As a copper-bottomed Northerner I’ve been watching Coronation Street for decades. My mum has always watched it and I can remember her watching it in black and white when battle-axe Ena Sharples was a regular fixture (my mum was watching it a portable television - I thought we were rich - a television in a room other than the main living room – blimey!)
Even though Ena Sharples left the show in 1980 this no-nonsense guardian of Victorian morals is still one of the dramas well-drawn characters. I remember seeing her interviewed once and she had a posh voice, wore no hairnet and had taken her coat off (in Coronation Street she always seemed to be wearing a coat even though she was indoors.)
In real life this lynchpin of the Rovers Return and relic of a by-gone age lived quietly at her home north of Blackpool Tower. Here I am outside her detached bungalow where she died in her sleep on Boxing Day in 1983.
I only knew Violet Carson as hair-netted harridan Ena but she enjoyed a long career in radio and television as a singer, pianist and actress. She was born in Ancoats, Manchester. Dad was the boss of a flour mill. Perhaps because her mum was an amateur singer and she learnt the piano at school Violet got into performing. Soon Violet and her sister Nellie had a singing act and were The Carson Sisters. The piano lessons were justified when she got a job at a cinema playing the piano to silent films.
Aged 28 she got married but her husband, a cricketer, died within two years. They had no children and Violet Carson never re-married. She must have got echoes of this trauma later in Coronation Street when Ena Sharples was created and was permanently single after her fiancée had died young in the Great War.
Aged 37 she joined BBC Radio in Manchester and was on the wireless regularly covering a wide repertoire of musical hall style songs to operatic arias (she had a fine soprano voice.) Not only was she the pianist for the Mabel and Wilfred Pickles radio show Have A Go for six years but was a presenter for Woman's Hour for five years (I still listen to it now.) She acted in countless dramas in radio and on stage.
Aged 62 she won the roll of the flint-faced Ena Sharples in Coronation Street and remained there for twenty years. Ena was known for moralising in the snug at the Rover’s Return pub, supping milk stout and her many clashes with Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix). These two characters couldn’t be more different - Ena was ugly, manly and gloomy whereas Elsie was attractive and blazing with sexuality. Ena’s coat was usually buttoned up and Elsie’s dresses were nearly pinging off their buttons they were so tight-fitting. Ena was afraid of no-one, exuded a dour frostiness, thought smiling was a sign of weakness but was a cornerstone of Victorian morals.
Through her 70's Violet suffered a series of strokes and played Ena intermittently. At 74 she suffered nervous breakdown and took more time away from the cobbles. Her final appearance was in April 1980. She was due to come back but became ill with pernicious anaemia (body can’t make enough healthy blood.) The storyline claimed that Ena had moved to Lytham near Blackpool temporarily. In real life she’d moved to Thornton-Cleveleys near Blackpool many years before - to this bungalow. She lived here with sister Nellie and was forced to leave the drama due to ill health. She had an operation to remove an abscess but her health never recovered.
The 85-year-old died in her sleep on Boxing Day in 1983. She’d done well: was given an OBE, had a rose cultivar named after her (the 'Violet Carson) and completed 1148 episodes of Coronation Street. Wax figures of her made for at Madame Tussaud’s in London and New York.
It was a quiet road. I had a stroll up and down it and only one car passed by in fifteen minutes. The bungalows and houses look onto a green hedge over which is Bispham Gala Field. I’d have gone up to Violet’s bungalow and touched the door handle but there was someone stood in the front window watching me. There was no blue plaque. I drove up the road and came out by The Norbrek Hotel by the sea within a couple of minutes.
Though the bungalow is within a ball’s throw of a church a cemetery Violet was cremated at Carleton Crematorium a mile or so away. I’ve been there before but went to have a look anyway. There’s a plaque in the Memorial Gardens.
Pointing at Violets detached bungalow where she died…
To the crematorium where Violet was turned to dust…
Into the Memorial Gardens…