OBITUARY:Joan Francis

During its first decade on British television, Coronation Street created a host of legendary characters remembered affectionately to this day. Alongside them were others who formed the backbone of a serial that revolutionised the small screen and brought into living rooms for the first time the everyday lives of ordinary folk in a Northern back street.

One such actress was Joan Francis, who played Elsie Tanner's best friend Dot Greenhalgh on and off for nine years, providing the Street's sex siren with a shoulder to cry on - and a partner in crime when it came to entertaining visiting GIs.

The story goes that during the Second World War Dot Todd and the married Elsie Tanner welcomed the servicemen at nearby Burtonwood with open arms. When the GIs returned in 1967, Dot - by then married to Walter Greenhalgh - was quick to tell Elsie the good news and the pair resumed their wartime liaisons with the Canadian Gregg Flint and the American Steve Tanner respectively.

Elsie ended up marrying Steve, but Dot's husband threw his wife out on discovering the affair and Elsie took her in. Elsie also found the stylish Dot a job at Miami Modes, the fashion boutique where she worked, until their friendship soured when Dot let Elsie take the blame for her own theft of dresses. Francis's last scenes in the programme were at the end of a dramatic court case, with Elsie being found not guilty through lack of evidence and Dot leaving the Street for good.

Joan Francis had spent much of her previous 40 years in the business before joining the serial, performing in repertory theatre, revue, musical comedy and pantomime. Brought up by theatrical parents, T. Mostoll Willi and Olive (stage name Williams), Francis often took juvenile parts in their productions. When she was 11, her mother retired from the stage and father became a director of Frank Fortescue's Northern repertory company. Francis herself joined that company and another run by Harry Hanson, and acted alongside Pat Phoenix, Doris Speed and Peter Adamson, who went on to play Elsie Tanner, Annie Walker and Len Fairclough in Coronation Street. She was directed on stage by Arthur Leslie and Bernard Youens, later to play Jack Walker and Stan Ogden.

It was while in rep at the Theatre Royal, Oldham, during the Fifties that she met her first husband, the actor Jack Isherwood. Their wedding brought the streets of Oldham to a halt. Another fellow actor from rep days, Gordon Pleasant, recalls: "Wherever she was, she belonged. When we were acting in Blyth, Northumberland, she insisted she was a Geordie, but no one really knew where she was from." For years, she played Cinderella in pantomime for Jack Gillam's company.

After appearing on television in the Granada crime series Shadow Squad, Francis auditioned for the role of Elsie Tanner when Coronation Street was launched in December 1960 but lost out to Pat Phoenix. Like Peter Adamson and others who failed at their first attempt, Francis took another role the following year as the programme established itself.

She acted on and off for 83 episodes until 1969 and was good friends with Phoenix and Adamson - the best man at her second wedding, to the actor Geoffrey Reed, who appeared in Granada's series The Villains.

After the Street, Francis and Reed formed a repertory company on the Isle of Wight and ran pubs together. Her other television appearances included Z-Cars and Softly Softly, and she was in the film Fahrenheit 451 (1966) alongside Julie Christie. In 1968 she appeared on stage in The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, at the Royal Court, London.

When her second marriage broke up, Francis returned to the North and landed the role of Madame Pratt, an eccentric medium, in an episode of The Brothers McGregor. Just as it seemed the door was opening on a revived television career, she was forced to retire through ill-health in 1988. Her sister, the variety actress Iris Sadler, appeared in the Granada Television sitcom Nearest and Dearest.

Anthony Hayward

Joan Frances Willi (Joan Francis), actress: born 1 April 1920; married Jack Isherwood (one son; marriage dissolved), Geoffrey Reed (marriage dissolved); died Manchester 22 November 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before