The first drama that everyone had to cut their teeth on was Coronation Street and I first worked on this iconic programme in 1969. In those days we recorded two black and white episodes a week. This meant that any outside film/VT was recorded on a Monday then everyone rehearsed Tuesday and Wednesday morning in a large rehearsal room that had all the sets taped on the floor with necessary props/furniture. On Wednesday afternoon it was the Tech Run which all crew attended along with the Producer. My job at the Tech Run was to time each scene with 15″ timings so that cuts could be made if necessary. On the Thursday we went into studio with the first episode. First we staggered through the episode sorting out shots/sound/lighting and practising dropping in the film or VT inserts (my job) Film only had a 5″ roll up which was fairly easy to gauge with whichever artiste was speaking just before the insert. However when we had to drop in a VT insert this was on a 15″ roll and could be very dodgy with some of the older artistes. Bill Roache was best at it as he never forgot his lines. Bill was also very good at speeding up or slowing down a scene if we gave the floor manager a note over studio talkback. Quite often we’d have a noisy scene in the Rovers then we’d Q & Cut to the next scene, possibly next door in Tatlocks and everyone in the Rovers would have to be absolutely quiet. After the first run we had a dress rehearsal. Besides checking the timings, calling shots, repo’ing cameras and booms and keeping an eye on the dialogue I also had to take director’s notes. Between Dress Rehearsal and Recording we all trouped into a committee room where I had to follow the director round to all the individual artistes reading out his notes. If there was a problem with the timing of the episode then the producer would make changes which I had then to pass on to the artistes & crew. This was a nerve-racking time for everyone; almost like a live TX. I remember seeing Vi Carson (Ena) absolutely shaking with nerves. There was no editing in those days, we recorded part one, stopped tape then recorded part two. If anything went wrong we had to start again at the beginning of either part. I had to do 15″ timings on my script throughout the episode so that I could see at any time whether the programme was running over or under. Two minutes before the end of programme, according to my timings, I had to pre fade the music so that the music ended naturally. We had a huge roller operated by a stagehand carrying the credits – this had many settings running at different speeds and in those last 2 minutes to end of programme I had to make the decision as to which roller speed would be required to end credits at the same time as the music. On the Friday we went through everything again with the second episode.
I worked on Coronation Street for at least a year, during which time we went into colour. The first time we saw the sets in colour they looked far too clean and bright so overnight a gang of set painters had to grubby down each set.
I’ve lots of memories of Corrie over the years- whenever you had a gap between finishing one production and starting the next you did a block or two on Corrie. Here are just a few:
Jean Alexander who played Hilda Ogden was brilliant with her continuity. She could hang different items of clothing on her washing line with different coloured pegs and still repeat the actions to correctly match her dialogue.
It was a big secret as to whether Raquel would marry Curly Watts and six weeks before transmission we secretly recorded the wedding ceremony. Brian Mills was the director, we had a lady playing the registrar and a couple of trusted extras to be witnesses. I put on a formal grey suit and played the part of the assistant registrar (with notebook and stopwatch hidden on my lap). When we’d finished we all travelled back in a minibus and Sarah Lancashire rang her mum to tell her she’d “got married” then we drank fizzy wine from paper cups to celebrate.
I worked quite a lot with a lovely director called Nicholas Ferguson and whenever we recorded a wedding on location he would wear a carnation in his lapel and I’d wear the hat I got married in and with a bit of luck there was something fizzy when we’d finished
I was lucky enough to go to Amsterdam when Roy got together with Hayley. That was a lovely shoot as I’d never been there before and we filmed on a houseboat among the lovely canals. One or two of the crew couldn’t resist the ‘wacky backy’ but at least stayed away from the prostitutes (I think!).
We travelled up to the Lake District to scatter Alma’s ashes. Unfortunately there was quite a strong wind in the middle of the lake and although we recorded most of the scenes we had to postpone the scattering of ashes as everyone was covered in white dust – thank goodness they weren’t real human ashes!
I worked with director Brian Mills on a special Coronation Street for Xmas sale as a video rather than transmission on mainstream TV. It was filmed in Las Vegas, USA but because of their strong unions very few of us were given visas but we managed to convince them that Continuity was essential from England- we only took about ten crew, the remainder had to be employed in the US. John Friend Newman was our 1st Assistant Director but his 2nd assistant was a rotund American lady who we christened “The Rottweiler”. One expression she used that I still remember and use occasionally was “Talent on the Move” meaning the artistes were on their way to Set. It was mainly about Jack and Vera Duckworth renewing their wedding vows in the little white chapel and the girls from the Salon turning up on holiday. We did a spoof with the girls based on ‘Thelma and Louise’ driving down the strip. We had a Mustang on a low loader and went up and down the strip for hours. Vera (Liz Dawn) was already struggling with her breathing and she had quite a lot of running to do up and down stairs in the hotel. I volunteered to be her stand-in until we were sure of the shot so that she only had to do it once. We spent a day in the suite on the roof of the Rio Hotel reserved for the high rollers (gamblers), complete with butler and swimming pool. This was on the understanding that if a high roller flew into town we’d have to get out of there. We also had quite a few night shoots in the casino as Vera wrecked Jack’s chances of winning any money, of course. It was incredibly tiring, made worse by me sleeping by the pool instead of in bed. I wangled a few days off after that shoot and managed to see my friend Bluey in San Clemente, California.