Behind the Scenes on Coronation Street – 50 Years Ago

by | Apr 5, 2018 | Manchester, TV |

Photographers uncovered some extraordinary sights when they went behind the scenes at Coronation Street 50 years ago this month. Not least was prim and proper Annie Walker, landlady of the Rovers Return, lying down on a bed with husband Jack – in broad daylight too! Campaigner Mary Whitehouse would have had a fit! But it was all perfectly innocent. Actress Doris Speed was taking a break from filming to brush up on her script while fellow actor Arthur Leslie was catching up on forty winks.

Doris Speed (Annie Walker) and Arthur Leslie (Jack Walker) relax between takes.

It was just one of many insights into everyday life on the set at the nation’s favourite soap in April 1968. The M.E.N. photographers snapped Street stars in the canteen, in make-up, relaxing in the rehearsal room and even at home.

Philip Lowrie (David Barlow) and Mitzi Rogers (Jenny Sutton) rehearse their lines.

Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner) runs through her script, April 1968.

They showed what the wooden sets looked like from behind the TV façade. Even the famous front of the Rovers was an inside prop without a cobblestone in sight.

The front doors and twitching curtains on the Street were shown to be little more than flimsy panels bolted on to scaffolding.

It was just about enough to look convincing on low resolution black and white TVs. But at least the curtains were real!

The front of the Rovers Return – part of an inside set.

The outdoor set was only built in 1968 – eight years after Coronation Street was first aired in December 1960. Before then, everything was on the inside.

Coronation Street’s new outdoor set – wood and scaffolding, May 1968.

To mark the occasion, Granada organised a cast publicity shot celebrating the wedding of Dennis Tanner (Philip Lowrie) and Jenny Sutton (Mitzi Rogers).

Included in the line-up with the newlyweds are Annie Walker (Doris Speed), Ena Sharples (Violet Carson), Emily Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire), Valerie Barlow (Anne Reid), Ken Barlow (William Roache), Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) and Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix).

All the TV shots were on a tight angle, so it was impossible to see the end of the scaffolding clearly visible behind the happy couple on the small screen.

The cast line up for David and Jenny’s wedding, May 1968.

Originally the houses on the interior set were built to three-quarters scale. Actors had to walk more slowly than usual to make the houses look normal.

Everything was shot inside because early production techniques made it difficult to record and edit sequences filmed in different locations.

The studios at Granada were not big enough for the entire street to be built in one section, so it had to be split into two halves.

The pavements and cobbled street were painted on to the studio floor.

In spite of the limitations and cramped conditions, some the Street’s most dramatic scenes were filmed there – including the collapse of Number 7 due to a faulty beam in 1965.

There was more tension two years later when Ena Sharples was buried under the rubble of a train crash. There was agonising wait to see if the Street stalwart was alive or dead.

Fortunately she was dug out by David Barlow and later discharged herself from hospital to stride back into the Rovers as bold as brass.

The new outside set was built on railway sidings near the Granada studios. The TV storyline said it was due to the demolition of the Mission Hall and Elliston’s raincoat factory, and the building of maisonettes opposite the terrace.

The actors called the new set ‘the coldest place on earth’ because the wind was naturally funneled directly down the street. Filming outside was rare anyway as it was far more expensive than interior shots.

It was a lot more cosy inside in the corner shop counter and lounge, complete with a battery of stage lights and cameras.

Interior shot of the corner shop and lounge.

It was cosier still in the canteen where our photo shows Margot Bryant, who played the wonderful Minnie Caldwell, queuing up with her tray.

Margot Bryant (Minnie Caldwell) in the Granada canteen, April 1968.

Taking her turn in make-up is Eileen Derbyshire who played Emily Nugent, the longest-standing female character in the serial.

Emily first appeared on screen in January 1961 and only left in January 2016 after a stint of 55 years.

Eileen Derbyshire (Emily Nugent) in make-up, April 1968.

The 1968 set fared less well. It became the New York Street on the Granada Studios tour but resurfaced occasionally in Coronation Street.

The first was in 2004 when it doubled as the Davenports car dealership where Sally Webster had an affair with her boss Ian Davenport.

It was also the strip club where Lloyd Mullaney met Cheryl Gray and the nightclub where Kylie Platt was working in 2012.

An almost full-size street exterior was finally built in the Granada backlot in 1982 – and was officially opened by the Queen.