“A horror!” is how Sue Johnston jokingly describes straight-talking Gloria Price, who makes a big impression when she arrives in Weatherfield next Wednesday. Within minutes, Gloria – mother to Stella and gran to both Eva and Leanne – has branded the Rovers Return “grotty” and startled a kimono-clad Ken Barlow after making a racket on the cobbles at midnight.
But Coronation Street fans with long memories may well recall Johnston from her original appearance on the soap. In 1982, she had a short stint as bookie’s wife Mrs Chadwick – and it’s an experience she’s unlikely to forget in a hurry:
“I remember it so clearly because I was terrified,” The Royle Family actress admits. “At the time, the characters were truly legendary and some of the actors were very intimidating. It really was true that if you sat in somebody else’s seat in the green room, you’d get in trouble. Thankfully, Liz Dawn [Vera Duckworth] took me under her wing and we’ve been close friends ever since. She was one of the first people I called when I knew I was going to be in the show and she was delighted.
“One of my strongest memories from 30 years ago was being in the ladies loos when Doris Speed [Annie Walker] entered. I froze. This was Doris Speed! I stood in awe as she chatted away to me ten to the dozen. She then brought her Annie Walker wig out of her bag still talking away. She popped it on, snapped into role, left the toilets and walked straight into the Rovers. I thought about that on the first day that I walked onto the Rovers set and had a chuckle to myself.”
So was it a similar experience when she returned to Corrie in 2012? After all, its stars have become no less iconic in the intervening years.
“It’s not at all like the old days. I was still incredibly nervous because obviously I’m working with all these terrific actors, but everyone has been welcoming and very kind. I’ve just filmed some scenes with Barbara Knox because Rita is one of the first people Gloria goes into combat with, and she was wonderful. Because the characters are so familiar and I’ve watched the show as a fan, I have to make sure I call people by their real name.
“So far, my only mistake has been calling Craig Charles ‘Lloyd’ and he laughed when I apologized.”
“Combat” may seem like a strange word to use, but it’s perfectly apt when describing a character like Gloria. Put it this way, she certainly isn’t backwards in coming forwards.
“She’s the sort of person who takes pride in shooting from the hip,” Johnston agrees. “She wastes no time in ruffling feathers when she arrives in Weatherfield, which she thinks is a dump. As well as being blunt to the point of rudeness, she’s also a terrible flirt, which is terrific fun and a great combination to play.”
It feels, right from the off, that Gloria is going to be one of those classic Street matriarchs. She’s pithy, confrontational and has a mean way with a one-liner. Sean, for one, is immediately impressed with what Gloria terms her “gay-friendly aura”, but Stella seems less enamoured with her continued reference to the “negligible” age difference between mother and daughter.
So does Johnston expect to make an impact with Corrie aficionados? And for which of her screen roles is she most recognized?
“I’ve been very lucky to have played parts that have become so familiar. Most recently, people shout out ‘Barbara’, and I like that. I love working on The Royle Family and I’m pleased that my contract on Coronation Street allows me time off to film the Christmas special that is definitely happening this year.
“I also still get Sheila and it’s usually at a Liverpool match or by younger people who I always think couldn’t possibly remember Brookside [Johnston played Sheila Grant on the Channel 4 soap between 1982 and 1990]. I hope one day people might shout out ‘Gloria’, but of course I really like people calling me Sue best of all.”