Margaret Thatcher briefed on Corrie characters ahead of Rovers Return visit

Margaret Thatcher was briefed on the characters of Coronation Street on her way to visiting the set in 1990, a minister has revealed.

During a Commons debate marking the 60th anniversary of the show, culture minister John Whittingdale said the former prime minister was particularly keen to visit Alf Roberts’ corner shop.

But he said she was “horrified” after learning the shop had a sign indicating that it had a licence to sell alcohol.

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

Mr Whittingdale told the Commons: “I too have twice visited the set of Coronation Street.

“The first time I did so was actually with Margaret Thatcher in January 1990 and it was indeed the case that I had to brief her on the way to the set on the characters who were stars at that particular time.

“And I did indeed go through all the various storylines and she was particularly keen to visit Alf Roberts’ corner shop because of course her own father was Alfred Roberts who ran the grocers shop in Grantham.

“But she arrived on set and was very upset to see that Alf Roberts’ corner shop had the sign, ‘licensed to sell alcohol’, and she said that certainly, this would never have been allowed in her own father’s shop, who would not have dreamt of selling alcohol.

“But having said that, she did then visit the Rovers Return, but was very clear that she would have a bitter lemon from behind the bar.”

The minister said that the second time he visited the set was in 2014, after it had been transferred to the new location of Media City in Salford.

He added: “One of the things which struck me was that they had made the set slightly bigger so that two cars could actually drive down the street and pass each other, but they’d also laid 54,000 cobbles.

“And it was the extraordinary attention to detail, each cobble both positioned and then weathered in order that it remained absolutely authentic.”

Mr Whittingdale also said that some “inventive” solutions had had to be used in order to ensure that production of the show could continue during the coronavirus pandemic.

He told MPs: “I understand that on Coronation Street, now quite often furniture is placed between characters in order that they can remain apart and socially distanced.

“And indeed in a particularly inventive way, filming takes place of one actor sitting on one end of a sofa looking longingly in a romantic scene at a tennis ball suspended from the ceiling.

“And then once that section has been filmed, the other actor takes their place at the other end of the sofa and stares at a different tennis ball longingly and the production crew then splice the two together so that no-one can tell.

“But it is very important actually not just obviously that production is done safely, but also for public messaging which a show like Coronation Street can help get across about the importance of maintaining social distancing and mask wearing and of course, Coronation Street had the socially distanced wedding between Maria and Gary.”

He added: “I fear that it is almost certain that Weatherfield would still be in Tier 3 with the end of the national lockdown which would mean that the Rovers Return would only be able to supply a takeaway service but I hope it would not be long before the Rovers Return would be in Tier 2 which would of course allow the sale of alcohol with a substantial meal such as Betty’s hotpot.”