Leslie Duxbury

Journalist and football reporter who was a writer for 'Coronation Street' for 415 episodes and 25 years
Click to follow
The Independent Online

For a quarter of a century, Leslie Duxbury was one of the writers who made Coronation Street Britain's most successful television programme, admired by viewers and critics alike for its realistic dialogue and finely drawn characterisations.

He joined the ITV serial, set in a North of England back street, when legends such as Elsie Tanner, Ena Sharples, Annie Walker and Albert Tatlock lit up the screen and he helped to craft a new generation when they finally left the programme two decades later. In the space of a few years in the early 1980s, the sudden exits of Pat Phoenix, Violet Carson, Doris Speed and Jack Howarth, who played those Street luminaries, provided the producer, Duxbury and other writers with one of the greatest challenges in the serial's long history. They rose to it, as they did to that presented by the arrival of the BBC's first serious rival, in the shape of EastEnders.

Duxbury became a storyline writer on Coronation Street in January 1966 - little more than five years after its launch - when Peter Eckersley took over as producer and ushered in various changes. Over the next few months, the petty criminal Jed Stone returned as Minnie Caldwell's lodger, Ken Barlow cheated on his first wife, Valerie, by having an affair with a newspaper reporter, David and Irma Barlow bought the corner shop, the former Borstal boy Ray Langton arrived and stole £5 from the Barlows and whisky from the Rovers Return, and Brenda Riley was appointed relief manager at the pub, causing a sensation in her low-cut blouses and short skirts.

Then, in April of that year, Duxbury joined the scriptwriting team and became one of its longest-serving members, penning 415 episodes before his retirement in December 1991. His first script saw the Rovers' publicans, Annie and Jack Walker, aghast to find Jed Stone organising a game of billiards on their premises when they returned from a holiday in Ireland, as well as Minnie Caldwell offering Ena Sharples her bed when the hairnetted battleaxe faced eviction from her home at the Mission Hall.

Major Street events over the next 10 years included two Elsie Tanner weddings, the deaths of Jack Walker and Valerie Barlow, the building of the first outdoor set and the arrivals of Bet Lynch and colour television.

Another arrival signalled a shift to more comedy when, in 1976, Bill Podmore became the serial's producer after working on sitcoms such as Nearest and Dearest. Duxbury, particularly successful in adapting to this new trend, was described by one television critic 14 years later as providing "some of the best comic writing the series has ever had to offer". The journalist added: "Writers of British situation comedy would do well to stay tuned to the Street."

Characters such as Stan and Hilda Ogden and Jack and Vera Duckworth were ripe for such treatment, and some of Duxbury's scripts drew on knowledge and experience gained from his own background as a newspaper reporter. Once, he wrote about Mavis Riley, who was single, winning a "second honeymoon" in a competition and worrying that she would become a laughing stock if people found out, then being trapped by a journalist into speaking about it.

Leslie Duxbury was born in Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire, in 1926, the son of a mechanic. He joined the Accrington Observer as a cub reporter on leaving St Mary's College, Blackburn, in 1942, but was called up for wartime service in the Royal Navy as a radar petty officer and arrived in the Far East just as Japan surrendered. After returning to his job in Accrington, he moved to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph in Blackburn and then to the Liverpool Post, before working in the Manchester offices of three national newspapers, the News Chronicle, Daily Express and Daily Sketch.

Turning freelance and setting up his own agency in Blackburn, Star News - which numbered the future sports commentator Tony Gubba among its journalists - Duxbury also tried his hand at writing television scripts and pestered producers until he landed work at Granada Television on Coronation Street.

Although loyal to the serial - he also served two short stints as producer, in 1974 and 1977 - Duxbury found plenty of opportunities to contribute to other television series. He and Peter Eckersley created Britain's first prison sitcom, Her Majesty's Pleasure (1968-69), and Duxbury wrote some scripts for A Sharp Intake of Breath (1978-81), one of the actor David Jason's first comedy successes.

The writer's experience of reporting crime must have proved invaluable for scripting episodes of the classic police series Z Cars (1969-74), the courtroom drama Crown Court (1972, 1977) and Strangers (featuring Don Henderson as Detective Sergeant Bulman, 1978-79).

Meanwhile, he brought his soap-opera experience to two afternoon serials, Marked Personal (set in the human resources department of a large company and starring Stephanie Beacham, 1973-74) and Rooms (following the lives of those who rented bedsits in a converted London house, 1977), as well as Angels (a drama about student nurses, 1976-78).

Since 1968, Duxbury had also reported on football for The Observer, with a brief to "patrol the North". Enjoying the challenge of writing to a tight deadline and noted for his descriptive talent, he continued to report on matches after retiring from Coronation Street at the age of 65.

Leslie Duxbury was well aware of the strange position soap operas occupy in the public mind, somewhere between fiction and truth. To what extent are the actors the characters? When Doris Speed died in 1994, he wrote astutely for The Independent of her and the character she played:

The one thing she was a little coy about was Annie's age. I remember when the character was approaching collecting the pension we felt we had to say how old she was. I duly wrote a scene in which someone asked her the direct question and the scripted reply was unequivocal. Everyone expected her to object but she progressed through the week's rehearsals without a murmur. However, on the actual recording she simply skipped the cue so that she was never asked the question. The glint in her eye brooked no argument and the subject was never raised again.

Anthony Hayward

Comments