Only the bravest Coronation Street characters would dare set foot in the snug of the Rovers Return when Ena Sharples was holding court.
The formidable Mission Hall cleaner, complete with semi-permanent hairnet and a glass of milk stout, was the Street’s moral guardian – and not afraid to let everyone know it!
Ena, played to haughty perfection by Ancoats actress Violet Carson, appeared in the first ever episode of Granada’s record-breaking soap in December 1960 and stayed until April 1980.
And she was not alone in the Rovers’ snug. Passing judgement with her, like the three fates of Greek myth, were her friends Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhurst.
Minnie, played by Margot Bryant, was the most gentle of the three. She tended to nod agreement with Ena, but was perhaps more rebellious than she let on.
Martha, on the other hand, often disagreed leading to some spectacular verbal spats. She was portrayed by Welsh-born actress Lynne Carol, again from episode one.
There were strong supporting characters in the Rovers too – not least imperious landlady Annie Walker played by Manchester actress Doris Speed.
Early barmaids included Concepta Riley, portrayed by Doreen Keogh, Nona Williams (Barbara Ferris) and Lucille Hewitt played by Wigan actress Jennifer Moss. Emily Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire) also helped out.
Ena’s foil – and the main recipient of her moral lectures – was Street femme fatale Elsie Tanner portrayed by Fallowfield actress Pat Phoenix.
Some of Elsie’s exchanges with Ena are the stuff of Coronation Street legend. On one memorable occasion in January 1965 the two confronted each other outside the Rovers like two gunfighters, firing accusations instead of bullets.
Elsie thought Ena had written a particularly nasty anonymous letter about her private life. But Ena swiftly replied that any letter she’d have sent would have been clearly signed by her!
Warning that Ena’s old age wouldn’t save her from a beating, Elsie had to be physically restrained by her son Dennis, played by Ashton-under-Lyne’s Philip Lowrie.
Coronation Street creator Tony Warren used the trio of Martha, Minnie and Ena as a sounding board for issues of the time as well as a catalyst for gossip.
Ena clashed with the new lay preacher at the Glad Tidings Mission, who objected to her drinking in the Rovers, and was sacked after spreading a rumour that Coronation Street was going to be demolished.
She was reinstated and then walked out as caretaker in a row over working conditions. The new lay preacher, Leonard Swindley, was played by the talented Arthur Lowe – later Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army.
The character of Ena became so popular in Britain and abroad that Carson won the annual Australian Logie Award for Best Actress in 1968.
Our photo shows her proudly displaying it with fellow actors Eileen Derbyshire, Arthur Leslie (Jack Walker), William Roache (Ken Barlow), Anne Reid (Valerie Barlow), Peter Adamson (Len Fairclough), Margot Bryant, Mitzi Rogers (Jenny Sutton), Irene Sutcliffe and John Sharpe (Maggie and Leslie Clegg).
Margot Bryant played the diminutive Minnie Caldwell from 1960 to 1976. Her main object of affection was her ginger tom-cat Bobbie – the first of a string of famous Weatherfield pets.
Before her stint on the Street, Bryant appeared in the films The Cure for Love in 1949 and Beat Girl with Oliver Reed in 1960.
Actress Lynne Carol was only 46 when asked to play the 64-year-old Martha Longhurst in 1960. She disguised her relative youth through wearing a hairnet, beret, heavy spectacles and an old mackintosh she’d bought herself at a jumble sale.
Countering the average age of drinkers in the snug were young barmaids Nona Willis and Lucille Hewitt. Cockney Nona, who arrived 1961, put Ena on red alert when she revealed her past as an exotic dancer!
Lucille, the stepdaughter of Martha, was fostered by Annie and Jack Walker at the Rovers. She was supposed to be 11 years old in 1960 when Coronation Street started, but actress Jennifer Moss was nearly 16 at the time.
Moss could just about pull off the four-year age difference as she was 4ft 9ins tall. She said she could relate to Lucille’s growing pains as she’d already lived through them.
Originally employed at the Mission Hall, Emily Nugent brought her Christian values to the Rovers when she served behind the bar.
She married mild-mannered photographer Ernest Bishop (Stephen Hancock) in 1972 after working at his shop and went on to become the soap’s longest-standing female character.
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