Saturday, 5 March 2016
Initially I didn't really know if I wanted to write a blog about Tony Warren. His death earlier this week really has marked the end of an era for Coronation Street. His peak as a writer for Corrie may have long since passed, but he was omnipresent at Granada for many of the Street's 56 years. Coronation Street was in his blood, it was through him like a stick of Blackpool rock.
I didn't want to write a piece for the blog that felt like an obituary. There are plenty of those around, some of them excellent. I also didn't want to create a blog which simply recounted his career highs and occasional lows as we're all well-versed in those, even though many of them are still startling and inspirational years on. What I did want to do was pay tribute to a man who has created not just a television programme which portrayed ordinary people as they really were but a man who helped redefine the cultural landscape in this country at a time when everything was being questioned.
There was an absolutely wonderful quote from Tony Warren in The Guardian earlier this week which described the struggle he faced and of course, overcame as a gay writer working in television in the early 1960s:
“The first Coronation Street writing team contained some of the biggest homophobes I’ve ever met. I remember getting to my feet in a story conference and saying: ‘Gentlemen, I have sat here for two-and-a-half hours and listened to three poof jokes, a storyline dismissed as poofy and an actor described as ‘useless for us as he’s a poof’. As a matter of fact, he isn’t. But I would point out that I am one, and without a poof none of you would be in work today.’”
This to me sums Warren up perfectly. It also provides evidence, if evidence was ever needed, as to how a young man in his early twenties could have created such firebrand women as Elsie Tanner, Annie Walker and Ena Sharples. There is so much truth in what he said but as always with Tony Warren, there is humour too.
I never met Tony Warren face to face but I did have the great pleasure of attending a special event at the British Film Institute in November 2010, as part of Coronation Street's 50th anniversary celebrations. Tony began the evening by introducing the first three episodes of Corrie from December 1960. He addressed the audience with warmth, good humour and honesty and was an absolute delight. It was quite simply an amazing experience to be in the presence of the man who gave us Coronation Street, watching his creation at the very beginning. A video of the Q&A which followed is still available on the BFI website.
Another favourite story about Tony Warren surfaced on his This Is Your Life tribute in 1995. Whilst autograph hunting at the stage door of a Manchester theatre in the late 1940s, he encountered a young actress. When he asked for her autograph, she replied why should he want her signature as she wasn't anybody. Tony replied, "Yes, but you might be one day!" The young actress was June Brown, better known today as Dot in EastEnders. It was only many years later that June found out who the little boy was.
One final recollection about Tony Warren before I finish. This little snippet from Amanda Barrie's autobiography always sticks in my mind. Amanda had been at some party or other at Granada and had come out onto the Street itself only to be joined by the shows' creator, Tony Warren. It was at night and snow was falling on the set. All was quiet as they reflected. Tony said, looking around at the cobbled street that you could still feel the magic.
And I think that sums Tony up. Even in his later years he was still full of that youthful energy and enthusiasm that got Coronation Street made back in 1960 when all were against him. There always seemed to be a mischievous twinkle whenever he appeared. Tony Warren never lost his love for Coronation Street or for the people of Manchester.
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