Coronation Street rolls out red carpet for Queen to mark 60 years

<span>Photograph: WPA/Getty</span>
Photograph: WPA/Getty

Coronation Street rolled out the red carpet over its cobbles to welcome the Queen in her first visit to Weatherfield in 40 years.

To mark the ITV soap opera’s 60th anniversary, celebrated in lockdown last year, she met longstanding cast members on Thursday outside the Rovers Return on set at Media City in Manchester.

“It’s marvellous that you’ve been able carry on during this pandemic,” the Queen said on meeting the cast, including Barbara Knox, who plays Rita Tanner, Sue Nicholls who plays Audrey Roberts, and Helen Worth who plays Gail Platt.

“Ma’am, you’re the one that’s carried on,” replied William Roache, who holds the record as the world’s longest-serving soap star and has played the role of Ken Barlow since the first episode.

The Queen meets (from left) William Roache, Barbara Knox, Sue Nicholls and Helen Worth outside the Rovers Return.
The Queen meets (from left) William Roache, Barbara Knox, Sue Nicholls and Helen Worth outside the Rovers Return. Photograph: Scott Heppell/PA

Time has claimed many of the Coronation Street cast since the Queen’s last visit in 1982 when the Rovers’ barmaid Bet Lynch teased Prince Philip: “I would pull a pint for you anytime.” Jean Alexander, who as Hilda Ogden removed her signature rollers for the royal occasion, Pat Phoenix who played Elsie Tanner, and Anne Kirkbride, who as Deirdre Barlow inspired the Free the Weatherfield One campaign mentioned in parliament by the then prime minister Tony Blair, have all since died.

This time, during a 40-minute visit, she popped into the Rovers and was warned of the perils of walking on the cobbles, which are the original ones taken from the old Granada street set in Manchester, before it moved three miles up the road to the new ITV Studios in 2013. “Hard to walk on, as well, in heels,” said Kate Spencer, who plays Grace Vickers. Looking down at her shoes, the Queen replied: “No, I know. I’ve been told. Probably better not.”

Talking to other cast, she admitted she was not familiar with all the characters and plot lines. “I have not been able to see it all the time. Are you all nice?” she inquired. Ben Price, who plays Nick Tilsley, standing alongside Corrie’s “villain” David Platt, played by Jack P Shepherd, said: “I can confidently say Jack is a bad boy.”

It’s 60 years and more than 10,000 episodes, since the enduring story of “everyday lives of ordinary folk” in the fictional northern town of Weatherfield first aired, making it the world’s longest drama serial.

About 57 births, 146 deaths and 131 weddings – not to mention the affairs, murders, secrets and lies – later, Coronation Street’s blend of pathos and humour continues to attract audiences.

The Queen reacts as she visits the set of Coronation Street in Manchester.
The Queen smiles as she visits the set of Coronation Street in Manchester. Photograph: Reuters

Initially based on kitchen-sink realism, the soap opera’s storylines and special effects, have become increasingly dramatic since Ena Sharples and her friends Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhurst gossiped in the Rovers’ snug in that first episode in December 1960.

Plot lines have included Tram Crash Week, which claimed three lives and saw Rita rescued from beneath her collapsed Kabin, while in another, killer and kidnapper Richard Hillman, the husband of Gail Platt, went to a watery grave in the canal.

Related: Queen awards George Cross to NHS to mark 70 years of public service

But its famous terraced row has been the backdrop for sensitive issues including teenage pregnancy, assisted dying, and its award-winning introduction of the transgender character Hayley Cropper.

The Queen, concluding her tour at the corner shop, was told of the sometimes challenging issues the soap has explored. “Obviously people feel it’s something visible, they can relate to. You don’t really want too much real life do you?” she said.

As a souvenir as she left the set, the Queen was presented with a “Corrie Cobble” from the original set, specially engraved by a local stonemason and some Newton & Ridley beer mats.

The show’s 40th-anniversary show featured Prince Charles, with footage of him meeting Sue Nicholls – Audrey Roberts – incorporated into a live show. The Duchess of Cornwall pulled a pint at the Rovers Return to celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary.

Much has changed in 60 years, but the brass-band theme tune remains. Said to be inspired by the sun streaming through a dreary Manchester day, it is the most played piece of music on British TV.

Corrie plots through the years

The violent death in the 1970s of Ernest Bishop, the husband of mild-mannered Emily, who was gunned down at Baldwin’s Casuals factory (later to become Underworld) by two burglars robbing the office safe, remains one of the biggest shocks.

Alan Bradley, the evil businessman who terrorised Rita Fairclough causing her to flee to Blackpool where he tracked her down, met a gruesome end from an oncoming tram.

The recently widowed Deirdre Rachid, framed for fraud by the conman pilot Jon Lindsay, was released from prison after the nationwide Free the Weatherfield One campaign.

Richard Hillman (Brian Capron) returns after being on the run and grabs David Platt (Jack P Shepherd).
Richard Hillman (Brian Capron) returns after being on the run and grabs David Platt (Jack P Shepherd). Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

The long -running feud between Ken Barlow and Mike Baldwin finally ended just before the latter died from a heart attack while cradled in the arms of his rival.

Richard Hillman, a serial killer and kidnapper and the husband of Gail, went to a watery grave in the canal.

The tram crash episode revealed three shock deaths, Fiz giving birth, and Rita buried beneath her collapsed, beloved Kabin,