This is my first blog since Anne Kirkbride passed away. Like all of us, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news and my condolences go out to her friends and family.
It is bittersweet that just a week before we lost Anne, one of Coronation Street’s longest-running actors, I was in Manchester meeting some of the newer recruits who will be at the centre of the action in Corrie this year.
It all happened over pizza, bowling and karaoke (no pool) and was as surreal as it sounds. I arrived at All Star Lanes in Deansgate and was ushered into a room with a private bowling lane, loads of food and a free bar with cocktails on tap. I stuck to a liquid dinner of Brooklyn Lager.
We were put into teams for an icebreaking game in which I had to act out a classic scene in front of a load of Corrie stars! I was pleased with my portrayal of Richard Hillman murdering Maxine Peacock but sadly Corrie’s Casting Director was not there to see my work.
We were told we’d be able to interview the cast members for the first hour, after which everyone would be ‘off duty’. It was a bit of a free-for-all with the journos fighting to get their dictaphones in front of the most desirable faces first. It was fun to observe the scene and chat to people whenever an opportunity arose.
Sean Ward (Callum Logan) was in particularly high demand. Female scribes were queuing up to get near him. I didn’t get a look in, though he did say hello later on because he remembered me from the roundtable interview at ITV Southbank last October – he’s a Top Boy, Sean and his charisma is both undeniable and enviable.
There was going to be a bowling league, so I was pleased Mary Taylor didn’t turn up. Down the alley, I hear she’s “a cranker of some renown” – unbeaten in five years! Luke Britton is no stranger to the lanes either, having recently taken Maria and Liam bowling. It was fitting then that the first person I approached was Dean Fagan.
I’m a big fan of Luke and I’m pleased to report that Dean is brilliant too. Before Corrie, he played Culture Club bassist Mikey Craig in the 2010 BBC drama Worried About the Boy, which also starred Douglas Booth and Mathew Horne and told the tale of Boy George starting out in Showbiz. I remember watching it. He also did a few “bits and bobs” on ITV and in theatre.
I asked about Kirk’s stag do, when Luke had a one-man rave in Ty’s living room. Apparently, Dean got “a lot of flak” for his dance moves, which were based on his mate who he DJs with. I told him I’d just blogged about The Haçienda and mentioned Luke’s dancing. “I felt I was right back there”, laughed Dean. Interestingly, Dean starred in a play about that whole scene. It was called Manchester Sound: The Massacre and ran for a month at the Library Theatre in 2013.
Dean explained how the play “compared the Peterloo Massacre of Manchester to the Haçienda scene”. It brought together two groups of idealists “trying to get out of the situation” they were in – searching for utopia but suppressed by the establishment. The play correlated the two eras (1819 and 1989) of Manchester’s history. Dean says, “it was a complicated context but we somehow made it work”. It sounds fascinating - they should bring it back! Here is a little video about the play, featuring Dean Anthony Fagan in the 80s clothes he might have worn to Beth and Kirk’s wedding if only Maria had invited him...
Luke and Maria haven’t really gelled yet – their dates keep going wrong and the bowling night is a case in point. Dean describes it as “a square peg in a round hole sort of thing” but thinks “there is something that connects them on a certain level”. Luke is quite young to take on father-figure responsibilities for Liam but Dean believes “he wants to prove himself as a mature man”. Although the backstory for Luke and Steph hasn’t been filled in yet, Dean senses that perhaps “his dad wasn’t there”. Luke wants to be a responsible adult – which maybe “hasn’t been taught to him by his Dad”.
Dean is a Manchester lad and although he had done stuff before, Corrie was “the first job where (his) Mum and Dad shouted down the phone”. He is pleased with the reaction Luke has received. “He’s a nice guy – he’s just a lad, basically. He gets on with his job… he’s a relateable character and I hope that’s how he’s perceived”. That is certainly why I like Luke.
I thought it would have been brilliant for Luke’s street cred if the motormouth mechanic had gone through with the Carla Connor fling. “He could have done it”, says Dean – although I suspect the fact he didn’t says much more about Luke’s character than if he had. “It show a different dimension”, agrees Dean. Luke is one of my favourite new characters and Dean Fagan was a really top bloke.
Next up I chatted to Tisha Merry, who plays Luke’s on-screen sister, Steph. Tisha was lovely and Steph is another brilliant addition to The Street. Before Corrie, Tisha was in a BBC drama set on another street – 32 Brinkburn Street. She also did a few plays and short films. But with Corrie, she beams, “this is the big one – it’s very exciting”.
I love Steph’s P.M.A. approach to life. However, I put it to Tisha that she works far too hard. Nick “runs her ragged!” she laughs. I was keen to know whether Steph and Andy are in it for the long haul. Tisha likes Steph’s ability to empathise and the fact “she can separate herself from things and help people out”. She seems to be standing by her man who is not actually the man she thought he was.
Going back to Beth and Kirk’s wedding, there was a strange scene where Steph walked along the street dressed in a shell suit type number. It was very late 80s but Steph wasn’t going to the wedding! Tisha clarified this is Steph’s “gym/workout outfit” and she was on her way to V Court Fitness. She wore it in the cricket episode too. Tisha says she “would never wear” much of what lies in Steph Britton’s wardrobe but she picks out clothes that she feels fit the character.
It is always interesting to hear what it is like for someone new to The Street to go through the life-changing experience of being recognised wherever they go. “It’s really bizarre and I cannot get used to it”, says Tisha… but it is “fabulous” to receive positive feedback from fans. She must have received a lot of that since joining the show.
Equally lovely to talk to was the resplendent Sair Khan (Alya Nazir) who I bumped into at the bar. Earlier that afternoon, I had seen the crash episodes at a preview screening and one thing that caught my eye was how sparkly Alya’s dress was. Sair loved that outfit and feels it was “the perfect choice to dress her a bit more traditionally but with such a modern twist”. She sees Alya as “a girl who holds her culture and family very close to her heart”. And as a student of Fashion and Business, you wouldn’t catch Alya Nazir in something off the High Street!
It must have been cold during filming, though, because Alya was the only one not wearing a coat in the back of that bus. Sair didn’t want to cover up the dress but “really regretted that by day three in the freezing cold doing night shoots!”
Alya is young and ambitious and is certainly putting Sally Webster’s nose out of joint at the factory. I wonder if she will ever reach the upper echelons of management at Underworld. “She wants to own a business one day”, says Sair… “She wants to make her family proud”. The Awards Ceremony was “a symbol of her doing well at her job… helping to organise this big event”. Sadly, they never got there.
It was nice to hear that Sair is a massive fan of Corrie, which she thinks helped in her audition. She says “I knew who was who, I knew what was what and I knew what soaps are like”. Sometimes Sair wants Alya to be friends with characters that she really likes – Sally, for example – but says, “it’s fun being put against each other and fighting for this role at Underworld”.
I like Gary but am curious to understand why the terrible deed of breaking into Roy’s Rolls helped him win his way back into Alya’s affections. Sair reasons that “human beings are so complex… sometimes when you meet someone you can’t help that you like them”. She enjoys the fact it’s “a bit of a Romeo and Juliet scenario” of “two people that are from different worlds together… and it’s working”.
I had a brief chat with Qasim Akhtar who is a lot easier going than Zeedan Nazir! I remember Qasim from Shameless, the brilliant comedy-drama series set on a fictional council estate in Manchester. Corrie is “a bit different from Shameless”, he jokes – and he’s not wrong! Although, that said, I reckon Callum and his mates on the Paul Robeson Estate could handle themselves on the Chatsworth Estate.
Soap “wasn’t really the road (he) wanted to go down”, but the role of Zeedan came along and after reading the script and meeting everyone involved, Qasim says, “I fell in love with it and I just knew it was for me”.
As Anna Windass pointed out in the café recently, Zeedan and Gary got on like a house on fire before the whole Alya thing. Their falling out “kind of annoyed” Qasim because he and Mikey North “had some good banter on and off screen”. He is hopeful though they will “bring it back together somehow”. He told me there is a storyline coming up at the builders’ yard with Zeedan and Tony, which “adds fuel to the fire” of Kal and Tony’s feud.
Next up was Oliver Farnworth, who we now know portrays Andy Carver rather than Gavin Rodwell. Oliver told me his Corrie contract is ongoing and he is currently signed up for a year. The public has warmed to this Andy guy. Oliver believes viewers have “been allowed to be onside from early on because they’ve been let into his lie”. He hopes Andy is “not a bad person” but someone who is “in a terrible set of circumstances and has started feeling for people around him”. “We’ll see how long it runs”, he says.
Essentially, Andy doesn’t want to harm the guy who isn’t his Dad. Oliver finds the current limbo interesting and hopes that, dramtically, “there is a lot of mileage in it”. When the real Gavin Rodwell emerges, I can’t help but think we’ll have another Ryan Connor scenario on our hands, and Michael will stick with the son he has come to love.
Oliver Farnworth has been in Hollyoaks and has done lots of theatre but his last TV role before Corrie was the second series of Mr Selfridge. He played a Belgian refugee and regards it as “a turning point” in his career. He worked closely with Amanda Abbington (who played Miss Mardle) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He says, “She is an actor who I would aspire to be like in the future… I think she’s absolutely brilliant”.
Oliver is also full of praise for his current co-star, Les Dennis. Oliver admires his old school work ethic of “turn up, know your lines, do the job to the best you can and get on with it”. He observes, “the real, true, stars are the ones who on the first day go hiya mate, do you want a cup of tea?” With Les Dennis, he says, “it’s a level playing field and that to me was quite humbling”.
I also had a good chat with Daniel Brocklebank and was very impressed with the research he has carried out to enhance his portrayal of Billy the Vicar. He did this entirely of his own volition because as a gay man himself, he wanted to find out what might lead Billy – who we are to believe, has ‘lived’ – towards the Church.
Daniel has therefore spoken to a number of gay clergymen. I suggested he should have a word with Reverend Richard Coles, the former Communard who inspired the BBC Two sitcom Rev. It will be interesting to learn more about Billy’s history. He was enthusing to Sean about Berlin techno clubs the other night, so he must have hit it hard before finding God. There is a lot of potential for Billy and Sean and I look forward to seeing how it develops.
Unfortunately, I had to leave before the end of the night to get back to that London. I walked out of All Star Lanes and could see photographers waiting in the cold to snap some of Corrie’s brightest new stars. They must have been disappointed to see me!
The world of Weatherfield will certainly be poorer for Deirdre Barlow’s absence and it is sad to think that older Corrie characters will not be on our screens forever. However, Coronation Street – like life itself – moves on and it is entirely realistic that the people who make up a community will change over time.
The Corrie top brass have put a lot of faith in the ‘new generation’ over the last year or so. It was brilliant to meet many of these new actors and learn how much it means to them to be starring in our favourite show. I believe that the future is bright at Coronation Street.
By Martin Leay
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