As Leanne Battersby floats around Weatherfield, teary eyed, torn between two lovers (feelin' like a fool), it's hard for us viewers not to sympathise with her. She's a lovely girl, and deserves to be happy.
How quickly we forget. Leanne clattered into the Street in 1997 as a purple-haired, thieving ball of anger and violence, wearing crop tops and mini-skirts - Slapper Spice, if you will. The Battersbys were Corrie's version of Emmerdale's Dingles, a batch of scraggy, screwed-up misfits whose entire purpose was to wind up the rest of the Street. If they'd arrived twenty years earlier, Ivy Tilsley would have been stood on her doorstep in a cross-over pinny, pursing her lips and calling them no better than they should be; as it was we were left with Ken Barlow sighing and biting the end of his glasses in exasperation.
Leanne was a particularly unpleasant trollop. While Toyah had secret reserves of heart and brains, Leanne was sharp as flint and unashamedly manipulative. She clattered into Nicky Tilsley (v. 2.0), attracted to his washboard abs and lack of mental faculties, and soon they were hightailing it to Gretna Green to get married. They returned to join Ashley in number 4, that weird ragbag of young house mates that were part of the Street's attempt to be all Millennial and with-it. Scenes in the house were mostly notable for being played against eye-searing wallpaper in loud clothing, interspersed with shouting and screaming and Nicky taking his shirt off; after all that we were quite glad when the show cut to Norris Cole whinging about his bunions.
Leanne became pregnant, following the soap law that no-one under the age of 20 has ever been shown that video of Claire Rayner putting a condom on a cucumber; she thought it would cement her relationship with Nicky, but the idea of being tied into the Battersby family until the end of time was too much for him and he pressured her into an abortion. It signalled the beginning of the end for their relationship, not helped by Gail hovering behind Nicky and being so overprotective it made the audience shift uncomfortably in their seats. Since his choice was a life with a girl who looked like a member of Vanilla (the worst girl band ever) or Diana Rigg in Mother Love, Nicky did the only sensible thing and fled to Canada.
Leanne's heartbreak was soon quashed by a two thousand pound pay off from Gail. This went straight up her nose, as she developed one of those instant cocaine habits that only exist in soaps. If cocaine really was as freely available and addictive as our nation's continuing dramas would have us believe, you'd have to shake the drug off every tenner in your wallet. Hamstrung by the fact that Ofcom won't let you actually snort coke before nine pm, Leanne was left wandering around the set looking wide eyed and slightly more scraggy than usual, which is to say, very scraggy indeed. She finally ended up being beaten up and put in hospital and fled to London to be a policewoman at Sun Hill.
Her return to the show a few years later was as a stripper, accidentally performing for her Dad; Les's "get them out for the lads!" attitude took a sudden turn to the puritan, and he hauled her back to Coronation Street. She moved in with demonic Hobbit Janice, and the two of them formed a vortice of spite, circling Underworld with tongues sharper than a samurai sword. Leanne finally got her claws into Danny Baldwin and they started their own game of The Chase, with the top prize being Mike Baldwin's will. Having an affair with a married man (while simultaneously sleeping with his son) and then swindling a man suffering from Alzheimer's did nothing for her reputation as a stand-up citizen. Just when you thought she couldn't get any lower, she burrowed through the cobbles and found a new level of horrible behaviour, turning on Danny and blackmailing him, then turning him in when he refused to pay her. She was eventually driven out of town to clean some of the poison out of her system.
The real reason for her disappearance was that Jane Danson was off having a baby, something you may have been clued into if you'd spotted all the times she walked around Underworld with a massive clipboard in front of her stomach. It's an irony of the show that the thoroughly nasty Leanne is played by the utterly lovely Jane who is, by all reports, a delight to be around. I can't quite love her unreservedly, because in real life she's married to Peter from Brookside (Robert Beck), a man who played quite a prominent role in my teenage sexuality, and so my happiness for her is tinged with intense jealousy.
When Jane had finished dropping her sprog, Leanne was ready to return to the Street, this time gussied up in power suits and flashing her wallet around. Janice, who is impressed by anyone who's able to iron their clothes before they put them on, was soon following her around devotedly. Her devotion took a bit of a hit when she discovered that Leanne was, in fact, a whore. It seemed that after years of handing herself out on a plate for free, Ms Battersby had finally clicked that she could make a few bob out of it, and was now a high-class escort. Well, as high-class as Leanne could ever get.
Leanne was left lumbered with a failing restaurant. Now that the whole neighbourhood knew how she'd got the money to buy it, no-one was very keen to sample her dough balls, and she was up to her elbows in debt. A normal person would declare bankruptcy, or go to their creditors for a bridging agreement; Leanne decided to seduce a minor Duckworth into burning the thing to the ground for the insurance. Say what you like about her, she never does things by half.
She dragged herself from the flaming wreckage, dusted the soot out of her hair, and set about a relationship with Peter Barlow. An alcoholic bigamist and a criminal prostitute - it was a relationship crafted by the Gods, and soon they were engaged. Leanne's propensity for self-sacrifice meant she couldn't stop herself from rekindling her romance with Nick(y) (v. 3.0), mainly by having mucky sex on the ground of the Bistro while pretending to be doing a stock take. She put the affair to one side in time for a tram to fall on Peter's head; their tender wedding took place against the beep of life support machines rather than church bells, but at least she was an honest to goodness married woman now, and her rehabilitation began.
Leanne was initially troubled by her new mother, not least because she looked an awful lot like Cindy Beale. She eventually came round when she realised she had literally no other relatives left within a two hundred mile radius; plus Stella owned a pub, so she was always guaranteed a job if (/when) things got tough. She also acquired a half-sister, Eva, who proved that being devious and self-interested is clearly a genetic trait as she could give Leanne a run for her money on that score.
Now Leanne's bouncing round the Street, looking desperate and arranging weddings without any certainty that the groom will turn up; it's nice to know that she can still be stupidly rash when she wants to be. I love Leanne, even if she's had most of her hard edges knocked off her - I liked her best as a prostitute, because who doesn't love a tart with a heart of gold? I can't imagine where her life on the Street will take her next; I hope it involves burning the bookies down for the insurance, not least because its decor is a nightmare (what's with those weird origami shapes on the back wall?). Good luck Leanne; you'll probably need it.
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