There are TV shows, and then there’s Coronation Street, which seems to exist on a higher plane than anything else in the medium’s history – especially when considering its imperial phase in the 1960s and 70s.
There were many wonderful actors in the show portraying some hugely iconic characters, some of them incredible female performers like Violet Carson, Pat Phoenix and Doris Speed. But we’ve chosen the person behind surely the ultimate Coronation Street resident.
She became the epitome of your classic Corrie character: one who could effortlessly switch from comedy to drama in the blink of an eye. Yet while Alexander portrayed Hilda as a busybody and battleaxe who had ideas above her station – most obviously with her muriel – it was always done with affection. It was an approach that helped Hilda become one of the best loved characters on television.
Most of her best scenes involved on-screen husband Stan, aka Bernard Youens – a posh Southerner in real life. But things got even better when Geoffrey Hughes joined the cast as the Odgen’s lodger Eddie Yeats, and a triumvirate of great performances of great comic characters took shape.
Corrie was in its pomp at this time. It was watched avidly by the likes of John Betjeman, who was thrilled to meet the cast when he visited the studio, and Laurence Olivier who wanted to be in it with Hilda but couldn’t make it at the last minute, much to his dismay.
Yet for all the comedy, both broad and subtle, Jean Alexander’s finest moment on Coronation Street came from tragedy. When Bernard Youens died, his character Stan was killed off. This led to Hilda appearing in some heartbreaking scenes that apparently had the entire crew in tears.
After that it was never going to be the same. Hilda was written out of the show at Alexander’s request in 1987, bowing out on Christmas Day in a nice storyline that happily got the show’s highest rating ever.
Alexander went into semi-retirement. She made the odd appearance on TV and later became a semi-regular on that old actor’s home Last Of The Summer Wine, but she always refused to come back to Corrie. Being of a certain age and having certain views, she found the modern incarnation of the soap a bit too raucous for her liking.
There’s no doubt that, thanks to the hectic schedules and huge increase in episode numbers, present-day Coronation Street is not a patch on its earlier vintage.
Yet it’s still a cut above the rest and still enjoys huge affection, not least thanks to Jean Alexander’s fantastic warm, hilarious performance of one of the most famous women in Britain.
THE DEFINING ROLE: That’s right, it’s her role in Rich Tea and Sympathy. Er, no it’s not, it’s Hilda.Read More