Tim Sullivan remembers directing Coronation Street

Do you want to talk a bit about directing Coronation Street?

Oh, wonderful. In the old days there used to be a thing called weekly rep in the theatres where they would do a different play every week, with the same cast. They’d learn, before the advent of great television and stuff. And Corrie are the greatest ever weekly repertory company in the world. They’re an amazing bunch, and some really fine actors in there. We had it quite easy in those days, it was more studio based than it is now.

But I remember one story that was, amazingly, kept out of the press. In those days we used to film on a Monday morning, block on a Monday afternoon, there was only two episodes, I think. Block the two episodes on a Monday afternoon, and then Tuesday, all day we’d rehearse. Wednesday morning we’d rehearse, Wednesday afternoon we’d have producer’s run, the writers/producers came. Thursday morning was any additional filming or off, then studio Thursday afternoon and Friday. Then edit, we didn’t dub Corrie in those days. Edit on the Monday, into the Tuesday. About halfway through… We used to record on these great big two and a half inch tapes, video tapes, that were in great big box type things. We sat down on the Monday morning, pulled the tape up, and it had to be the wrong tape, there was nothing on it. But it was marked up the right tape. So we pulled up another tape, there was nothing on it. And it was marked up as the right… we had lost all of Thursday, and half of Friday’s studio recording. And it was quite clearly an act of sabotage. It was so serious that within an hour, Plowright, Scott, I can’t remember who else, were in the editing room, double checking that this had happened, talking to the technical people, who, I seem to remember… in those days, if you had a tight tape like that, and you got a great big magnet and you wiped it over the tape, you could wipe it. Something had happened, and it was deliberate, was their opinion. But of course, we now had this problem, because we went out three weeks after the shoot. So, I had to go to the producer’s run on the Wednesday, and announce to the cast that on the Thursday they would be starting in the morning, instead of the afternoon. And then at three o’clock I would take over the cameras till 10 o’clock at night, and redo the previous week. All the cast were fraught. Liz Dawn came up and said, “You don’t understand, I can’t do that. I forget the week’s before, it’s gone, so I can get the new week’s in.” And I was saying to everyone, “Don’t worry. We’ll be…” And you know what, we shot the first scene in one take, and suddenly it was like being in the lifeboats. Everyone was going, “Oh my god they just did…” And we just all rattled through it. And it was just a great, great day. How it never got into the press, I have no idea, because it was a big deal.

Yes. Did you ever find out who sabotaged…?

No, it was an absolute mystery. There was an inquiry. It had to be someone technical. Was it someone who had been fired? Was it someone who was leaving? No one knew or, as I always used to say, was it a mistake? And then someone went, “There are checks, you can’t not record the show. It’s not possible.” So, the mystery of the missing tapes that to this day has been unrevealed.

Actually, the only other thing I did on Corrie, was when Curly lost his virginity. Got a dreadful amount of hate mail for that, because it was with a mixed-race girl. It was shocking, absolutely shocking. But, by mistake, on the audio tape, the way we dubbed the titles, it was a copy of the original recording session spilled through, and I found this amazing extra tape that had an extra 40 seconds. It was a cornet solo of the theme, and it just fit Curly losing his virginity so well. So we called up to Plowright and got permission, and it went out and it was wonderful. It must exist somewhere. But yes, great.

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