When Gloria Price (Sue Johnston) returns to Weatherfield next week she’s not alone – with her is new fiancé Eric Babbage, a man with a wad of cash and a career history in vinyl flooring. He’s played by acclaimed actor Timothy West, a man whose credits include two stints on stage as Macbeth as well as TV roles in everything from Brass to Bleak House. So why has he now chosen to tread those famous cobbles?
“Well, I thought, ‘if Ian McKellen can do it, then it’s good enough for me’. There has been snobbery in the past from some quarters about soaps, but now there isn’t in the way there used to be because they’re done so well. These days, they take their rightful place alongside dramas as they’re not seen as second class in any way.”
Was another incentive the fact that West’s real-life wife Prunella Scales once had a role on Coronation Street back in 1961 as bus conductresss Eileen Hughes?
“She asked me to give her love to anyone who’s still in it,” West says. “But I pointed out that as she was in episode four and we’re now on episode 8044 that doesn’t leave too many people – possibly just William Roache!”
Not that West’s character will be catching the eye of Corrie’s old guard – after Eric starts to suspect that Glo may be too interested in his dough, he turns his attention to the lovelorn Eva (Catherine Tyldesley), someone with whom he thinks he could make a connection:
“He’s always seen that there’s a definite selfish, slightly grabby element to Gloria but it gets worse and he doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like the constant family rows she causes. He likes a quiet life and he feels Eva offers a more appealing alternative.
“He’s drawn to Eva as he realises she is unhappy and he thinks she is a lost soul like he has been in his life. He doesn’t want to have a sexual relationship with her at all. He is far too old for one thing. But he thinks they might have some fun together seeing the world. She is funny and intelligent.”
And what has West himself made of his Street experience? “There are so many lovely people,” he says. “I know Stephanie Cole and Sue Johnston and one or two of the others. They welcome everybody. It did appeal to me that this was a story with a definite end to it. I couldn’t have stayed long term, but I have enjoyed it immensely.”