Tony Warren MBE
8 July 1936 – 1 March 2016
Tony Warren and David Dawson (who portrayed the young Tony in ‘The Road to Coronation Street’) at the ‘Coronation Street’ 50th Anniversary Ball held at the Manchester Hilton Hotel, 10 December 2010.
The Road to Coronation Street was written by Daran Little, a long-time archivist on Coronation Street who became a scriptwriter. At the time, Little was a scriptwriter for Coronation Street’s rival, EastEnders. Though Coronation Street is, and always has been, broadcast on ITV, a competing network, the idea of documenting the show on its the anniversary of its half century running was picked up by the BBC.
Filming was taking place throughout July on location in Manchester, and the crew were even filming in Granada Studios, where much of the episode is set. The drama was being filmed on the set next door to the real life Coronation Street set, who were also filming.
The role of Tony Warren, Coronation Street’s creator and writer, was given to actor David Dawson. Coronation Street’s producer, Canadian-born Harry Elton, was played by Christian McKay. Casting director Margaret Morris and her young assistant Josie Scott, who befriends Warren, were played by Jane Horrocks and Sophia Di Martino, respectively. Derek Bennett, the director, was portrayed by Shaun Dooley, while Sidney Bernstein was played by Steven Berkoff.
Jessie Wallace was given the role of Pat Phoenix, who herself was playing Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street. Wallace, a Londoner most famous for her role as Kat Moon in EastEnders, “religiously” watched YouTube footage of early episodes to master the “old-fashioned Mancunian” accent as she described it. Wallace also briefly had sessions with a dialect coach before filming commenced. James Roache plays his father William Roache in the drama. The elder Roache has played Ken Barlow in Coronation Street since its inception. As well as acting in The Road to Coronation Street, James was filming scenes for Coronation Street in a non-regular role as Ken Barlow’s grandson at the same time. Celia Imrie played Doris Speed, who played the character of Annie Walker, and Lynda Baron played the role of Violet Carson, who played one of Coronation Street’s most iconic characters, Ena Sharples. John Thomson and Michelle Holmes, who had previously been members of the Coronation Street cast, appeared as H.V. Kershaw and Harry Elton’s secretary respectively.
The drama achieved a peak of 852,000 viewers on its first transmission, making it the second most popular programme in BBC Four’s history, behind 2008’s The Curse of Steptoe at 1.41m viewers. Sam Wollaston, a critic for The Guardian, gave a positive review, stating “The Road to Coronation Street is fond, and warm, and charming”, and stated there were “fine performances” from the entire cast, in particular from David Dawson and Steven Berkoff. Phil Hogan for The Observer also commented on the “superb” quality of acting, and also praised Jessie Wallace personally, saying: “Watching EastEnders star Jessie Wallace storm through her audition as blowsy Street firebrand Elsie Tanner – tearing into her delinquent son Dennis for nicking two bob out of her purse – made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.” Grace Dent of The Guardian echoed Hogan’s comments, saying “Obviously, the star of this show is the sublime Jessie Wallace playing 60s megastar Pat Phoenix, who played Corrie’s Elsie Tanner.” Jane Simon of the Daily Mirror stated the programme was “a triumph on every level”. The Road to Coronation Street has was awarded Best Single Drama at the 2011 British Academy Television Awards. Additionally, Jessie Wallace and Lynda Baron were both nominated in the Best Supporting Actress Category for their performances as Pat Phoenix and Violet Carson, respectively.
Lynda Baron as Violet Carson
Steven Berkoff as Sidney Bernstein
David Dawson as Tony Warren
Sophia Di Martino as Josie Scott
Shaun Dooley as Derek Bennett
Enid Dunn as Agnes
Henry Goodman as Cecil Bernstein
Michelle Holmes as Brenda
Jane Horrocks as Margaret Morris
Celia Imrie as Doris Speed
Christian McKay as Harry Elton
Tara Moran as Edna Walker
Phoebe Nicholls as Mrs Simpson
James Roache as William Roache
John Thomson as Harry Kershaw
Jessie Wallace as Pat Phoenix
David Williams as Commissionaire
David Dawson drew critical acclaim for his portrayal of writer Tony Warren in the BBC Four drama The Road to Coronation Street. For the New Statesman Rachel Cooke wrote: “I think he’s going to be a huge star. When he is doing his thing, it is hard to take your eyes off him”. The Daily Express said “It is David Dawson and some perfectly judged dialogue which brings this drama to light”, while The Mirror’s Jane Simon called him “absolutely brilliant”.
The Road to Coronation Street DVD is available to purchase from Amazon:-