There’s a fascinating link between Coronation Street character Fred Elliott and Salford comic Al Read.

Elliott, brilliantly portrayed by actor John Savident, was a blunt-speaking butcher who often repeated the words ‘I say’ for comic effect.

Read, before he started his radio career in the 1950s, was a successful sausage-maker and his favourite catchphrase was ‘You’ll be lucky – I say, you’ll be lucky!’

In fact, like Coronation Street itself, Read’s whole act was built around observations of the people of Salford – their lives, loves, upsets and humour.

Cast of Coronation Street receive award May 1999 at the British Soap Opera Awards, celebrating were John Savident Julie Hesmondhalgh Stephen Billington William Roache and David Neilson

He was the Granada soap’s trailblazer, ten years before it was broadcast!

The Street’s tribute to Read, in the form of Fred Elliott, was richly deserved. He brought authentic Northern voices to BBC radio in the 1950s and 60s, playing every part in his monologues – including men, women, children and dogs!

Read proved so popular that his weekly BBC programme, The Al Read Show, attracted an audience of around 35 million at its peak. It ran from November 1954 to February 1966.

Mum’s outing.
Giving a demonstration of Turkey slicing is Al Read. July 1954 P018178

Born in Broughton in March 1909, Reid’s career came down to the choice of being a sausage maker in his father’s successful business or trying his luck on stage and radio.

It was a difficult decision. Read’s grandfather was the first butcher in Britain to pack meat in tins, so the family trade was well established.

At the outset, Read tried to balance the two elements of his life. At the same time as working in the family business, he honed his act in clubs and on the after-dinner speaking circuit.

His big break into radio did not arrive until 1953. Read was 44 at the time and entertaining diners at the Queen’s Hotel, Manchester.

A BBC radio producer in the audience was so impressed that he invited Read to appear on the show Variety Fanfare. The now middle-aged comic never looked back.

Read wanted to keep a foothold in sausage-making – initially he asked to do just one radio show a month – but the die was cast.

The weekly Al Read Show was followed by the ITV variety show Life and Al Read in 1963, which was often unscripted and broadcast live. This led to another ITV series, Al Read Says What a Life, in 1966.

Read was always more suited to radio than TV as monologues were his real strength. Many have described them as a precursor to the work of another much admired Manchester comic – Les Dawson.

Comedian Les Dawson, pictured ahead of his spot on tomorrow nights ‘London Palladium Show’. 8th March 1968.

American comedian Bob Newhart’s famous bus drivers’ school sketch was also inspired by Read’s original observations on the subject.

American pop singer Brenda Lee with Bob Newhart upon arrival at London airport, before her appearance in the Royal varierty Show.
1st November 1964.

Issues of the day often ended up as Read’s targets. He joked about Prime Minister Harold Wilson devaluing the pound in his famous butcher’s shop sketch of 1967.

Harold Wilson British Prime Minister – April 1967
in Manchester addressing conference

But it was topics from everyday life which inspired Read’s most memorable humour, including health, marriage, children and football.

His descriptions of arriving home late were hilarious, as were his sketches bemoaning his wife’s efforts to stop him relaxing.

Read’s work was peppered with his catchphrases. Two of the most famous were ‘And he was strong!’ and ‘Right, Monkey!’ The latter was echoed by contemporary comedian Johnny Vegas.

Read’s stage work included pantomime and variety shows featuring major stars of the day as well as up-and-coming talents. His West End production You’ll Be Lucky gave Shirley Bassey her first big break.

The singer celebrated her 19th birthday while starring in another Read show, Such Is Life, at London’s Adelphi Theatre in January 1956. Read presented her with an elaborately iced cake.

Singer Shirley Bassey, starring in the Al Read revue ‘Such Is Life’ at the Adelphi Theatre, cuts the cake for her 19th Birthday, the night before her actual birthday, with Al Read for the Sunday press. 06/01/56.

It was during the show’s run that Bassey was spotted by Philips’ record producer Johnny Franz. Her first hit single, The Banana Boat Song, reached No. 8 in the UK singles chart in February 1957.

Just as Bassey was launching her career, Read was starring with entertainer Jimmy Clitheroe in the Royal Northern Variety Performance in front of the Queen Mother at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.

Jimmy Clitheroe 4ft 4in comedian October 1965
talks to Manchester United manager Matt Busby in a dream sequence for his new TV series on ATV. Jimmy dressed in school uniform and cap holding up a football contract at Old Trafford.
©mirrorpix

Clitheroe had his own BBC radio show at the time. It was called The Clitheroe Kid and was broadcast from 1956 to 1972.

Among the regulars were Oldham comedian Danny Ross, who played Clitheroe’s hapless sidekick Alfie Hall, Patricia Burke and Tony Melody.

*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.