When Jenny Bradley walks back into the Rovers Return next week for the first time in 22 years, there won’t be many smiles in Weatherfield. Long-time residents will be shocked that, after years of absence, the daughter of psychopathic Alan Bradley has returned – and on Kevin Webster’s arm.
But for Sally Ann Matthews, who played the rebellious Jenny, revisiting the cobbles has been a more pleasurable experience. After working on Corrie between the ages of 15 and 21, Matthews experienced Coronation Street as a teenager just like Jenny – and she had put off rejoining the show until now.
“I fought against it for a long long time,” the actress tells RadioTimes.com. “When I left, it was a very different time in television. I hadn’t gone to drama school, I’m northern and I was in a soap. So, after that, people said, ‘she’s just a soap actress’, so I decided I would earn my stripes and gain respect. I wasn’t interested in being famous, I was interested in being 70 and still acting.”
So why the change of heart? “It was only in 2010 – when the 50th celebrations started and I was asked to do this and that – that I thought, ‘I’m never going to get away from it, people still recognise me from it, I’m dead proud I was in it, I should embrace it.'”
But while Matthews has been very much welcomed back to the show, things will be much trickier for Jenny. “Well, no one’s pleased to see her,” grins Matthews. “Obviously, there have been events in her life that have affected her and made her possibly more aware.”
Whether or not she’s a changed woman, Jenny certainly causes trouble when she ends up in the Rovers with Kevin Webster after the pair get in contact with each other on an internet dating site. All hell breaks loose and the night takes a turn for the worse as Norris confronts her about the way she blamed Rita for the death of Alan.
“Jenny does really like Kevin, she’s single and been nervous about dating,” Matthews explains. “He’s someone familiar and she probably always quite fancied him back in the day. She is definitely interested in Kevin, but time will tell whether it’ll develop or whether it’ll turn out she’s using him.”
It’s the scenes with Sally Dynevor, who plays Sally Webster, that Matthews says she’s particularly excited about: “I love what Sally’s doing and the way her character has developed into this incredible snob. That’s going to get Jenny’s back up. Sally will obviously be defensive about Kevin.”
“When she [Jenny] comes back, she meets people she’s never met before – some are quite nice to her and then they get a word in their ear and attitudes change…”
Over the years, Matthews has kept in touch with many of the cast members who appeared alongside her and still exchanges Christmas and birthday cards with Mark Eden, who played her villainous on-screen dad Alan.
Remembering the iconic and controversial storyline that saw Alan almost murder Jenny’s mother Rita, Matthews says, “I remember Mark’s fan mail changed after he nearly killed her and suddenly all these women were throwing themselves at him. These women were into a bit of that. So weird!”
So, has working on Coronation Street in 2015 been very different from doing it 22 years ago? “It’s harder now to be a soap actress,” says Matthews. “You need the ability to be adaptable because things are constantly being rewritten and schedules moved. You could be shooting five different weeks in one day, all out of sequence. We never used to do that – you’ve got to jump emotions so quickly.”
But some things haven’t changed at all. “You know when you were little and you were naughty and your mum gave you your full title?” laughs Matthews. “The amount of times people say, ‘Jenny Bradley!’ She still gets name-checked, whenever anyone talks about her, or to her. She really isn’t very well thought of!”
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of Coronation Street below: