Prime Minister James Callaghan was clearly a big fan of Coronation Street character Elsie Tanner.
He described the Weatherfield firebrand, played by Manchester actress Pat Phoenix, as ‘the sexiest thing on television’.
Elsie certainly made an impact during her two stints on the Street. The feisty divorcee appeared in the first episode in December 1960 and endured numerous heartaches, dramas and dilemmas until she left in 1973.
She returned in 1976 and finally quit the cobbles in January 1984 when former lover Bill Gregory, portrayed by Jack Watson, whisked her off to run a wine bar in Portugal.
In an odd parallel with real life, Phoenix ran her own pub for a while with former colleague Joan Francis, who played Elsie’s best friend Dot Greenhalgh on Coronation Street.
The pub was the Navigation Inn in Buxworth, Derbyshire, and the pair could regularly be seen pulling pints behind the bar in the early 1970s.
Born in Fallowfield in November 1923, Phoenix started acting at the age of 11 when she made regular appearances on the radio programme Children’s Hour.
She got a job as filing clerk in the electricity charging department of Manchester Corporation after leaving school, but carried on acting in her spare time.
After joining the Arts Theatre in Manchester, Phoenix landed the part of Sandy Powell’s wife in the Mancunian Film Studio’s 1948 movie Cup-tie Honeymoon.
Shot largely at Manchester’s Dickenson Road studios and Maine Road stadium, Cup-tie Honeymoon told the story of a business man’s son who had to choose between playing football for his father’s team or their rivals to win the heart of his girlfriend.
Phoenix also wrote scripts for Chadderton ventriloquist Terry Hall and comedian Harry Worth as well as joining Joan Littlewood’s acclaimed Theatre Workshop in London.
But apart from acting in some less well-known films, including the 1958 horror movie Blood of the Vampire, her career had stalled in the capital.
Everything changed when Phoenix came back to Manchester and landed the role of Elsie, the redoubtable occupant of Number 11, Coronation Street, in 1960.
Her rise from the ashes was mirrored in her change of acting name from Pilkington to Phoenix. She was born Patricia Frederica Manfield, but took the name of Pilkington from her mother’s former husband.
Two years after making her debut on Coronation Street, Phoenix played a prostitute in Bryan Forbes’ 1962 movie The L-Shaped Room. The film, considered a classic kitchen-sink drama, also featured her future husband Anthony Booth.
In 1986, Phoenix starred as Bridlington landlady Phyllis Nugent in the short-lived sitcom Constant Hot Water. Prunella Gee played rival landlady Miranda Thorpe.
Back on Coronation Street, Elsie was introduced in the first episode as having two children from her marriage to Arnold Tanner (Frank Crawshaw). They were Linda (Anne Cunningham) and Dennis, played by Ashton-under-Lyne actor Philip Lowrie.
After flirtations with builder Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) she married her war-time lover – American serviceman Steve Tanner (Paul Maxwell).
They split up after emigrating to America and Elsie returned to the Street. When Steve came to Weatherfield to win her back, he was murdered by a former army colleague who’d tracked him to the UK.
Elsie married again in 1970, this time to Alan Howard played by Alan Browning – the man who would later become her real-life husband. The screen marriage was rocky, and the couple separated in 1976.
Elsie was renowned for her spats with Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) and imperious Rovers Return landlady Annie Walker (Doris Speed). Both were quick to lecture her about her lifestyle.
In spite of her tough exterior, kind-hearted Elsie tried her hardest to help her family and true friends. She had a variety of jobs, ranging from croupier to café supervisor and model.
Manchester singer-songwriter Morrissey so admired Phoenix, and the character she played, that he featured her on the cover of the Smiths’ 1985 single Shakespeare’s Sister.
A life-long Labour supporter, Phoenix campaigned for Tony Blair in the 1983 general election and Tony Benn in the 1984 Chesterfield by-election.
Like her Coronation Street character, Phoenix was married three times – firstly to actor Peter Marsh from 1953 to 1961, then to Alan Browning from 1972 until he died from liver failure in 1979.
She married actor Anthony Booth in Stockport in 1986, when her health was seriously deteriorating through lung cancer. She used to smoke 60 cigarettes a day.
Phoenix died in her sleep the same year at the age of 62. A practising Roman Catholic, her funeral service was held at the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus on Oxford Road, Manchester.
*Readers can revel in the past 150 years with a brilliant anniversary book from the M.E.N. and local publishers iNostalgia.
The Changing Face of Manchester: Second Edition is packed with past images of Manchester contrasted with modern photos of how the same scenes look now.
The book retails at £14.99, but M.E.N. readers can order it for the reduced price of £9.99 plus postage and packing.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.