Tuesday, 29 May 2012
This article was printed in the Daily Express on May 12th this year and sees former Street Legend Jean Alexander (Hilda Ogden) speaking out on the shite that is today's Coronation Street..
Hilda Ogden left Coronation Street 25 years ago singing “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye” in her trilling, trademark voice. It was Christmas Day, 1987, and it remains the most watched episode in the soap’s history. As Hilda left to start a new life in Derbyshire a record 27 million tuned in to wave her off.
Now, as a new musical about Britain’s longest-running TV soap opera hit the stage in Manchester Arena this week, veteran actress Jean Alexander, who played Hilda for 23 years, wishes the show well – but won’t be going to see it. Street Of Dreams, hosted by Paul O’Grady, brings together stars of the show, past and present, in an all- singing, all-dancing celebration of the soap’s history and unforgettable characters, with cast members such as Julie Goodyear (Bet Lynch), William Roache (Ken Barlow) and Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) recreating their iconic roles.
But not Jean Alexander. “I am afraid I shall miss the show,” she said from her home in Southport. “It would mean trains, taxis and a night in a hotel... Not much fun these days.” At 85, after 61 years as an actress, she says: “I’m tired. That’s why I am announcing I am officially retired. All my life I have rushed around to fit in with other people’s schedules. Now I can suit myself.” Suiting herself won’t mean watching nightly episodes of Coronation Street. She’s no longer a big fan because she says it has lost its way from the days when it represented a gritty northern back street.. CORONATION Street, she says, has sold its soul to sex: “Everyone in the Street seems to be having an affair. Some of them have been round the Street four times already. “I cannot comment on East- Enders because I never watch it but I am so disappointed in Coronation Street. In the relentless battle for ratings it has sold its soul to sex, scandal and downright nastiness. “Things have to move on, I know, but in the days of Hilda Ogden, Annie Walker and Co, the Street was gentle, funny and human. The humour has all but gone out of it these days.
“We had a lot of fun making Coronation Street and the fans let us know they had fun watching it. There were heartbreaking moments but we also tried to make people laugh. “Today it’s all sex, doom and gloom and it’s all taken far too seriously.
“The Street always tried to be relevant to the way people lived, especially in a northern working-class district.
Nowadays I suppose it still reflects what is going on because life seems to be all about titillation in a world where kids grow up at 10 or 11. Perhaps that is why they all have to behave like that in the soaps.” Jean cannot name many of the actors in the Street, nor does she know much about the plotlines because she tunes in only about once a month.
Of all the “newcomers”, Jean is most impressed with Jennie McAlpine, who has played Fiz Brown (now Fiz Stape) since 2001. Jean says Jennie, a Greater Manchester lass and one- time stand-up comedian, would have fitted nicely into the Street in the days of Hilda Ogden. “She has that northern grit and the original elbows out, hands-on-hip attitude. She’s a tough cookie. She is a real character and very noticeable. The characters are missing from Coronation Street these days,” she says.
Of all today’s TV soaps Jean reckons Emmerdale has remained most true to its roots. “It is far more gentle and set in lovely countryside. The characters are more lifelike and they are not always going over the top. I love Emmerdale.”
But her favourite programme is Midsomer Murders because, she says, there’s less violence than in Coronation Street or EastEnders!
Jean Alexander has not worked since Last Of The Summer Wine ended in 2010. For 20 years she played Auntie Wainwright, a role she loved and a character she far preferred to Hilda Ogden. “She was my favourite so I reckon I ended on a high,” says Jean.
The woman who won the heart of the nation as the curlers-and-head- scarf-wearing Hilda Ogden is still remarkably modest about her amazing success, even though she has sacrificed her personal life to her career. Jean Alexander has never married, still lives in the mod- est semi-detached home she bought with her late mum and only recently bought a DVD player. She has never driven or owned a car and one of her biggest indulgences is to take a taxi back from her local supermarket in Southport on her twice-weekly shopping expeditions. “I do get the bus there, though,” she says.
She has won five major awards – including a TV Times award for All Time Favourite Soap Star – and performed before the Queen during her Silver Jubilee in 1977. And though in her stage career she was sick with fright before every performance it was receiving awards that struck her with terror.
“That is because I was going out there as myself. I had no character to hide behind and I had to make up my own speech. I didn’t have someone else’s script to rely on,” she says.
But she is still recognised and stopped in the street by fans, though nowadays the reactions are less violent. “I have been battered black and blue by excited women who’ve pinned me against a supermarket market shelf shrieking, ‘It’s you, it’s you, isn’t it?’ These days people don’t ask for autographs, they ask if they can be photographed with me on their mobile phones.
“I don’t mind a bit as long as I am not eating a meal in a restaurant. It was the fans who made me what I am today and I owe them a great deal. So I have always tried to make time for them.”
She also receives regular fan mail from around the world, mainly because of re-runs of Last Of The Summer Wine in various countries.
One of her latest “fan” letters came from Ghana: “Dear Jean, I am a great fan of your music. I would love to attend the London Olympics. Please send me return airfare and provide food and accommodation as well as Olympic tickets... ” It’s one of the few letters she will not be replying to. So how will she spend her retirement? “Doing my own thing. No more traipsing down to a studio at 6am and spending hours being tarted up. I’ve enjoyed my career but it’s been long and hard. It’s left me tired so I think it’s time to take it easy.”