Martha Longhurst

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Martha Longhurst
Coronation Street character
Portrayed byLynne Carol
Duration1960–1964
First appearance14 December 1960
Episode 2
Last appearance13 May 1964
Episode 357
Created byTony Warren
Introduced byStuart Latham
ClassificationFormer; regular
Profile
OccupationCleaner

Martha Longhurst (also Hartley) is a fictional character from the British soap opera Coronation Street. She was played by Lynne Carol from the show's inception in 1960, from the second episode until the character's death in 1964.[1]

Creation[edit]

The character of Martha was conceived early on, when Tony Warren realised that Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) would need drinking companions, his experiences of the real-world Enas and their cronies greatly informed the character; Warren said of it, "Whenever you got tough old viragoes like Ena, they always had henchmen. They generally had a talkative one that could be shouted down, and then there was always a silent one who nodded but was a bit rebellious";[2] the former character outline turned into Martha Longhurst, and the latter Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant).

Casting[edit]

Martha was present in the second of the two dry runs made in November 1960, where she was played by Doris Hare. During final casting for the show proper, casting director Margaret Morris offered Hare the larger part of Ena Sharples, but Hare had to turn it down as she had commitments with the Royal Shakespeare Company.[3]

Lynne Carol had been a child performer since the age of three and went on to have a long career in theatre, radio and television. Though Martha was the second-oldest character in the programme, 46-year-old Carol was given the part of the 64-year-old, her relative youth compared with her co-stars was obscured by the character's wardrobe, with Martha normally wearing a hairnet, beret, spectacles, and an old mackintosh, all of which were provided by Carol who bought them second-hand in a jumble sale.

Development[edit]

Martha and Minnie were initially supporting characters, with their storylines revolving around Ena Sharples. Over time, they got stories of their own, notably Martha's attempts to affect a relationship with her old school friend Ted Ashley (Jerold Wells).

The three were most often seen in the Rovers snug, where they reminisced and shared the latest gossip over glasses of milk stout. Most of these scenes weren't connected to any storylines, but proved very popular with viewers. Carol stated in an interview, "The scriptwriters used to say that. 'We don't need to think about scenes for you, you three, we can say anything, and as soon as they see those three chairs round the table that's it, and you can make it funny without meaning to, just by being ordinary.'" ".[4] About the popularity of Martha in particular, Carol once told Weekend: "There are an awful lot of Marthas in the world; some viewers used to tell me to mind my own business but most people could see that Martha was really a pathetic old dear."[5]

Storylines[edit]

By the 1960s, Martha had retired and was drawing her pension. Money was tight, but she made it last without having to work to supplement it. In December, when Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) collapsed due to stress and had a spell in hospital, Leonard Swindley (Arthur Lowe) asked Martha to temporarily take over Ena's caretaker duties at the Glad Tidings Mission Hall. Martha accepted but only lasted a few days as Ena's suspicious nature led her to walk out of hospital and return to her vestry, senile decay or not. Dismissing Martha from her post, Ena caught her friend using her feather duster and accused her of rooting through her things. Martha protested her innocence, and the pair spent a few weeks not speaking to each other until they agreed to forgive and forget.

In March 1963, Martha was taken on by Jack (Arthur Leslie) and Annie Walker (Doris Speed) as the new Rovers Return Inn cleaner, and she also worked in the same capacity at Laurie Fraser's (Stanley Meadows) Viaduct Sporting Club the following year. Although she pushed herself hard, Martha was pleased to be able to put some money away.

In the summer of 1963, Martha saw a doctor and was put on pills which she took three times a day - a fact she kept private even from her family and friends. With health issues and money stashed away, Martha was of a mind to break from her mundane routine; the catalyst was the return of Ted Ashley (Jerold Wells), a former classmate at Bessie Street who had long since emigrated to Australia and made a good life for himself as a farmer and shopkeeper. Ted was back in Weatherfield to look up old friends and visit his cousin Clara - who also happened to be Martha's next-door neighbour. Setting her cap at Ted, who was now a widower, Martha asked Clara to invite him over to hers for tea. Ena's suspicions were aroused when Martha bought a tin of best salmon from the corner shop and invited both her and Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant) to tea, even though it wasn't a Sunday. Ted did turn up, but he barely remembered the ladies from his school days and got his memories of them hopelessly confused. Martha clung to Ted throughout his stay, and the man was too gentlemanly to put her off; when Martha told him that she had never been out of Lancashire, Ted suggested that she go to London to stay with his sister Alice as she missed the north. Martha took this as an invitation to go along with him when he left Weatherfield, and she immediately made travel arrangements - much to the surprise of Ted, who had no romantic interest in Martha. Martha went to London expecting a proposal from Ted, but none came and instead she spent her time sightseeing on her own. Back in Weatherfield, a humiliated Martha hid away from her friends, although Frank Barlow (Frank Pemberton) spotted her going into her house and told everyone that she was back. Ena and Minnie confronted her and she sheepishly admitted that Ted had shown no affection for her whatsoever.

Death[edit]

Martha had enjoyed London itself and the excursion had whetted her appetite for travel; when invited to go on holiday in Spain with her daughter Lily Haddon (Stephanie Bidmead) and family, Martha bought her first passport and proudly showed it off to anyone who showed the slightest interest. It was during a singsong at a party in the Rovers thrown by Frank Barlow to celebrate his win at the Premium Bonds that Martha became ill and retreated to her usual chair in the empty snug. Unnoticed by anyone else, Martha had a sudden heart attack which killed her instantly, she was eventually spotted by Myra Booth (Susan Jameson), who thought that she had fallen asleep. One-by-one, the revellers stopped singing and looked towards the snug as Annie Walker and Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) tried to wake Martha, while Jack Walker called for a doctor. Ena, on the harmonium, was the last to notice. Failing to find a pulse, Len declared Martha dead.

Martha was laid out in the vestry bedroom prior to being buried in the family plot with her husband, Percy, her insurance policies only came to £22, 4s and 9d; not enough for a funeral, so Lily and her husband Wilf (Henry Livings) had to pay the rest. Helping Lily clear out the house, Ena and Minnie happened upon the record Martha had made in Blackpool in 1934. Although unable to identify the man in the recording, they were pleased to know that their friend had once had some fun in her life.

Legacy[edit]

The 1964 episode of her death was not the last time Martha Longhurst featured in a Coronation Street storyline. Over ten years after her death, Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) reported hearing a voice like Martha's in the snug. Ena also claimed that she had seen Martha's ghost in the snug on several occasions; the residents later used an ouija board to try and call Martha from beyond the grave; the storyline concluded with Martha's glasses being found in the snug, in the exact position they were when they toppled off her face as she suffered her heart attack.

Martha was referenced again almost forty years later, on 2 September 2011, when Dennis Tanner (Philip Lowrie) joked that a mysterious voice Roy Cropper (David Neilson) could hear was "Martha Longhurst's ghost".

Departure[edit]

Background[edit]

In 1964, 29-year-old ex-journalist Tim Aspinall replaced Margaret Morris as Coronation Street's producer. January that year had seen Coronation Street beaten to first place in the ratings by a regular episode of another TV programme for the first time since November 1961 (the sitcom Steptoe and Son on BBC One). Although ratings were actually up on the same month in 1963, Aspinall felt that Coronation Street needed a shake-up.

Axing[edit]

Carol was one of several unsuspecting cast members informed by Margaret Morris that they had been fired. Nearly half the cast were axed, although some of them were granted a reprieve by H.V. Kershaw when he returned as producer in September after working on Granada's The Villains. Carol was the first to depart, with Martha suffering a fatal heart attack in the Rovers snug in Tim Aspinall's inaugural episode as producer, broadcast on 13 May 1964. Due to the nature of the character's exit, and her popularity with the cast and viewers, Carol's colleagues fought her sacking, with Violet Carson threatening to resign, she was talked round by Carol. When rehearsing the death scene, Peter Adamson refused to deliver the line "she's dead", and during recording he hesitated before saying it so that his words could be cut, with the order likely to come from Cecil Bernstein, one of Granada's chairmen who was the programme's strongest advocate within senior management. However, no such order was given. After her sacking was announced by the press on 7 April, Carol spoke to a reporter, where she was resigned to her fate: "They've been three wonderful years, and I am sorry to be leaving so many good friends behind me."

Martha was the first character to have an on-screen burial; the graveside scenes were shot on location at Manchester General Cemetery in Harphurey on Tuesday 12 May. The episode featuring Martha's death was shown with silent end credits played over a shot of Martha's glasses, passport and sherry glass on the snug table she was sitting at when she died. Carol played Martha one further time; her voice was heard in the following episode, when Ena and Minnie played an old recording of Martha's in which she and an unknown man called Philip proclaimed their love for each other; the same episode featured Stephanie Bidmead as Lily Haddon, Martha's daughter who previously had been spoken of frequently but never seen.

Impact[edit]

The killing of Martha has since been heavily criticised, with H.V. Kershaw describing it as one of the worst decisions in Coronation Street history. Kershaw: "No doubt Tim Aspinall felt that by such action he would bring the programme a great deal of publicity and in this he certainly succeeded; however I do feel - and this is only a personal opinion - that he broke the rule of conservation. By killing an established character he doubtlessly gave us a few episodes of high drama and created a talking-point in the factories and laundrettes which boosted our viewing figures for a period, but when the dust settled we were simply left with a Coronation Street without Martha Longhurst; the trio had been reduced to a rather sad duet and there is little doubt that by that one action many future stories were denied us."[6]

Subsequent producers have lamented the loss of Martha, with Bill Podmore referring to it as "the Street's greatest mistake". After the death of actress Margot Bryant in 1988, Podmore appeared with Carol on a BBC Open Air programme where they discussed the possibility of Carol returning to the programme as Martha's twin sister, who had been living in Australia, although the idea went no further.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Little, Daran (2000). 40 Years of Coronation Street. Granada Media. ISBN 0-233-99806-3.
  2. ^ Minnie Caldwell Remembered - A Tribute to Margot Bryant
  3. ^ The Coronation Street Story (Boxtree Limited, 1995)
  4. ^ Minnie Caldwell Remembered - A Tribute to Margot Bryant
  5. ^ The Coronation Street Story (Boxtree Limited, 1995)
  6. ^ The Street Where I Live (Granada Publishing Limited, 1981)
  7. ^ Coronation Street: The Inside Story (Macdonald & co, 1990)