BILL PODMORE was dubbed by the tabloid press the godfather of Coronation Street, supposedly because of his power to eliminate unwanted characters. In fact, as the longest-serving producer of television's longest-running serial - he masterminded the show from 1975 until 1988 - his influence was decidedly paternal. Podmore's good nature, blunt northern approach and, when occasion warranted, his ability to use a firm hand admirably equipped him for the job.
Coronation Street needs more, however, than executive skills. It requires a sense of passionate commitment. No one could have identified more than Bill Podmore with the Street's vivid, larger-than-life world, alive with a pungent sense of human comedy, but poised always at a sharp angle to reality. With its seemingly indestructible hold on its millions of followers, a grip not slackened in 35 years, such a phenomenon commands an atavistic loyalty from audience and creative team alike. This quality Podmore both embodied and inspired. Working closely with his writers he relished the development of some novel story-line, the startling revelation of a character's secret life or the opportunity for an episode to erupt into a sudden comic climax.
Because Coronation Street is now set fair to last even longer than life itself, Podmore had also to ensure that the show survived, feisty and unimpaired, when the natural processes of attrition took their toll and such long-time favourite characters as Ena Sharples, Albert Tatlock, Elsie Tanner, Minnie Caldwell and Stan Ogden made their final exits. Podmore's avuncular common sense was well suited, too, for smoothing ruffled feathers and healing wounded vanities.
He was born in Lincolnshire, the son of a butcher. At the age of 16 he left school to join the RAF as an apprentice. After six years' service he entered the world of entertainment and worked for both the BBC and ATV before joining Sidney Bernstein's new company Granada as a television cameraman. He stayed behind the camera for nearly 10 years working on light entertainment and comedy shows such as Chelsea at Nine and The Army Game. Comedy proved to be his natural forte and after training as a director he became associated with several successful Granada comedy shows. After directing many episodes of Nearest and Dearest, with Hylda Baker and Jimmy Jewel, he became producer and director of The Last of the Baskets starring Arthur Lowe and written by his friend and colleague John Stevenson.
In the mid-Seventies he also produced and directed another comedy by Stevenson, How's Your Father?, and in the early Eighties he was executive producer of the same writer's Brass, that cheerful, comic send-up of northern melodrama. Another in his long run of comedy hits was My Brother's Keeper, by Jonathan Lynn and George Layton.
Podmore's appearance was that of a seasoned campaigner in the battle of life who had thankfully survived with his sense of humour intact. He looked ripe to play Shakespeare's Pistol and his ruddy complexion and his expression that seemed permanently on the edge of laughter gave out an immediate sense of warmth and kindliness. It also contained a slightly more subversive suggestion that if one stayed around with him long enough things might become decidedly lively. For Bill Podmore the end of the working day was a time to be properly celebrated in a favourite Granadaland pub with a convivial, sometimes boisterous, and occasionally uproarious session with old friends and colleagues from the Street.