Coronation Street began due to a government mandate for home-grown television programming. A Canadian producer at Granada, the late Harry Elton, knew the popularity and longevity of American soaps and their production cost-effectiveness. He met a young writer at Granada, Tony Warren, who knew the stories and people of the North. Neither of them imagined their show would become part of the very fabric of the country. But it has.
The biggest thrill in my 20 something years of fanship was going to Coronation Street to research British serials for a radio documentary (later a book) Other Worlds: Society Seen Through Soap Opera. I went to Manchester with an appointment with the Coronation Street publicist and nothing else. He showed me around the indoor sets and production facilities in the dedicated studio. He also took me on the Street itself for the taping of a scene with Mavis and Derek Wilton in their back garden.
I interviewed Carolyn Reynolds, then executive producer, writer Tom Eliot and Daran Little, then archivist of the show. I talked with actors Bill Tarmey and Elizabeth Dawn, and went to a location shoot at the high school that acted as the school attended by the McDonald twins at the time. In a trailer, I met Nicholas Cochrane who plays Andy McDonald and Judy Brooke, then Andy’s girlfriend Paula Maxwell. I talked to school kids who were thrilled to be extras in the scenes. Teachers and staff were proud of their involvement in Weatherfield history.
I also met the father of Coronation Street, Tony Warren. A half hour, maybe an hour I figured I’d have for our interview at Granada. But it turned into a lovely day with him, wandering the streets of Salford and into Manchester. We talked about the show and then about pretty much everything. His work as a novelist, the history and changes of Salford and Manchester, Newfoundland (where I lived) and Canada.
He took me to a pub in Manchester where there’s a beautiful stained glass window in the men’s room depicting a Grand Banks fisherman. He guarded the door so I could go in and look. We walked and talked until it was evening. He suggested a Chinese restaurant for dinner and phoned his partner to meet us there.
The restaurant was one that has been used in location shoots for Coronation Street and is a long-time favourite for many of the show’s actors. There are signed photos of Julie Goodyear and others on the walls and counter by the till. The meal was great and the conversation far-reaching and fun. It was a lovely day.
Near the end of my time in Manchester, I realized I’d yet to find an analyst – an outside ‘talking head’ to inform on the cultural and social significance of Coronation Street. I’d thought I could just go to Manchester University and throw a stick and hit at least one. With only a day to find someone, I phoned the social sciences main number and asked if there was anyone anywhere available to talk about Coronation Street. The secretary thought about it as I plugged change into the payphone to keep the connection.
She transferred me to Political Science, saying “maybe Professor Philip Crookes can help.” I explained my situation to him. He said “I’m not a sociologist, but I can talk.” So another lovely few hours with a very intelligent, funny man and discussion which started with Coronation Street and extended to British and Canadian politics and the socio-economic life of the North of England.
There is a Manchester and Salford apart from Coronation Street. There is a history and economy outside it. But the production studios at Granada are a major part of the economy and Coronation Street is engrained in its identity and existence. You can strike up a conversation with anyone and get a thoughtful opinion on the show. Whether they watch or not, it is a part of life. For those of us elsewhere, we feel a kinship with the cities even if we’ve never been there through the characters and places we know so well.