Mark Radcliffe explores the life of Violet Carson, the actress who played Ena Sharples, the Victorian relic who dominated Coronation Street in its' golden age of the 1960s.
A talented classical pianist and established BBC radio star, Carson was branching out into Shakespearian roles when the call from Granada came to play the hatchet-faced harridan in a hairnet. The genteel Violet Carson became overshadowed by her character and claimed that Ena ultimately destroyed her.
But she left a rich legacy; Ena Sharples was television's prototype battleaxe and epitomised a particular kind of woman who dominated life in northern working-class communities. Mark Radcliffe came across women like Ena in the brick mill terraces of Bolton where his grandparents lived.
By day, Ena would be polishing the woodwork in the Glad Tidings Mission Hall, where she was caretaker; by night, she was installed in the snug of the Rovers Return with her two cronies, Martha Longhurst and Minnie Caldwell, gossiping over a milk stout and never taking their hats and coats off, even when they planned to stay all evening.
Featuring contributions from Tony Warren, creator of Coronation Street and of Ena Sharples. Geoffrey Wheeler, who worked with Violet Carson at the BBC, traces the quickfire delivery of Ena back to the northern music hall tradition. Melvyn Bragg talks about how Ena Sharples reflected life in the black and white world of the north in the 1950s. Scriptwriter Adele Rose discusses the pivotal relationship between Ena Sharples and her bete noir, Elsie Tanner.
The programme also includes archive of Violet Carson, reflecting on the mixed blessing that playing Ena Sharples was to her career and to her life.