After nearly six decades, it’s become a British institution. Coronation Street is now Britain’s, and indeed the world’s, longest-running soap opera, and is today amazingly still going strong as an award-winning and audience-captivating drama. It’s also a show with a long and fascinating history behind-the-scenes.
Read on for 20 things you never knew about Coronation Street.
1. There was never supposed to be a cat in the opening titles
Since 1976, the year that the opening sequence was re-shot for the fifth time, the Coronation Street opening titles have included the iconic image of a cat wandering over the houses or through the cobbled streets of Weatherfield.
There have been three further title sequences for Coronation Street since that date, with new ones introduced in 1990, 2002 and 2010. Each has starred a cat, with the animal becoming integral to the opening credits.
Back in 1976, however, the show’s producers had no intention of including the animal in the opening montage; it was just somebody’s pet that wandered into shot. Producers decided to keep the shot and the inclusion of the cat became so popular that subsequent credit sequences have all featured one.
2. One cast member has been in it from the start
As Britain’s longest-running soap, Coronation Street – which debuted in 1960 and continues to run today, four nights a week – has seen its fair share of characters come and go over the years. One character, however, has amazingly been there from the very beginning.
Bill Roache, who plays former womaniser and now lovable grandpa Ken Barlow on the show, this year celebrates 58 years as a star of Coronation Street.
Now 86, Roache got his big break on the very first episode of Coronation Street aged just 28, and has remained in a key role ever since. This makes him the longest-serving actor on any TV serial in the history of television.
3. It’s a bigger draw than royal weddings
Coronation Street, as everyone knows, is an institution of a programme, with a wide fanbase. It’s a big show, but you might still be surprised as to just how big Corrie is.
Last year, Coronation Street drew an average of 7.6 million viewers per night, and was far and away the most-watched soap in the UK. A whopping 9.2 million tuned in to an episode of the show broadcast in June.
Coronation Street has been so popular, in fact, that its staged weddings have beaten even genuine royal weddings in the TV ratings. In 2005, 17 million watched an episode in which Ken Barlow and Deirdre Rachid remarried, a whole 4 million more viewers than watched the wedding between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles.
4. Coronation Street was not the original title
The very title ‘Coronation Street’ conjures up certain thoughts and feelings for millions of Brits. It’s an instantly recognisable name, bringing to mind a decency and laidback approach to TV that hasn’t dimmed in near 60 years.
The title was almost very different though. In creator Tony Warren’s original scripts, the title was written as Florizel Street, named after Prince Florizel in the fairytale Sleeping Beauty.
However, execs at the studio didn’t much like the name, so Warren and his producers drunkenly came up with a new one and landed on…Jubilee Street. Or so they thought: when the production title was announced to the public, the producers were amazed to discover the show was to be called Coronation Street, a title they had apparently forgotten they had decided on whilst drunk.
5. The show almost didn’t get made
The show has become an invaluable money-spinner for ITV, so popular that one of its 1985 episodes is the 8th most-watched TV show in British history, but the network wasn’t always so keen on broadcasting Coronation Street.
Back in 1960, when Tony Warren was first pitching ‘Florizel Street’ to ITV, board members at Granada Television had misgivings about the slice-of-life northern soap opera he was proposing.
At least two members, as well as Sidney Bernstein, the co-founder of the company, considered the show to be “downmarket”. It was Bernstein’s brother, along with young exec Denis Forman, who convinced the board to forge ahead.
6. Alfred Hitchcock visited the set
Alfred Hitchcock was a master director of popular cinema, and perhaps reached the peak of his popularity in the 1960s. It was the decade in which he unleashed on the public the proto-blockbusters Psycho and The Birds, two of his most commercially successful movies ever.
So what, exactly, was Hitch doing hanging around Weatherfield in this period? Well, the founder of Granada and thus Coronation Street producer Sidney Bernstein had something to do with it.
In the 1940s, Bernstein had produced the Hitchcock films Rope and Under Capricorn. Though their creative partnership had dissolved by the mid-50s, they remained friends and, in 1964, Hitchcock paid a visit to the Coronation Street set, becoming the very first celebrity to do so. 20 years later, none other than Dustin Hoffman would also visit the set.
7. There have been plenty of celeb cameos over the years
Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t the only celebrity who’s been drawn to the famous cobbles over the years. Dozens of famous faces have appeared on the show, in fact.
Some of the bigger Corrie cameos include Sir Ian McKellen, Peter Kay and Norman Wisdom, while Sir Patrick Stewart (making his TV debut as a fireman), Sir Ben Kingsley and Anna Friel all made pre-fame appearances on the soap.
Meanwhile the biggest celeb ever to appear on Coronation Street must surely be the man who one day soon will go on to be crowned the king of England. In a 2000 episode, Prince Charles made a fleeting cameo as himself, alongside Sir Trevor McDonald.
8. The show is very popular in Canada
It might be difficult to believe, considering the programme takes a pretty idiosyncratic view of working-class life in northern England, but Coronation Street does have its fans outside of the UK.
nothing says Canada Day like a red Coronation Street t-shirt #Canada150th#coronationstreet@CBCHamilton@CBCNews@itvcorriepic.twitter.com/GtpY6QX4iK
— Emmett Pearce (@pleasure_radio) July 1, 2017
Corrie is a cult show in Canada, where it airs in a primetime slot and attracts hundreds of thousands of viewers nightly on CBC. Such is the show’s popularity with our Canadian cousins, one station went as far as making a record-breaking deal to buy up a back catalogue of episodes.
The Guinness Book of Records lists the purchase of 1,144 episodes of Coronation Street by a CBC-owned Saskatchewan TV station in 1971 as the largest number ever bought in a single transaction.
9. But that’s not the only country watching other than the UK
Coronation Street isn’t just popular in the UK and Canada. Prominent slots are also given to the soap in South Africa, the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand, with the show reaching even British residents in the Falkland Islands. The show has been exported to more than 40 countries in total, including Morocco and Taiwan.
10. The show once went off air for 11 weeks
The 1970s was a tumultuous period for Britain. On top of the protests, riots and periodic blackouts, there were, of course, the strikes. Everybody at some point was affected, not least fans of soaps based in the north of England.
In 1979, less episodes of Coronation Street aired than originally expected, and it was all down to a strike happening over at Corrie’s network, ITV.
For 11 weeks, between August 10 and October 24, Coronation Street went off air – the longest stretch the show has been off air since it began showing in 1960. By the time the show arrived back on TV, cast member Jack Howarth had died in the interim, and the (still-living) cast members had to re-introduce the show with a catch-up of all the recent storylines.
11. A 2010 plotline outraged people looking for male escorts
One of Corrie’s many famous guest stars, Nigel Havers has featured on the soap periodically from 2009 as Lewis Archer, a ‘mature’ male escort who has romanced a number of women in the street using his deceptively charming ways.
In a 2010 episode, Rita (Barbara Sullivan) discovered that Audrey’s new boyfriend Archer was advertising his services in women’s magazine The Lady, and subsequently arranged a date.
Rather than simply mocking up a fake magazine, The Lady went one better and published an issue with an escort ad for ‘Lewis Archer’ included. The Lady received numerous complaints from readers outraged that Archer didn’t actually exist, and that the contact details were fake.
12. The theme tune has never changed – except for in one episode
It’s a habit of soaps to change their theme tune along with their titles every few years or so, taking the familiar and jazzing up an existing tune or even inventing a new theme altogether.
Coronation Street’s orchestral theme, written by Eric Spear, is evidently too good to change. In almost six decades, the famous theme has never been altered from its original 1960 iteration – except once.
In an episode from 1972, the theme was reworked as a jazz track, playing out the marriage of Ernie Bishop to Emily Nugent. To date, this is the only time the classic theme hasn’t played an episode out.
13. The trumpet player behind the theme was paid just £6
Eric Spear may have been the writer behind the Coronation Street theme, but arguably just as important is the man who played the hummable trumpet solo that has proved popular for nigh-on 60 years.
In recordings of the title music, the session musician behind the trumpet, Yorkshireman Ronnie Hunt, wasn’t initially delivering the kind of sound Spear wanted. Hunt then asked what kind of show the theme was for, and delivered a more appropriately ‘northern’ brass band sound using a mute on his instrument.
So, we have Hunt in part to thank for the Coronation Street theme sounding the way it does. And how much was he paid for his trouble? A one-time sum of £6.
14. Snoop Dogg is a fan
The show hasn’t just attracted famous faces to appear. There are millions of viewers who tune in to Coronation Street regularly – and that’s in the UK alone – so it’s no surprise that a few of those tuning in happen to be celebs in their own right.
Celebrity fans of the Street include Michael Parkinson, Morrissey and Cheryl Cole. Perhaps the most surprising fan however is one Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr, aka global superstar rapper Snoop Dogg.
In 2013, Snoop told the Daily Star: “People always think I’m playing when I talk about Coronation Street, but I swear it’s my favourite show on TV… There ain’t no other show that can touch it.”
15. High definition forced a set change
In 2010, Coronation Street went HD for the first time, and the new technology didn’t just result in a change in visual quality and detail. The change necessitated a change in the set, as the higher definition highlighted flaws in the old Granada Studios lot, in use for the show since 1960. Construction began on a new set in 2011, and by 2013 the Street had moved over to the new and improved (and more authentic-looking) MediaCity set.
16. Peter Barlow has been played by seven different actors
Since 2000, Chris Gascoyne has played Corrie bad boy Peter Barlow, but although Gascoyne has featured in the role for 18 years at this point, he’s far from the first actor to have played the part of Ken Barlow’s wayward son. Since 1965, seven different actors have played Peter Barlow – including, from 1973 to 1975, Linus Roache, Ken Barlow actor Bill Roache’s real-life son.
17. Some episodes have cost a huge amount
Soaps, by their very nature, are intended as cheap and easy to make – though creator Tony Warren had something less disposable in mind when he first introduced Coronation Street to the world. Some episodes of the Street have actually cost a pretty penny. The show’s 2010 tram crash episode cost close to £1 million to stage that one scene alone.
18. The hair and makeup budget isn’t small either
An important, if often under-sung, element of any TV production is the hair and makeup. On soaps, which can shoot all through the week for up to five episodes weekly, the hair and makeup department is invaluable. The hair and makeup materials that the Coronation Street crew get through is astounding, with 50 boxes of tissues, 20 packs of make-up wipes, ten lipsticks and 15 large cans of hairspray used in just a month.
19. The death rate on the Street is alarmingly high
Soap operas, by their very nature, present a heightened depiction of daily life. Weddings, divorces and in particular murders occur at an alarming rate in soaps – and Coronation Street is no different to the rest. It was just seven episodes before the first death on the show, and to date there have been a total of 181 deaths on the titular street.
20. The show has broken other TV records
Coronation Street isn’t just one of the most-watched UK shows of all time, with a star who’s the longest-serving member of a TV series ever, and which is sought out by Canadian TV stations buying up record-breaking numbers of episodes. The show has broken other records, too.
In 2008, Coronation Street became home to an actor with the longest gap between appearances in a TV show. The actor was Kenneth Cope, or Weatherfield’s roguish Jed Stone, who last appeared in 1966, only to reappear in 2008.
The show then broke its own record, by bringing back Philip Lowrie in 2011 after the actor – and his character Dennis Tanner – first took a break in 1968. This put Coronation Street in the Guinness Book of Records once again.