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Coronation Street’s Martin Hancock on Spider’s return – and the big secret he’s hiding

The cobbles favourite talks exclusively to Johnathon Hughes about the real reason he’s back in Weatherfield.

Big RT Interview: Martin Hancock (ITV)
Published: Friday, 1st July 2022 at 9:00 pm
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It’s been almost 25 years since Geoffrey ‘Spider’ Nugent knocked on his Aunty Emily Bishop’s door looking for somewhere to crash and became one of Coronation Street’s most unlikely icons. The young eco-warrior was brimming with enthusiasm and eccentricity, and his passion for environmental issues and principled stand against the establishment dragged Weatherfield towards the 21st century.

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Last seen on screen on 2003, Spider, played by Martin Hancock, has come home to the cobbles with a secret – more of which later. Introduced as an outcast, Spider struck a surprising chord and caught the zeitgeist that has since seen his ‘alternative’ attitudes develop into the social norm. How many Corrie characters can claim to have had such an impact on the way we live our lives?

“History has come to Spider’s side,” observes Hancock, in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com. “The things he was passionate about all those years ago we take for granted now: the environment, climate change awareness, reducing our carbon footprint – I think he made a contribution to that. We don’t think twice about recycling, going vegan or having a fuel efficient car, it’s just what everyone does these days.”

Martin Hancock as Spider Nugent in Coronation Street
ITV

The growing eco warrior movement of the mid-90s attracted huge media attention at the time, personified by protestor ‘Swampy’ (real name Daniel Hooper) whose defiance, dreadlocks, tie-dye jumpers and festival-in-a-field vibe – along with his cheekily charming persona – were the inspiration for Hancock’s alter ego.

“There were some who wanted to demonise eco-warriors and the great thing was we humanised them through Spider. Occasionally he was a doofus, but he became our doofus rather than ‘one of them’. I’m enormously respectful of the real activists and quick to say I’m an actor portraying them, and never wanted to distract from what they actually do.

“I’d sometimes get told off by the Vegan Society for slip-ups, like drinking beer in the Rovers or having a meringue or something, but generally the eco community were happy the cause getting some airtime, it was a platform. He brought the movement in from the cold.”

Spider was an intentionally antagonistic presence created to challenge the old guard, symbolic of a shift in Corrie at the time. Producer Brian Park took over in 1997 and notoriously shook up the struggling show with shot in the arm of sensational storylines and controversial cast changes, killing off the likes of harmless stalwart Derek Wilton and bringing in the bolshy Battersbys, as well as demure Emily’s rabble-rousing nephew. It was the link to the legendary Mrs Bishop that Hancock cites as the key to Spider’s success.

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“He was an outsider but the connections with people like Emily allowed his views to resonate better with people. The interplay between them was hugely important and huge credit to Eileen Derbyshire, who shifted the gears on her character seamlessly and with great charm. Everyone says Spider radicalised Emily, but she was already radical, this is the woman who stopped the council demolishing the street back in the 70s. Militancy clearly runs in the Nugent family!”

In almost 60 years of service as one of the soap’s longest-servers, arguably Emily’s defining moment was spending the night up a tree in 1998 to protest against the development of local green space the red rec, having been persuaded by Spider to join his crusade.

“That was filmed up a hill in a force four gale and I discovered Eileen was much braver than me!” recalls Hancock. “We were surrounded by metal scaffolding and when I heard thunder I started bricking it. Eileen, on the other hand, was swinging her legs off a branch like she was on the swings at the playground! She was very fun to work with, quietly mischievous and so wonderful to me.”

The other important relationship from Spider’s time on the street, set to be revisited now he’s returned, was with Toyah Battersby. The impressionable teenager harboured a huge crush on her neighbour who inspired her to adopt many of his beliefs, even if it was just to initially get his attention.

“It was two people from the awkward squad meeting and it was kind of cute,” he reflects affectionately. “Spider was completely unaware she fancied him at first, you had a lovely comic story of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks falling for this intellectual activist. They didn’t fit with their own social groups properly, then the misfits found each other!”

Hancock’s chemistry with Georgia Taylor made the quirky couple instantly adored, and the actor credits his co-star for seeding the notion of his return.

“It’s all her fault!” he grins. “Last year Georgia posted a pic of us in our younger days on social media which got a big reaction from the press. It made me nostalgic, and my wife encouraged me to get in touch with Corrie about a possible return. What she actually said was, in her own special way: ‘You’re not getting any younger!’ I spoke to my agent who contacted the producer, and we worked it out from there.”

Spider returns to Coronation Street (ITV)

Having notched up nearly six years in his original stint Hancock called it a day, candidly citing Spider’s storylines were in danger of becoming repetitive. “It was mutual as there was fatigue on both sides,” he admits. “The writers needed a break as we’d gone down a cul-de-sac where all we were doing with Spider was campaigning. It was time for him to move on for a little bit. Or 19 years as it turned out!”

After Spider and Toyah moved to London (though it didn’t last, the off-screen backstory tells us they split at some point before Toyah returned in 2016) Hancock carved out an impressive post-soap career, working steadily in high-profile projects including blockbuster movies such as Ridley Scott’s historical epic Kingdom of Heaven and Defiance opposite Daniel Craig, as well as TV turns in Cradle to the Grave with Peter Kay, Endeavour and Holby City, to name a few.

He may have worked on some big productions but Hancock is happily humble enough to acknowledge the lessons he learnt from Corrie. “Doing a soap or an advert are the two best training grounds for an actor,” he says. “An advert is two days for 30 seconds, sometimes on a soap it feels like you get 30 seconds prep for two days! Corrie taught me about framing, understanding how a shift in your position can change the composition of a shot.

“There are lots of nuances you have to learn in a soap because it’s so fast. You learn to understand very quickly what people need from a specific shot.

“Georgia always had a good balance of understanding the time constraints of a show like Corrie, but still being thoughtful about how you’re going to play it and react to things. The cast put their party boots on as they enter the studio, concentration sets in, you get your game face on and you’re ready to rock and roll.”

coronation street spider toyah week 27 2022

That’s exactly what Hancock is doing now he’s reprised the role that gave him his big break. Polite but with a playful edge, much like his character, he’s clearly thrilled to be back and reviving Spider’s rebellious spirit which remains as reassuringly infectious as it always was.

“His mischief and militancy is fun to play. Spider thinks outside the box and doesn’t always see life in a linear way, he kind of skips around and takes his own route. And there’s a warmth to him and Toyah’s dynamic that is picked up straight away, which I was really pleased about.”

But don’t expect it all to be rose-tinted reminiscing about the red rec protest, Spider is obviously hiding something as viewers saw in his comeback episode. A furtive phone conversation to an unknown caller discussing a mystery plan felt worryingly foreboding – our Toyah’s had enough stress after being charged with murdering her deceitful husband and watching her dreams of becoming a parent implode, is her old flame bringing more trouble to her door?

“Toyah is one of his oldest friends and he’s extremely worried about what she’s been through. He will do what he can to help. Spider being back in her life gives her a welcome distraction from everything that is going on, which she needs, but yes, there is more to it. And that is all I’ll say at this stage…

“It’s going to be a corker, and I was surprised when I found out what is coming up. I thought I was just coming back to open a mung bean shop!”

Visit our dedicated Coronation Street page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers. If you’re looking for more to watch check out our TV Guide.

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