2007) and Skins (2007-09). However, he will always be remembered for two particular recurring characters - slob Onslow in 44 episodes of the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95), and Vernon Scripps in 88 episodes of 1960s-set police series Heartbeat (2001-05, with a brief return in 2007). He also regularly played Twiggy in sitcom The Royle Family (1998-2008).

Geoffrey in early 2009, aged 64
In 2009, Geoffrey was appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant for the Isle of Wight, making him the official link between the island and royalty at formal engagements. Geoffrey's final screen appearance was playing Uncle Keith in an episode of Skins called Freddie, broadcast on February 19th, 2009 (he's also recently appeared as himself on daytime talk show Loose Women, on February 2nd, 2009). After that, he gave his voice to the part of a clown in the 7-minute animated short The History of Stand-Up Comedy (2010).

Geoffrey was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996, at the age of 52, but he recovered. However, while attending a charity event in 2010 he suffered from extreme back pains, and soon discovered that the cancer had returned. He was forced to retire from acting, until he finally succumbed to the disease on July 27th, 2012, aged just 68, dying peacefully in his sleep.

FRED FEAST (born Frederick Feast)
Played: Fred Gee (1975-84)
Birthdate: October 5th, 1929
Location: Scarborough, Yorkshire, UK

Died: June 25th, 1999
Location: Bridlington, Yorkshire, UK
Cause of death: Abdominal cancer

Fred Gee was the cellarman-cum-barman in the Rover's Return under the matriarchal landlady Annie Walker, who made his Corrie debut on September 29th, 1975 and appeared in 561 episodes over the next nine years. Fred Feast had actually appeared as a barman at the Red Lion pub called Fred in two earlier episodes (in January and March 1972), but there were no indications that this was the same Fred Gee.

Fred with Meg Johnson as Eunice Gee
Like many Coronation Street performers, Fred Feast started out as a music hall and nightclub entertainer, but he also had many other job titles on his CV, including driving instructor, trawlerman, dolphin trainer, publican and a sergeant in the Parachute Regiment.

In 1983, Fred took time off sick without any notice to his bosses, and the scriptwriters were forced to hastily rewrite six weeks of storylines, Fred claimed to be depressed, unable to learn his lines, and prone to uncontrollable bouts of crying. Fred eventually returned to work, but in 1984 he took time off again, and this time never returned. Fred refused to sign a new contract, telling newspapers that he didn't want to become "another Coronation Street cabbage".

Fred in 1984, aged 55
In his 1990 memoirs, Coronation Street producer Bill Podmore said: "Fred gave us all more than our share of trouble. He was not much of an ambassador for Coronation Street and there were several occasions when I hauled him into the office for a dressing down. On one particularly embarrassing occasion he distinguished himself at a Variety Club dinner by shaking bottles of champagne and spraying anyone within range."

Fred Gee was not killed off or written out; he simply disappeared, and not referred to by other characters. Gee's last appearance was on November 28th, 1984, at Stan Ogden's funeral, after which he is not seen or referred to again. Fred's estranged wife Eunice returned to the Street in 1999, and said that Fred had died of a heart attack the year before, aged 69.

Fred in Liz Dawn's House Party
Months after leaving the soap, Fred was diagnosed with throat cancer. After an operation and several years of treatment, he was given the all-clear in 1991.

Fred's career after leaving the Street was short. Between 1988-89 he played knackerman Jeff Mallock in five episodes of the veterinary series All Creatures Great and Small. There was then a nine year gap until he played the character of pigeon fancier Arthur in the film Little Voice (1998), and finally played Wilson in an episode of 1960s-set police series Heartbeat, fittingly called Hello, Goodbye (broadcast on October 25th, 1998).

However, he did make a number of appearances as himself on TV after leaving the soap, including the quiz show Blankety Blank (1985), Esther Rantzen's series Life After Soap (1995) and the 1996 VHS release Liz Dawn's House Party, which featured a wealth of stars to celebrate the actress's birthday. Fred appeared behind Liz's bar as a party guest.

Fred in his last acting role,
in Heartbeat
Fred died of abdominal cancer on June 25th, 1999, at the age of just 69 (the same age that Fred Gee died in the soap). Former co-stars paid tribute, including Liz Dawn ("I visited him in hospital a while ago and wanted to visit him again, but unfortunately he was not well enough. It is very sad"), William Roache ("Fred was always full of life and enjoyed life to the full") and Meg Johnson, who played his screen wife Eunice ("He was a joy to work with. Although I haven't seen Fred for some time, it's terribly sad that he's no longer with us").

Fred left a wife, three daughters and three grandchildren. His funeral took place on July 1st, 1999.

Played: Derek Wilton (1976-97)
Birthdate: July 29th, 1933
Location: Chidham, Sussex, UK

Died: October 21st, 2015
Location: Hampstead, London, UK
Cause of death: Cancer

Derek Wilton was a character who popped in and out of Coronation Street for a number of years until finally becoming a regular. Peter's earliest appearance as Derek was in February 1976, and over the following decade he was in and out of his suitor Mavis Riley's life until he became a more permanent fixture in 1988, when he finally married Mavis (played by Thelma Barlow - not the only case of a Baldwin marrying a Barlow in Coronation Street!).

Peter as Mr Simms in Within
These Walls (1978)
Peter Baldwin had enjoyed regular small roles in a number of TV series during his sporadic time on Coronation Street between 1976-88, including parts in Within These Walls (1978), The Hard Word (1983), Goodbye Mr Chips (1984) and Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: At Bertram's Hotel (1987).

He appeared in 283 episodes of the soap in total, over a 21-year period, until the character of Derek Wilton was killed off by producer Brian Park - Derek suffered a fatal heart attack after a road rage incident on Mavis's 60th birthday, on April 7th, 1997. There was some displeasure at Park's decision at the time, with Baldwin unhappy about leaving, and it was reported that Thelma Barlow (who played Mavis) decided to leave as a result of Peter's departure (in 2010 she denied this, claiming she'd already decided to leave). However, after Peter's death, Thelma wrote a tribute in the Radio Times, saying: "It was a total shock when they decided to kill off Derek. I had been intending to leave for a couple of years as I wanted to do more theatre, so they could easily have killed off Mavis instead. It was a cruel blow to Peter, and to me and the Street really, as Derek was such a popular character. Now, with Peter's death, a chunk has been taken out of my life. I loved him dearly and I shall miss him such a lot."

Peter's last ever appearance on
screen, as the ghost of Derek,
in December 2012, aged 79
After leaving the Street at the age of 64, Peter's career entered a twilight phase. Initially, he was busy with appearances on quiz and chat shows, as well as theatre tours, but then things started to slow down, with work in Cadfael (1998), The Courtroom (2001) and Doctors (2001 and 2006). One of his last screen roles was as Heptonstall in sitcom Last of the Summer Wine in June 2009, with his final role being Philip Wilkins in the first episode of the series Crime Stories, on November 12th, 2012.

Well, it wasn't quite his final role, because Peter actually reprised the part of Derek Wilton on December 21st, 2012 as part of a sketch for ITV's annual charity telethon Text Santa. A Christmas Corrie was a spoof of Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Derek Wilton appeared as the Ghost of Christmas Present to Norris Cole's Ebenezer Scrooge.

Peter in July 2012, being interviewed
about his time on the soap
Peter had been a widower since 1987, when his wife Sarah Long (who was a presenter on children's series Play School) died of cancer, aged just 49. When he wasn't acting, he worked and managed Pollock's Toy Museum and Shop at Covent Garden, which he'd taken part-ownership of in 1988. He passed away at home following a short battle with cancer on October 21st, 2015, aged 82. He left two adult children called Julia and Matthew.

A memorial service was held on April 14th, 2016 at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden. You can watch an interview with Peter - reunited with screen wife and off-screen friend Thelma Barlow - from July 2012 here.

ARTHUR LESLIE (born Arthur Leslie Scottorn Broughton)
Played: Jack Walker (1960-70)
Birthdate: December 8th, 1899
Location: Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, UK

Died: June 30th, 1970
Location: Cardigan, Ceredigion, UK
Cause of death: Heart attack

Arthur played Jack Walker, husband of Annie Walker, the landlady of the Rover's Return, from the second episode of Coronation Street, broadcast on December 14th, 1960 - just six days after his 61st birthday. His role in Coronation Street was a rare screen role for a man who was more accustomed to the stage than television. Arthur's only non-Street role was in an episode of Knight Errant Limited, broadcast in February 1960.

Jack and Annie in the Rover's Return
Arthur (who also wrote stage plays, sometimes under the name of Arthur S Broughton) played Jack Walker in over 220 episodes of the soap, making his last appearance on June 24th, 1970. Six days later, Arthur died suddenly of a heart attack whilst on holiday in Mid-Wales, aged just 70.

His character, Jack Walker, was the first to be written out of the programme following the death of the actor, and it was decided that Jack should die by the same means as Arthur - a heart attack. The producers did not show Jack's funeral on screen, in respect of Arthur's grieving family, and the character's passing was presented as an already established fact in the episode shown on July 8th, 1970 (in other words, no character found out about Jack's death on screen).

Arthur with Doris Speed and Jean Alexander pictured in 1967
In tribute, Violet Carson (who played Ena Sharples) said: "He was a loyal friend and a great professional", while Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner) said: "We all just loved him. He was the most loved man on both the inside and the outside of the studio." Doris Speed, who played Annie Walker, considered leaving the soap soon after Arthur's passing, but was persuaded to stay, which she did for another 13 years. On his death, she said: "The qualities of sweetness and kindness in Jack Walker came, in fact, from Arthur Leslie himself."

Arthur's son Tony Broughton in a 2011
episode of Scott and Bailey, aged 79.
The episode was broadcast in June,
and Tony died in July 2011
Arthur is buried in the churchyard of St Stephens-on-the-Cliffs in Blackpool. He left his wife Betty (who appeared in Coronation Street in 1963 as a customer of clothes shop Miami Modes) and their son, the actor Tony Broughton, who also appeared in Coronation Street in four different parts - a retail friend of Alf Roberts, who died of a heart attack in Alf's corner shop (1993); a court clerk at the trials of Jim and Steve McDonald (1996); the vicar at the funeral of Maxine Peacock (2003); and a taxi passenger who witnessed the end of Jon Stape's kidnapping of Rosie Webster (2008).

Long after Arthur Leslie's passing, his birth name continued to be associated with the Street, not just through his son Tony, but also Tony's wife, June Broughton, who played three parts in the soap, the most memorable being Joan Lowther, for whom Hilda Ogden was employed as a cleaner in the 1980s.

MAGGIE JONES (born Margaret Jones)
Played: Blanche Hunt (1974-2009)
Birthdate: June 21st, 1934
Location: London, UK

Died: December 2nd, 2009
Location: Pendleton, Greater Manchester, UK
Cause of death: Complications following surgery

Maggie's very first television job was actually on Coronation Street, when, at the age of 27, she played a policewoman in July 1961. She returned to the Street in a second role, as shoplifter Maggie Monks, on December 4th, 1967, detained in a police station, where she met Annie Walker, who was being questioned after accidentally breaking a shop window. Annie was not best pleased to find herself sitting next to the somewhat common Maggie, who advised her that the best way to get off with something was to pretend she had a bad memory and couldn't remember anything!

Maggie as shoplifter Maggie Monks
in December, 1967, aged 33
Maggie was the second person to play Blanche Hunt, Deidre Barlow's sharp-tongued mother. The first actress was Patricia Cutts, who appeared only twice in August 1974, before she was found dead after committing suicide on September 6th that year. Cutts suffered from depression.

Blanche was hastily recast and Maggie Jones made her first appearance on September 30th, 1974, and appeared in approximately 600 episodes as Blanche over the following 35 years. At first the character appeared only periodically (1974-76, then brief returns in 1977, 1978 and 1981) but from 1996 onwards, she became more regular, finally moving in with the Barlows at Number 1 in 1999.

When Maggie wasn't being Blanche, her career took in roles in regular roles in series such as The Forsyte Saga (1967), Sam (1973-75), Rosie (1977-79), Sharon and Elsie (1984-85) and South of the Border (1985). Her final non-Blanche role before joining the Street full-time was in a 1998 episode of Picking Up the Pieces.

Maggie as the recast Blanche in 1974,
aged 40, with "daughter" Anne Kirkbride
In 1971, Maggie married barrister John Stansfield, who was from a wealthy family and owned several estates, including in London and Gloucestershire, near Berkeley Castle. John died in 1999.

On April 18th, 2008, the then 73-year-old Maggie fell while at the Manchester hotel she used during filming, and injured her knee and shoulder. She took a fortnight off work, and was written out of the soap again when she fell ill a second time in October 2009. She was admitted to hospital for major surgery (the nature of which was never disclosed), and was thought to be making a steady recovery, but sadly died in her sleep on December 2nd, aged 75.

Maggie's last appearance as Blanche aired nine days later, and the character died of a heart attack while on an extended holiday in Portugal with her friend May Penn, on May 3rd, 2010. Maggie's funeral took place in Clerkenwell, London, on December 15th, 2009. A memorial service was held at Salford Cathedral on February 25th, 2010, for which filming was suspended so the cast could attend. William Roache and Anne Kirkbride both gave emotional tributes, while Sue Nicholls read out a poem by comedienne Joyce Grenfell, a favourite of Maggie's.

William Roache and Anne Kirkbride at Maggie Jones's
memorial service in February 2010
Played: Alec Gilroy (1972, 1975, 1986-92, 1995, 1996-98)
Birthdate: July 12th, 1935
Location: Preston, UK

Died: June 1st, 2017
Location: Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, UK
Cause of death: Undisclosed

The somewhat sleazy, always mournful theatrical impresario Alec Gilroy made his first appearance in Coronation Street as Rita Littlewood's agent at the Working Men's Club in Victoria Street on June 26th, 1972. However, actor Roy Barraclough had already appeared in the show four times as four different bit-parts - a tour guide in 1965, a guitar salesman in 1967, a window cleaner in 1968, and a restaurant diner in 1970.

Alec made a return in 1975, again in connection to Rita's singing career, but by the mid-1980s he was running the squalid Graffiti Club, across the road from the Rovers Return, and eyed the pub as a rival. The character reappeared on a more regular basis in the summer of 1986, and by the following year was married to Bet Lynch and landlord of the Rovers. However, Barraclough was never too keen on staying in the one job for too long, and when his contract was up for renewal in 1988, he wanted out. The scriptwriters began planning Alec's exit, but suddenly, Roy had a change of heart, and he decided to stay on. The truth was, however, that the actor was never comfortable with the possibility of being typecast, and in 1992 he finally quit the role, asking the producers to kill the character off.

With Rita and Vera
Luckily, they didn't, and Alec made a return three years later as part of Julie Goodyear's departure storyline, and also popped up in the straight-to-video drama The Feature-Length Special that year, as an entertainments manager on a cruise ship. Barraclough was persuaded back to the Street on a more permanent basis in April 1996, first as a travel agency manager, and latterly as landlord of the Rovers alongside Jack and Vera Duckworth.

Alec Gilroy's last ever appearance in the show was on December 30th, 1998, after he sold the Rovers to Natalie Barnes and left Weatherfield for good with granddaughter Vicky McDonald. The two characters reportedly opened a restaurant in Brighton, and in 2002, when Bet returned to the Street, she said that the two had divorced.

Never completely happy as a long-term regular of the cast, Roy Barraclough was also very well-known for his comedy partnership with Les Dawson, playing Cissie Braithwaite to Dawson's Ada Shufflebottom. He was a natural comedian, with sparkling comic timing, and towards the end of his career played Mr Grainger (previously played by the late Arthur Brough) in a one-off reboot of sitcom Are You Being Served? Roy also received an MBE for services to drama and charity in 2006.

Roy Barraclough died in a hospice in Ashton-Under-Lyne after a short illness, on June 1st, 2017, aged 81. Coronation Street cast members attended his funeral in Oldham, including screen wife Julie Goodyear, who said: "I have no words to describe how devastated I feel. We kept in close touch and spoke to each other at least two or three times every week. I will treasure all the happy times we had working and laughing together. we were just like a married couple. Crazy, I know, but true!"

Roy Barraclough pictured in March 2016

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