Carla Connor became a Coronation Street icon in her decade in on the cobbles. A combination of Elsie Tanner’s sex appeal, Bet Lynch’s steely independence and Raquel Watts’ emotional vulnerability – albeit hidden beneath a ball breaking business-savvy exterior – she personified generations of Weatherfield women.
Having quit the role in May 2016 to take a well-earned break after a run of demanding high-profile storylines, Alison King returns to the street next week as the Connors beg Carla to save their ailing family business. Her character may be reluctant to go over old ground, but King is more than happy to be back where she belongs.
“I had said I wanted a two-year break, but once Kate Oates started as producer and I met up with her I felt ready to return a bit earlier,” reveals the actress, discussing her reintroduction for the first time. “I had done what I wanted to do and spent time with my daughter Daisy, which was very rewarding. But it was time to have adult banter again and I was excited to work with Kate as producer. It was easy getting back into the character – like pulling on an old pair of stiletto boots!”
Carla’s first scenes after 18 months away are quieter than you might have expected her dramatic comeback to be, as she meets little brother Aidan in secret so he can beg her to save Underworld. “It’s nice to hear from Aidan, but her first reaction to buying the business is ‘absolutely not’,” says King. “But then she starts thinking about the family and realises how much she misses everyone and would like to see them at Christmas.
“She turns up on Christmas Day and says she has changed her mind, she wants to help. The Connors have had a bad time and Carla rallies round everyone like Mother Christmas – she’s more vulnerable than she’s been in the past.
“There is nothing selfish about it, Carla genuinely wants to be there for them and be at the centre of the family.”
A family which now includes a new Queen Bee in waiting in the shape of stepmum Jenny. Johnny’s romance with the high-maintenance redhead was in its early stages when Carla left, so what’s the dynamic going to be between the two women?
“That’s fun to play as Jenny is quite jealous. Carla’s back and getting all the attention and Jenny doesn’t like it. Carla is oblivious and comes to the bistro with all these petrol station gifts for everyone and is flinging them around – she knocks Jenny’s make-up bag on the floor and accidentally hits her on the head with a box of chocolates she’s passing to someone!”
Whether Jenny replaces Tracy Barlow as Carla’s nemesis remains to be seen, though King and Oates have talked a lot about breaking new ground with Carla and moving on from the old rivalries.
It’s not just the Connors Carla is keen to catch up with, there’s also dear old Roy Cropper. Their unlikely but beautifully drawn bond touched fans, and also King, who is thrilled to resurrect the Carla/Roy relationship.
“Roy is always there for Carla, he’s a father figure and she loves him. Carla would spend the day looking at trains with Roy! She has no plans to stay long-term at first but he could be the key to her sticking around. And Roy is also the only person she has confided in about her secret…”
Ah yes, the secret. No one returns to a soap just to say hello, and Corrie have teased Carla carries a hidden burden which will be explained in the coming weeks. Can King shed any light for us?
“Because of the nature of this secret, we can expect a very different Carla,” she says carefully. “The next few months will see her vulnerability explored as she needs her family and friends more than she ever has before…”
The focus finally, and somewhat inevitably, turns to Carla’s history with ex-husband Peter Barlow. With such a rich history of passion and self-destruction, the pair can hardly avoid each other with Peter now the landlord of the Rovers Return. What happens when they’re reunited?
“There will always be something there,” shares King. “Nick was the good egg but she’ll always love Peter. She lost his baby, he knows her inside out.” Has anyone told Peter’s current partner Toyah Battersby that?
“Everyone knows how powerful Carla and Peter’s relationship was, so you can understand why Toyah may feel threatened with her being back.
“Carla is talked about in a certain way among the locals, but that perception of her is not really true. I believe she is a woman’s woman and we’ve seen over the years how much she fights for her friends.”
So if Peter is off-limits, is there a new love interest in the offing? “She is happy on her own and not looking for love. There will be someone she has a little fling with, but it’s not a big romance – and she also has another agenda for setting her sights on this person…”
Using men the way men have used her? Sounds like Carla is back in the driving seat…
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of Coronation Street below.
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news