During her five years at Coronation Street, Maureen Lipman’s hilariously acerbic put-downs as battle-axe Evelyn Plummer have won her millions of admirers and a nomination for Best Serial Drama Performance at this year’s National Television Awards.
But while her acting talents are undisputed, Dame Maureen admits there is sometimes a very thin line between her and her sharp-tongued character. And anyone who underestimates her, does so at their peril.
“I was walking from the studios to my flat the other day and some boys came past on the back wheels of their bikes shouting on their phones,” she says.
“I didn’t hear them coming so I shouted: ‘Hey, just watch where you’re going! “Their response was, ‘Get a life you ugly old cow!’ You can only laugh at that!”
Clearly unaffected by the encounter, Maureen’s Evelyn-esque behaviour didn’t stop there. “I stopped two young men yesterday who were parked up on the pavement,” she recounts.
“They had their engine on, so I said, ‘Excuse me, is this your car?’ They said, ‘Yes’ and I said, ‘Well, turn the engine off.’ They asked, ‘Why?’ I said: ‘Pollution,’ and they said: ‘Why don’t you just go f*** yourself’.”
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But it was the boys on the bikes who really got Maureen’s goat. So much so that she actually wrote to the Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to complain.
“I never even got a reply,” she reveals. “You don’t. Nobody gives a damn.” Maureen says writing to the mayor is something Evelyn would definitely do.
“Neither of us are afraid to speak our minds and, like Evelyn, I can be quite impulsive and I do get passionate about things,” she adds.
“Bicycle lanes drive me insane, as do those stupid great mini air-raid shelters that they’ve put up for bikes. Why they think the bike is the answer to bloody everything, I’ll never know. There’s a lot of me in Evelyn. Very dry and you might say judgemental.”
The legendary actress arrived on the cobbles as Tyrone Dobbs’s long-lost grandmother five years ago. “I liked what they created; it was old-style Corrie,” she explains.
“And once you commit to a character who looks like a ferret and has a horrible wardrobe and certain prejudiced attitudes then, after a few months, she’s honed inside you.
These Northern women are very colourful and I think that’s why she works. She’s a battle-axe and says it like it is, but she’s also quite erudite. She’s dry and she’s funny. The more comedy there is in Coronation Street, the better people like it.”
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Aged 77 and widowed, Maureen admits there are also more poignant reasons why she has stayed with the show, despite the fact it’s filmed in Manchester, 200 miles away from London, where she normally lives, close to her two children and two grandchildren.
“We’re pack creatures, we’re meant to touch and laugh together,” she explains. She especially loves all the banter she has with the younger women in the cast. “When they tell me what they get up to and are enlightening me about certain words I’ve never heard of – that is the joy of work.
“There’s a lot of moaning, a lot of laughter and a lot of smut and, at the end of the day, I come home to my flat in Manchester and I am on my own and it’s fine.
“It’s fine to sit and watch The Repair Shop, because I’ve been with people all day. That is what every human being wants.”
Maureen’s screen career began in 1968 in the acclaimed film Up The Junction. Since then, she has appeared in films including Educating Rita and The Pianist, plus countless theatre and television roles, including the popular sitcom Agony.
Many still remember her fondly from the hugely popular 1980s BT adverts, where she played proud grandmother Beattie. She has won a legion of new fans with her hilarious appearances on Celebrity Gogglebox alongside her friend Gyles Brandreth.
Maureen received her first award in 1985 – a Laurence Olivier Award for the comedy See How They Run in London’s West End, and 38 years later the accolades keep coming.
As well as making this year’s National Television Awards shortlist she was recently crowned Best Comedy Performer at the British Soap Awards and at the upcoming Inside Soap Awards she has been nominated for Best Actress, Best Comic Performance and Best Partnership, alongside David Neilson, who plays Roy Cropper.
She has also won plaudits for her epic performance in Rose – a one-woman play, which sees her on stage alone for two hours.
“I’ve been working for 57 years and I’ve never quite achieved so much approbation,” she says. “I don’t expect it to last, but it does make you feel appreciated.”
Meanwhile there are still some remaining ambitions, one of them to appear on Broadway, having inexplicably been dropped from two West End shows that transferred there.
“Every time I’ve been in a hit show in London it’s gone to Broadway and they haven’t taken me with them, and I’ve watched the role go to someone else,” she says with a stoical shrug.
“Oklahoma, I wasn’t allowed to go; A Little Night Music, I wasn’t allowed to go. Perhaps Rose, with its one-woman role will be the play that takes her across the Atlantic.
“That would be very nice. When I’m packing my case, I’ll let you know.” Of all her roles, she says Coronation Street is her favourite.
“But would I want to be in it for 60 years? No. Am I wavering about whether to go or stay? Yes. Would I like to have a nice cameo in a movie? Yes.”
In the meantime, she has plenty to keep her busy on the Corrie cobbles. Having told grandson Tyrone Dobbs (Alan Halsall) that his drug-addict mum Cassie (Claire Sweeney) is dead, Evelyn was rocked by Cassie’s return.
The two went away so Evelyn could help her daughter sort out her life. When they returned, Evelyn tried to keep mother and son apart until she was confident her daughter had genuinely stopped using drugs, but Cassie bumped into Tyrone and revealed her identity.
“A lot of people say that Evelyn has lied, but I don’t think that she has lied. I think she’s been economical with the truth,” Maureen says.
“Evelyn’s only heard from her in the last ten months, so wouldn’t you think she was dead? Cassie had gone away and she’s a drug addict, so it was more than likely that she’d overdosed.”
Awarded a damehood for services to charity, entertainment and the arts, Maureen was married to the writer Jack Rosenthal from 1973 until his death in 2004.
She was then in a 13-year relationship with former businessman Guido Castro, until his death from Covid in 2021. Recently she met a new gentleman-friend, but she says she prefers not to discuss him.
“I shouldn’t even bring it up,” she adds. “But it pops up because it’s a very happy thing. I’m in a very happy place. It’s in its fourth month and it’s a huge gift for both of us. But I don’t want to say any more.”
Tempting though it is to press for more information, Maureen then closes the subject firmly down.
And since we’ve already been warned just how quickly she can cross over into feisty Evelyn-style territory, clearly it’s wise to respect her wishes.
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