Gritty sagas by Corrie blog editor Glenda Young, published by Headline. Click pic below!

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Witty Willie - Looking back on the life of actor Bill Waddington

Guest blog post from Mark Llewllin
Fancy writing a guest blog post for us? 

Mark Llewellin is a friend of us all here on the Coronation Street Blog. He's a man who knows a thing or two about life behind the scenes at our favourite soap. You can find out more about him here.

Mark has very kindly offered to share some of those memories with us here on the Blog. We'll be running a blog post from Mark each day with some of Mark's memories.

And so, here we go with the fourth of many wonderful blogs from Mark!

Looking back on the life of actor Bill Waddington

It was June 10th 1916 when Billy Waddington was born.  His parents, William and Epsie, ran the Clarence Hotel in Oldham and Epise was still working hard behind the bar on the day of his birth.  It was a desperate time – conscription had been introduced some three months previously, the battle of the Somme saw huge numbers of fatalities and the prices of everyday items were rising steeply.  Billy was Epsie’s fourth child but she had lost her twins the year before.  Epise had been adopted by a Mr and Mrs Hague who owned a butchery business and by the time Billy was born she herself ran a pub and a butcher’s shop so Billy and sister Connie were brought up largely by family friends as Epsie worked all hours.

“Mother also had a love of moving,” Bill later recalled.  “You’d come home from school and she’d say that we were moving that night!”  So Bill attended lots of different schools around Oldham – never sure how long he’d last in each one.  As a result he appeared in lots of school concerts with lots of different audiences and on one occasion he was ‘spotted’ by the choirmaster of the parish church – and he was persuaded to join.
He also began to take an interest in butchering, visiting meat markets with his mother and learning what he could.  He soon landed a job delivering meat for a chain of shops and was then promoted to manager of the local branch.  One day it was announced that the shops were having a window display competition to promote New Zealand lamb.

“The window was enormous and we only sold three lambs a week so at first we didn’t think there was any chance of us winning but I went to a second hand shop and bought a large old picture frame which I cleaned up and painted with some gold paint from Woolworths.  I hung it in the window, backed it with some ferns and hung one leg of lamb in the middle of a silver tray.  We only had one light bulb so that’s what I lit it with and we put the slogan ‘A Perfect Picture from your Favourite Company – buy New Zealand lamb’ - and we won!” he said.

When he was eighteen his father bought him a car (he almost failed his driving test when the examiner caught him driving himself to the test centre) and he started regularly travelling to Blackpool to see his favourite stars on stage.  He began to have thoughts about becoming a performer but his mother would hear none of it.  He did the next best thing and started as manager of a butchers in Blackpool!  Later he started as a door-to-door salesman and his new boss told him that if he worked for 25 years he would be entitled to a pension.  He then offered to move him to Kent to replace someone who was being sacked having completed 24 years so that the company wouldn’t have to give him the pension – so Bill resigned, horrified at the lack of morals.

Instead he became a car salesman and with his first earnings he bought a ukulele which he often played in his parent’s pub.  War broke out and he ended up in Dorset and then France where he entertained the troops in his downtime.  After the war he took the plunge and found work on radio and in variety theatres under the stage name ‘Witty Willie’.  In his first pantomime he met actress Lilian Day whom he would later marry.  They often worked together, raising their two daughters, between jobs.

When television came along he found himself in demand for small roles – in fact he played several parts in Coronation Street.  His dream was to own a farm and this came true – and he was very successful at it.  He had over 2,000 pigs, turkeys and several race horses.  Sadly, it was short-lived as his beloved Lilian died in 1980.  “I was very lonely, the magic had gone,” Bill told me.  “One morning I was talking to Lilian’s photograph about how I hoped I could find a regular job.  The next day the telephone rang and I was offered a short stint on Coronation Street as Percy.”

Within three months Percy Sugden was voted the third most hated man in the UK.  Producer Bill Podmore was thrilled, telling him: “Now you know you’ve arrived!” and Percy soon became more integral to the show.  He appeared between 1983 and 1997 when failing health forced him to retire.  He died in 2000, survived by his second wife and his daughters.

Stay tuned for more from Mark tomorrow!
Glenda Young
Twitter: @Flaming_Nora
Facebook: GlendaYoungAuthor
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Louby said...

Watching the Classic Corrie episodes has given me a different appreciation of the characters to how I felt about them first time around. Bill played Percy brilliantly for all those years but the character was never really given anything to endear us to him, so he's not remembered favourably.

coconno196 said...

Didn't they soften him up a bit later on? Norris reminds me of Percy, a grumpy busybody but with a sensitive side that emerges now and then.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this delightful biography.


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