Peter Adamson

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The Independent Online

Peter Adamson, actor: born Liverpool 16 February 1930; married 1953 Jean Duncan (died 1984; two sons); died Lincoln 17 January 2002.

As len Fairclough in Coronation Street, Peter Adamson was the hard-drinking, tough-talking, no-nonsense leading man in a serial dominated by strong women. It was the similar traits he exhibited off screen that led to his fall from grace.

On being fired from the programme in 1983, Adamson declared:

About 10 of us built the Street brick by brick almost. We sweated tears of blood, working 18 hours a day. But there is only one Spencer Tracy of the Street and that was me until this bombshell sacking.

Born in a chip shop in a rough, working-class district of Liverpool at the start of the Depression, Adamson was inspired as a schoolboy by the writing of Aldous Huxley and decided to create his own Brave New World by carving out a career in acting. That came only after leaving school at 14 and working in a solicitor's office, until he was sacked for persistently drumming on a desk with pens and an inkwell, then training as an engraver at Toxteth Technical School.

In 1947, Adamson had been persuaded by his mother to appear in a play at Wavertree Community Centre. Moving to London, he made his professional début in theatre clubs and, with a grant from Liverpool Corporation, started training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, but left after only two months.

He returned north to join a theatre in Sale, Cheshire, playing bit-parts, then in 1949 joined the Frank H. Fortescue Players in Bury, Lancashire, where he acted and produced weekly melodramas for five years, before setting up his own repertory company as actor, manager and producer, and staging summer shows at Weston-super-Mare, in Somerset. During this time, Adamson made his television début as host of the comedy section of an early ITV record show, in 1956, followed by roles in the drama series Skyport and Knight Errant, both made by Granada Television shortly after it became the ITV contractor for the North of England.

When Granada was planning Coronation Street, Adamson auditioned for the roles of Dennis Tanner and Ken Barlow but was considered physically too big. However, he did act an insurance salesman, Ron Bailey, in a dry run of the programme, but the character was dropped and revived later by the actor Ray Mort as Harry Bailey, who became second husband of Len Fairclough's first wife.

On 1 February 1961, almost two months after the serial began, Adamson joined in Episode 16 as Len Fairclough and soon became one of its most popular actors, feted by public, politicians and royalty in Britain and around the world. He made his mark early on by thumping Ken Barlow (William Roache) in the Rovers Return pub, knocking him out cold.

So popular was Adamson with viewers that his Granada bosses put him under long-term contract when the actors' union, Equity, began a strike against the ITV companies in November 1961. Thus he and another dozen members of the cast were able to work while there was a ban on other actors' accepting jobs from the commercial television companies.

During his 22 years on screen, the character of Len Fairclough became a local councillor and owner of his own plumbing and building business. He was married twice – to Nellie Briggs and Rita Littlewood – and had romances with Elsie Tanner, Janet Reid, Maggie Clegg, Bet Lynch and Anita Reynolds. His first wife, Nellie, was never seen, but his son Stanley was played by three actors, the first being Peter Noone, who went on to find fame as lead singer of the Sixties pop group Herman's Hermits.

Off screen, Adamson gained a reputation as a hell-raiser, admitting that he had a drink problem and getting involved in pub brawls. In 1969, he was suspended from the Street for three weeks without pay after three warnings about his drinking. His salvation came from Alcoholics Anonymous, but worse was to come.

In 1983, Adamson – a part-time swimming instructor – was accused of indecently assaulting two eight-year-old girls in a swimming pool. At the end of a well-publicised case, at Burnley Crown Court, he was cleared of the charges. However, he had legal costs of £120,000 and his decision to sell "inside stories" about his Street colleagues – who had stood by him – to The Sun newspaper for an alleged £70,000 led to Granada Television's sacking him. His exit from the Street, after 1,797 episodes, was engineered to ensure no viewer sympathy: Len Fairclough was killed in a motorway accident after apparently visiting a mistress.

Adamson took a short break in the South Sea island of Bali, then returned to Britain to star on the West End stage as Inspector Hubbard in Dial M for Murder (Vaudeville Theatre, 1983). He decided to move to Canada, where he had parts in several theatre productions.

By then, his disabled wife Jean – who was crippled by chronic arthritis and bravely attended every day of Adamson's trial – had died. He came back to Britain in the early Nineties but was constantly beset by ill-health. He spent his final years in a housing association flat in Welton, Lincolnshire.

Anthony Hayward