Happy birthday, chuck! Fifty years of a Northern TV legend
For 50 years, it has enthralled a nation with its hotpot of tears, drama and laughs. Tony Livesey salutes Coronation Street
Marilyn Monroe never came to Nelson, Lancashire in the early 1970s. Neither did Dietrich, Princess Grace or any of Pan's People, despite the obvious lure of one of the first Arndale Centres. But it didn't matter. Because one summer's day at the dilapidated, corrugated home of Nelson FC – and part-time stock car track – she arrived.
She who must be lusted after, gossiped about, fought over and have her fags lit by every local handsome stud; the Northern amalgam of those Hollywood or capital creations not fit to strap on her slingbacks.
Two thousand of us – mostly unwashed – at the opening of Nelson Gala almost 40 years ago craned our necks to see. There she was. Waving. Just behind Jimmy Clitheroe. Clad, neck to toe, in fur. Her, not him. A gasp erupted as Elsie Tanner arrived centre stage. Where she belonged. The Queen would not have been more wanted at that point.
Like Our Brian, Our Ashley, Our Gail and Our Vera, this was Our Royalty. Pat Phoenix, for it was she, had been subsumed by a character she played so precisely and bitchily that her real name had little impact on us. It was Elsie, not Pat, who was alive and well... and among us. The true, Wagner-walloping power of Coronation Street came home to me that afternoon, a power and influence way beyond the reach of today's fame-craving X Factor generation.
These people are legends, ladies and gentlemen, legends. All of them. From Ray Langton, whose devotion to duty included seducing Deirdre while she wore spectacles that even Ted Moult would not have been able to draughtproof, to the extra in the hairdressers who reads Hello with tin foil in her hair while Audrey plots a £5-an-hour tryst with a gigolo.