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Wednesday 19 July 2017

From Ena to Phelan: Corrie fan's mental health challenge

Guest blog post from Richard Kirby 

Two photos with two things in common taken something like 46 years apart. Each features a member of my family (namely me and my Gran), as well as a member of the Coronation Street cast (Connor McIntyre and Violet Carson respectively).

But why upload the pictures to social media?

Well the reason will soon become clear, but first the photo from the early 1970s showing my Gran, Gertie, obtaining an autograph from Violet Carson (at least I presume it was that way round). Violet was the lady behind my all-time favourite Corrie character, Ena Sharples.

Ena remains one of the programme’s most dominant personalities; she was resolute, strong-willed and never shy of entering the argumentative fray. Physically, she was imposing too, and with her trademark double-breasted coat and hairnet, she cut a striking figure. 

One of the things that was particularly noticeable was the speed that actress Violet Carson delivered Ena’s lines (especially in the early 1960s); the character was brusque and direct (often to the point of being rude). Ena hid any feelings of affection behind quarrels and bouts of self-interest, poorly masked on occasions by the justification of religion. She did mellow (to an extent) and for me, Ena Sharples was the embodiment of life in a 1960s northern terraced street.

But Ena did have feelings, and the times when the mask slipped were all the more emotive because they were so infrequent. If you watch the episode from May 13, 1964, there is one fleeting moment that shows the “real” Ena Sharples.

With the Rovers in party mood to celebrate the departure of Frank Barlow to leafy Cheshire following a big Premium Bond win, Ena was playing “Moonlight Bay” and “I’ll Be Your Sweetheart” on the piano in the bar, as Martha passed away quietly in the snug. 

The mood changed as soon as Jack Walker discovered Martha’s lifeless body; Ena got up from the piano and went to join her friend for the last time… and in the split-second when Ena’s face was shown (before the snug door closed behind her), her expression betrayed totally believable shock—and grief. It was one of those “less is more” moments that told the viewer more about Mrs Sharples than my words ever could….

The photo of Gran and Violet was taken in Blackpool, where Violet lived with her sister, and Gran spent many a summer holiday, staying in a bed and breakfast, which overlooked the Odeon cinema (you can add the word “old” if the building no longer exists). 

I have many fond memories of our trips to Blackpool, although I was a poor traveller in my younger days. I wasn’t great at swallowing tablets either, and my Mum had to find more inventive ways to try and get me to take the pill that would stop me “decorating” the roadside (or worse still the inside of Grandad’s car) on the journey to or from the coast. 

One idea was to push the tablet inside a jelly sweet—quite a good plan, except the pill was black, the sweet was yellow, and even I wasn’t that stupid!

Back to July 2017, and my wife Elaine and I headed to Manchester (I’m a really good traveller now…) to visit the new Coronation Street studios and to complete one “challenge” from a list of one hundred that I’ve been undertaking for the past four years to try and raise awareness of mental health issues.

Challenge no.91 was “to meet an actor who has appeared in Coronation Street”; I would have liked to have given the identity of the actor in question a big dramatic build-up, but the photo pretty much gives it away.

It was great (albeit slightly surreal) to see the working sets and so many instantly recognisable faces going about their business; but being able not only to meet, but also to spend time in the company of Connor McIntyre was an absolute pleasure.

The visit was (and will remain) one of the undoubted highlights of the challenge project. Hopefully this blog will include a link to my website, which features details of the various tasks, and more importantly the reasons behind them—and you are more than welcome to have a quick look. 

I have to sign off now though... next on the list is to attempt a marathon on an indoor rowing machine; it’s time for the gym and another lengthy training session and, as Ena would probably say: “Them miles won’t row themselves….”.


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