Hall Of Fame – Violet Carson
There can be few more familiar sights on TV soaps than Coronation Street’s Ena Sharples sipping milk stout with Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhurst.
The fearsome yet matronly Ena, played by Ancoats-born actress Violet Carson, ruled the Rovers snug for two decades from 1960 to 1908.
In the process she became one of the nation’s best-loved TV characters, dispensing wisdom and advice with a stern moral compass – but liking a good gossip too!
Before her time on the cobblestones, Carson enjoyed a celebrated career as an actress and performer on BBC radio. She was a talented pianist and singer with a strong soprano voice.
Violet Helen Carson was born in German Street, Ancoats, in September 1898. Her mother was an amateur singer and her father ran a flour mill.
She first started performing with her sister Nellie in a singing act called the Carson Sisters. She also played the piano in cinemas to accompany silent films.
Her life took a tragic turn when her husband of three years, George Peploe, died suddenly in 1929. She never remarried.
Carson’s first big showbiz break came in 1935 when she joined BBC Radio in Manchester. She appeared regularly in the programme Songs at the Piano and Children’s Hour on the BBC Home Service.
She was also the star of Nursery Sing Song, where she sang with Trevor Hill, and was the pianist on Have a Go with Mabel and Wilfred Pickles.
Carson was a presenter on Woman’s Hour for five years and acted in various radio dramas. She first met future Coronation Street creator Tony Warren while recording a children’s programme in 1951.
As the redoubtable Ena, Carson appeared on the first ever episode of Coronation Street on December 9th 1960. She was the caretaker of the Glad Tidings Mission Hall, later to become the Community Centre.
Her straight-talking character, complete with ever-present hairnet, quickly became a national favourite. Carson was named ITV Personality of the Year for 1962.
Ena had some spectacular disagreements with Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix). One resulted in a fight that spilled out of the Rovers on to the street, with Ena smashing a window at No. 11 with her handbag.
Elsie once said of Ena: ‘That woman’s tongue. If it was a bit longer she could shave with it!’
But there were moments of humour too. In the 1972 Pub Olympics, Ena made an opponent from the Flying Horse lose a game of dominos purely by staring at him!
She also dressed up as Queen Victoria in the Street’s carnival float for the 1977 Silver Jubilee.
As well as for portraying Ena, Carson will be remembered for her regular appearances on the hymn programme Stars on Sunday.
She was awarded the OBE in 1965 and had a salmon-pink rose named after her in 1964.
Carson died of heart failure at her home in Bispham, Blackpool, on Boxing Day 1983. She was 85.
A memorial service attended by many of her Coronation Street colleagues was held at Manchester Cathedral in January 1984.
A blue plaque in her memory stands outside Granada Studios in Manchester, where she filmed most of her scenes as the incomparable Ena.