Yesterday there was the sad announcement of the death of television writing legend Tony Warren at the age of 79. In his early twenties he came up with the idea which would transform British television – a twice weekly continuing saga showing the, at the time, rarely seen on television working class northerners typical of the people Warren, a child actor himself, grew up with. His idea “Florizel Street” with a little tweaking in the name department (it was famously a cleaner at the Granada Studios who said it sounded like a disinfectant) became “Coronation Street” and from the very start a huge success. Over fifty-six years later it is still putting out 2.5 hours of high quality entertainment each week and has always remained one of Britain’s highest rated programmes.
Warren has not been involved in the script-writing side for many years but he has been more than a figurehead throughout the show and his contribution is marked in the closing credits of every episode. The current cast were quick to make their own tributes. William Roache who has played Warren’s creation Ken Barlow since the very first episode has said that he was the “father ” of the show. Helen Worth, who in her 40 year+ stint on the soap as Gail would have performed from scripts Warren wrote and acted with characters he alone created said he was “a genius of our time [and] the dearest, funniest and most inspirational man of his generation.”
In the 1990’s he produced four novels which were consistently strong and thoroughly entertaining and well worth investigating. My review of these novels can be found here and serves as my own little tribute to the writing of Tony Warren. A couple of the novels feature a young soap opera writer Micky Grimshaw, who you can’t help but want to imagine is Warren himself and his best friend and television star, Sorrell Starkey who you will feel really must be Pat Phoenix, whatever Warren said about these characters. His novels, like the most famous characters he created were gossipy, surprising and full of warmth, which, it is no surprise to find out, sums up the man himself.
In 2010 the tale of Warren’s attempts to get his creation on television was made into a one-off BBC 4 drama production. “The Road To Coronation Street” was an excellent programme and would be a fitting tribute from the BBC to the man who cemented the success of ITV, their television rivals.