Monday, 13 September 2010

In Praise Of Alf Roberts

From the TV Times, 27 September - 3 October 1986:

Alf's got it right

Grumbling may be one of the characteristics of Coronation Street's Alf Roberts, played by Bryan Mosley, but his corner store is top-of-the-shops for service according to a recent national survey.

A shopfitting group's study says Alf has got it just right with his sense of service, and many other grocers in the North of England follow his example.

These days, Coronation Street seems to harbour lots of villains - even serial killers are not unknown - and buildings explode and people die horribly and there's generally a lot of aggro.

One building which exploded in quite recent years was the Street's Corner Shop, blown-up by a mad woman.

Back in the 1980s, such a story-line would have seemed absurd.

For almost the entire decade - from mid-1980 onwards - the shop was solely owned by one Alfred Sidney Roberts (Bryan Mosley).

Alf's wife, Renee (Madge Hindle), died in a road accident in the summer of 1980, and Alf decided to keep the shop.

He took on Deirdre Langton (Anne Kirkbride) as shop flat tenant and shop assistant later in 1980, and so began Deirdre's long, on-off association with the place.

Alf was never afraid to move with the times when it came to the items he stocked, even though his attempt to sell courgettes in 1981 failed miserably because his customers had no idea what they were and were not impressed with them when they were explained, but he brought tremendous change to the shop in 1985, when he masterminded its conversion into a mini market. "Alf's Mini-Market" was emblazoned on the front window, but the main sign above the door read "CORNER SHOP", in big red capital letters, on a white background. This was a first, as the shop sign had just carried the name of the current owner and occasionally such phrases as "Provisions" before. So, the mini-market was first and foremost the Corner Shop!

Twice widowed Alf was never happy alone, and 1985 also saw him marrying the brilliantly squawky Audrey Roberts, marking actress Sue Nicholls' graduation from intermittent to full time regular Corrie character.

And Audrey led Alf a merry dance - turning his life upside down with her spend, spend, spend attitude and a ready-made step-family.

Audrey was most unhappy living in the flat above the Corner Shop, and wanted to move somewhere more befitting her new station in life. She was not at all pleased when Alf bought No 11 Coronation Street, but decided to make the best of things.

In 1987, local councillor Alf faced a challenge for the ward from Deirdre Barlow, who campaigned with a faintly feminist agenda and a concern for local kids and road safety issues.

Deirdre won, and Alf suffered a heart attack.

Also in 1987 Alf employed Sally Webster (Sally Dynevor) as his assistant at the shop.

"I don't care what you say - boot polish isn't as good as it was in the old days - nowhere near!" Percy Sugden (Bill Waddington) gets on Alf's wick.

In 1989, Audrey made a determined attempt to get away from Coronation Street, persuading Alf to buy a posh house in another part of Weatherfield.

But the chain collapsed, and the couple were forced to move back into the Corner Shop flat as No 11 had been sold to the McDonald family.

But as the 1990s arrived, Audrey finally got her wish to be upwardly mobile, and she and Alf relocated to Grasmere Drive. Alf soon sold the shop, briefly bought it again, and then finally retired.

Alf and his years at the Corner Shop are now distant memories, but there's no doubt that they are remembered fondly by many Corrie fans.

Was Alf a mean man? Well, maybe a little, but it must said that after he died Audrey was dismayed to discover that there was rather less money than she had thought. It seemed that his caution had been justified and perhaps he'd let her have her way with the dosh rather too much.

Could Alf get wound up? Ooh, yes - he definitely had a slightly short fuse.

But most of all, Alf was a kind and decent man, a good friend and neighbour to many and a respected part of the Weatherfield community.

After the character died, I suddenly realised just how much I liked Alf, and just what a necessary role he had fulfilled in the show - as an everyday man in an area noted for its beautifully OTT characters.

Alf was everyday, none of his traits were terribly colourful or outstanding, he never set the screen alight with his exploits.

And yet I never found him boring - thoroughly enjoying the warmth, stability and sense of reality he brought to the show.

Definitely one of the unsung heroes of Weatherfield history!

The way it was - Alf, Audrey and Sally in 1989 - service with a smile!

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