Gaynor’s still Streetwise

Coronation Street: Early 60s Violet Carson as Ena Sharples and Pat Phoenix as Elsie Tanner.  PA Photo. Copyright Granada TV
Coronation Street: Early 60s Violet Carson as Ena Sharples and Pat Phoenix as Elsie Tanner. PA Photo. Copyright Granada TV
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Former Coronation Street favourite Gaynor Faye lands in Sheffield next week with a play about her old employers

SOAP actors move shows. A few even get recycled into the same show as another character.

Gaynor Faye

Gaynor Faye

But few come back from the dead, admits Gaynor Faye.

The Yorkshire-based actress was picked to narrate the Sheffield leg of Corrie! – a new comedy retrospective that recalls 50 years of the ITV show.

“I literally pegged it,” says Gaynor whose character Judy Mallett died in her yard while putting out washing. “I left about 13 years ago so people think I’m ancient but I’m not, I just started when I was young.”

In fact, Gaynor made the brave move to exit the Street after just four years so as not to get typecast.

“I was lucky enough to have fantastic storylines and the only reason I chose to leave was because I wanted to play other characters.

“I loved Judy Mallett but I didn’t want to be Judy forever.

“People say there is a time limit, a cut off, if you want to play other characters. It was their decision to kill the character off, so that was tough.

“It was a double-edge sword. It made me realise I had to get on. That door was shut.

“I’d got to just go on and do other work.

“You can never go back even though that character was well loved and I loved playing her.”

With Corrie celebrating it 50th anniversary, regular scriptwriter Jonathan Harvey was asked to create a touring show that recalls some favourite characters, including Jack Duckworth and Bet Lynch, and storylines from half a century of drama, such as Deirdre going to jail.

Gaynor didn’t think twice about taking on the narrator role to pull it all together on stage at The Lyceum from Monday.

“I wanted to do Sheffield because it’s in Yorkshire and I’m a Yorkshire lass,” she says.

“The narrator’s job is to comment on the action going on on stage. I have a red book, like a This Is Your Life book, that is cleverly used to move time on and to tell you where we are in the scenario because it could get very confusing when you’re doing that many storylines in two hours.

“There’s only five cast members playing 50 years worth of characters. They’ve got a tough act and I don’t envy them. But the way Jonathan has done it is so clever; he’s constructed it brilliantly and interweaves everything.

“You’ve got old characters like Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner talking on one side of the bar and Hayley on the other so you’ve got modern and old characters at the same time.”

n DOWN the years Corrie has featured hundreds of characters playing out countless dramas, ranging from topical and controversial to hilariously ridiculous or domestic parody.

Perhaps more so than other soaps it provides escape and realism in equal measure.

“It combines drama and pathos and comedy,” says Gaynor of its enduring appeal.

“It doesn’t take itself too seriously but when it does serious issues it researches them extremely well. There’s a brilliant team of writers and they’ve got the balance between comic characters and the older characters right. It’s got humour and always has.

“As Tony Warren said right at the beginning ‘it’s a slice of life on television’.

“That’s what you’ve still got. It gets more dramatic, but that’s because we’re in the 21st century and need a bit more stimulation so you’ve things like Richard Hillman coming in.

“I dip in and out. Because I’ve got two children it’s around bed time but I keep up with it because it’s still got people in it that I know. It’s part of our heritage.”

And to be part of the cast is to take on another life, almost. It is no exaggeration to say some viewers almost treat it as if it were real.

“It becomes like your second home. There’s a green room there and you’ve got your little locker and dressing room. I remember moving stuff in; I took covers and my incense.

“You make it your home because you’re there a lot, on shooting days from 7am until 7pm. If you’re doing a storyline you’re there all week for that time.

“It’s very hard work but that’s part of the job and you’re rewarded very well. Then there are times when you’re not in and you get time off.

“You make it work with your life and I suppose it’s knowing where the line ends and begins. It’s knowing where Ken Barlow finishes and Bill Roach starts.”

Gaynor admits leaving was tough but like plenty of other actors who have been through the show – from Suranne Jones to Rula Lenska – it raised her profile and led to a variety of roles in series such as Fat Friends and as a tomboy in Playing The Field, the BBC series about a women’s football team. She also won ITV’s Dancing On Ice.

“I suppose it gets to a point where you’ve made your life there and you’re happy with it,” she says of the Corrie veterans who ‘outlived’ her.

“And people do like consistency. They like to have their soaps where they know their characters. And it always takes time for new characters to bed in. Judy and Gary were loved characters and then all of a sudden I wanted to go, but Coronation Street was very good to me, good for my career.”

That said, having characters come and go refreshes the show and makes that street behave like a normal one.

Gaynor is currently writing and adapting, having penned scripts for series in which she has appeared.

As for future acting roles?

“Suranne Jones is in flaming everything at the moment,” she quips.

“It’s a nightmare for me because she’s taken all the great female northern roles, but good luck to her, she’s a great actress.

“There must be other roles out there and at least if she’s in work she can’t get the next one!”

Corrie! runs Monday until Saturday.