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Pat Phoenix was Britain’s first soap siren, in Coronation Street


With her skirts too tight, her blouses a little too low and her hair piled on top of her head, Elsie Tanner was the first and most-memorable siren of Coronation Street.

From episode one, on December 9, 1960, she was there for curtains to twitch at and tongues to tattle over.

She’d stand up to old battleaxes like Ena Sharples without batting a eyelash and could hold her own in a cross-cobbles slanging match with anyone.

But men were her weakness, and what a magnet she proved for all the wrong ’uns.

And yet all the trials and tribulations Elsie faced were nothing to those of the actress who played her — Pat Phoenix, who passed away 30 years ago on September 17, 1986.

PATRICIA PHOENIX and PETER ADAMSON Character(s): Elsie Tanner and Len Fairclough Television 'CORONATION STREET' (1979) (Allstar/GRANADA TELEIVISION)
PATRICIA PHOENIX and PETER ADAMSON Character(s): Elsie Tanner and Len Fairclough ‘CORONATION STREET’ (1979) (Allstar/GRANADA TELEIVISION)

Even in childhood, her life was blighted by dramas best suited to soap opera.

In 1932, aged eight, her world was rocked when her father was revealed to be a bigamist.

Young Pat Manfield became Pat Pilkington when her mother remarried, but she clashed constantly with her belittling stepfather.

Once, he raised his hand to hit her mother, and Pat seized a carving knife, holding it to his stomach to make him back down.

Life was drama for young Pat.

She dreamed of working in theatre and after a dull stint of filing for Manchester Corporation’s Gas Department, she made it into rep.

But work was always hard to find.

Pat’s first marriage to actor Peter Marsh in 1951 failed within a year. The insecurity, tours, dingy digs and low pay, year in year out gradually took their toll. Where was the glamour?

In 1958, Pat hit rock bottom. As she later recounted, she attempted suicide.

“I turned the gas on and I didn’t light it, just as though it was an accident . . . and I fell asleep or as I thought, I’d gone into the other world.

“But half an hour later, I woke up, there was a big smell of gas, the gas had run out and I didn’t have another shilling . . . suddenly, I thought: ‘Get up and fight. Fight for God’s sake.’”

And fight she did, to the top.

Former player's in Coronation Street Pat Phoenix and Alan Browning astride a motor scooter outside London's Greenwood Theatre
Former player’s in Coronation Street Pat Phoenix and Alan Browning astride a motor scooter outside London’s Greenwood Theatre

Those plaintive brass strains of the first episode of Coronation Street were set to be played out in living rooms across the land.

Pat’s life would never be the same again. And yet she nearly hadn’t bothered going to that all-important audition at all.

She’d recently changed her name to Pat Phoenix and had been offered a role as an interviewer in a lunchtime chat show.

Did she want another audition slap down?

Her mum talked her round, but she was in no mood for the impudence of the show’s creator, saucy 24-year-old Tony Warren, at the audition.

When he told her to take her coat off so they could see her figure, she snapped back: “No. You’ll just have to guess at it, won’t you?’”


That fire made him sit up. It was just what he was looking for in his sassy Elsie Tanner. Pat got the part, and in Tony, a friend for life.

Elsie’s feisty, devil-may-care exterior lit up the screen not least because it couldn’t quite hide a heart permanently ripe for the breaking.

She was so popular that when storyliners decided it was time for her to remarry, they protected their “brand” by giving husband number two the same surname!

Elsie didn’t have to change her name when she married US serviceman Steve Tanner, in 1967.

The screen happiness couldn’t last, of course, and on being hurled down a flight of stairs, Steve became the first entry in that Weatherfield police file marked Murder.

It’s pretty hefty these days! The culprit was fellow GI, Joe Donelli.

The 60s and 70s were heady times for Pat. She at last had the fame and fortune she craved. Like her screen counterpart, though, she struggled to keep a steady bloke.

Things looked promising though for both Elsie and Pat, with screen husband number three.

Alan Browning was chosen by Pat herself for the role of Elsie’s prospect, Alan Howard.

Passion blazed and in 1972, just 18 months after their Street marriage, Pat and Alan tied the knot in real life.


Crowds flocked to their wedding. Pat wore a full-length rich purple cloak, its wide hood and cuffs deeply-trimmed with pure white fox fur.

In an open vintage Rolls-Royce, she and Alan waved graciously at the crushing crowds lapping up the absolute glamour of the occasion.

But scriptwriters penning the fractures within the Elsie and Alan love story could just as well have been writing that of Pat and her Alan.

Both were tempestuous relationships and with sorry mirroring, both were foundering on drink.

On screen, Elsie and Alan left Weatherfield for a new start in Canada.

In real life, Pat and her husband left to find breathing space with Pat’s first love — theatre.

Three years later, Elsie was back on Corrie, alone. In life and storyline, she was separated, but Pat remained loyal, always returning to Alan Browning’s side in his bad times.

In 1979, he died of liver failure, aged 53.

Coronation Street’s original firebrand waved goodbye to Weatherfield in 1984 to run a bar in Portugal with husband-to-be number four, Bill Gregory. It was a finale of optimism for Elsie.

Pat’s own fate was to prove an altogether more poignant drama.

After collapsing at home in 1986, Pat was diagnosed with lung cancer.

She married partner Antony Booth in September of that year, and died eight days later.


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