Britain’s wars have been part of Coronation Street throughout its six decades. From the 1960s to 1990s, there were veterans of the World Wars and, in the 2000s, the war in Afghanistan. For the two World War veterans, the actors were informed by their personal experience.
Albert Tatlock MM
In the beginning was Albert Tatlock. Google him: “grumpy” is often in the first line. He was young Ken Barlow’s neighbour and friend. Grumpy, yes, and disparaging of the youth of the day. But he had his reasons. He had signed up with the Lancashire Fusiliers in WWI. On July 1, 1916, they went “over the top” at Beaumont Hamel. There were 57,000 casualties that first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Albert was 21 years old in 1916. So you can see why he might have got testy about young men of that same age, like Ken, whining about the existential angst of their 1960s world.
Albert’s war medals made appearances long after he had departed. He had left them to Ken. In 2014, Tracy sold his Military Medal, infuriating Deirdre when she found out. The medal was restored to the Barlow household, and so was peace.
Jack Howarth portrayed Albert Tatlock. He too was a WWI veteran of the Lancashire Fusiliers. He died in 1984, two months after his last appearance on Coronation Street.
Near the end of Mr. Tatlock’s life on Coronation Street, a veteran of WWII moved into the street. Percy Sugden had been a cook in the British Army. Among his many observations on life, the best has to be: “When you’ve prepared spotted dick and custard for 150 of ’em under heavy artillery fire and not allowed one lump in that custard, you can do anything.”
Again, google him and “grumpy” pops up. He was and, again, with good reason when you compare the experiences of his youth with those of the young people of the 1980s and 1990s that he watched, and cheerfully criticized.
Bill Waddington played Percy. Like him, Mr. Waddington was a cook in the British Army in WWII. With his ukulele and comedy skills, he was also recruited into the Army entertainment troupes.
In 2009, Gary Windass made a wisecrack to Gail’s father Ted Page about poppy sales being “a nice little earner”. Ted wasn’t pleased (viewers either, Corrie expected). But he explained enough about military life to interest Gary in it.
Not having regular, secure or legal employment, Gary signed up. He was sent to Afghanistan. He came home injured, after the vehicle he was travelling in was blown up. His mate, Quinny, was killed. Gary was traumatized, both about what had happened and about surviving.
Mikey North, who plays Gary, talked with veterans of Afghanistan before doing this storyline. What he learned from them showed in his portrayal. It brought it home, I think, for all of us who watched.
The news that Gary had been wounded reached the street when Jim McDonald was back. Those at the Rovers raised a glass to him and those who were killed. It’s fitting that ex-soldier Jim was there.
Jim was a Sergeant with the Royal Engineers. He had been stationed in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. Jim is from Belfast. His time there, and in the army, was never talked about much. He’d occasionally talk about his “army muckers” and one of them would show up from time to time. I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning what it was like for him being British Army. Depending on how you look at it, he was part of a force that was either occupying or defending his own land.
According to his back story, Peter Barlow signed up in the Royal Navy when he was 15. That would have been 1980. The Falklands War was in 1982 but, to my knowledge, it’s never been said that he took part in it. He left the navy after 20 years service. He has talked about the navy and we’ve met some of his friends from that time. But I don’t think he saw action, at least not at sea.
War is not talked about much any more on Coronation Street, but that matches with real life. But every November poppies are on the lapels of pretty much everybody on the street. Again, like real life.