Nowadays we often mourn and commemorate anniversaries of those cultural icons in Manchester’s history whether it’s the late Tony Wilson, Mark E Smith, George Best. Perhaps one who is overlooked is the late Tony Warren who died three years ago this month.
Tony was, of course, the groundbreaking writer and creator of Coronation Street who died aged 79 but put Manchester and the working class north at the centre of British TV drama. It is most telling that Coronation Street first hit our screens in 1960 and yet 59 years later is still the number one show on television.
Up to the age of eleven, I grew up in a terraced house down the Brooks Bar end of Old Trafford. It was an old house with crumbling plaster and icy cold linoleum or oil cloth worn through in parts clinging desperately to its creaky floorboards curling up in places.
Eventually the houses down our end were demolished. Nowadays they call it urban regeneration. In those days it was called good old fashioned slum clearance.
As we had a big family with five kids, we were one of the last families to move out as we had to wait for a council house that was big enough and yet near enough for my dad to still be within a bus ride of his work in Trafford Park.
If you’ve ever been involved in ‘urban regeneration’, a major downside of being the last out while the streets around you are demolished or houses are boarded up is that every rodent in the area makes a beeline for your property.
In fact we were so overrun with mice that even now watching Tom & Jerry can give me a mild paroxysm of post traumatic stress disorder.
We had a cat who was a top notch killer and a bit of a sadist to boot. But by the time we moved out, that cat had the thousand yard stare of a Vietnam war veteran that’d seen too much action.
As youngsters, Coronation Street was never a show our family watched. I think in those days my mam’s view was that when it came to back-to-back houses peopled by tough resilient women with a nice line in gallows humour and working class families struggling to scrape by on not much with the wolf permanently camped at the door, well she didn’t need to watch the show as she was already “living the dream”.
In later years my mam did enjoy watching Coronation Street, though her eye and ear for the truth was always keenly attuned and any false note would be instantly called out.
Having been forced to forgo a place at Loretto Grammar school before World War II because her widowed mother couldn’t afford the uniform, she was forced to go to work as a seamstress at the age of 14.
She had a special contempt for any shots of Mike Baldwin’s factory with one of the girls doing a run on the sewing machines. Such scenes were invariably accompanied by a cry from the sofa of “well, she’s no bloody machinist “.
Tony Warren’s great strength was to show something real. It was the first drama that truly captured the lives of working class people in Britain and that sense of shared community.
We only started to watch it after our family had finally got a council house with a garden and that great boon to our lives – indoor plumbing.
Once you no longer have to go outside in the middle of winter to “lighten your load” so to speak, you could finally get a sense that life was at least becoming a little less gritty and it somehow made watching gritty northern dramas and soap operas a lot more enjoyable.
There was an interesting kink to Coronation Street‘s popularity which was obvious to anyone from the north who ventured south to attend university or to work. They’d discover that for many people in the south who had never ventured north, Coronation Street was what it was like .
Their view of Manchester and its surroundings was basically that it was some giant Coronation Street theme park. Everyone still lived in back-to-back terraced houses and only left them to slope off to Lowry-type factories belching smoke or to go down the hellish mines.
Though much of that sense of community has since been lost, Coronation Street‘s appeal is that it brings it back into our living rooms three times a week.
It’s hard to feel rosy about those days when to quote the famous Salford poet John Cooper Clarke, we had the one thing money can’t buy – poverty.
However, I do miss the neighbours and the life on those streets. Thanks to Tony Warren, that way of life, indeed our lives, have been captured and still draw in audiences around the world.
What better ongoing legacy could any proud Mancunian wish for and who could ever really match that in a cultural sense. So this Mothering Sunday, as my mam used to call it, I‘ll be raising a glass to the memory of Tony and all of our mums whose stories he put on to screen for the world to watch and admire.