Sure, ‘I coulda been a contender,’ and sat ‘in all the bars in all the world’ drawing inspiration and neat ideas for life from the BIG MEN on the silver screen of the movies, but for me it’s always been a succession of soapy (sometimes soppy) men in the small screen dramas of Coronation Street and (briefly) Brookside that have guided me and suggested how best to walk well through this world with Betty’s Hot Pot in one hand and a half of mild in the other, without causing too much harm.
These were northern men with pots and crates to shift and carry up into the Rovers Return. These men were unvarnished and relentlessly optimistic in the face of disaster and, often, much smarter female dynamos like Bet Lynch, Suzi Birchall, Elsie Tanner and more recently the feisty and fearsome Tracy Barlow.
Fred Gee was perhaps the most hapless pot man and frequent recipient of a tongue lashing from the streets brassy, ‘blonde bombshell,’ Bet Lynch and others at the bar of The Rovers Return. But that didn’t stop him being a reliable, pot-bellied curmudgeon that could sort out the rough lads in the snug and also gallantly defend the virtue and reputation of Betty’s Hot Pot.
In similar stocky and portly vein was Councillor Alf Roberts. He reliably stood behind the counter of his corner shop in Weatherfield being regularly mithered to death by his vivacious and upwardly mobile wife and hair dresser, Audrey. For me and many others he also introduced another world of civic duty and unknown local political allegiance to a party unnamed or mentioned to any other customer, or viewer as far as I recall. He was probably an independent taking huge back handers from Brylcreme which was regularly slicked in to a vaguely Teddy Boy styled quiff. But overall Alf was a respectable, stout and reliable small business man – which is more than could be said of that other loud mouthed, goggle eyed cousin to Del Boy Trotter. I refer to, of course, the thrusting and ambitious middle manager Reg Holdsworth. We could all learn a lot from him…
And what exactly would satisfy Reg Holdsworth? After all he used to chase all of his female staff around Better Buys super market, goaded Curley Watts to greater heights (AKA ignominy) and represented the aspiring middle manager on the make and on the lugubrious look out for the main chance that always (like Del Boy) just eluded him. Yes, I certainly learned a lot about being a man from Reg – one way or another. But he too was a classic Coronation Street clown, a grotesque and laughable character in equal measure alongside his reluctant protégé, Curly Watts, who would occasionally gently mock the huge ambitions and mediocre achievements of Reggie. An especially charming example of this character and GREAT humour in Corrie can be found online when Reggie visits a wig shop and concludes with his appearance as what can only be described as a low rent, chubby Andy Warhol tribute act, complete with his awkward fitting, bottle blond toupee and hair piece. Naturally, when Reggie asks how he looks in his new wig, Curly, of course, simply replied “rug ‘ead. Of course, geddit?
Another impressive soapy male is your friendly neighbourhood butcher, Fred Elliot. Here was a Coronation street hybrid ala ‘Island of Doctor Moreau’ in which a plump, stocky male is eugenically stitched together with the Warner Bros cartoon character from the deep south of America. I refer, of course, to Fog Horn, Leg Horn AKA Fred - “I say, I say boy!” or “I say, I say, Ashley!!!!” How this terrifically larger than life clucking, preening and boasting butcher could strut his stuff. He had fingers to match his sausages and a sentimental good heart that saw him guide his nephew/son Ashley through the trade complete with a good comedy sprinkling of double entendre about his Cumberland ring and quality meat products. But in addition to his bluff and bluster he also had his share of romantic intrigue with at least eight, declined, on- screen marriage proposals including to the hard to get Audrey Roberts. So hopelessly smitten was Fred with her that on his very wedding day he died making a last, forlorn and tender approach to Audrey that I’d defy anyone to not feel a lump in their throat and I’m not referring to a particularly tough piece of Fred’s Cumberland ring! “I say, I say, Ashley!!!”
The last of my favourite soapy men from Coronation Street is bin man, Eddie Yeats. Eddy was the comedy side kick to Stan and humorous chewer of the fat with Stan’s wife, the redoubtable Hilda Ogden. He got into so many scrapes and rarely failed to get out of them, somehow smiling and always bouncing back. Sometimes he could be morose and caustic, propping up the bar with a jar of Newton and Ridley’s mild, but it almost always ended in comedy and good humour. Whether he was tussling with queen bee of The Rovers Return, Annie Walker, over some knock off carpet or standing up for his rights as a bin man he was irrepressible and just the kind of happy-go-lucky character you’d like to find standing by the bar, by your side or on the shop floor, getting by as best he, you and I can.
They all made it seem so effortless, but most of them had strong stage careers behind them, experience and great script writers who were not under pressure to write five programmes a week as they do now. And did I mention Jimmy Corkhill and Sinbad from Brookside? They were, at their best, the hilarious, soapy Liverpudlian Laurel and Hardy.
So these kind of soapy men have inspired and brightened my nineteen-seventy and nineteen-eighties nights beside the telly. Not Deniro, but John Savent. Not Rambo but Kevin Kennedy, not Tom Cruise but Geoffrey Hughes, not Brad Pitt but Bryan Mosley. All brilliantly scripted, but never stilted, full of good humour, human error (certainly) delight and disappointment (definitely) and above all else inspiring heart and stories you could almost believe and learn (some of) your lines for life from.