The matriarchs of Coronation Street are being celebrated in a new documentary on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Sounds.
The Women of Weatherfield, airing at midday on Monday 26 August, showcases the strong female characters to walk the famous cobbles on the world’s longest-running soap opera.
Combining archive material with cast interviews, this special programme pays tribute to much-loved characters such as Annie Walker, Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner, Hilda Ogden, Vera Duckworth, Bet Gilroy, Deirdre Rashid, Audrey Roberts and Rita Tanner.
“The formula of the show is them strong northern women and the men are, kind of, supporting them. It’s showing it in a different way to what we’re probably used to,” says actress Jane Danson, who plays Leanne Battersby.
She adds: “Corrie’s formula is its strong women, it’s feisty, bolshie, down-to-earth, working-class women… and that’s what’s kept it going for so long.”
Sue Nicholls, who has played Audrey Roberts for 40 years, says Coronation Street’s audience sees a reality in the northern grit of the characters.
“When I meet people they say ‘oh you’re just like my mum or you’re just like my Aunt Josie’ or whatever and that, to me, is a compliment. I want the truth, I don’t want to pretend to be something we’re not. We’ve got it right there.”
Barbara Knox is the soap’s longest-serving female cast member and tells BBC Radio Manchester how viewers have often thought her character, former club singer Rita Tanner, is a real person.
“I used to get letters from people saying I saw you with Shirley Bassey, and I’m thinking, ‘you didn’t!’ I saw you at Batley Variety Club and you were marvellous… It’s pretty real the Street, if people can think that, isn’t it?”
Actress Tina O’Brien remembers one of Coronation Street’s most famous women, Deidre Rashid, and talks about her memories of working with Anne Kirkbride.
She says: “Any scenes I was ever in with Deidre, Annie Kirkbride, were amazing. She has this incredible energy about her and anybody working here would say she had something about her that was very special… She was an amazing actress, and woman. She’s very missed and she’s very missed on the show.”
This one-off programme also features current Coronation Street favourites Sally Dynevor, Beverley Callard, Shelley King and Dolly-Rose Campbell.
The Women of Weatherfield is presented by BBC Radio Manchester’s Breakfast presenter Chelsea Norris who was brought up watching the soap. The idea for the programme came from Baroness Helen Newlove, who is a life-long Corrie fan.
Baroness Newlove said: “I’m delighted The Women of Weatherfield has been made by BBC Radio Manchester. Corrie runs through my DNA like lettering in a stick of Blackpool rock. As soon as I hear that famous theme tune, I conjure up an image of cobbled streets, and a roof topped with a ginger cat.
“I grew up in Salford when working-class women really did scrub their own doorstep and the iconic characters mirrored my own community to a tee. It was an era when women were the linchpin at home and Mancunian women were tough, and often ‘wore the trousers’ – albeit under their pinnies! I particularly loved the strong, inspiring characters such as serial spouse Gail who must be Weatherfield’s very own Liz Taylor. I also love how it weaves tragedy, hardship, humour and friendship at its heart.
“I’ve watched Corrie for 50 odd years, and it’s testimony to its enduring appeal and ability to move with the times, that fans will still be talking about it in another 50 years.”
The Women of Weatherfield airs on BBC Radio Manchester at midday on Monday 26 August, and is available nationwide on BBC Sounds afterwards.