Obituary: Bryan Mosley
Thursday 11 February 1999
He was one of the television serial's longest-serving actors, making occasional appearances during Coronation Street's first decade and becoming a cast regular in 1972. He was last seen in the Street earlier this year, on New Year's Day, when Alf died quietly following a stroke.
The character first appeared as a Post Office colleague of Ken Barlow's father, Frank. He went on to win respect in Britain's most famous television street, in Weatherfield, a fictional suburb of Manchester, as a local councillor and as owner of the corner shop, which has always been one of the main centres of social interaction in the programme.
He twice served as Mayor of Weatherfield - in 1973, when the landlady of the Rovers Return, Annie Walker, accepted his invitation to be Lady Mayoress, and in 1994, when one of the pub's barmaids, Betty Williams, took over as First Lady after his wife, Audrey, found the routine of official functions too boring.
Strait-laced Alf was married three times in all. Six years after the death in 1972 of his first wife, Phyllis, who was never seen on screen, he exchanged vows with Renee Bradshaw, who owned the corner shop in Coronation Street, and he took early retirement from his job with the Post Office the following year to help her there. When she died in a car crash in 1980, Alf inherited the shop and ran it until 1994. His only concession to modern times came when he turned the shop into a mini market.
It appeared to be third time lucky in love for Alf in 1985 when he married Audrey Potter, mother of Gail Platt. But, with a reputation for being careful with money, he was unprepared for Audrey's shopping sprees and lack of help with his business. Alf's ultimate penny-pinching measure was taking out "term" life assurance, which ran out only a short time before his death.
Bryan Mosley made Alf one of the most enduring and sympathetic characters in Coronation Street, even though he came from the other side of the Pennines himself. Born in Leeds in 1931, he was brought up in a working-class district of the city. As a child, he modelled for clothes catalogues and made his stage debut at the age of 10 as the back end of a cow in a production of the pantomime Cinderella.
Instead of pursuing his childhood ambition to become a missionary, Mosley won a scholarship to Leeds College of Art (1944-46) and then worked as a commercial artist. In an effort to earn more money, he left that job to work in a bookshop and later sold books door-to-door.
Then, while doing National Service in Scotland, with the RAF in Air Traffic Control (1949-51), he started acting at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews. This led him, after demob, to train at Bradford Civic Theatre (1952-54) under Esme Church, whose other students included Tom Bell, Robert Stephens and William Lucas. Mosley then toured with the New Pilgrim Players, putting on plays in churches, abbeys, pubs and prisons, before working in repertory theatre in York, Perth, Derby and Harrogate.
While in Perth, Mosley was able to put to use the fencing skills he had learned in the RAF to direct the fights in a production of Othello. He did the same at the Theatre Royal, York, for Henry IV, and taught fencing in schools around Leeds.
As well as acting in feature films such as A Kind of Loving (1962), Billy Liar (1963), This Sporting Life (1963), Rattle of a Simple Man (1964), Privilege (1967) and Charlie Bubbles (1967), Mosley fenced with Terence Stamp in Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) and fought on a rooftop with Michael Caine in Get Carter (1970), which brought a nasty end for his character.
As a fight director, he coached such stars as Robert Hardy and Tom Courtenay, as well as a young Neil Diamond, who was starting out on his singing career and needed to look like a fencer for a photo-session on the roof of his agent's offices. Along with Bill Hobbs, Henry Marshall and Derek Ware, Mosley was one of the founder members of the Society of British Fight Directors, which was intended to regulate fighting on stage and screen.
Mosley took the role of Alf Roberts in Coronation Street in Episode 18, on 16 February 1961, just two months after Tony Warren's serial began. He continued to appear on and off for the next two years and, as a councillor friend of Len Fairclough, returned as a semi-regular in 1967. Five years later, when the character's wife Phyllis died in the storyline, Alf Roberts became a permanent fixture in the Street.
Alf's contribution to local affairs was honoured with his appointment as OBE in the Queen's 1995 Birthday Honours List. One of the character's most humorous storylines came with the race to get him and his wife, Audrey, to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace on time. Don Brennan threw Audrey out of his mini-cab on the drive to London following an argument, with the result that Alf asked Betty Williams - waiting outside the Palace - to take his wife's place alongside him. Audrey, not one to miss a chance to mix with dignitaries, never lived this event down.
As an actor, Mosley felt that Alf was sometimes regarded as a bit dull. He once told me:
There's a lot in him that's not been
explored on screen. There's something of a fighter in Alf. He was in the Army during the war and probably had quite a difficult war. He's still interested in the weapons of the 1940s. All that has been glossed over. Part of the way I play him is that he has this experience behind the staid image. He has been to strip clubs with Ray Langton and Ernest Bishop, and he had a girlfriend called Donna Parker that no one in the street, only viewers, knew.
I don't go along with Alf about a lot of things. I don't spend time in pubs - it's a tremendous waste of time. He has a very limited outlook on travel and is never seen to read. I'm sure he does - he probably reads Tolstoy - but it's never been shown.
During the Sixties and early Seventies, Mosley accumulated many other television roles in popular programmes such as The Plane Makers, The Saint, Z Cars, The Avengers, No Hiding Place, Emergency - Ward 10 and Doctor Who. He played three short-term characters in Crossroads (1966-67), a policeman in A Family at War (1970) and the landlord of a block of flats in the first two series of the situation comedy Queenie's Castle (1970- 71).
He also performed alongside Arthur Haynes, Harry Worth and Dick Emery in their television shows and with Morecambe and Wise in a commercial for the brewers Watney's, as well as using his stunt skills to swing from a huge chandelier, sword in hand, in an unscreened advertisement for a cereal.
Mosley appeared with the Coronation Street cast in the 1989 Royal Variety Performance and was the subject of This is Your Life in 1997. At the 1969 American Television and Radio Commercials Festival he was awarded a Special Performance Citation for an advertisement he appeared in for Albert's Crisps.
In recent years, he was dogged by ill-health, suffering a heart attack in 1987 and respiratory problems 10 years later. These problems were mirrored in heart trouble for Alf on screen and eventually led to the decision to retire him from Coronation Street.
Bryan Mosley, actor: born Leeds, West Yorkshire 25 August 1931; married 1956 Norma Bowes (three daughters, three sons); died Shipley, West Yorkshire 9 February 1999.
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