Granada television producer responsible in 1960 for commissioning 'Coronation Street'
Friday 04 June 2004
A Canadian producer who nurtured talent for Granada Television in the early days of ITV, Harry Elton made his biggest contribution by commissioning Tony Warren to write a 12-part serial set in a northern backstreet. Today, 44 years later,
Coronation Street is Britain's longest-running soap.
Henry John Elton, broadcaster and television producer: born Toronto, Ontario 5 January 1930; married 1954 Margaret Sutherland (four daughters; marriage dissolved 1975), 1989 Marguerite McDonald; died Lhasa, Tibet 16 May 2004.
A Canadian producer who nurtured talent for Granada Television in the early days of ITV, Harry Elton made his biggest contribution by commissioning Tony Warren to write a 12-part serial set in a northern backstreet. Today, 44 years later, Coronation Street is Britain's longest-running soap.
Spotting Warren's talent, Elton had previously entrusted the young former actor with some of the scripts for two programmes he produced, the private-eye series Shadow Squad (1958-59) and the Biggles children's adventures (1960). But Warren quickly became frustrated and one day he perched himself on top of Elton's filing cabinet and screamed: "Let me write what I know about." So Elton, in his role as an executive producer at Granada, gave Warren 24 hours to generate an idea that would "take Britain by storm".
The fledgling writer had already seen the BBC turn down his serial about working-class life in a Salford terrace. Given this new opportunity, he drew on memories of characters from his childhood and the backstreet inhabited by his grandmother to write episode one of "Florizel Street" (a painting of Prince Florizel hacking his way through the enchanted forest towards Sleeping Beauty adorned the wall of Warren's office). Elton told Warren to write a second episode, as well as a memo describing it:
A fascinating freemasonry, a volume of unwritten rules. These are the driving forces behind life in a working-class street in the north of England. To the uninitiated outsider, all this would be completely incomprehensible. The purpose of Florizel Street is to entertain by examining a community of this kind and initiating the viewer into the ways of the people who live there.
Elton was keen but had to fight with Granada executives to get the idea accepted. "I was told that it was neither funny enough on the one hand nor documentary enough on the other and therefore fell between two stools," he recalled.
When Warren's baby was finally given the green light, Harry Latham was appointed producer and Harry Kershaw script editor, and an initial 12 episodes were planned. But, before the wonderfully rounded characters of Annie Walker, Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner were unleashed on British television screens at 7pm on Friday 9 December 1960, a critical decision was made. A tea lady at the Granada studios ventured that the programme's title sounded like a disinfectant, so Warren came up with two alternatives, "Jubilee Street" and "Coronation Street". The final decision rested with the three Harrys - Elton, Latham and Kershaw - who cast their votes. When Latham announced that "Coronation Street" was the winner, Elton told Kershaw: "I'm pretty darned sure I voted for 'Jubilee Street'." Kershaw responded: "And I'm pretty damned sure I voted for 'Jubilee Street', too." But the producer had his way.
Born in Toronto, Canada, in 1930 to Harry Elton, business manager of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Claribel Weimer, a teacher in Detroit, Harry junior and his sister Claire were placed with foster parents so that their mother could continue to earn a living. Shortly after his parents finally married, in 1935, Elton's father died and, three years later, he and his sister moved in with their mother in Detroit.
From acting in college plays, at Wayne State University, Detroit, Harry Elton went on to tour with a puppet show and perform in repertory theatre. In 1951, he travelled to Britain, auditioned at Rada and spent a term there. Despite being offered a scholarship, he returned to Detroit and WXYZ-TV.
Following the start of commercial television in Britain, Elton became one of a number of Canadians to be hired by ITV. At Granada Television (1957-63), as well as being responsible for Shadow Squad and Biggles, Elton produced two courtroom drama series, The Verdict Is Yours (1958-59) and In Court Today (1959). By the time of Coronation Street's launch, he was executive producer for drama series and serials.
Elton returned to Canada in 1963, hoping to capitalise on his success in Britain. But he and, at that time, Coronation Street were unknown, so he washed floors in the Shell Oil building in Toronto until landing a job as a script editor at the national broadcasting organisation, CBC. He left for the Ottawa television station CJOH, before going back to CBC in 1972. For the next 17 years he worked for CBC as a television news presenter and on radio as host of the phone-in Cross Country Checkup, CBO Morning and the classical music programme Mostly Music.
Elton's daughter Vicky appeared in Coronation Street in 1961 as the first baby born in the serial - a boy, Elsie Tanner's grandson, Paul Cheveski.
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