In 1992 I went to Manchester to research Coronation Street for a CBC Radio Ideas documentary on British and American soaps.
At Granada, I watched the taping of a scene on the street and interviewed writers, production people and cast members. When I was told the names of two actors I was about to meet, I was struck dumb with awe and terror – Bill Tarmey and Elizabeth Dawn aka Jack and Vera Duckworth. Like pretty much everyone who has watched during the past 30 odd years, for me, Jack and Vera were Coronation Street.
I went first into Elizabeth Dawn’s dressing room. She and Bill had just finished their scenes for the day and she had to leave soon for a family function. She was sitting in front of the mirror taking off her makeup when I kind of stumbled my way in the door. “Sit down, dear, and don’t mind me. We can talk while I do this.” Instantly, I felt at home, felt like I was with someone I’d known a long time. And I was in a way. She was wonderful – not Vera, yet Vera. She took off Vera’s makeup and put on her own. She brushed out Vera’s hair into her own. She looked different. We talked a long time, then she said she had to run. She told me where Bill’s dressing room was and just to go on there when I was ready, then with a ‘ta-ra’ she was out the door. Before I got everything picked up, she was back in laughing. “I’ve got Vera’s coat on.” She shucked off the familiar looking black cloth coat, grabbed another more stylish one, laughed, waved and was gone again.
Then to meet Jack. My nerves came back. Hand shaking, I knocked on his door and a familiar gruff voice told me to come in. He too was removing Jack and becoming Bill. He leaned back in his chair and just talked. He asked me a lot of questions, where I lived, what I did, about my family. He told me about his family, pointing out who was who in the photographs around his dressing room. It was nice. He was an easy man to talk to. So much so I would forget why I was there – to get him on tape talking about being Jack.
So he told me about Jack and him – how he came to be on the show, first as a short-term bad guy, then brought back as Jack when the writers created the Duckworths. He told me about his career as an actor and primarily as a singer. He said when the writers had Jack sing once – badly – he, Bill, found his singing gigs drop off and even bookings cancelled. If that’s how Bill Tarmey sings, he laughed, they didn’t want him performing.
He wasn’t likely telling me anything he hadn’t told hundreds of interviewers before, but he made it seem personal. Just him and me talking about stuff. It wasn’t slick, like a performance piece, just good conversation. He talked straightforwardly and was engaged in the discussion, talking and listening.
He reminded me of my father, as Jack Duckworth always has. “Rough, tough and hard to bluff” as my dad would say about himself. That’s what Jack is like, with a lovely soft heart. That too is what Bill Tarmey is like. And my dad. I can think of no higher compliment to any one of them than being compared to each other. Bill, if you are reading this, you and Jack will be greatly missed. I hope you have a wonderful retirement. Cheers!