Thursday, November 23, 2006

"Yes, Mrs Walker!" The Rovers Return, 1970-1979

Signed photograph showing Doris Speed as Annie Walker, Mayoress of Weatherfield.
Inscription on the back of the photograph.

The Rovers Return Inn, Coronation Street, underwent several changes in the 1970s, not to mention copping its fair share of everyday comedy and drama.

In 1970, Arthur Leslie, who played landlord Jack Walker, died. Much loved as the kindly and long suffering husband of snobbish Annie, there was no chance of the role being recast. And so Jack died too - on a visit to his daughter Joan.

Annie remained and the decade contained a mixed bag of fortunes for her.

She disapproved when son Billy appointed “common” Bet Lynch as barmaid in 1970.

She became mayoress of Weatherfield to Alf Roberts’ mayor, and took elocution lessons in 1973.

She was terrorised by two hooligans who hid in the Rovers loos at closing time and emerged after the rest of the staff had gone home in 1975.

She fought against Renee Bradshaw’s plans to open an off-licence at the Corner Shop, and lost in 1976.

She learned to drive and bought a Rover 2000 car - also in 1976. Of course, having learned to drive, being Annie, she rarely did. She much preferred being chauffeured by Rovers potman Fred Gee!

She suffered a terrible trauma when a lorry crashed into the front of the Rovers in March 1979 after the driver had a heart attack at the wheel.

Doris Speed was a true original, basing her characterisation of Mrs Walker on her Aunt Bessie, who used to lead the family at charades at Christmas and had a withering look to bestow on those who mocked.

Unlike Mrs Walker, Doris was a staunch socialist and possessed of a splendid sense of humour, telling endless hilarious anecdotes, often against herself.

Annie, the snob supreme of the Street, could have been hated by viewers, but the excellent acting of Doris Speed, and some terrific scripts, prevented it. There were times when we could have cheerfully throttled her, but other times when we were deeply concerned for the character.

I remember me and my family, all sitting around the telly with lumps in our throats, feeling terribly sorry for Mrs Walker after her son Billy had laid into her over her interference in his relationship with Deirdre Hunt. Annie had interfered because she truly believed that Deirdre was not good enough for her son. Once she had been found out, nobody could fail to be affected by Doris Speed’s performance as Billy told Annie that he never wanted to see her again.

What was clear about Annie was that she never acted out of “cartoon baddie” motives. She sincerely believed that what she was doing was for the best.

When Bet upbraided Annie for opposing Renee Bradshaw’s application for an off-licence, accusing her of doing so out of grandiose pretentiousness and a selfish determination to keep the Rovers as top dog for drinkers in the neighbourhood, Annie was shocked and hurt that Bet and many of her regulars believed this to be true. She explained, with obvious sincerity, that she had simply acted out of love for the Rovers.

I don’t watch Coronation Street now, but I recall episodes some years ago when Maureen Lipman played an Annie Walker-style bar manageress. Rita Sullivan commented that the Rovers was no place for a snob like her.

Oh, Rita, I thought, what a short memory you have!

It was a snob that gave the Rovers its highly distinctive atmosphere and many of its finest storylines, from December 1960 to October 1983.

Cheers, Annie!
Two sides of a Rovers Return Newton and Ridley beermat, sent to me by Granada Televsion, c. 1978. These were in use in the programme in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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