Coronation Street is on the move: after 53 years at Granada’s Manchester studios, the soap is off to a new 7.7-acre site at Salford’s MediaCityUK. There’ll be a new Street that’s thought to have cost at least double the reported £10 million and taken two years to construct. But did you know…?
1. The first set was built in 1960 in a now disused studio on the current Quay Street site. Due to size restrictions, the street was constructed in two halves, so shots of the whole terrace were impossible. The pavement and cobbles were painted onto the studio floor. Despite the limitations, some complex scenes were filmed there, including the collapse of No 7 in 1965 and the 1967 crash when a train careered off the viaduct and Ena Sharples was trapped under rubble. The first outdoor set, used from 1968 to 1982, was unpopular: “The coldest place on earth,” is how Jean Alexander (Hilda Ogden) remembers it.
2. The houses do have stairs, and one long, continuous corridor upstairs runs the length of the terrace. But the space behind those famous doors is generally used for storage, although storyline conferences for the writers have taken place above numbers 9, 11, 13 and the Corner Shop.
3. The beer served in the Rovers is very weak shandy — mainly lemonade. It’s so sweet that Bill Ward (who played Charlie Stubbs from 2003 to 2007) could be seen on screen visibly recoiling while drinking it. Gin and tonic is made with fizzy water, with a splash of lime juice added to give it the right consistency.
4. Actress Cherylee Houston, who plays Izzy Armstrong, is unable to take her wheelchair down the cobbled street, so the crew put down rubber mats to give her easier access. The trouble is, rain on the mats generates static, so Cherylee’s co-star Mikey North (Izzy’s boyfriend Gary) is constantly getting electric shocks.
5. When the production started to shoot the series in high definition in 2010, they had the chimney stacks rebuilt in fibreglass to make them look more realistic, and the fake food served in Roy’s Rolls was replaced by real fare.
6. Hair and make-up have to ready the cast for their close-ups in five episodes a week. In one month alone, they go through 50 boxes of tissues, 20 packs of make-up wipes, ten lipsticks, five powders, six eyeliners, four blushers, six eye-shadows and 15 large cans of hairspray.
7. For many it was the axeing in 1964 of Lynne Carol as Martha Longhurst, whose death broke up the trio in the snug. “I’m convinced no one in the echelons of Granada knew of the plans to kill off Martha before it was too late,” said Bill Podmore, who became producer in 1976. “Apparently it was discussed with no one other than the writers, and I have never understood how they allowed it to happen.”
8. The current set was opened by the Queen in 1982. She was greeted by Julie Goodyear (Bet Lynch) in a pair of Charles and Diana earrings: “See? I even know which side of the bed they sleep on!” the actress told the monarch. When Prince Charles visited during the show’s 40th anniversary in 2000, the character Vera Duckworth was in hospital: “I was in bed when he came round the studios,” recalls actress Liz Dawn. “And I said, ‘Where are me grapes?’ He turned to his people and said, ‘Grapes — where are the grapes?’ I had to tell him I was only kidding.”
9. There are two studios — known as Stage One and Stage Two — hidden behind the frontages of the Bistro and the Victoria Court flats, which are used to house interiors of homes and shops. The Stage Two studio was expanded in 2002 to make room for additional interior sets such as roy’s rolls and Dev’s Corner Shop.
10. You could never accuse the late Bill Tarmey (who played Jack Duckworth) of not suffering for his art. Says Liz Dawn: “If the script called for Vera to hit Jack, Bill always used to tell me that he’d duck out of the way. But he never did. He used to have lumps all over him. I swear to God, I once hit him with a frozen fish and sent him flying over a table.”
11. Every wondered why Roy Cropper continues to use that old shopping bag? Well, it actually belonged to actor David Neilson’s mother who died shortly before he started playing Roy: “That bag went round Loughborough market for years. You see guys standing at bus stops with bags like that and I thought I’d introduce it. It’s also very handy to carry my scripts round in.”
12. We’re used to head-swaps in soaps, but the number of actors to have played Peter Barlow is veering on the ridiculous. So far there have been seven: John Heannau (1965-70), Christopher Dormer (1070 – 71), Mark Duncan (1971), Linus Roache (1973-75), Joseph McKenna (1977-78), David Lonsdale (1986) and Chris Gascoyne (2000 to present).
13. Much is made of the ill wind that blows when a new producer takes over. The most notorious is the appointment of Brian Park in 1997, who sanctioned the removal of five main characters, including Derek Wilton: “Derek was probably past his sell-by date,” recalls Park. I had to see the poor actor, Peter Baldwin, at 9am on the day I started and he thought I was seeing the cast in alphabetical order. But it wasn’t B for Baldwin. It was B for b*****ed.”
14. Stage Two also incorporated the set for Baker Street, as seen in Jeremy Brett’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The number 221B is retained on the set above the fan light.
15. Corrie may be known for its dialogue, but the cast can be just as snappy. When Doris Speed (landlady Annie Walker) asked the tall Roger Brierley (car dealer Lanky Potts, 1976) why he was bobbing his head in a scene, he said he was trying not to cast a shadow on her face. She retorted: “There’s a long dole queue of actors who have cast a shadow on the face of Doris Speed.”
16. There have been 159 deaths during the Street’s 53-year history — from the first, May Hardman, who died of a brain tumour on New year’s Eve 1960, to Sunita Alahan in April this year from a heart attack brought on by Karl Munro’s murderous ways.
17. Working at Granada allowed Street stars to learn from acting legends: “Laurence Olivier had been filming there and we were sharing the same make-up artist,” recalls Julie Goodyear. “I sneaked into the studio to watch him film a scene where he was required to vomit on cue. And I thought that this might come in useful one day. When the Rovers fire of 1986 came along and I was crawling underneath the smoke, memories of watching Olivier came back and I suddenly thought that this would be a very good time to be sick.”
18. Beverley Callard recently revealed to RT that Sir Anthony Hopkins loves her character Liz McDonald: “you’re so real,” he told her before watching some scenes being filmed. Callard added: “I was in one of Liz’s hideous miniskirts at the time and he said to me, ‘Can I have a Polaroid taken with you in the rovers?’ I was like, ‘I can’t believe this!’”
19. Before-they-were-famous appearances include Prunella Scales (Eileen Hughes, 1961), Beryl Bainbridge (Ginnie, 1961), Ben Kingsley (Ron Jenkins, 1966—67), Patrick Stewart (a fireman in 1967), Patricia Routledge (Sylvia Snape, 1961), Martin Shaw (Robert Croft, 1968), Joanne Whalley (Pamela Graham, 1974) and Kevin Whately (Kevin, 1981).
20. The most-watched episode of all time remains Christmas Day 1987, when Hilda Ogden left Weatherfield. It drew a massive 26.65 million viewers.
21. Actors often play more than one part. Michael Le Vell (Kevin), Malcolm Hebden (Norris) and Sarah Lancashire (raquel) all appeared in smaller parts before landing their big role. But nobody can beat Ann Aris. She’s appeared over the years as 12 different characters: from Kay Miller in 1976 to, most recently, the judge at Becky Granger’s trial for vandalism in 2008.
22. Coronation Street brides often get two or three wedding dresses as filming can span a couple of weeks and frocks need to look clean throughout. Tina O’Brien had five bridal gowns for Sarah-Louise Platt’s wedding to Jason Grimshaw as it had to tear and have red wine poured on it.
23. Suranne Jones (who played Karen McDonald) may have left Corrie nearly a decade ago, but memories of the place are never far away. Suranne has a mural, painted in 2005 by Jayne Bickerton (Yana Lumb, 2005-7) in pride of place on her kitchen wall.
Jones tells us, “It described Steve and Karen perfectly.” Her character stormed off into the night at Christmas in 2004 after one final fiery flare-up with Steve.
24. Even 50 years ago the show was garnering headlines. “TV suicide scene cut after outcry” declared the Daily Mirror, reporting that Granada had shelved a storyline in which Sheila Birtles, a worker at Elliston’s raincoat factory, swallowed a bottle of pills and then gassed herself. Half a century later the abandoned scene was shown in documentary The Corrie Years. Actress Eileen Mayers admitted: “I’d rather they’d shown the [original] episode.”
25. Prime Ministers have always been keen to associate themselves with the Steet. Harold Wilson hosted a dinner at Number Ten before a cast trip to Australia and posed with Pat Phoenix; Tony Blair announced Jack Straw would look into the case when Dierdre was wrongly jailed; and Margaret Thatcher had a drink in the Rovers. “I’ve got a Newton and Ridley in my cabinet,” she told the regulars.
See Coronation Street Monday 7:30, Tuesday 8:00, Wednesday 7:30, Friday 7:30 & 8:30 ITV