I didn’t watch Coronation Street when the Tanners lived there. But you can’t be a Corrie fan without knowing of Elsie Tanner. I’ve seen her and her kids Dennis and Linda in “Classic” episodes on video. So I feel like I know the family.
Maybe that’s why I listened, enthralled, as Dennis told Rita about his mother’s life after she moved away. I know it’s just a story, but I cried picturing Elsie and her new man living in Portugal, running a pub for British ex-pats. I could see her, still glamorous at 81, driving fast in a red sportscar with the top down. And I could picture the crash that took the lives of Elsie and her husband Bill on a winding mountainous road. “She used to say the way I carried on, I’d live fast and die young. Trust her to go one further – live fast and die flamin’ ancient,” Dennis said.
I’m glad to know what happened to her, and I’m glad she had a good life. That’s the funny thing about Coronation Street and other long-running serials: you never forget the people from before, even if you never actually saw them and if they haven’t been mentioned for decades. I know that the real Elsie, actress Pat Phoenix, was just as glorious as her character and also died, but unfortunately at a much younger age.
The return of Philip Lowrie as Dennis Tanner has stirred up memories of the old Coronation Street. It’s been wonderful. I never knew about the carving on the window frame of Number 11. Apparently, it has always been there and not just created for the scene on Monday when he rubs his finger over it. We only knew then that he was a regular at the homeless shelter who came to Coronation Street with Sophie and Sian. But Rita knew who he was the minute she saw him.
So it’s been a week of warm and cozy reminiscing – in story and reality. How it must feel for Ken Barlow, and Bill Roach, to have an old friend back after 43 years. Both of them were in the very first episode. For other long-time actors who worked with Mr. Lowrie, it must be a thrill having him back. And the new ones, who weren’t even born when he left the show, are having a chance to step back in Coronation Street history.
Mr. Lowrie left the show during an actors’ strike that crippled Coronation Street and all British television from November 1961 to April 1962. During the strike, the writers had to create stories using only the 14 actors who were on long-term contract. Children and animal actors were not covered by Equity, so much use was made of them during this period. Among the most famous of these were the seals that Dennis Tanner housed in the Walkers’ bathtub at the Rovers. They were part of a show that he tried to stage when an ambitious but not-so-successful young impresario. In real life, the seals were not union members so could provide a storyline without the need of Equity actors. Of course, I thought of the seals this week when Dennis mentioned his life in show business.
Mr. Lowrie’s contract ran out during the strike, so Dennis left the street right after the seal fiasco. He returned a year later and stayed until 1968. Now back again, he’s achieved a Guinness World Record for the longest gap in appearances of a character on a television series. Welcome home, Philip and Dennis.