What do Ralph Fiennes, Minnie Driver, Dame Thora Hird and Eric Sykes all have common?
It’s not Academy Awards or BAFTAS. Neither is it appearances in the same movies or TV shows.
The link they share is much closer to home. It’s the Oldham Coliseum.
All four spent part of their early careers at the Fairbottom Street theatre before becoming household names.
And they were not alone. Many Coronation Stars over the years cut their teeth with the Oldham Repertory company before moving across Manchester to Granada TV studios.
They include Pat Phoenix, who played Elsie Tanner, Jean Alexander (Hilda Ogden) and current Street regular Barbara Knox (Rita Sullivan).
Other Oldham Rep actors who crossed over were Judith Barker, who portrayed Janet Reid, Roy Barraclough (Alec Gilroy), Anne Kirkbride (Deirdre Barlow) and William Roache – still on our screens as Ken Barlow.
Film and stage star Dora Bryan joined Oldham Rep as a teenager and spent six years at the Coliseum before moving to London’s West End in Noel Coward’s Private Lives.
Award-winning actress Sian Phillips played the lead role in Pam Gems’ musical Marlene at the Coliseum before it transferred to London and Broadway in New York.
In fact the Coliseum, which celebrated its centenary in 1987, is a TV star in its own right. It featured in a 2004 episode of the reality TV show Most Haunted.
It is no surprise that Manchester-born ghost hunter Yvette Fielding and her team were attracted to the theatre. In 1947, actor Harold Norman died there after being stabbed with a sword playing the lead role in Macbeth.
The long history of the Coliseum began in 1855 when it was called the Grand American Circus and Hippodrome. It was built to entertain Oldham’s booming population when the cotton industry was nearing its peak.
By 1912, when Oldham was producing no less than eight billion yards of cloth a year, there were a dozen theatres in the town. The Coliseum is the only one that survives today.
In 1903, the theatre was turned into a music hall by Peter Yates, proprietor of Yates’ Wine Lodges. Top names like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel performed there until it became a cinema in the 1930s.
It then closed for a period before being reborn as the home of Oldham Rep in 1938.
Homegrown talent Judith Barker was a member of Oldham Rep before playing Weatherfield town clerk Janet Reid in Coronation Street from 1969 to 1977.
She became known as the soap’s ‘homewrecker’ after dalliances with Len Fairclough and Alan Howard before marrying Ken Barlow.
Barker later appeared on Brookside, Waterloo Road and the detective series Scott and Bailey. She now teaches drama classes at Springhead Congregational Church in Oldham.
Prominent 1950s and 60s movie actress Janet Munro, the daughter of well-known Scottish comedian Alex Munro, joined Oldham Rep in 1953.
In 1958, she was the first women to be placed on a long-term contract by the Walt Disney organization and promptly starred in the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It earned her a Golden Globe award for Best Newcomer.
She later appeared in Third Man on the Mountain with Michael Rennie and Swiss Family Robinson with John Mills. She was nominated for a Best Actress BAFTA award in 1962 for her portrayal of Pat Harris in the film Life for Ruth.
Monro, who was married to actor Ian Hendry, died from a heart attack at the age of 38 in December 1972.
Coronation Street actress Anne Kirkbride attended Counthill Grammar School in Oldham before becoming an assistant stage manager at the Coliseum.
Her big break came when the Street’s casting directors spotted her in Jack Rosenthal’s football play Another Sunday and Sweet F.A. broadcast in January 1972.
Finally, a big break of another kind left fellow Corrie star Barbara Knox undone when she was performing in A Shot in the Arm at the Coliseum in September 1964.
The Oldham-born actress had to make a swift exit when the zip on her dress broke on stage!
Needless to say, she made sure she wore a different outfit for the rest of the play’s run.