Leita Dunn was Press Officer for Coronation Street from 1965 until 1987. As such she was responsible not only for getting stories into the newspapers but also for scotching some of the more absurd stories that appeared in the tabloids. She was a close friend to many of the actors.
Over the years we’ve had as our guests many of the members of the Coronation Street cast but there are some memorable actors and actresses we’ve never been able to have because they’ve long ago gone up to that great studio in the sky. I’m talking about those original cast members like Violet Carson who played the acerbic Ena Sharples, Pat Phoenix who was the fiery Elsie Tanner. Jack Howarth who played grumpy World War One veteran Albert Tatlock and Doris Speed who as Annie Walker the original Rovers Return landlady who liked to think herself a cut above the rest. They were all in Coronation Street from day one and each in their own way helped to establish it as the nation’s favourite television programme. They started on December 9th 1960 and five years later on December 14 1965 I started my own career with Granada television. Two years after that I became Coronation Street’s press officer, a post I held for 20 years. I worked very closely and they gradually became my second family so I have my own very personal memories of them.
So what was it like to work with great artistes like Violet, Pat, Jack and Doris and more important what were they really like off screen? Let’s start with Violet Carson. Like her screen self Violet Carsons, she never suffered fools gladly. She had a great respect for her God and her religion and she valued the important things in life like morality, punctuality and good manners. She didn’t like nosy-parkers which was unfortunate because bus drivers taking tourists around the Blackpool area would tell their passengers ‘And this is the bungalow where Violet Carson, Ena Sharples, you know, lives with her sister Nelly Kelly’ and the whole bus load would descend and curious noses would be pressed against the windows of Vi’s front room. Vi solved that one by switching her living arrangements around and transferring her front room to the back. As I’ve said, she was a stickler for punctuality and she hated it when the Blackpool to Manchester train arrived late and made her late for rehearsals. Now Vi was a perfect lady and perfect ladies don’t kick up a fuss but Vi knew she would have to do something about British Rail. As she explained to me at the time, ‘As my courage failed me, I just imagined myself into Ena Sharples’ hairnet and into her persona and then I was able to write and tell them a few home truths.’ The result was a grovelling apology from British Rail and a promise that henceforth they would do all in their power to ensure that the trains and Vi arrived on time.
I used to enjoy watching the transformation from smiling Vi to scowling Ena, Miss Carson that elegantly-clad lady with immaculate thick grey hair and the friendly smiling face would arrive at the television centre answering the good morning greetings of everyone she passed on the way down to her dressing room. The door would close behind her and few minutes later this scowling apparition would emerge wearing the rather tight navy coat which had long since seen better days. Three hairnets would be clamped down over the once immaculate coiffure. Why three? Because one didn’t show up clearly on camera. Vi used to go through hairnets at a rate of knots because they were always get tangled and torn and Wardrobe had to keep supplying new ones. But the old ones didn’t get thrown away. We had an agreement, Vi and I, that once a hairnet had a hole in it it was to be handed over to me so that I could send it off to one of the many children’s charities who were forever writing to ask if anyone from the cast could donate something that they had worn so that it could be auctioned to raise money for a worthy cause. I sent those hairnets around the world, even as far as Australia and New Zealand, and over the years they must have raised a small fortune. But it was Ena’s hairnet that caused me the most embarrassing moment of all my years at Granada. The Coronation Street storyline had Ena’s great-nephew coming with his wife from their home in America to visit England and of course Ena. During their stay they wanted to visit that stately home Woburn Abbey which meant that a film unit some of the cast and I had to decamp to Woburn for a week’s filming. When I was there I had to organise a photo-call or what is now called a photo-opportunity for the national papers to meet the cast and the Duke of Bedford who was then the owner of Woburn Abbey before he handed it over to the current owner., the Marquis of Tavistock. As the Duke of Bedford was actually going to appear in the programme I had already done an interview with him and we had struck up a very pleasant working rapport but it was I feared about to be shattered. Why? Because all the press boys had come to the same conclusion that the photo they wanted me to arrange for them was a two shot of Ena Sharples and the Duke both wearing one of Ena’s hairnets. Well would you like to ask a duke if he would mind posing in a hairnet. I tried everything I could think of to get out of it but the photographers was insistent that this was the photo they wanted Go one Leita they wheedled, you can fix it you know you can, don’t let us down. So wishing the ground would swallow me I asked his grace if there was any possibility that he could see his way to putting on one of Ena’s hairnets for a press photo. I waited frozen with embarrassment but suddenly the duke began to grin. ‘I do see that it would make a good photograph’ he said and like a good sport he came over, put on a spare hairnet and posed with Vi for the historic two-shot which made all the national papers next morning and which, I like to think, made the whole nation smile over their breakfast.
Vi’s stint at a stately home, hobnobbing with a duke was perhaps fate’s way of giving her a taster of even higher things to come because a few years later she visited an more stately home and an even more exalted person when she went to Buckingham Palace to receive her OBE from the Queen. She also received another award – an honorary MA degree from Manchester University. ‘I was educated in the University of Life’ she famously said. She came out with yet another memorable quotation some years later. In answer to my horrified protests that ‘No she couldn’t retire and how would the programme manage without her’, she turned to me with a wise smile and said ‘My dear the graveyards of England are filled with indispensable people’. And eventually retire she did and then at 84 she died. Of course the programme went on without her and I had to go on without my much-loved older friend but I still have my happy memories of our time together and, as the song say, they can’t take that away from me.
Jack Howarth was in the first episode of Coronation Street when the programme started on December 9th 1960 and he stayed in it until he died aged 88. He played grumpy world war one veteran Albert Tatlock and everyone assumed that he was just as grumpy off-screen – but he wasn’t. He had a twinkle in his eye. I always thought of him as a naughty little imp. Even at 88 he would c reep up behind me in the studio and give my bottom a friendly pinch. I didn’t begrudge him that or the twinkle in his eye because Jack was a faithfully and happily married man. H is wife Betty had long ago given up her own acting career to look after him and because of her loving care they lived contentedly together to their Golden Wedding and beyond. Jack was already past retirement age when the programme began so Coronation Street gave him a new lease of professional life and gave him instant recognition in a way that a lifetime in the theatre never could. Suddenly in his old age he was a star and people would ask him for his autograph. When he made a small charge for it, it reinforced people’s opinion of him as a grumpy old skinflint but what they didn’t know, unless he chose to explain, was that the money was always donated to SOS, Stars Organisation for Spastics, a wonderful charity organisation for which Jack worked very hard. They rewarded his dedication by making him a life vice-president and that made him as proud as Punch. With his small squat physique, his jowly bespectacled face, little moustache and his flat cap, Uncle Albert Tatlock always reminded me on screen of a Toby jug and now I believe there is an Albert Tatlock Toby jug and an Ena Sharples one among the Coronation Street memorabilia on sale at the Granada Tours shop.
Off screen Uncle Albert’s moustache was no longer attached to that famous upper lip. Jack was clean-shaven and had to have the moustache applied in the make-up department before he did his scenes. It always used to amaze me that someone of such advanced years could memorise his lines so well. He never made a fluff and he could make you laugh or cry at will. Some of his scenes had real pathos as, for example, when Albert insisted on marching to the Cenotaph to honour his dead colleagues from World War One. In many ways Albert Tatlock was the prototype for that more recent World War Two veteran Percy Sugden but Bill Waddington who played Percy wouldn’t have dreamed of flirting with me the way 88 year old Jack did.
We had this standing joke, Jack and I, that we would elope to the Lake District together or at least spend a naughty weekend. But one or other of us would always have to dream up an excuse for why we couldn’t actually manage it that week. But while all this was going on I was secretly colluding with Thames Television to prepare a ‘This Is Your Life’ on Jack. At that time, the late Eamonn Andrews was in charge of the big red book and we arranged that for the pick-up, where the star is snared, Eamonn would pop out of the door of the gents in the Rovers Return and catch him while he was doing a scene in the pub, ostensibly for a special programme to be shown in Australia, a programme which could be made in what should have been in Jack’s free time. The only characters in the scene besides Albert would be Annie Walker and the Rovers barmaids and the rest of the cast would have the afternoon off. Well that ‘s what Jack was told and he wasn’t pleased. What he didn’t know was that this was merely a ruse to keep him in the studio so that Eamonn could catch him and there wasn’t go to be any special programme for Australia. I decided to have a bit of fun with Jack. Knowing that Eamonn Andrews would be catching him later that day and whisking him off to Thames Television’s studios in London, I waltzed into Jack’s dressing room and announced ‘Jack, it’s now or never. You’re free this afternoon after rehearsals and so am I so if you don’t take me away to the Lake District today (dramatic pause) it’s all off. This is your very last chance.’ ‘ I can’t go this afternoon’ said Jack ‘Just another of your excuses’ said I. ‘No, no’ said Jack ‘I’m working, I’ve got to stay and record something for Australia.’
‘Then’ said I ‘I shall go to the Lake District without you’ and I stormed out of his dressing room.
That afternoon the trap was sprung. Jack was doing his scene in the Rovers when out stepped Eamonn with his big red book and announced dramatically ‘Tonight Jack Howarth This Is Your Life’. ‘Oh no it’s not’ snarled Jack and he stomped off the set into his dressing room and slammed the door. His wife Betty who had been secretly waiting outside in the car ready to go with him to the station was hastily summoned and she charged after him into the dressing room, presumably to read him the riot act. Whatever she said to him must have worked because a few minutes later the door opened and much to everyone’s relief a beaming Betty and a rather subdued-looking Jack came out and were whisked off to the London train. I didn’t see this, I only learned about it later because by then I had disappeared to play my part in the proceedings. Unknown to Jack, the rest of the cast hadn’t left the Television Centre, they were hiding away in a room near the car park and it was my job to wait until Jack was safely off the premises before rounding up the cast, sorting them into a series of cars and getting them to the station to catch the next train after Jack’s. Obviously they couldn’t go on the same train or it would have spoilt the surprise when later that evening Eamonn would say ‘You thought the rest of your colleagues were still in Manchester but they’re here to be with you tonight’ and one by one they would all troop on and hug him. I did manage to get everyone safely onto the London train and I still have a souvenir of that day, the list of instructions which were issued to me by Thames television so that I could play my part in the cloak and dagger exercise. It reads ‘Four cars will be waiting at the Goods Entrance to Granada to take everyone to the station. Fifteen seats have been booked on the train under the code-name ‘Richard Saunderson’ On arrival at Euston Station you will be met at the Platform barrier by our drivers carrying black cards reading Thames in white letters. They will bring you to Thames television studios and you will be met on arrival. We were and were whisked aside to Hospitality. Among the other waiting guests who were to appear on the programme were twenty year old Merry Hamp, she was the daughter of Granada’s head of Light Entertainment Johnny Hamp and the reason she was there was to tell people of Jack’s kindness to her. She had been blinded at school by a freak accident in the chemistry lab and had, during her teens, spend a long time at a special eye clinic in Spain. Jack went out to Spain on holiday and every day he would make a special journey to the eye clinic to visit her, cheer her up, read to her and generally keep her spirits up. When she related her story during the programme nobody could have failed to be moved including Jack. He was so touched that she’d flown in with her husband from their home in America specially to pay tribute to him. For one who hadn’t even wanted to be the subject of ‘This Is Your Life’ Jack actually enjoyed every minute of it, crying happily all the way through the programme. Afterwards there was a party and Jack called out to me ‘You, you little tease you were supposed to be in the Lake District’.
That might have been one of the highlights of Jack’s life but there was another one to come. He was awarded the OBE and Bill Caldwell the cartoonist of the Daily Star did a marvellous cartoon of Albert Tatlock complete with medal sitting in top hat and tails in the Rovers Return. I can’t remember the caption but it was something along the lines of ‘But don’t think this means the drinks are on me’. I phoned Bill Caldwell, got the original of the cartoon, had it framed and presented it to Jack who beamed with delight. I still have a photo of the two of us, me giving him the picture and him chuckling happily. One more happy memory of that lovely elderly gentleman who at heart was still, as Albert Tatlock might have put it, ‘no but a lad’.
Pat Phoenix had flaming red hair and a temper to match but she was warm-hearted. Too generous for her own good, a marvellous character and a great friend. We hit it off from the start. It too me all of two minutes to suss out that Pat was one of the few people who could genuinely be described as a star. There are actresses and there are stars. Actresses I was used to, I’d worked with quite a few of them before I became involved with the cast of Coronation Street but I hadn’t me any one who had the same kind of star quality that Pat exuded. You could never mistake her for the girl next door, she wasn’t into that kind of image. When she went out to make a personal appearance she put on the glamour because that what she believed the public wanted to see. Why should they turn out to look at someone in jeans and a T-shirt. Pat never wore that kind of casual gear even for rehearsals. But when she went out to meet the public she made sure that she looked every inch the star she was. I still have this vision of her standing in reception at Granada waiting for the car to take her off to her evening’s engagement. She wore a long sequined evening dress which glitters from décolleté cleavage to hem. Around her shoulders was a white fox fur stole which looked marvellous against that legendary red hair and her earrings necklace and bracelets glittered and flashed under the lights. Girl next door, never in a million year. not surprisingly many people were in awe of pat and because of that legendary fiery temper of hers they tended to walk on eggshells so far as she was concerned. It was safer not to cross her. The reason that she and I got along so well was that I wasn’t a bit afraid of her and if I didn’t like something she had said or done I would tell her to her face, instead of whispering about it behind her back. And for that she respected me. an example of this occurred when I needed a new photograph of her for publicity purposes and I arranged with our photographer to take it on the set in the studio when she had a break between two scenes but I warned him not to photograph her smoking, something she was apt to do between scenes or whenever she could. The photo was going to be reproduced postcard size to send out to fans and I did’nt want any young impressionable girls to see her with a cigarette. I decided to go down to the studio myself just to see that there were no problems. Unfortunately there were. Pat was puffing away on this cigarette and the photographer tactfully took it off her saying ‘let’s have this out of the way for the moment -I’ll put it over there until we’re finished.’ Green eyes flashed a warning and pat’s temper erupted like a volcano ‘Don’t you ever take a cigarette off me when I’m smoking’ she stormed. A shocked silence descended on the studio and the poor photographer turned bright red. I stepped forward and said ‘Pat I asked him to take a photo of you not smoking so don’t blame him, please’. She posed for the picture and then stormed off the set into her dressing room. I followed. The door wasn’t locked so I went in sat down and said quietly ‘I think you owe that young man an apology. He was only doing his job and you bawled him out in front of everyone in the set. We were all embarrassed. I think you should go and say you are sorry don’t you?’ for a moment I thought the volcano was going to erupt again and then suddenly the warning light went out and she grinned ‘You’re right’ she said ‘I shouldn’t have lost my temper, I’ll go back and apologise to him’ and she did.
I used to manage a celebrity football team at Granada and we used to go all round the north and even down to London in charity matches which raised many thousands of pounds for worthy causes. Pat used to come along to kick off. If I had kick-off by Pat Phoenix printed on the posters, the crowds were attracted as if by magnet. I remember one match that we played in aid of an old folks’ hospital. After the game we were all invited back to a thank you reception. Pat had a quick cup of tea and decided to spend the rest of the time going walkabout round the hospital chatting to the patients.
Pat wasn’t just an actress she had two other strings to her bow. She was also the licensee of the Navigation Inn near Bucksworth, Derbyshire and for a time she lived there. so did several out of work hard-up actors who knew a soft touch when they found one. Pat collected lame dogs, one canine and the rest human. Her other claim to fame was as a writer. She wrote two books of autobiography, the first called ‘All My Burning Bridges’ in which she kindly acknowledged my help in getting her through her wedding and the second ‘Love, Curiosity, Freckles and Doubt’ four things she reckoned she possessed in abundance. But back to that wedding. It was the one where she married Alan Browning who played her screen husband, Alan Howard. As Elsie Tanner she married Alan Howard on-screen on the Wednesday and Pat Phoenix she married Alan Browning for real on the Saturday of the same week. Alan was her third screen husband and her second real life husband. Her previous real life husband had been an advertising executive called Peter Marsh and later she was to marry for a third time to Tony Booth. But back to her wedding to Alan Browning. They’d been living together for years and she knew that I disapproved of people ‘living over the brush’ as they would call it down Coronation Street. One day she phoned me in the Press Office and said ‘Can you come down to my dressing room. I’ve got something to tell you.’ I was busy so I said ‘Can’t you tell me over the phone?’ ‘No’ she said ‘I want to see your face’. So I dutifully trotted down to see her and was told that she and Alan had finally decided to wed. I was thrilled to bits but she asked me not to publicise the forth-coming wedding just for a while as they wanted to keep it a secret until they had made all their plans. That night she and Alan were calling for me because they’d both agreed to come to a fund-raising evening put on by a Ladies Committee. They came in to say ‘hello’ to my mum who was a big Coronation Street fan and who was thrilled to meet them. ‘Please tell mum your secret’ I begged ‘she won’t tell anyone’ So Pat went up to the easy chair where my mother was sitting and ignoring the fact that she was wearing a long blue evening dress she knelt down, took my mum’s hands in hers and said ‘Mrs. Donn, your daughter wants you to know that Alan and I are going to make it kosher’. My mom beamed. The wedding day dawned and it was freezing cold. Pat wore a mauve velvet crinoline over a hooped skirt with a matching velvet cloak and hood edged with white fur. She carried a white fur muff with poinsettia pinned to it. She had four bridesmaids but they were on the other side of the village square separated from her by the dense crowd of fans who had turned out to television’s most famous couple tying the know in real life. It was about to snow again and Pat was tired of standing around in the cold. ‘Oh come on, let’s get inside’ she said. So I ended up picking up the back of that voluminous dress and helping her into the church. The four bridesmaids were being filmed by the newsreel cameras. Well some of the cameras. The others caught me taking the bride up the steps. I know because I saw it on the newsreel later that night. I asked her what she wanted for a wedding present that she didn’t already have. ‘Footwarmers’ she said. She’d seen this thing in a mail-order catalogue. It was a sort of furry bag that you could park your feet in while you were travelling or sitting watching tellie. It didn’t cost a fortune but that was the thing she really wanted and that was what she got.
She was always giving me presents. One day she said ‘If you don’t feel insulted, I’d like to give you one of my evening dresses, it’s too tight for me. Will you try it on?’ I did. It was a short black beautiful couture dress which was, and is, absolutely timeless. I’ve still got it. One Christmas she phoned me with the usual ‘Can you come down to my dressing room?’ I was busy, ‘No gingernut’ I said ‘You’ll have to wait, I’ll come later.’ ‘No come now’ she wheedled so I did. She had a Christmas present for me. it was a brown leather handbag. New handbags are often stuffed with newspaper or tissue paper to keep them in shape. This bag was stuffed with fivers. ‘Gingernut, you’re barmy’ I told her ‘ I love the bag but there’s no way I’m taking the money’ and I scooped it up and put it on her table. She scooped it up and shoved it down the front of my dress. I retrieved it and stuck it down the front of hers. This went on for a while until we both collapsed laughing. Finally she said ‘Oh come on, I want you to have it, please’ I could see she really meant it. She could afford it and she wanted me to do something I liked and that genuinely would give her pleasure. So reluctantly I capitulated but I didn’t spend the money. It was waiting for something special, I didn’t know what until some years later when Pat lost her final battle against the cancer I always feared would be the result of her incessant smoking. A few days before she died, she’d married Tony Booth and after the funeral Tony came to ask for my help in setting up the Pat Phoenix Macmillan Nurses Fund, a charity which would pay for special training of nurses who helped cancer patients in their own homes. ‘I want to make the first donation’ I told Tony. I suddenly remembered the Christmas present money that had been waiting for something special, something I would know would right. I couldn’t help smiling as I remembered that day in the dressing room when each of us was determined to give the money back to the other. ‘Well gingernut’ I thought ‘ I guess I’ve won.’
Doris Speed played Rovers Return landlady Annie Walker from episode one to the day she re tired both on and off the screen and everyone thought that Annie and Doris were identical but they weren’t. For a start although Annie Walker stood as independent councillor in Weatherfield’s elections her own attitude marked her down as a ‘die in the wool’ Tory while Doris was a life-long very committed socialist who was welcomed to No. 10 Downing Street by her great admirer, former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Annie gave out the distinct impression that her natural habitat would have been an up-market Cheshire hostelry rather than a little backstreet Lancashire pub but Doris lived all her life in unfashionable Chorlton-cum-Hardy and until Granada put a stop to it, she came to work every day on the bus. Annie was an out and out snob while Doris had a wicked sense of humour and would quite happily tell a naughty joke. She would with great glee regale everyone with hilarious stories and she didn’t mind a bit if in so doing she sent herself up. She loved to tell the tale of how former Coronation Street producer Harry Kershaw couldn’t be found anywhere when they were on a ship on the last leg of a return visit to and from Australia. The little party consisted of Doris, Pat Phoenix, Arthur Leslie who played Doris’s screen husband Jack Walker, the aforementioned producer Harry Kershaw and Granada’s chief press officer Norman Frisby who’d gone with them to handle the Australian press and television interviews. On the boat home Norman urgently needed to find Harry Kershaw but got no reply when he knocked on Harry’s cabin. So he knocked on Arthur Leslie’s cabin and asked ‘Have you seen Harry anywhere?’ ‘No’ called Arthur so Norman knocked on the next cabin which was Pat’s . She had seen Harry either. Now getting desperate Norman knocked on Doris’ cabin. ‘Doris’ he called ‘it’s Norman’. Doris called back ‘You can’t come in dear. I’m changing for dinner and I’m naked.’ And in his desperation, and without thinking Norman asked ‘Is Harry with you?’
Doris wouldn’t be offended by anything like that she was very broadminded. I remember her walking into a Coronation Street party in a very nice black dress. She looked lovely from the front and then she turned round and invited ‘Would someone please zip me up?’ But there was one occasion when Doris was actually shocked. She had given me a very pretty nightie for a Christmas present. She knew I was Jewish but she didn’t think there was any reason to leave me off her present list. The nightie was in two shades of pink chiffon and it was far too pretty to be consigned solely to the bedroom when the fashion for evening dresses that year was actually drifting lingerie-like chiffons and georgettes. So one Sunday I wore it to my cousin’s barmitvah and the next day, back at Granada, I told her how I had worn her Christmas present to a posh do. She was horrified but the neckline plunges down to the waist, she said. ‘Don’t worry Doris’ I told her ‘I didn’t let you down. I sewed the neckline up to a respectable cleavage-covering height and then filled in the rest with a five year old crystal necklace. I was absolutely respectable, I assure you.’ An expression of relief replaced the previous scandalised one ‘That’s alright then’ said Doris ‘what a good idea’.
Doris had done a lot of acting before she got her part in Coronation Street. For years she was just another unknown radio and rep actress and they she was a star with fans around the world. But there was a downside to this instant recognition. Like most women she had always enjoyed going to the sales and hunting for a bargain. ‘I can’t do that anymore’ she told me mournfully’ if people saw me rummaging through the clothes they’d say ‘Look at her with her money. Fancy her being so mean.’ In all the years I had known her and in all the interviews and features I’d done with her I had never asked her her age. I don’t think it had occurred to me to wonder about it. If I had thought about it at all I suppose I would have put her somewhere in her late sixties so I was astonished when one very ungallant tabloid newspaper journalist took it upon himself to root out the records and published her birth certificate which unbelievably showed her to be in her eighties. She was actually on sick leave when this happened and she was so devastated by this very public invasion of her privacy that she never came back. A storyline was hastily concocted with Annie on holiday deciding to leave the running of the Rovers Return to her son, Billy Walker, and without any announcement or fuss, Doris slid quietly out of the programme and into retirement. After a while she moved into a nursing home in Bury. I used to phone her now and then and we’d have a nice gossip but her hearing was never good and it became increasingly difficult for her to have a phone conversation. Twice she was going to come down to me for lunch and I offered to send a taxi for her but twice she had to cancel through ill health. But I did see her again. She came to Waterstones to support her old friend Tony Warren at his book launch. She never forgot that it was Tony who had created Coronation Street and made her a star so ill health or not if Tony was launching his novel, Doris was going to be there for him. I was so pleased to see her, I gave her a hug. ‘Careful darling’ she warned’ don’t kiss me. They’ve done my makeup’. The press were delighted to see her. She was over ninety and had become quite tiny but she was still the same old Doris so they wanted a picture of her sitting on the stairs reading Tony’s book. I bent down and hissed in her ear ‘Doris, you’re holding it upside down’. That’s alright dear, she hissed back ‘I can’t see a bloody word’.
One day a couple of years later I got a phone call from Granada. ‘We’re phoning round Doris’ old friends’ they explained ‘ we have some sad news for you. Doris has passed away.’ She had indeed. At the age of ninety-four with a glass of whisky beside her, a cigarette in her hand and a book open on her lap, she’d just dozed off peacefully. I went to funeral which was attended by some of the biggest names in showbusiness. Tony Warren paid a tribute to Doris and ended with this lovely story. Dories had never married but had looked after her mother until the old lady had died at the age of 99. One night when her mother was ill Doris knew she would have to call out the emergency doctor ‘And you know what they can be like’ she told Tony. But as it happened when she opened the door she was pleasantly surprised to find an extremely attractive young doctor standing there. She took him upstairs to her mother and called ‘Mother the doctor’s here’ and Mum, aged 99, opened one eye, clocked this Adonis and purred ‘Doris, fetch me my teeth’.
Do you remember the Ken-Mike-Deirdre triangle? Well as you know Australia and New Zealand work while we’re asleep so at twenty past eight in the morning I used to start getting calls from places like the Liverpool Echo, the Manchester Evening News, so that had to be done before I went to Granada. I’d get into Granada at half-past nine, the phone would be ringing on the desk. Standing there in my coat, I’d pick it up and it would be calls from anywhere in the western hemisphere and as I put down it would ring again. And one morning when we coming up to the final days of this ‘would Deirdre choose one or the other?’ I stood there and after half an hour a secretary came up and as I had the phone in one hand she took my coat off and said ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ and it would go on all day through lunchtime. All the British papers would phone every day to see what they could get out of me. As I am turning the key in the door at home I can hear the phone ringing and it would go on all night at home. I know that the Press Officer now doesn’t but I used to take calls all round the clock and even one in the morning because when the early editions of what was Fleet Street came out, every paper would get every rivals’ first edition. They would scan it . If a rival had a story they hadn’t got they would ring me up so at one o’clock in the morning the Daily Mirror would come on ‘There’s a story in the Sun’ and they’d read me this. What they didn’t know was that there was a journalist who told me frankly that his boss had put him onto soaps and he had to produce a soap story a day and if there wasn’t anything going he had to make one up. So he would do a soap story and of course the rivals would ring me up to find out, even if I said ‘there isn’t a word of truth in it’, I’d come into the Press Office, the next morning, pick up a paper and it would start ‘A Granada spokesman denied that… ‘and then they’d print the whole story and by the time you got to the end of it you’d forget that it had ever been denied. So, yes, there was tremendous interest right around.
There were a couple who lived way out in New Zealand, they’d emigrated from England and they discovered to their great delight that they could plug their portable television in the car and while they were out they could watch it on picnics. There was a wonderful man mountain called Selwyn Toogood. Every year he used to lead a round the world tour of New Zealanders and it was called the Coronation Street tour and it was a bus-load of fans some of them elderly. He wore khaki shorts and jacket and he just looked as though he was going to meet Livingstone in Victoria Falls. They went to Thailand, Tahiti, the most exotic places but it was called the Coronation Street tour and this was the highlight of their visit. Every year I used to go and hostess them and take them down the Street and explain who lived here and so on and take photos of them outside the Rovers and they were a lovely group. There was one lady who’d taken ill, somewhere in France and they wanted to rush to her to hospital but there was no way she was going into hospital until she’d seen Violet Carson, Ena Sharples, and she made it. Selwyn wrote to me a few weeks later that an elderly couple who’d met on the tour were getting married so we sent a telegram from the cast to the wedding.
We got attention from all over the world, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. In fact we had Granada International and all the features I wrote would be mailed out to them all over the world. When we wrote press releases which went out to all the papers, all the nationals and the evenings and the Sundays, copies would go to Granada International and they would send it out all over the world. We had a foreign cuttings service and one day I got a lovely piece all done in chrysanthemums from a Japanese newspaper and the only reason I knew it was mine was that we always sent out a photograph. Before I came there used to be a photographer on the set all day taking sheets of contacts. I thought that is a real waste of manpower and time so what I used to do was read through the script in advance, and one particular scene would jump out at me, a dramatic shot or a funny shot, and I used to give them note ‘Scene so and so’ and they would be able to check with the Floor Manager roughly when that scene would come up, go down and take the picture I wanted and they were free for the rest of the day and those pictures would go out everywhere.