Broadcast on the 24th of December 1969, this edition of Coronation Street opens with Annie Walker (Doris Speed) dolefully eyeing two Christmas turkeys. One of them was ordered by her from the butcher, so the other, bought by her long-suffering husband Jack (Arthur Leslie), is surplus to requirements and Mrs Walker minces no words when telling him that he needs to dispose of it. The relationship between Annie and Jack was a continual source of comedy throughout the first decade of the series – only coming to an end after Leslie’s sudden death in 1970.
Doris Speed paid tribute to him by saying that “the qualities of sweetness and kindness in Jack Walker came in fact from Arthur Leslie himself.” That certainly seems to come across over the screen – Jack Walker is a thoroughly decent man who loves his wife (no matter how much of a trial she can be at times). There’s a good example of his desire to act as peacemaker later in the episode.
Hilda (Jean Alexander) and Betty (Betty Turpin) are far from happy. Both have been accused by Mrs Walker of pinching a necklace lent to her by her friend, Mrs Hepplewhite (Betty England). Betty pops round to see Hilda and they discuss whether they should work to rule. It’s interesting that there’s no ducks on Hilda’s wall yet – clearly they didn’t appear until the 1970’s.
The confrontation between Mrs Walker, Hilda and Betty is another classic moment. Mrs Walker has a face like a granite statue as Betty declares they should have a moratorium until after Christmas (“yes” agrees Hilda, before realising she has no idea what a moratorium is!). Mrs Walker tells them that she stands by what she said – she has reasonable suspicions. “Reasonable suspicions, my bunion!” explodes Hilda. Lovely stuff.
Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) casts a critical eye on the decorations in the Rovers Return. “Now what have reindeers got to do with Christmas? There were no reindeer in the holy land. Nor Robin Redbreasts I wouldn’t wonder.” As the decorations go up, they discuss the concert, organised by Emily Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire) and Ernest Bishop (Stephen Hancock), due to be held later on in the select. The pressures of planning has made Emily even more nervous than usual, as she snaps at Ernest and tells him to shut up!
The concert is another of those moments which engenders a sense of community – one of Coronation Street‘s strengths during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Highlights included Minnie Caldwell’s (Margot Bryant) recitation of The Owl and the Pussycat, Ken Barlow (William Roche) playing Edelweiss on the trumpet and Irma’s (Sandra Gough) impersonation of Hylda Baker – complete with Bernard (Gordon Kaye) dragged up as Hylda’s sidekick Cynthia.
There’s also the memorable sight of Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth) dressed as Father Christmas and his reappearance later in the Rovers still wearing his beard (the glue he used was too strong and he can’t remove it). Stan (Bernard Youens) solves the problem by ripping it off, much to his discomfort,
But sans beard he’s able to close the show, reciting The Girl I Kissed on the Stairs, and with the revelation that Mrs Hepplewhite had already taken her necklace back (without Mrs Walker’s knowledge) order is restored. Jack attempts to pour oil on troubled waters by giving Hilda and Betty a present of a pair of nylons each. He knows that Annie could never bring herself to apologise to them direct (“being the way she is, a spoken apology would go very hard. So for my sake, as well as hers, accept them please.”). This they do, although they can’t help but complain that they’re very poor quality!
This episode is just a joy from start to finish.