Eight minutes into the very first episode of Coronation Street on December 9th 1960, Britain was introduced to a pub that would become a national institution – the Rovers Return.
The first shot was of the door opening to reveal men playing darts before the camera panned to the bar where landlady Annie Walker was holding court.
Walker, played by Manchester actress Doris Speed, was serving the only character who’s still in the soap today – a very young Ken Barlow portrayed by William Roache.
Drinking with him was Dennis Tanner, played by Ashton-under-Lyne actor Philip Lowrie. The first round ordered on screen came to four shillings and seven pence ha’penny.
Dennis, out of a job, asked for credit but Annie refused. It left Ken – known as the street’s scholarship boy – to pick up the tab.
And so began six decades of the Rovers being at the very centre of life on Granada’s record-breaking series.
Annie and Jack Walker may have been the first licensees on TV, but creator Tony Warren had invented a history of the pub dating back to 1902.
Located on the corner of Coronation Street and Rosamund Street, the Rovers was built along with the terraced houses to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII.
According to the back story, the pub was named after the return of Lt. Philip Ridley, part of the fictional Newton and Ridley brewery family, from the Boer War.
The first licensee was former grocery shop owner Jim Corbishley who ran the pub with his wife Nellie. Many of their customers came from Hardcastle’s cotton mill in nearby Victoria Street.
In 1918, former police sergeant George Diggins and his wife Mary took over the Rovers. They saw the pub through the Depression, and eventually moved to Southport in 1937.
Then came the first TV tenants – Annie and Jack Walker, played by Arthur Leslie.
The couple were newlyweds when they arrived in Weatherfield. Annie saw the Rovers as a stepping stone, nursing ambitions to move somewhere grander. But the war put an end to that.
Annie’s regal manner gave rise to moments of vintage humour on the soap when she rubbed shoulders with some of the rougher locals!
She consoled herself by becoming a councillor in 1966 as well as playing a leading role in the Licensed Victuallers’ Association. Hilda Ogden, brilliantly portrayed by Jean Alexander, provided the perfect foil as the pub’s down-to-earth cleaner.
Serving behind the bar was another long-standing Coronation Street character – Emily Nugent, played by Urmston actress Eileen Derbyshire.
After Jack died of a heart attack in 1970, Annie became the sole licensee, aided by trusty barmaids Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) and Bet Lynch, portrayed by Rochdale actress Julie Goodyear.
Annie’s son Billy (Kenneth Farrington) moved back to the Street from London, and started his own garage as well as helping in the Rovers.
He was involved in a string of relationships, including Jasmine Choong played by future Fresh Off the Boat actress Lucille Soong. Billy was also engaged to marry Deirdre Hunt (Anne Kirkbride) until she called the wedding off.
After a raid on the Rovers in 1976, Annie decided she needed a potman to live on the premises. Fred Gee, played by Fred Feast, filled the role.
A major incident occurred at the Rovers three years later when a lorry overturned and shed its load of timber through the front of the building – just where factory boss Mile Baldwin (Johnny Briggs) and shop owner Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley) were enjoying a drink.
Events took an even more dramatic turn when it was thought Tracy Langton, then a child, was buried under the debris.
Fortunately, Tracy had been taken out of harm’s way by another character who desperately wanted a child of her own. Now grown up, Tracy is still in the soap today, played by Salford actress Kate Ford.
Another character still on the Street made her first appearance outside the Rovers in June 1984. It was Debbie Webster played by Tameside actress Sue Devaney.
The sister of Kevin, Debbie left the cobbles in 1985 and then returned as a property developer. She is currently involved in a shady scheme to demolish half the street with villainous hotelier Ray Crosby (Mark Frost).
Annie Walker passed the reins of the Rovers to her son Billy in 1984. He, in turn, left the pub a year later after being caught selling alcohol after hours. The Walker family’s 47-year presence at the pub ended with him.
The new licensees were the irrepressible Bet Lynch and her husband Alec Gilroy (Roy Barraclough). The scrapes they would get into over the next decade would see the venerable old pub enter an entirely new dimension!
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