Saturday, 21 April 2012

The King of Gamma Garments - Remembering Leonard Swindley (1960 - 1965)

Leonard Swindley was played by the late, great Arthur Lowe on Coronation Street between 1960 and 1965. The character of Mr Swindley also appeared in two spin-off series following his departure from the Street -Pardon the Expression and Turn Out The Lights, making him a unique character in UK soap opera.

At the time filming commenced of the pilot episode of Coronation Street, the character of Leonard Swindley had not even been cast. Because he wasn't supposed to appear until episode three, auditions were still taking place until Arthur Lowe walked in and read for the producers. Lowe, who went on to become most recognised as Captain Mainwaring in sitcom Dad's Army, was already an established actor by the time of his Coronation Street casting, having been in several feature films, but it was his turn as pompous Mr. Swindley that made him a household name in the early 60s.
In December 1961, only a year after the show's launch, a strike of the actor's union Equity meant that Lowe, who was not under contract with the show at that point, was forced to leave the series along with several other stars of the Street. The strike lasted until April 1962, and Lowe agreed to reprise his role once again, returning in June along with Eileen Derbyshire
Upon hearing of Lowe's decision to quit the series in 1965, ITV bosses offered him the chance to continue in the role as the star of a new sitcom based around his character. The end result Pardon the Expressoin debuted two months on from his final appearance in Coronation Street and ran for two series until 1966. It in turn produced its own spin-off Turn Out The Lights, again based around Swindley, which lasted only six episodes.
Swindley, in his role as lay preacher, was a central figure in the local community. The Mission Hall would regularly play host charity ventures and plays among other uses. Swindley and his assistant Emily also organised several trips out for the locals.
In 1962, Swindley's clothes store was failing and piling debts forced him to sell up. The buyer, Niklos Papagopoulos, was the owner of a successful chain of clothes shops in Manchester called 'Gamma Garments'. Papagopoulos re-opened the store as Gamma weeks later, deciding to keep Swindley on as manager and Emily and Doreen Lostock as his assistants.
After working closely for over three years, Swindley's relationship with his colleague Emily grew and in 1964 she proposed. Swindley hesitated before accepting and a date was set for only a few weeks later. When the wedding day came however, Emily realised that neither of them truly loved each other and decided to call off the marriage. He assured her that he felt the same way and the pair managed to salvage their friendship to continue working together.
The next year, following Arthur Lowe's decision to quit, Swindley was offered a promotion at Gamma Garments and duly accepted, leaving the Mission, and Weatherfield behind. The character later moved on to work as manager for Dobson and Hawkes, the clothes store seen in the spin-off Pardon The Expression.

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