Friday, 1 July 2011

Corrie at 50 - Remembering Hilda Ogden (1964 - 1987)

For much of her period as a character in the Street, Hilda Ogden worked as cleaner of the Rovers Return Inn. A gossip and busy-body, many of her storylines were used for comedic purposes, though equally the character was used for dramatic effect; a scene in which she wept over the sight of her recently deceased husband's spectacles has been hailed as one of the most moving images in television history.

Actress Jean Alexander quit the role in 1987 after 23 years, but was persuaded to reprise the part in 1990 for a one-off appearance as part of an ITV Telethon. She has also been seen in a spin-off video in 1998, where another long-running character, Betty Williams, visited her at her new home.

Arguably the serial's most popular character of all time, Hilda was voted the greatest TV character in a Radio Times poll of over 5,000 people. The trademark image of Hilda, adorning hair curlers and a head scarf, has inspired art and catwalk themes. Despite various producers expressing their desire to see the character return, actress Jean Alexander has been openly critical about the direction Coronation Street has taken, vowing never to reprise the role of Hilda again.

Hilda Ogden, with her trademark hair curlers and pinny, has been described as "the classic hard-working class Northern woman. With a voice like breaking glass and a temper to match". Actress Jean Alexander has explained her interpretation of Hilda's head scarf and curler look: "Like Hilda, my roots were in Liverpool and that’s where I first noticed the curlers and headscarf look. The curlers were put under the headscarf by the factory girls [...] They had their hair tied up and scarves like that to stop their fashionable long hair getting caught up in the machinery at work. They had the curlers in place in case they got asked out on a date, so they’d be ready for a night out after the shift. They could just take off the headscarf, remove the curlers and shake down their hair. Hilda’s background was just like mine and her recollection would have been the same so the headscarf look was born on-screen." Jean Alexander stated in 2010 that she based Hilda bits of differing, eccentric people she had seen in her youth in Liverpool.
The Ogdens, Hilda and her husband Stan (Bernard Youens) - or "the Oggies" as they were affectionately dubbed - have been hailed as one of Coronation Street's favourite couples. The bickering pair stayed together through mishap and financial difficulty. A working-class couple, they remained a screen doubleact for 20 years, until actor Bernard Youens died, forcing the writers of the soap to kill off Stan on-screen. A scene following Stan's screen funeral, showing Hilda weeping at the sight of Stan's signature spectacles, has been described as "one of the most moving moments in TV history" and "instrumental in winning [Jean Alexander] the Royal Television Society's Best Performance Award for 1984-5". Neil Marland, who worked as Granada TV's stills photographer for 30 years has described the scene as terribly poignant, adding, "Everyone was crying and the camera tracked in - she had to undo his handkerchief, and in it were his glasses. She broke down sobbing. And, of course, I had to do a picture of this. So I left her for a minute or so sobbing. Then, as I got nearer, I just went, `Jean, Jean...' And she sat bolt upright and said, `What picture do you want Neil? I'm only acting'. It was just amazing because everyone on the floor was in floods of tears."

Commenting on the screen partnership, actress Jean Alexander has said, "It was a real pleasure working with Bernard Youens, who played my screen husband, Stan. Any success I have had is really down to Bernard because we worked well as a team and each knew how the other would want to play a scene. It was a happy screen partnership but it was strictly professional. We didn't socialise after work."Jean Alexander has stated that the Ogdens were a brilliant set-up: "They were the only couple in the street who were married - permanently. They were the only ones who owned their own house where everyone else rented, they stayed together and didn't stray or have affairs and, yes, they bickered among themselves but let anyone else criticise either of them and they would be up in arms."

In 2002, Hilda and Stan Ogden were voted Britain's top romantic TV couple, in a poll of more than 5,000 people carried out by NTL:Home. They beat off competition from Friends' couple Monica Geller and Chandler Bing and Dot and Jim Branning from EastEnders. In 2005 the couple topped another poll. The Ogdens were voted ITV's favorite TV characters in a survey by Broadcast magazine, which took place to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the network. They beat Minder's Arthur Daley and Prime Suspect's DCI Jane Tennison, who took second and third place respectively

After 23 years playing Hilda, Jean Alexander decided to leave Coronation Street in 1987. According to Alexander in 2010, it was the right time to leave as the writers had run out of ideas for Hilda and as a character, Hilda had run out of steam. She added, "Her other half had gone and she would have just scraped along. I didn't want that." Alexander went to see the show's producer Bill Podmore to inform him she did not want to renew her contract.

Her decision to leave prompted an outcry from fans and a "Save Hilda" campaign was launched, as many did not realise that the actress had made her own decision to depart. Hilda's final scenes in the programme were aired on Christmas Day 1987, when the locals in the Rovers Return joined Hilda in what has been described as a "stirring rendition" of "Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye". On-screen, Hilda departed for Derbyshire, to make a new life for herself as the housekeeper for Doctor Lowther. 27 million viewers watched. It remains the highest-rated episode in Coronation Street's history. It has been described as the most moving scene in Coronation Street that did not involve a death. The writer behind the "memorable" episode depicting Hilda Ogden's departure, which attracted a record soap opera audience, was Leslie Duxbury.

Since her departure in 1987, various producers have expressed their desire to see Hilda Ogden back on Coronation Street. In 1990, Jean Alexander reprised the role after two-and-a-half years as part of ITV's 27-hour charity Telethon. The episode showed her visiting Stan's grave. In 1998, the character was resurrected again, as part of a special direct to video film.

However, in 2005, actress Jean Alexander ruled out ever returning to the role of Hilda Ogden, due to Coronation Street's overempahsis on sex and "who's sleeping with whom". She also criticised the soap for not being fun enough and she disapproved of the modern storylines, saying some are allowed to "drag on forever". She added:

Times have changed and there are things going on in Weatherfield now that Hilda definitely wouldn't have approved of! People keep asking if I will ever go back to the Street but I definitely won't because I don't think it ever really works when people go back again. I know the programme tries to reflect life and in Hilda's time it was more simple and cosy. Today, life and attitudes have changed and permissiveness has crept up on us. So now it is all about who's sleeping with whom. The programme may reflect life, but equally young people are being influenced by what they see in it. Even girls of 13 think they absolutely must have boyfriends, otherwise people will think they aren't normal. Youngsters get rushed into things too quickly before they have had a chance to live. I don't like so much emphasis on sex. I also wish there was more fun inCoronation Street. There used to be much more comedy. And whereas a storyline would usually be played out within three weeks, today certain storylines seem to drag on for ever. I'm glad I was there in those earlier, more gentle years. I enjoyed my time as Hilda and it is lovely that viewers still remember her with such affection.
Jean Alexander - Manchester Evening News

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