My hanging out in Manchester buddy died yesterday. Tony Warren, creator of Coronation Street and my accidental tour guide, died at the age of 79.
One day, a long time ago, Tony Warren and I walked from Granada Studios to the city centre of Manchester. He took me around his city. It wasn’t planned. We went to a nearby shop for cigarettes and just kept going.
I was interviewing him for a radio documentary on Coronation Street. We sat on a bench in the lobby of Granada House. I had my tape recorder running and he told me about the beginning of the show. It was a tale he’d told before, but he made it fresh-sounding and interesting. Great for radio.
As I listened, in my head I was intercutting what he was saying with an earlier interview I’d done with original Coronation Street producer Harry Elton. I knew the two voices, both good at storytelling and telling the same story, would play beautifully off each other. Tony liked that idea, putting together the two founding fathers of a British institution. Both had often told the story of the show’s start in 1960 and both referenced the other, of course. But with one in England and the other in Canada, the two halves were not often in the same telling.
We sat in the lobby way longer than the half hour he had allotted me. Granada closed for the day, with only a security guard there to let us out. We had smoked almost all the cigarettes we had between us, so he said let’s go, there’s a shop just up the road.
Out to the main road and back toward the city. We stopped at a corner store and stocked up on smokes, then kept walking. A pub stop, more walking, then dinner at a Chinese restaurant where signed photos of Coronation Street stars decorated the walls and staff greeted Tony like a long-time family friend.
Talk about the early days of the show, and about the years he spent trying to get away from it. In Amsterdam, turning on the tv and Coronation Street being on. Turning the tv off. On a London bus, overhearing the passengers in front of him talking about what had happened in last night’s episode. Trying to read analyses of Coronation Street that gave it social significance he had not imagined possible. “You’re not doing one of those, are you?” He wouldn’t tell me which books, but I’d hazard a guess at some he was talking about.
He’d moved into novel writing, about Manchester and entertainment. The same topics he’d loved since he was a young man, starting a writing career. He’d also come to terms to being defined by Coronation Street, and he was justifiably proud of the city he’d created within his city. Thank you, Tony Warren.
(See also my Coronation Street 50th 2011 post)