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Exclusive! Interview with Ian Wylie
by Glenda Young

Ian Wylie is a freelance journalist and, until recently, was the London Editor & TV Editor of the Manchester Evening News (MEN). He writes about television and Corrie for national newspapers, magazines and the MEN, plus he blogs at The Life of Wylie.

And there's something else about Ian Wylie that he makes no secret about - he's a huge Corrie fan. And as his articles are crucial, intelligent reading for fans of telly and especially fans of Corrie, we decided to quiz him about his love of Corrie and how it fits in with being a TV writer.

Q: How long have you been watching Corrie?

Forever. Well, at least for almost all of its near half century. My first black and white memories as a little lad include Ena Sharples at the Mission, Leonard Swindley's shop and Martha Longhurst's death in the Rovers' Snug. It's a common experience, I know, but my mum and dad in Tyne Tees land would let me stay up especially to watch the Street before I went to bed. Perhaps Ken Barlow's early writing efforts planted a seed in my brain. In which case, I owe everything to William Roache.


Q: How long have you been writing about TV and especially about Corrie?

My first ever "TV" assignment was on the year-long National Council for the Training of Journalists' course in Darlington in 1975. It included work experience on the Northern Echo and, now closed, Evening Despatch. One day I was sent along to shadow a writer who was interviewing a telly star appearing that week at the Civic Theatre - actor Ken Farrington, who played Corrie's Billy Walker. Naturally, the newspaper used the staff feature in the next day's edition rather than the shadow one I wrote, even though as a keen cub reporter I thought mine was better! I note now that Billy Walker once left Weatherfield to work in Chiswick, where I now live, and finally made Jersey his home, an island I visit every year. Perhaps Corrie has had even more influence on me than I realise... I've been writing extensively about TV, including Coronation Street, ever since, as well as covering off screen Corrie events from Jack Howarth's (Albert Tatlock) Memorial Service in London to present day TV awards ceremonies via William Roache's libel action at the High Court when half the cast turned up to support him. Sitting on the press bench immediately below Betty Driver, who plays Betty Williams, as she gave her impassioned evidence from the witness box was one of the more surreal experiences of my life. At one point I felt sure she was about to serve the judge a hot pot.


Q: In your years as one of the UK's top TV journalists, you must have met a lot of actors from Coronation Street. Do you ever get starstruck? And how do you balance being a Corrie fan with being a TV critic?

No, never starstruck. My approach to everyone I interview - TV stars or not - is to treat them first as human beings. I've been privileged to meet and interview hundreds, if not thousands, of "stars". But even the biggest names still have the same hopes, fears and possible insecurities as the rest of us. The best interview should feel like a chat over a pint in the Rovers. But within that you are, hopefully, using your journalistic skills to draw out whatever readers not sat at that table might want to know. There are some seriously talented people both in front of and behind the cameras at Corrie and, almost always, they have interesting things to say. But I never forget that I must be an objective reporter/writer first and Corrie fan second. Otherwise how will I ever land my dream job on the Weatherfield Gazette?


Q: Which Corrie actors have you interviewed who have come across as most like their characters? And which have been a million miles away from the person they portray on screen?

Ooh, that's a tricky one. Some cast members put more of themselves into their characters than others, which is possibly inevitable in long-running roles. But I have to say that the vast majority of Corrie actors I have interviewed are just that - actors. Not to be confused with their on screen personas. And those who are a million miles away? Well, the obvious ones from recent years, for example, would be the likes of Gray O'Brien (Tony Gordon) and Brian Capron (Richard Hillman). Thankfully they didn't try to bump me off when we met. Sarah Lancashire was, and is, nothing like dizzy Raquel and David Neilson is nowhere near as odd as Roy Cropper, even if they do have remarkably similar faces.


Q: Who are your favourite Corrie characters - and why?

Far too many to pick out just a few. But from the past they include: Hilda and Stan Ogden, Jack Walker, Minnie Caldwell, Jerry Booth, Eddie Yeats, Mavis Riley, Vera Duckworth, Curly Watts, Reg Holdsworth, Alma Sedgwick, Des Barnes, Raquel Wolstenhulme, Fiona Middleton, Angie Freeman, Spider Nugent, Fred Elliott and, of course, Spiros Papagopolous. From the current cast: Roy and Hayley Cropper, Steve and Becky McDonald, Ken and Deirdre Barlow, Norris Cole, Emily Bishop, Eileen Grimshaw, Julie Carp, Sean Tully, Fiz Stape and Graeme Proctor. And a special mention for Blanche Hunt, played by the wonderful Maggie Jones who very sadly died last week.


Q: And what have been your favourite Corrie storylines over the years?

How long have you got? To save acres of space I'll pick out just four: The goods train crashing off the viaduct at one end of the Street in 1967 shocked a lot of Corrie viewers, including me. I'd not seen anything like it on TV before and certainly not in Weatherfield; Rita's torment at the hands of Alan Bradley, which finally ended via another form of transport on rails; Any storyline involving Craig Gazey as Graeme, and whatever is coming up next.


Q: Is there any behind-the-scenes gossip from Corrie you can share from your time spent interviewing members of the cast over the years?

Now that really would be telling. What I can share is my amazement when I first walked into the producer's office. Aside from being full of original (and obviously priceless) Weatherfield memorabilia, it had an amazing view from a wall of windows overlooking the exterior set from directly behind the older side of the Street - just like a control tower on top of a runway. Soap heaven.


Q: Do you know any upcoming storylines or is it more than your job's worth to share them?!

Yes and yes. I've forgotten what it's like to watch Corrie without knowing what's going to happen but still love it all the same. Also with soap mags, sites like this one on the t'internet and other sources, viewers who know where to look can find out certain things in advance. I presume that's what Norris is doing when he sits down at the computer in "the back" of The Kabin. I also have to say that the Corrie press office is the hardest working in the business and does a good job of treading that fine line between promoting Coronation Street and spoiling it.


Q: In 2010 Corrie will get a new Producer, Phil Collinson. What do you hope he'll bring to Corrie?

I think Phil, like every new Corrie producer, will bring a fresh eye to the job, just as the departing Kim Crowther did. The pattern of recent years is for producers to stay in post for around two years. Each one refreshes and updates the production in ways that some viewers might not even notice, as well as doing everything else they have to do. Phil will, of course, be in charge for the 50th anniversary next year. I've got no inside information but I'd be surprised if 12 months from now he's not welcoming the Queen back on to the cobbles.

Q: And finally, Ian, the answer to the question we all want to know. What's your favourite restaurant dessert, the one you always get excited about when you see it's on the menu?

I usually want them all. But my dilemma is solved if the selection includes bread and butter pudding with custard. Or cream. Or both.

You can follow Ian Wylie on twitter

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