Thursday, 30 January 2014

Wednesday 25 December 1963

Merry Christmas! I hope you got all you wished for.  I know I did.

...And what could be more festive than a Hitler impression, courtesy of Len Fairclough?

Coronation Street remains, to this day, a staple element of the Christmas Day television schedules, but things were a little bit different in 1963.  Instead of bringing long-burning storylines to a sensational climax as is usually the drill nowadays it simply centres around a festive knees-up at the mission hall.  Len and Harry Hewitt are decorating it ready for Dennis Tanner's Christmas Extravaganza.  News is buzzing round the street that the centrepiece of the evening is due to be a "This Is Your Life" for one of the Street's residents.  But who? The episode's first act revolves around how various members of the show's dramatis personae react to the possibility it could be them.  Miss Nugent seems deeply uneasy at the prospect.  Could there be some terrible secret she wants to keep hidden?

Perpetual attention-seeker Martha Longhurst, meanwhile, would love it to be her.  "Then we might hear the true story of Lillian Wilkes," suggests Ena Sharples, mysteriously.

Martha suggests that Ena could be the subject: "Well, I'd give them their money's worth, especially if they sent to Australia for cousin Letty.  I'd tell her what I thought about her and I wouldn't care who was listening."

Dennis's mother, meanwhile has one commandment for her son in case it's her he plans to spring the surprise on: "NO AMERICANS!"

As the neighbours convene in the mission hall, they receive the heartfelt thanks of Dennis's protegé Walter Potts, who's off to London to embark on a pop career under the name of Brett Falcon.

Indeed, actor Chris Sandford's role in Coronation Street led to short-lived chart success.  At the time of broadcast he was at number 17 in the hit parade with his single "Not Too Little - Not Too Much"

Dennis reveals the identity of his victim - it's Annie Walker! The most comfortable of all the Street's residents with being the centre of attention, she laps it up.  The voyage through her past begins with a recorded message from Mr Forsyth-Jones, a posh bloke who'd stayed at the Rovers some time previously.

We get to see images of the young Doris Speed (who looks almost exactly like the old Doris Speed)...

...and the backstory of the Street is sketched in, with the information that Annie and Jack took over the Rovers in February (or was it January?) 1939, with Annie cementing her place as the monarch of the Street once Jack was called up to serve in the war (Ena, who along with Minnie and Martha was Annie's first customer, is convinced it was January).

Drawing an anecdote out of Minnie Caldwell proves an agonising process for Dennis.  Eventually she remembers Annie giving she and her companions drinks on the house as she'd forgotten to bring enough money with her (Ena insists she can't remember this happening at all).

The guest Annie's most pleased to see is probably Edgar Nuttall, director of the St Agnes Amateur Operatic Society, and one of the few people to truly recognise her star quality.

Annie and Jack's children - jack-the-lad Billy and snobbish Annie clone Joan - have also made the journey back to Weatherfield, from the distant climes of Chiswick and Derby respectively.  Annie's mortified to have them apprised of her turn as Lady Godiva in the Co-Op Pageant of the Ages (which sounds like possibly the greatest event in history).

Slightly underwhelming guest of honour is regular Street returnee Esther Hayes, who it seems was the first person in the Street ever to talk to Annie.  She's bidding goodbye as she's moving to Glasgow (this doesn't stop her popping back every few years).

The show concludes with a rousing chorus of "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow", instigated by Ena Sharples, of all people.  When Martha questions this uncharacteristic show of enthusiasm for Mrs Walker her friend reveals herself to be as pragmatic as ever: "This might get us another three free drinks."

That's all I've got in the way of Christmas Day telly.  In the world of music, the Christmas number one spot is occupied by the Beatles with "I Want to Hold Your Hand".  We have to look a bit further down the charts for more overtly festive fare, with Dora Bryan and Chuck Berry at 21 and 39 respectively.

I'll  leave you with one final Christmas gift - it's a festive edition of Pat Phoenix's TV Times column!

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