March 25, 1990 Celebrity Secrets Exposé
Coronation Street is Britain’s most popular TV soap. Yet, according to one insider the REAL LIFE drama that goes on behind the scenes of “The Street” is more exciting than the soap itself. “You wouldn’t believe the goings on “, Street star Sidney Blenkinsop has told us.
Sidney first appeared in Britain’s longest running soap as long ago as 1968 when viewers briefly saw him sit quietly in a corner of the Rovers Return. Since then he’s become a regular appearing many times in the Rovers and on one occasion actually ordering drinks. Over the years he’s got to know the stars better than anyone, and now for the first time he blows the lid off Britain’s longest running soap.
‘Granada TV pay writers a fortune to invent storylines for the Street. But the most exciting stories of all are the ones which go on behind the scenes. Viewers simply wouldn’t believe some of the episodes I’ve witnessed!
On screen many of the characters don’t see eye to eye. That’s what soaps are all about. Occasionally they come to blows, like the time actor Johnny Briggs, grappled with Ken Barlow outside Mike’s factory. Of course they were acting. But you wouldn’t believe some of the real life fisticuffs that go on. Usually its over something petty — a disagreement about the script for example – but feet and furniture start flying, and it always ends up with at least one person in hospital. If you watch carefully you can always spot at least one of the actors with a black eye, and I don’t think a single members of the cast has got a full set of teeth left.
You’d imagine the cast would be a tight knit friendly bunch. But I can tell you they’re not. There’s so much competition for the best lines, and endless arguments about who’s going to say what. On set you can cut the atmosphere with a knife, and on it none of the actors ever speak to each other.
But despite the odd disagreements the Street stars are a great bunch to work with. We’re like one big family, always looking out for each other. Like the time Roy Barraclough lost his wallet and we all stopped work to help him look for it.
If you ever think some of the plots that script writers dream up for the Street seem far fetched, you should see the kind of drama the stars get up to in real life. Hardly a day goes by without one star or another getting pregnant, having a love child or discovering that another star is their real father.
I will never forget the day Chris Quinten turned up for work only to be told that Thelma Barlow, alias Mavis Riley was expecting his love child. Sparks were flying and her on-screen husband, actor Peter Baldwin threatened to kill him. Thelma told Chris she’d ruin him unless he handed over £250,000 to bring up the child. Chris’s screen wife Gail Tilsley told him that Thelma would have to have an abortion, and her screen mother Audrey Roberts was taken to hospital in hysterics. Alf Roberts, alias actor Brian Mosley, Audrey’s on-screen husband, armed himself with a gun and went out to shoot Quinten, his on-screen son-inlaw, alias actor Brian Tilsley. Gail Worth, alias actress Helen Tilsley, former on screen husband of actress Chris Quinten (alias actor Brian Tilsley).
In the end it all turned out be have been a big mistake. Someone had got a telephone message wrong, and nobody was pregnant after all. But that was quite an episode I can tell you.
Not many people know that Prince Charles is probably Coronation Street’s biggest fan. Indeed if it wasn’t for the Prince of Wales there wouldn’t be a Street at all. For when Granada TV first planned the series it was going to be set in a high rise block of flats called Coronation Court. But the Prince heard of their plans and wrote to them pointing out that the community spirit would be lost in an unsightly high rise building, and that elderly residents would be isolated, especially if the lifts didn’t work. He suggested a traditional row of Victorian terraced houses instead. The producers agreed, and the idea of Coronation Street was born.
The Street has for many years been Britain’s most successful soap, however the producers panicked when the BBCs Eastenders soared to number one in the viewers’ chart. They considered a number of crazy schemes to boost viewing figures. They even tried asking sexy barmaid Bet Lynch, alias actress Julie Goodyear to work topless behind the bar at the Rovers Return. But fortunately their letter to her was lost in the post, otherwise I’m sure she would have resigned in disgust.
Several new storylines were considered and a sizzling no holds barred sex scene between Ivy Tilsley and Don Brennan was filmed under tight security. No one was allowed on the set, but I crept to a window to take a look. It was red hot stuff, but they’d only been at it for 2 or 3 minutes when the window steamed up!
In the end ITV bosses insisted that the scene be cut, or the programme would have to go out after 11.00 p.m. Reluctantly they agreed to drop it.
Dirty Den was single handedly responsible for Eastenders’ success. The ladies were switching to the BBC to watch him in their millions. So Street producers told actor Bernard Youens, who played Stan Ogden in the series, to lose weight in order to become more attractive to women.
But after months of unsuccessful dieting Bernard died, and the Street lost one of its brightest stars. No one can be blamed for his death, but I blame the producers.
It’s easy to criticise the producers for the way they run the show. But they have a difficult job to do, and I would never knock them.
There were sighs of relief at Granada TV when Dirty Den eventually left Eastenders. BBC chiefs decided to have him bumped off by a gangland hit man. It was lucky for actor Leslie Grantham, alias Dirty Den character Queen Vic landlord Dennis Watts, that they did, because Granada bosses had been planning to do the job themselves – with real bullets. They had been making discreet enquiries about the availability of a real life hit man and had already got several quotes for the job.
Murder might seem a little far fetched, but in the crazy world of the soaps anything can happen. And sometimes it does. Albert Tatlock got on the wrong side of Granada bosses by asking for a pay rise. When they turned him down actor Jack Howarth threatened to leave and join Eastenders instead. A week later he was dead.
Jack was just one of the many great actors who have appeared in the Street. Many of today’s top stars began their acting career in the series, among them Davy Jones of pop group The Monkees. It’s a tribute to the actors that the viewers often imagine characters like Rita Fairclough, Jack Duckworth and Harry Cross as being real people. Every week Granada TV receive tons of mail addressed to these people, and the actors who play them are often approached by fans mistaking them for their on screen characters.
But sometimes an actor can become so obsessed with his part he can, without realising it, literally become the character he plays – 24 hours a day. It’s a fascinating psychological condition, only recently discovered and quite unique to soap stars who can end up losing their own identity. Unfortunately however there aren’t any examples of that I can think of.
Next week: Frank Sinatra’s Street connection, plus how detectives hunting the Yorkshire Ripper swooped on the Rovers Return.