Jose Scott was a Casting Director and cast the first ever Coronation Street, casting characters such as Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner, Annie Walker, Len Fairclough and Albert Tatlock.
I started working there in 59 and I was the booking assistant to Margaret Morris.
Was she head of casting?
No she wasn’t head of casting, she was the casting director. Anne Sudie (?) was the casting director in London and there were two casting directors who used to change places every three months, Terry Owen and Margaret Morris. And they would come and stay for three months in Manchester and three months in London. But when, I mean Tony had been talking to me about for a long time and I’d read almost all the episodes because I think he wrote the first 26 so we’d talked about it. In fact we’d spent many hours discussing what it would be like if it ever came off the ground and when eventually they got the go-ahead to do it Margaret Morris said well you’re the expert on the north, she was a southerner, so try your hand at this lot but I’ll be there to give you a hand which of course she was. But she really gave me my head and after a very short time once it had all got going I got made up into assistant casting director and took over. I mean Margaret was also instrumental in being part of the beginning because she was a very good casting director. She eventually became a producer of the Street.
What were Tony’s ideas?
He had given me the scripts of course to read and the characters which he’d talked about and of course the characters he didn’t need to talk about. As soon as you read the script, you knew. It was like being in a weekly rep, ooh I’d love to play that part, and then the first thing I think we said was that I mean there were quite a lot of plays and things that were being done that were purporting to be from the north and you would hear this awful accent ‘Oh I wish I’ and it was nowhere nearer Yorkshire or Lancashire than the man in the moon. So we both said almost simultaneously well we’re certainly not having anything that isn’t the genuine article, they’ve got to come from the north. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Liverpool or Manchester or Yorkshire or wherever but the proper north. And also nobody particularly well known. Well of course nobody particularly well known wanted to do it anyway – it was only this try-out thing. So that was how it all started and we held tremendous auditions of course for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks and then of course there was the big stumbling block with Ena. I was always travelling somewhere or other to try and find an Ena. I m ean every actress that was on earth from God knows where, if we could have dug them up we would have done. Then one day Tony had a brainwave, he said I remember when I was in the BBC, because he’d been a child actor, and a very good actor. He said ‘Vi Carson. Phew my word, she was a tough lady. Anyway that’s it, she eventually came and of course when the thing went on the air, she didn’t exactly stick to the script either. But that is what made it. She was such a strong character. I can’t remember now what the original lines were but she was a very good looking woman, she had this beautiful hair, lovely iron grey naturally wavy hair, very smart, lovely complexion and of course it was very difficult to make somebody look like an old bat so I don’t know whose brainwave it was to get the hairnet. But I can remember we were all sitting in the viewing room and she’d gone into Florrie Lindley’s shop and whatever the dialogue was before and she said ‘Are those fancies fresh?’ and she said ‘Yes’, ‘Well I’ll have half a dozen and no eclairs.’ The way she timed it, the way she did it, I actually wasn’t in the script either. But that was it. We all roared with laughter. It was just the pitch of what she said ‘I’m not having that’ and ‘Put that away for start’ so that’s how her character came to life. Of course Tony had written it but that came to life through her own inventiveness.
So when you were casting originally, characters you instantly knew?
I think probably Annie Walker really because Doris who became a very, very close friend – she was such a funny, lovely woman. There was always something rather grand about Doris and the idea of putting Annie Walker, who was always a bit above herself, you know ‘I’m one of the Beaumonts from Clitheroe’ – it seemed just perfect. And in the early days Doris did put on this slightly sort of posh accent but eventually that went. So really there was no problem with her, I don’t think with Jack either, Arthur Leslie, he seemed to fit in just like an old glove. Really the young people weren’t difficult to find. It eventually, bit by bit, we saw so many people.
What would happen in a casting session?
Well I would have been to the theatre, or whoever, we went all over the place. it wasn’t at all unusual to set off on a Friday and go to Liverpool and then go to wherever, go to York and of course we always kept notes and things of everybody, photographs. And they would talk about we wanted a Denis Tanner, or we wanted so and so, and so I would get a list of people who might be possible and then we’d ask them to come and see us and then they would a shortlist and say ‘Well right we’ll put you on camera, give you a camera test’. It’s odd to think that Ken Farrington was very highly tipped as being Denis Tanner and then Philip Lowrie finished up as the perfect Denis Tanner and Ken Farrington became Annie’s son. Casting is a gut feeling and also the whole thing, it was something so new to all of us really. Once it took off there were actors who we would have liked to auditioned. But we made it quite clear that the Street was the star and I know there were quite a few stars who do come from the north and say ‘Well I’ve never been asked to be in it’ but that was the reason, they were already stars and we didn’t want to make it unbalanced. Because really nobody did. I mean Ena, Violet Carson, was a kind of the Queen Mother, a tough old biddy, we were all terrified of Ena really, or terrified of Vi. When I say terrified, I mean, they all paid a tremendous amount of respect, as they did with the older members and was quite different from probably how it is now.
Was it difficult for theatre actors to transfer to television?
Strangely enough I think it wasn’t. Probably the ones who got in were the lucky one who didn’t give off a performance, they just hold of the script and said ‘Oh hello mother, how are you?’ or whatever instead of you know. We put them all on camera and also we’d been thinking about this for a long time, Tony had been thinking about it. It was very fortunate for actors in those days, or would-be actors, because we were doing quite a lot of other programmes like The Verdict is Yours, and the other Magistrates Court and things like that and there were always small parts that needed to be played and so I would put them in that little part and we would get chance to look at them. Even if it was only a maid or a stewardess or something like that, maybe they’d only have two or three lines to say so that was another showcase for them. Ones who did find it difficult didn’t get in.
I suppose it was like being in the theatre. You know you’ve got to go on come what may.
So how soon was it seen as a success?
I think it was fairly overnight. It went out twice a week. Well the first day afterwards, it was a bit like the first time with Al Read made his first broadcast, people were saying ‘You know that woman just reminded me of my Auntie Bessie, did you watch it’ and the people standing there would say ‘Oh yes’ and so I suppose within a month it really was, people started to show an interest and agents would ring up and say ‘You did know that so-and-so came from Preston didn’t you?’ and you’d think ‘Well I did but you told me they didn’t’ because it was really not the thing to be a northerner.
Who were your favourite characters from those early years?
It’s difficult to say because in a way they were all. It was so different really because it was sort of not quite of this world and yet it was so down-to-earth but it was fun to watch. (chat re RH article)I can remember the time when I used to think how lovely, I’ll rush home, I’ll have a drink, sit there and I’ll watch the Street and now I couldn’t care less.
So what was it like in the 70s because you worked on it for about 3 years in the beginning?
I always kept an eye on it, I was always terribly close to it even though I perhaps wasn’t working on it. It wasn’t much different in the 70s really.
Who were you working with in terms of producers/directors then?
Well there would be Mike Apted and Mike Newell and of course Jack Rosenthal was still around writing for us.
Characters that you cast in those later years?
Can’t remember. Over the years there’s been so many of them I can’t really separate the two from each other. I really wouldn’t know. You see in the very early days it’s interesting to think that people like Pat Routledge and Prunella Scales. But then now when you look at programmes like Brookside the number of actors and actresses who have gone on to do wonderful things from there. A lot of them seem to want to stay (on the Street). There was something very cosy and comforting and of course there was the security. It’s amazing to think that actually Bill Roache was the most attractive young man. I remember going to see him at Oldham and thinking ‘My God’. He would be about 26, 27 when he was there because he had been in the army and Anne his wife was there. But he really was quite magical actually. I’m always amazed that Bill has just stuck in the Street. When people say he’s very dull, it amazes me to think how he wasn’t dull in the early days, he really was quite sensational and a very good actor. But I think a lot of them in a way settled. They obviously enjoyed it very much being the characters that they were and settled for as long as they could stay there.
Does it matter if the actor is different to the character they’re playing?
I wouldn’t say that Jean Alexander was entirely different actually. There’s always a bit of something there. Pat was of course Elsie Tanner in a way. I’d been in rep with Pat so I knew her very well. And it’s strange because of all the people Margaret was absolutely adamant that she didn’t want Pat in the thing. She said ‘Oh she’ll go miles too far, she go right over the top’ Margaret was always the one who kept the finger on that ‘we don’t want anyone going too far’. And Tony and I fought like mad, I had been in rep with her and I said ‘I’m sure she won’t’ because Pat had got a tremendous sense of the theatre. She really was the kind of Joan Crawford, she was really, she should have been in Hollywood. I mean you would see her coming into the canteen or wherever and it would the white mac and the collar, all this sort of thing. But nevertheless nobody could have been better than her in the Street.
I remember going to one of her houses, and she opened the door and there were about five million pairs of shoes, talk about Imelda, shoes, shoes, shoes, jewellery and God knows what. She was tremendous everything had to be so opulent. She bought Wilfred Pickles house of course and then of course her marriages, they were sensational.
Did that intrude on her working life?
I don’t think it did really.
They visited Australia and Pat came back with a kangaroo coat. They had a wonderful time in Australia. They were feted wherever they went.
Well I think like any little community, it was like a weekly rep, everybody gangs together. Obviously over the years people would have their little differences and people would do silly things, get drunk or whatever. Wherever you are there’s always somebody. But they seemed to have a wonderful community spirit really and it was terribly unsophisticated really. On a dry run they would go and have afternoon tea in the Green Room and then on a Friday they would do the first episode and they would have lunch and I would go down and we’d all play bridge in one of the Conference Rooms. It was all very chummy but then the whole company was all very chummy. When you went into the canteen it was just a different place, there were these tables and you put another table together and another table and perhaps even Sidney or Denis Forman would join us. It was quite a different atmosphere. It was wonderful working on any programme but that was particularly wonderful. Every month we used to have a story conference and everybody would turn up, even Cecil (Bernstein), it was his baby. So Cecil would be there and Peter Eckersley and Jack Rosenthal, all the writers and all the directors. At the time we didn’t realise how exciting it was. It was like any story conference. We’d say so and so is going to do this and we had an idea, what do you think about this. Everybody chipped in , everybody had a chance to chip in. We’d have a very nice cold collation and a drink. The first time I went I was terribly nervous because I didn’t know anybody and I certainly didn’t know Cecil. And I think I was probably one of the only women there and Cecil said ‘Now come on Jose you make us some drinks’ and everybody was on gin and tonics and perhaps the odd beer and I remember pouring the gin in the glasses and thinking ‘I can’t find more any more tonic, what the hell am I going to do’ so I rustled round and filled the glasses with all the tonic and found some soda water and I couldn’t find anything else so in the end I put some more gin in and I remember Cecil saying ‘You always want to get the girls to make the drinks because they always make them nice and strong’. Those were lovely days because it was so relaxed in a way that however lowly anybody was, if they were part of the production team, they were there, the designers, everybody who was concerned was there and they all could say what they wanted to say.
What was it like when a character had to be killed off or wanted to leave?
The first one was Noel Dyson when she was run over. I believe the bloke, Bernard Kay who was the bus driver, he had a terrible time. People were stopping him in the street and saying ‘You killed Isla Barlow, didn’t you?’ and it was a long time before he worked. Noel was a charming woman, that was very sad. Of course it had not been going all that long. The next one was Joan Heath, Christine Hargreaves. I’d been in rep with her, she was a very nice actress too. I forget the sequence of it now. It came as a surprise too. It was very rare that the news was leaked. The loyalty element was there. You didn’t want people to know that somebody was going to have some fatality because that added to the spice of it all. The Delfonts and the Grades were all friends of the Bernsteins and I remember Cecil coming in one day and saying I’ve had a funny call, an interesting call from either Bernard Delfont or one of their wives saying ‘Come on Cecil, what does happen?’ because they were all addicts ‘Come on please tell us because we’re going away and we wont be able to see it’ And he said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t tell you’. There was a certain amount of snobbishness at the beginning when people would say ‘Oh Coronation Street, yes. Well I don’t watch it of course but I know quite a number of people, my cleaner watches it and she tells me’ And you’d think ‘Lying bugger, you’ve been watching every moment of it’.
But then eventually of course, people started to say ‘Mmm yes’ because there was nothing offensive about it. I mean it’s just working class. You talk to people now who were very young when Coronation Street started and they loved it but they don’t like it because they don’t want to hear this awful, coarse, rough.
The early wonderful humour when Denis Tanner was working for that seedy agent, bringing home a seal to put in the sink.
Tony wrote superbly for women. He based all his women characters on his relations, aunts and grandmas.
Who have you liked of the more recent characters?
I don’t really know, it’s difficult to say. I never really had any tremendous like or dislike for anyone because in relation to each other, that’s what made them good, one was no good without the other. Barbara Knox before all this business, years ago, she was a wonderful character, terribly funny and as an actress too she was terribly clever and very, very funny. And you’d see that part of her in the Street. They’d go on barmy holidays, I think she and Julie went to Benidorm or Majorca. In relation to each other, you couldn’t say ‘I particularly like that character’ until you saw them with one or two of the others. I can’t really tell you to be honest.
Were there any episodes that you remember?
I suppose they moved me at the time, I’m sure they must have done but it’s a helluva long time ago. There were people who are now dead. Graham Habberfield who played Jerry Booth, scenes that he was in were lovely and Ken Coates ‘Sunny Jim’ – that was always a lovely relationship with Martha. And Gordon Rollings too, he was. Trevor Bannister I think he was a decorator, he was incredibly funny. I suppose if I saw some of the episodes again I would think to myself that was wonderful but now I can’t truly remember any.
The relationship between Jack and Annie Walker, when they’d had a bit of a row and she’d say ‘You can take your bowling bag with you’ and then there was a wonderful episode when they did a cod ‘This Is Your Life’, Michael Barrington from Porridge appeared and they sang ‘Only a Rose’ or something daft like that. I don’t know what it was. It was not real life yet it was in a way.
Were there any of the minor characters who you thought of having star quality?
Joanna Lumley was more or less a star when she came. I never thought she’d do it actually but when they wanted this posh girl, I said ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to have Joanna Lumley?’ but they said ‘She’ll never do it’ but to my absolute astonishment, she did and never looked back really because that put her on the way.
There were one or two people who you kind of knew. A lot of them started with terribly small little bits. Eileen Darbyshire started with a tiny little part and I remember saying to her at the time ‘Look there’s a part that’s in two or three episodes but later on there’s a part coming and it’s only tiny but it could very well go on so you can choose which you want to do’ And she chose the small part which went on and it paid off.
I suppose one of my favourite characters was Arthur Lowe because he was so funny. He was such a love too. He was quite well known, he probably was the most well known of any of them. Jack Howarth had been around a long, long time. Margaret would say, people would be dilly-dallying and messing about ‘what about so and so’ and Margaret would say ‘Arthur Lowe, get in touch see if he’s available’ and you’d say ‘yes he’s available’. ‘Book him’, that was it, she was absolutely right. Only every now and then she would do it and of course he was absolutely wonderful, Swindley working for that Mr Popadopolis.
The important thing in casting is being able to weigh up people. I used to think some of those times when those girls were working in the factory making the frou frou skirts were very funny because those girls were funny, Angela Crow and Eileen Mayers and of course Christine Hargreaves. That was a terrible tragedy when she was taken so ill because she was very funny. I can remember very early on a tremendous row, she and Tony Booth on the doorstep.
When you were casting, was it important to talk to the writer?
The writer would come in a talk about it. With Tony you knew automatically. But sometimes the writers could be very difficult. I used to think sometimes they got rid of people who were very, very good because they couldn’t think of anything more for them to do. They could be quite tough, the writers, and say ‘No we don’t like her, we don’t like him’. Everybody had a say in it, it wasn’t just you, it was the director and the producer and everybody else making up their mind who they were going to have.
Everybody so loved the idea of it and they were all northern people so they knew somebody who was like that. To start on something totally new is very, very exciting to be part of it. I think the most nerve-racking thing was that we weren’t able to see, now you see an episode and you have a preview, this there was no preview. 7.30 came and you were off, everybody was sitting in the viewing room.
It didn’t seem very long before we were all summoned to Denis Forman’s office and he said ‘Congratulations everybody, this has stunned us all’. I think Cecil always thought it would work and Denis thought it might but nobody had ever done anything like that before, nobody had actually ventured into that kind of a thing so it was all done for peanuts. We didn’t pay anybody anything much, well of course nobody got paid much in those days. It was better paid than the theatre but I think if they got £20 an episode and you didn’t have to be a member of Equity in the very early days.
There was always a tremendous discipline and I don’t think that that exists any more. I remember meeting Betty Driver one day not all that long ago and she was saying ‘You’ve no idea what’s it like’ not mentioning any names but she said ‘In the Green Room if you heard the language some of these kids’ and she said ‘Half of them if they’re not taking a bit of this, they’re taking a bit of that. It’s so awful’ I mean Betty’s so lovely, they don’t want to hear this. That would never have happened. I know they all, a lot of them got up to little misadventures, in their outside life they probably did all sorts of daft things but nevertheless it was all kept under wraps. People had a little misdemeanor they were taken to task about it. It was all different.
We were lucky that we had that period because it will never come again.