By Ed Glinert, Manchester tour guide (New Manchester Walks)

Here are some of the most famous opening lines in English cultural history.

“I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.”

            Wuthering Heights

“You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”

            Sherlock Holmes to Dr Watson

And of course:

“Now the next thing you want to do is get a signwriter in. That sign above the door will have to be changed.”

Those were the opening lines of the world’s longest-running soap opera, Coronation Street, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this December. They were spoken by Elsie Lappin to Florrie Lindley on the 9th of December 1960. When that first episode was aired by the newly-formed Granada Television it was shown only in the North, as were all of the first 13 episodes, which was what most critics said would be its entire run.

However something triggered the potential to produce another 10,000 episodes since. Was it its very strangeness – working-class characters speaking in the local Northern vernacular, unusual words such as “nowt”, “eeeh” and “chuck”, or the fact that there was absolutely nothing like it on television at that time?

Coronation Street Rovers Return

Coronation Street was the brainchild of Tony Warren, born Tony Simpson in Pendlebury in 1936. Tony was a regular on BBC Radio’s Children’s Hour in the ’50s and there he met Violet Carson and Doris Speed, later to feature as two of Corrie’s best-known characters, the hair-netted harridan Ena Sharples and Rovers Return landlady Annie Walker. It was these two fine actresses that gave Tony Warren the initial theme for the show: strong resourceful women (from Elsie Tanner to Deirdre to Carla Connor) putting up with useless feckless men, epitomised over the years by Stan Ogden, Derek Wilton and David Platt. An exception is the show’s longest running character, Ken Barlow, the Guardian-reading liberal-minded intellectual who astonishingly featured in Episode One and is still there.

Coronation Street went national in March 1961. Now the whole country had a window onto a mysterious world of terraced houses set somewhere between Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole and Manchester Town Hall. The template was Ordsall’s Archie Street, not the Coronation Street that runs parallel to busy Regent Road at the eastern end of Salford. Tony Warren and a couple of Granada executives drove out of the Granada studios, over Princes Bridge, and into the maze of streets in Ordsall, the nearest working-class community to the studios. There they found the perfect tight-knit community, bookended with a corner shop and traditional locals’ pub. Sadly it was all demolished at the end of the 60s as part of Salford council’s clearance programme – apart from the church, St Clement’s, which was not incorporated into the programme lest there be accusations of bias towards one denomination over another.

Some filming took place in the open-air on Archie Street in the early years, but most of it was shot inside the Grape Street Bonded Warehouse, one of the very few buildings in the Campfield area of Manchester city centre, near Water Street and the River Irwell, that has survived. The setting for the new TV studios gave the Coronation Street producers the inspiration for the name of the programme’s locale: Weatherfield. The air was bitter and the wind biting that initial Corrie winter, so Tony Warren took a pinch of the climatic conditions and a bit of the name Campfield, and came up with the ingenious Weatherfield.

Within the complex an outdoor set was built in 1968 on old railway sidings by the studios. To mark its opening a special-effects-laden storyline involving a train wreck was filmed around the suspense of whether Ena Sharples was dead under the rubble. This encouraged the modern-day producers to do something similar but infinitely more ambitious to mark the 50th anniversary ten years ago when a rare live episode saw a Metrolink tram fall off the Viaduct onto the Street. In 2020 there is barely anything left of Granada Studios, ITV having moved to Trafford Park. The 1968 outdoor set has gone, so too has its 1982 replacement. Only the Grape Street Bonded Warehouse, used for filming thousands of indoor Corrie scenes, and the huge hotel-like main Granada admin block are left.

However we have more than memories. On the 9th of December, in this awful year of Covid, I, Ed Glinert, will be hosting a “Classic Corrie 60th Anniversary Locations Tour by Zoom”. I am one of the few Manchester tour guides who has guided on the set, both the old Granadaland one and the new Trafford Park site. I have hosted social events with the stars themselves including Norris, Mary, Dev and Tim. This tour is based on the real-life locations tours I run occasionally. Some are by coach, if a group books; some are more ambitiously staged by tram, bus and foot. The former takes about 4 hours; the latter lasts most of the day on account of the logistics involved. But on the Zoom locations tour we can get to all the main sites and sights within a couple of hours, showing the relevant pictures through my Powerpoint presentation and telling the stories in full. This is a little something of what’s on the set-list:

• St Clement’s Drive, Ordsall.

Built on the site of the original Archie Street, the prototype for Coronation Street.

• Coronation Street, Ordsall

Yes, there really is a real Coronation Street in Ordsall! This street is the oldest in an area that has witnessed so much redevelopment over the years and has become a tourism magnet since 1986 thanks to The Smiths posing in front of Salford Lads’ club on Coronation Street for the inside sleeve of their album The Queen Is Dead. It was not a completely original idea. Rita (Littlewood-Fairclough-Sullivan-Tanner) posed outside the club for the sleeve of her 1973 album.

• The Ralph Abercrombie pub, Bootle Street, Manchester

This is where Granada executives debated the choice of name for the new show in 1960. The votes went to Jubilee Street. Somehow it became Coronation Street.  

• Portland Basin, Ashton-under-Lyne

It was here that Richard Hillman, one of the greatest TV villains (“Norman Bates with a briefcase”, according to Gail) drove the Platt family into the canal in the dark. A few years later David Platt tried to drown himself here, in the daylight. Two remarkable storylines.

• Ryecroft Hall, Audenshaw

Used as the register office for a slew of weddings, nearly all of which ended in disaster, can you believe. Jason and Sarah’s first attempt to tie the knot in August 2006 saw Norris cynically ask Rita “was it worth shutting the shop for? I never liked weddings. Even my own”.

• Blackpool Seafront

On the real-life tour it’s a little tricky to do the whole of Greater Manchester and head off quickly to Blackpool to see where Alan Bradley was run over by a tram outside the Strand Hotel in 1989. On Zoom we can get from Weatherfield to Blackpool in the click of a mouse.

I do hope you can join me on the 9th of December at 4pm Weatherfield time for this double episode treat.

Booking on eventbrite here




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