Learning to live in Coronation Street

Turning obscure rep actors into television stars

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 9 September 1963

DO you notice people who play the small parts in television dramas? You know, the barman polishing glasses in the background, the waitress, the bus conductor?

If you don’t — spare them more than a glance next time. You might be watching a television star in the making.

It isn’t enough to be a first-class stage performer if you are going to succeed on television. You have to be trained for the new medium — and for this reason most television companies have a system of trying out promising actors and actresses with small roles.

One system was initiated, in fact, by Margaret Morris — who has just taken over as producer of Coronation Street but who was then head of casting.

“In those days all actors and actresses in our plays were imported from London,” said Margaret. “But we knew that there was a huge reservoir of virtually untouched talent in the North itself, and we wanted to get that talent onto our screens.”

The Casting Department travelled thousands of miles up and down the region, following tip-offs — visiting scores of theatres, interviewing hundreds of performers.

Margaret made a number of real television discoveries.

Peter Adamson was one of her most exciting. Peter was working at Sale Repertory Theatre when Margaret spotted him.

“He had a rugged romantic quality, and a marvellous comedy ability,” she said. “But hardly any television experience.”

So Peter was introduced through bit-parts in a number of series and made a big impression with a small part in one in particular.

“And by the time Coronation Street came along, he was more than ready for the part of Len Fairclough,” she said.

“Pat Phoenix was another actress with a first-class repertory reputation but little television experience,” said Margaret.

A boom dolly and actors stand outside the street set

Pat was first seen on ITV screens in a small part in The Verdict Is Yours. And her magnetism marked her out for future stardom immediately.

Doris Speed and Arthur Leslie were both bom into the theatre business — but they, too, went through the “digestive” process.

“Doris gave a most memorable performance as a precise and businesslike lady magistrate in a court series,” said Margaret.

“Arthur used that great quality of gentleness to best effect in one of his series. And after those they were natural choices for Jack and Annie Walker.”

Bill Roache came from repertory in Oldham to play the lead of a soldier with a social conscience — “a boy very similar to Kenneth Barlow” — in a play called Marking Time, after two other tiny initiating parts.

Ivan Beavis was the greatest gamble of all — because Margaret had only seen him in a Manchester amateur production before giving him his first chance.

But by the time casting was under way for Coronation Street, Ivan was already some thing of a television “veteran” with half a dozen brief appearances in other shows.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *