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Coronation Street

story Maureen Scott

As ITV’s Coronation Street (airing here on CBCTV) celebrates its 51st year as Britain’s longest running “soap,” four former cast members are set to tour Canada with their Tales from the Street event, stopping at Stage West Theatre on April 2. 

Charles Lawson and Nick Cochrane (who play the father and son roles of Jim and Andy McDonald) and Steve Arnold and Julia Haworth (who play husband and wife, Ashley and Claire Peacock), will share secrets with audiences about their lives on and off the small screen.

In a series of phone chats from their various homes in the U.K., the four performers shared a few secrets with GoodLife, including  Steve Arnold’s personal account of his emotional last day on the set when “Ashley” gets killed off in an epic tram wreck, ending Steve’s 15-year stint on ‘The Street.’ 

‘Corrie’  fans  worldwide (more than 20 million strong) will be relieved to know that the annoying squeaky voice of Ashley Peacock, the butcher, is an act. On the phone, Steve Arnold sounds downright sexy!

“I intentionally made my voice squeaky and the character timid,” explains Steve.  “You see, in Britain young people often learn a trade and are not paid a lot of money and I wanted his character to be low key. I had to train with a butcher and learn how to make sausages and everything.”

The 37-year-old actor made his Corrie debut in 1996, after appearing with his younger brother Kevin in the film This Boy’s Story and then on the TV series Children’s Ward, which was produced by Granada Television, the same company which produced Coronation Street. Both brothers were offered roles on The Street.

“My life changed completely, in a good way, as soon as I appeared on Coronation Street. As a child actor, I received some recognition from Children’s Ward but until you do the Street, you don’t understand the power of a show like that. I can’t go anywhere without being recognized!” he laughs.

Coronation Street is filmed on four different sets in Manchester, shot from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday to Friday. “The Street has a great cast and crew and a great writing team who produce good comedy. They work miracles to produce two and a half hours of quality television each week. The show hits home with a lot of people and many people have grown up with it. They keep the established characters. I have faith that Coronation Street will be around for another 50 years.”

Steve says he had an inkling his 15 year stint on the show was coming to an end when the big story lines were not coming his way. In April of 2010, he and Julia Haworth were told they were being written out of the show by October.

“It was a great experience and one I wouldn’t trade for the world. Fifteen years is a long time. One of the reasons I left the show was because it had been a long time since I had any big story lines. I knew my time was coming when I saw my work being reduced to about a third. I wouldn’t say I miss the job itself but I miss the green room.”  (The green room is where the cast hangs out until they get the green light to enter the film stage).

“You spend twelve hours a day in each other’s pockets. They become your family. You get a safety net in that green room and everyone bonded. I would say that John Savident (aka the late Fred Peacock, Ashley’s on-screen butcher father) brought me up to ninety percent as an actor. We were like father and son on screen and off.” 

December 8, 2010 marked Steve’s final day on the set. 

“The tram scene was shot live in a separate studio for the 50th anniversary and it was very intense,” recalls Steve. “They did it in a good, believable way. I’ve never seen it, but it felt good. After we finished filming, there were about 100 people standing around waiting to say goodbye. It was bloody difficult making that speech, but I thanked everyone and it was heartfelt. For the filming I stayed pro and did my job, and then held it together saying goodbye to everyone. We shared a lot of happy memories and I wasn’t really saying goodbye, as I still keep in touch with most of the cast. Julia lives just down the road.” 

The day after leaving Coronation Street, Steve appeared on Dancing on Ice. “I had never skated before and I was quickly voted off,” sighs Steve, who then went on to appear in the pantomime production of  Aladdin

“Right now I’m having a whale of a time enjoying doing things I never had time to do before. I’m watching boxing matches (I used to box) and football games and walking my dog. When I get back from Canada I want to learn Spanish, and how to play the guitar.  I have travelled to Spain several times and have always wanted to learn the language.”

This is Steve’s second trip to Canada. Last year he made a guest appearance at The British Isles Show in Toronto and Halifax. 

“Canadians are fabulous - really warm generous people and everywhere we went someone had an aunt or an uncle in England. I brought my Dad with me that time and we felt very welcomed.”

Julia Haworth, aka Claire Peacock says if she had to choose a favourite Coronation Street episode, it would likely be the Christmas Day wedding of Claire and Ashley. 

“From an actor’s point of view, I also really enjoyed the dramatic scenes involving Claire’s post-partum depression story line, but on a lighter note, I liked filming the humorous scenes with Steve and Fred. Also the way it ended – that was a fun way to go out - beating up Tracy Barlow and running off to France as a fugitive,” laughs Julia.

“I’m quite philosophical about life in general. Eight years on one show is virtually unheard of and I had a brilliant time. It’s one job in a long line of many and it will also hold a special place in my heart.

In real life, France also holds a special place for Julia as she got engaged in Paris. She has been married since 2006 and she and her husband have a three-year-old daughter, Sophia. Since filming her last episode in January 2011, Julia starred in the pantomime Cinderella and just finished filming segments of the ITV medical drama Monroe.

“This is my first visit to Canada. I’m excited!”

Charles Lawson aka Jim McDonald, the hot-tempered mechanic from Northern Ireland, was a regular on Coronation Street from 1989 to 2000 and has made several return cameo appearances. The latest was in 2011 when Jim tried unsuccessfully to rob a bank. Currently the story line has him imprisoned for seven years. In real life, Charles owns The Prestbury Farm Shop in the small village of Prestbury, Cheshire, where he lives. 

“I was looking for a change of direction from Coronation Street—I’ve been acting a long, long time,” laughs Charles, who says he just returned from a recording studio where he voiced a radio play. Before that he appeared in Educating Rita in Glasgow. “After I get back from Canada, I’m told I will be appearing in a show called Waterloo Road,” says Charles. 

In 1987, Charles appeared at the Royal Alex Theatre in Toronto as part of the Shakespeare Company. He also admits to being a huge Jays fan.
“For years I wore a Toronto Blue Jays sweatshirt on Coronation Street!” exclaims Charles. “Toronto was the first place I had ever seen a baseball game. When I first started on the show in ’89 they asked me to bring in some of my own clothes, rather than go to the shops. I still have the sweatshirt, although it is going to go up for auction to raise funds for my charity called Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre. Oh – I used to go to Woodbine too!”

“Nicholas (Nick) Cochrane, who played Andy, first appeared on Coronation Street in 1989.  “It was a fun journey. I was only 15 when I started on Coronation Street and I didn’t understand the magnitude—it’s perpetually on, and everyone knows you,” says Nick on the phone from his home in Manchester.

“I was lucky enough to get a part but it does take over your whole life. In England, even going out for a pint of milk becomes a big deal. It becomes like water off a duck’s back.”

After Coronation Street, Nick co-launched a magazine about soap operas, has appeared in two pantomime productions of Aladdin and was a co-host on PEAK FM in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. “It was mostly sports – that is my forte!” says Nick. “I am a Manchurian through and through. Born in Manchester. Live in Manchester and support Manchester United!”
It was Nick’s idea to do the Canadian tour, after being a guest celebrity at The British Isles Show in Toronto. “I have been to Canada on two occasions. I took my girlfriend with me. She is now my wife Denise and we have two kids. We love it to bits and often talk of maybe re-locating in the future.”

Nick and his fellow Coronation Street alumni will be doing a lunch and dinner show at Stage West on April 2. Buffet and event tickets are on sale now, but if you are a die-hard Corrie fan you may want to spring for upgraded VIP Ticket (only 100 are available per show) and be one of the lucky people who will attend the private Meet-and-Greet prior to the show and get VIP seating. Bring your questions and prepare to hear some great “Tales from the Street”. Tour info: www.talesfromthestreet.bizGL

From left to right:
Steve Arnold (Ashley Peacock)
Julia Haworth (Claire Peacock)
Charles Lawson (Jim McDonald)
Nick Cochrane (Andy McDonald)

Coronation back yards