It was a thrill last month to visit the ITV tower on London's South Bank to meet an actress who was part of one of Coronation Street's most iconic storylines and certainly one of my own personal favourites.
As Sally Ann Matthews returns to Corrie to reprise her role as Jenny Bradley after over 20 years away, she met with us to discuss Coronation Street both past and present and a very enjoyable experience it was too.
The Alan Bradley saga, which ran for almost three years back in the 1980s, was one of Corrie's biggest ever storylines and brought Sally Ann into the living rooms of millions of television viewers. It also began close working relationships with some of Corrie's most well-loved stars.
I really wanted to know what it was like going back into such a massive show after such a long break. Sally Ann said she feels like she has picked up where she left off all those years ago, reuniting with many familiar faces both on screen and off. She quoted Helen Worth (Gail) saying that Corrie was like riding a bike, you never lose the nack of it! Sally Ann did comment on some of the notable differences from the Coronation Street of the 1980s. Of course the programme is more like a machine these days, the organisation and the speed of filming has been taken to another level. She also commented that the cast was now huge compared to before, in fact she had been back for several weeks and was still meeting new faces!
Sally Ann was very enthusiastic about the new facilities now that Corrie has moved to its Media City home, although one other big change was that there was now no time for proper rehearsals unlike the old days. We can all draw our own conclusions on whether that's a good move or not.
Sally Ann spoke with a great deal of affection for Coronation Street. She was only 15 when she first started on the show although she commented that it wasn't as big a deal back then as there was no access to social media and the press involvement was much less than it is today. Around the time of the 50th anniversary she realised how proud she was to have been a part of Corrie history and also that she wouldn't mind revisiting it at some point in the future.
I also asked Sally Ann what her memories were of the iconic Alan Bradley storyline which ran from 1986 until he famously came a cropper thanks to that Blackpool tram in late 1989. Sally Ann said she wasn't really aware of how big the story was as it ran over such a long period and gradually gathered momentum. It was also such a different time so there wasn't the same publicity around. She does remember that special permission was required for her to utter a swear word when talking about her on screen father at one point! How times have changed!
One very interesting and slightly peculiar anecdote that came out of this discussion surrounded Mark Eden, who of course played Alan so brilliantly. Apparently after the scenes in which Alan attempts to murder Rita were broadcast, Mark noticed a sharp increase in the level of fan mail he was receiving from female viewers. Make of that what you will! Apparently Mark also used to change a lot of the scripts they received before they shot their scenes so Sally Ann eventually stopped attempting to learn their scenes in advance. She added that the changes he made were always for the better! Of course Mark Eden is still very much around today (and is Sue Nicholls' husband) - Sally Ann says she is still in touch with him to this day.
Unfortunately there was only so much that Sally Ann could reveal about Jenny's return to Weatherfield. We do know she meets up with Kevin Webster through an online dating site and although he is pleased to see her, apparently not many other people are! We don't know how much Jenny has changed over the years although it's obvious things have happened to her, both good and bad. Whether she is seriously interested in a romance with Kevin or is just using him for another, bigger reason remains to be seen. It was revealed that Jenny's return story does have a beginning, a middle and a natural end although there was the possibility of more beyond that, but nothing is concrete for now. Personally, I hope she stays around for a good long stint!
We are promised some excellent big scenes coming up between Jenny and Rita (Barbara Knox). It will be terrific to see them sparring on the screen once again - I wonder what Rita's reaction will be? Also, there was the indication of some great comedy between Jenny and Sally Webster, who is none too pleased with Jenny's interest in Kevin. Sally Ann said she loved the direction Sally's character had taken and that Sally's snobbish exploits would immediately get Jenny's back up! Can't wait for that!
Finally, Sally Ann said she felt she was lucky to be given another shot at a character like Jenny nearly thirty years after first playing her. She said it was like coming full circle and revisiting something which had been and continues to be a massive part of her life.
It was terrific to meet Sally Ann. I cannot wait to see Jenny Bradley once again so we can not only find out what cards life has dealt her but also see what she gets up to now she's back in Weatherfield once more.
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