Maureen Lipman makes her debut as the formidable Evelyn Plummer in Coronation Street next week, the long-lost grandmother of Tyrone Dobbs.
Following some surprising revelations about his family tree, Ty is on the hunt for answers and some investigation with the assistance of Roy Cropper leads to the woman the mixed-up mechanic believes is his maternal grandmother. On Wednesday 12 September, Tyrone comes face-to-face with Evelyn but finds a spiky 70-something who initially dismisses his claims of being her grandson.
Eventually, Evelyn opens up and upon learning she’s being evicted from her home, Tyrone invites his relative to live with him and his family on the street. It’s not the first time veteran star Lipman has found herself on the famous cobbles, having played temporary Rovers manager Lillian Spencer back in 2002, so how does she feel about her return to Weatherfield?
How did the part come about? I was preparing a one-woman Edinburgh show when the offer came from my agent. For a while I didn’t want to leave my life in London, where I have a partner, dogs and grandchildren and I didn’t know what to do, but the light over my late husband Jack’s picture (Jack Rosenthal, who wrote early episodes of Coronation Street) suddenly came on! I’m circling 50 years because I met Jack in 1969 when I came to Manchester to join a theatre group. It’s nice to go back to a show where he started his career, he wrote episode 13 of Coronation Street. It is a little bit of a sentimental exercise but also quite a ‘me’ part.
What attracted you to Evelyn? She is not frightened to say what she thinks, Evelyn is certainly outspoken, a bit mean, a bit embittered – I’m not saying that I am that but maybe it’s not much of a stretch! And she is funny, which redeems her unpleasant qualities. Kate Oates, who was the producer at the time, told me a bit of her backstory and showed me a couple of the first scripts. I felt it would be a challenge, particularly as I was already booked for Edinburgh so I’d have to juggle that at first. Suddenly it became a total whirlwind of me on trains going backwards and forwards to Manchester, trying to learn not just the one-woman show but also a part in Coronation Street!
Was it the comedy aspect that appealed the most? She is a genuine battleaxe without a man to battle, except maybe picking fights with Dev in the corner shop and putting Tyrone in his place. The British public seem to love a battleaxe. There isn’t much comedy in the actual storyline, but the lines are dry and you have to put your own personality into it, then the writers start to respond to that so I can only wait and see.
You played a different role 16 years ago, has the show changed since then? Yes it is very different, there are more episodes now and you can be working with four or more directors at any one time. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful, there is something very comforting about coming back up north – my son says I am already speaking with an accent.
Isthere anyone in particular you would like to have a scene with? I have this fantasy of doing a scene like Ena, Minnie and Martha in the snug, maybe with Rita and Audrey putting the world to rights, talking about nothing!
Did you have much input into Evelyn’s appearance? Not an awful lot at the initial stages, no. I have pinned up my hair into something slightly old fashioned, she is stuck very much in the past, her clothes tell us she is always after a bargain, she has her hair in victory rolls which isn’t really something people do any more. She is very carefully dressed.
How does she end up moving in with Fiz and Tyrone? She’s evicted but we don’t know what she did for that to happen. I assume there comes a point where she has so few friends and has upset so many neighbours that she doesn’t mind leaving. You would think she would be a bit like a rescue dog and be grateful whens she gets to the new place, but far from it! She is just as belligerent. Evelyn doesn’t like herself, that is very obvious, she is stuck in a pattern of behaviour. I hope she gets an asbo, I’d love to see her tagged and doing community work with bad grace!
What kind of relationship does she have with Fiz? Fiz doesn’t stand a chance! No one was ever going to be good enough for her grandson, not that she thinks he is good enough either, but she has a grudging liking for this boy and thinks the womanhe is with is boring. She sets out to push her away by being ungracious and critical and generally driving a wedge between them. It’s a horrible thing to do but there are people like that.
Have you based Evelyn on anyone in particular? There is a little bit of someone I know who is very challenging, even ‘hello’ comes out as a challenge. A little of bit of that has gone in and most of my aunts, and indeed my father, who were very dry in their humour.
Are you enjoying being back in Manchester? I know the city well but it isn’t the same city – there was no Jack Rosenthal Street back then but there is now, which is wonderful. To think not just the pride that I get out of it, but that a lad who was the first person in his family ever to go to university, that his father put glue on garment seams and his mum took in dressmaking, that he now has a street named after him… That is amazing!