Peter Barlow (Chris Gascoyne) is get a blast from the past next week when he meets the inmate known as ‘the landlord’, who illegally sells alcohol to his fellow prisoners – yes, it’s none other than Jim McDonald! Here, actor Charles Lawson takes about his surprise return to Corrie, what he made of the bungled robbery that put Jim behind bars and whether his character is still in love with Liz…
Were you surprised to be asked back to Coronation Street?
Not really. I’ve been back most years. He’s a very good character and well established. I wouldn’t have been satisfied coming back for just an episode. If you’ve got a character like Jim, you might as well use him. So it was nice, but not altogether a surprise.
You’re back in the Street but not on the Street…
I rather like it. I’m physically here because the prison set is built at Corrie. But we used to go to Strangeways before they started charging too much. So the prison set is now built here and that suits me.
What have been Jim’s experiences of being in prison?
He hasn’t changed much at all. He still loves Liz and misses his son. He knows why he’s inside and he’s one of the Daddys in there. He was in the army for 16 years, so prison is a piece of cake for him.
What did you think of the robbery he committed the last time he was on the show? It seemed a bit daft…
It was stupid. But there was a crisis going on. Beverley [Callard] was ill as we all know, so people had to write something pretty damn quick. I thought it was silly. But it had to be written in a hurry. So, hey ho. But we played it to the hilt and people enjoyed it.
Who have you kept in touch with from the current cast?
I see Simon Gregson [Steve McDonald] every week. We go out for a drink when his stomach allows him! We’re very fond of each other. Simon has gone through a great deal with this programme, good and bad. I’ve always been careful to be there for him. I love him dearly. We’re great mates.
Is Corrie different now to how it was when you began?
When I first started, it was a lot slower. There were far less people in it, we only did two episodes a week. There were only four TV channels then. So 20 million people watched the Street. The atmosphere was fun back in the day. There was a drinking culture, which I fully embraced. You worked hard and you played hard. But that’s all changed now. There just isn’t time. Some people are doing 16 or 17 scenes a day. So they just go home now at the end of the day, which I think is sad. But the whole acting industry has changed. People frown upon people like me! I’m an old dinosaur!
What are your earliest memories of being on the show?
People had their own chairs in the green room in those days. I’d be told, “you can’t sit there, that belongs to Barbara Knox!” You didn’t know where to put yourself! I didn’t really know anybody at all, but the cast members were huge stars.
So, as for Jim now – he’s quickly supplying Peter with booze, isn’t he?
There is a moral argument as to whether this is good or bad. But Peter wants the booze so Jim is going to trade. Within four or five episodes, Jim is saying Peter can have all the hooch he wants but Jim wants to see Liz and Steve.
So does Peter make a deal with Jim?
Jim asks Peter to ask Ken to get a message out and Steve comes along. We’ve also shot Liz coming along which was brilliant. Good scenes. I’m glad to say we haven’t lost it. Jim thinks the lady doth protest too much. He wonders who she is trying to convince. But she says, “My new man is twice the man you’ll ever be!” Yet underneath it all, Elizabeth McDonald will always be in love with Jim and vice versa. That is a constant and I hope the writers keep it a constant. Then I’ll be back!
What are the origins of the Jim-isms – “so it is” et cetera?
When I first started, the writers had no idea who they were writing for. So all my scripts used to come in Mancunian. But then they started to twig. I’d say, “Well Jim wouldn’t say that. He’d say, ‘what about ya?’” So they gradually got into all that. They are extremely generous and very patient. It’s all to enhance the character. So it is, so you do, so you are et cetera. The Ulster fry. They get it now.
How long are you back for?
I started at the beginning of June and I finish in the middle of September. I think it is 30 episodes, just under three months on screen. It’s a good chunk.
And finally, on a personal note, what has made you who you are today?
Being Northern Irish. It’s because of what’s happened there and my father brought me up to be extremely true to my principles. He always used to say, “Don’t be looking in the mirror when you’re 70 and wish you hadn’t”. It has got me into serious trouble over the years with various directors and writers. But I’m fairly comfortable with who I am. To my own detriment I have always stuck to my own principles and beliefs. That’s a Northern Irish thing.