Monday, 11 July 2011

Corrie at 50 - Ena Sharples - The Bitch's Bitch (1960 - 1980)

Violet Carson was superb as waspish Ena Sharples, soaps first and best bitch/battleaxe. Bitches & battleaxes in soaps have come and subsequently gone but have never equaled nor bettered the truly wonderful Violet Carson. Ena appeared in the very first episode greeting Florrie Lindley who had just taken ownership of the Corner shop with the lines, "I'm Missus Sharples, I'm a neighbour."

Ena (Violet Carson), who appeared in the series for 20 years between 1960 and 1980, was the caretaker of the mission hall, and spent much of her time criticising the activities of the street's other inhabitants. She was one of the main characters during the 1960s, she was featured less regularly in the 1970s due to the declining health of actress Violet Carson, and was written out in 1980. Almost always wearing a double-breasted coat and hairnet, she spent much of her free time in the series' early years with her two cronies, Martha Longhurst and Minnie Caldwell, in the snug bar of the Rovers Return Inn, drinking Milk Stout.

When the final episode featuring Ena was screened on 2 April 1980, it attracted little media or public attention as the producers intended her to continue in the series - the character was merely leaving her house in the street and moving to care for an ill friend, Henry Foster. Unfortunately, all subsequent storylines involving Ena had to be scrapped owing to Violet Carson's ill health.

In 1960, Ena battled the Mission's new lay preacher Leonard Swindley, who objected to her frequenting the Rovers. Ena collapsed due to the stress, but walked out of the hospital to return to her post so that Martha, who had taken on her responsibilities while she recovered, could not steal her job. In 1961 Ena was sacked for spreading a rumor that Coronation Street was being demolished, when it turned out to be untrue, but Swindley was forced to re-hire her when a suitable replacement could not be found (Ena had bribed the other candidates to turn the job down). Still unhappy with the working conditions, however, Ena walked out of the job later in the year and moved in with Minnie, with Albert Tatlock briefly taking on the caretaker position. She was eventually offered her job back.

Ena had a health scare in 1962 when she suffered a minor stroke, brought on by hypostatic pneumonia. She quickly regained her speech and mobility but the following year was diagnosed with arterioschlerosis. Despite her willingness to gossip, Ena was very guarded about her private life and resented Martha for discussing her health problems with Ena's daughter, Vera Lomax.

Later that year, Ena's great nephew Tom Schofield visited her and invited her to her brother's home in the USA for an extended stay. Ena jumped at the chance to go abroad for the first time and meet the family she never knew she had. Upon her return, Ena was horrified to see the Mission converted into a Community Centre, with social worker Ruth Winter employed there full-time. She quit upon hearing the news and moved in with Minnie at No.5. Despite being out of work, Ena was soon caught up with other problems as Vera came to stay having separated from her husband Bob Lomax. Vera had debts to pay but not the money to pay them, so Ena gave her the money, even though it was all her savings. A disoriented Ena was later caught accidentally stealing from a supermarket. In court, Ena pleaded not guilty, but refused to give her age when questioned, saying only that she was over 21. She was fined 40 shillings. To offset her money problems, Ena took on the job of live-in housekeeper at No.9 for Len Fairclough, although when the Community Centre at the Mission closed down, Ena moved back into the vestry.

Vera came to stay again later in 1966, claiming to be ill. Ena did not believe her until she spoke to Vera's doctor, who said that Vera had a brain tumour and had a month to live, but Vera had not yet been told her condition was terminal. Ena watched her daughter wind down over several weeks until she died in Ena's bed in January 1967.

The Mission was closed for good a year later, when it was demolished along with the factory to make way for a block of two-storey maisonettes. Ena was offered a place at an old folk's home but unsurprisingly she declined, choosing to lodge with old friend Henry Foster at St. Anne's after briefly living with Minnie, although when the maisonettes were built Ena moved into No.6, a purpose-built OAP ground floor flat. Ena was pleased as it occupied the exact spot where the vestry had been.

In 1969, Ena got bored with the maisonette and moved into a flat above Ernest Bishop's camera shop. With Glad Tidings gone, the closest place of worship was the Victoria Street Mission, and Ena kept close tabs on the comings and goings there. She was delighted in 1970 to meet young Tony Parsons, who shared her passion for the harmonium. Recognising his talent, Ena made him her protégé and gave him lessons, while seeing about getting him a scholarship.


When the maisonettes were demolished in 1971, one of the buildings which replaced them was a Community Centre. Despite her age, Ena was determined to secure the position of caretaker, and scared off her competitor Hetty Thorpe by warning her about the violence in the area. With no one else to take the job, Ena was selected as caretaker, and she moved into a flat adjacent to the Centre. Ena's age and ability to do the work was a constant concern to the Council. A co-caretaker, Albert Tatlock, was foisted on her, though she insisted on being called Senior Caretaker. In 1973, Ena suffered two heart attacks, but refused to move away as she wanted to die in the street. When she disappeared with the Centre keys at Christmas, preventing the children from getting any presents, Ena assumed she'd be sacked and left to stay with Henry Foster at St. Anne's, although she was allowed to keep her job.
Later in the 1970s, Ena flitted between Weatherfield and St. Anne's. Her friends gradually left her life - Martha had died in 1964, and Minnie left in 1976 to live at Whaley Bridge with their old friend Handel Gartside. In 1977, Councillor Tattersall tried to fire Ena so that his niece could take her job, but Alf Roberts fought on Ena's behalf. The Lomaxs offered to house Ena but she refused. In 1980, Ena dumped herself on Elsie, and later Albert, while the flat was being re-decorated. Grumbling about the situation, she left to stay at St. Anne's. On this occasion, she never returned to Coronation Street.
In a 1989 episode, when commenting on recent events, Deirdre Barlow stated that Ena was "probably turning in her grave" thus confirming that she had died.
Violet Carson as Ena Sharples in 'Coronation Street'

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