By Mike Pavasovic
IN another world, the original resident of No 1 Coronation Street might have been a schoolmistress granny rather than Albert Tatlock.
The inspiration for the long-running Granada Television series, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in December, was apparently provided by Sam Laycock’s famous mid-19th century dialect poem ‘Bowton’s Yard’ about life in Stalybridge.
It was a chance rendition of the poem by none other than Violet Carson, the woman who was to become famous as hairnet-wearing battleaxe Ena Sharples, that sowed the seed for Coronation Street in writer Tony Warren’s mind.
In 1950, Warren was a young actor performing in the radio series Children’s Hour. One afternoon, when a technical hitch led to a lengthy break in transmission, Violet filled the time by singing Bowton’s Yard to the assembled children.
In 2009, when BBC Radio 4 made a documentary about Violet Carson called ‘Ena’, Warren admitted that was what gave him the inspiration for Coronation Street.
He recalled: “Violet slid off a few knuckles full of rings, sat down at the piano and played Bowton’s Yard. I was transfixed.”
Laycock’s poem tells the story of the 12 properties in Bolton’s Yard, Stalybridge, and the people living in them. At No 1, his granny kept a school. Ned Grimshaw had a shop at No 3, and Laycock lodged at No 7 with the fearsome Susannah Grimes. Among the other residents were an elderly cobbler and James Bolton, from whom the houses took their name. Widow Burns at No 2 was a washer woman.
The idea for Coronation Street came to Warren one night in 1959 when he was on a train with BBC producer Olive Shapley who recalled: “At about Crewe, after a long period of silence, Tony suddenly woke me up saying, ‘Olive, I’ve got this wonderful idea for a television series.
“I can see a little back street in Salford, with a pub at one end and a shop at the other, and all the lives of the people there. Just ordinary things’. I looked at him blearily and said, ‘Oh, Tony, how boring’. He’s never let me forget my error of judgment.”
Within a year Granada had commissioned a 13-episode series and when Warren was looking for someone to play Ena, he suddenly thought of Violet Carson and his Children’s Hour days.
“We had all the characters bar one – Ena Sharples,” said Warren. “We trundled about 40 disgruntled women in front of the camera and none of them were any use at all. In the end I said, ‘Well there’s always Vi’.”
Warren knew Violet Carson’s qualities as he had clashed with her as an over-active teenage actor. Once, when he bombarded her with endless questions, she rapped ‘If that boy doesn’t belt up, I will smack his bottom’.
Bowton’s Yard stood off Grosvenor Street, Stalybridge, roughly where the Tesco petrol station is situated. It was built early in the 19th century and demolished in 1937.
Warren died in 2016, aged 79, having seen Coronation Street establish itself as the nation’s best-loved soap attracting audiences of more than six million people.