Ena Sharples


Ena Sharples

Infobox soap character
color = #F0E68C
series = Coronation Street
name = Ena Sharples
portrayer = Violet Carson



caption1 = Ena Sharples in 1969
first = Episode 1,
9 December 1960
last = April 2, 1980
born = 14 November 1899
death =
Residence = Vestry ?-1968 Maisonette 1968-1971 Community Centre Flat 1971-1980 St Annes 1980-1983
spouse = Alfred Sharples
children = Vera Lomax (deceased)
(daughter, with Alfred)
Madge Sharples
(daughter, with Alfred)
Ian Sharples (deceased)
(son, with Alfred)
siblings=Alice Raynould (Sister - Deceased)
Thomas (brother)
grandchildren = Colin Lomax
occupation = Mission Caretaker
creator = Tony Warren
books = Coronation Street: The Complete Saga
Coronation Street: The War Years

Ena Sharples was one of the original characters of the long-running British soap opera, "Coronation Street" and her name became a byword for a "battle axe" woman. This has caused battle axe personalities to appear more in soaps, such as Hilda Ogden, Blanche Hunt, Vera Duckworth, Lou Beale and Pauline Fowler.

Ena, played by Violet Carson between 1960 and 1980, was the caretaker of the mission hall, and spent much of her time criticising the activities of the street's other inhabitants. Ena was one of the main stars of the 1960s up until the 1970s where she slowly appeared less often until 1980. She almost always wore a double-breasted coat and hairnet, and, with her two cronies, Martha Longhurst and Minnie Caldwell, would spend much of her free time in the snug bar of the Rovers Return Inn, drinking milk stout.

When her final episode was screened, it attracted little media or public attention due to the fact that producers had plans for her to continue in the series, as the character was leaving her house in the street and moving into a retirement complex. Unfortunately, all subsequent storylines involving Ena Sharples had to be shelved due to Carson's ill health. Violet Carson died in December 1983 at the age of 85.

Character's background

Ena had known rough times, having been seen to work on a loom at Palmerstone's Mill at the age of 11. Her husband Alfred had died young, and her son Ian drowned. She had two daughters, Madge Sharples and Vera Lomax. Vera considered herself too good for Ena, and visited her rarely. Over the years, her friends left her one by one (Martha Longhurst died in the snug of a heart attack, and Minnie Caldwell left to live in Whaley Bridge with Handel Gartside), until acquaintance Albert Tatlock was the only one left to keep her company. When Minnie left the street in 1976, Albert and Ena got drunk in the snug of the Rover's Return and reminisced about the past. Ena was probably the character whose history on the show dates back the furthest (along with Albert Tatlock), Ena's presence at the Rovers Return has been dated back since before Christmas 1914. Ena had been friends with Minnie Caldwell since they were young children and described to Annie Walker in 1979 a young 10 year-old Martha Longhurst when it was the fifteenth anniversary of Martha's death.

For almost 20 years in the show, Ena had a rivalry with Elsie Tanner, the so-called "tart with a heart". Ena disapproved of Elsie's affairs with various men and the two often clashed–almost always in the street, on full view. One particular example of Ena's dislike for Elsie is contained in the first episode of the programme, in an exchange with Florrie Lindley, the new owner of the Corner Shop:

After Ena left, Florrie laughed about the episode to her new friend, Elsie Lappin, who was helping her get used to the running of the Corner Shop. Florrie thought Ena to be somewhat morbid. That same day, Ena was the recipient of a confrontation by Christine Hardman upon hearing that her mother, who had a nervous breakdown and went into the hospital, had been insulted by the pensioner. Christine threatened her with a solicitor's letter and Ena threatened to take her business to another shop after neither Florrie or Elsie stood up for her.

In November 1961, Elsie Tanner received a poison-pen letter from someone claiming to know all about Elsie's affairs (she was not yet legally divorced from her husband, Arnold). Elsie accused landlady of the Rovers Return, Annie Walker, of writing the letter, but she strongly denied it. Afterwards, she accused Ena. In a showdown outside Elsie's house, the two fought. Elsie finally realised it was not Ena who had written the letter; Ena told her that if she had written it, she would have had the decency to sign her name "at the bottom of it, and well you know it!"

1967 did not turn out to be a good year for Ena. As well as losing her daughter Vera to a brain tumour, Ena became trapped unconscious underneath a wrecked train to the south of Coronation Street. A goods train had collapsed from the viaduct, which also buried a police officer and his girlfriend. David Barlow struggled to find Ena through the wreckage, but rescued her. This was Ena's biggest storyline in the show and is remembered still today by fans although it was more than 40 years ago. Elsie Tanner was the first to ask after her: "If that woman were dropped off Blackpool Tower I swear she'd bounce! Cuts, bruises and a broken arm!". Although the two seemed "mortal enemies", Elsie and Ena most probably held a slight affection for each other. This is demonstrated in several episodes throughout the 1970s, when the characters had mellowed considerably — one such example is in an episode from 1973, when Elsie was about to take an overdose. Ena let herself into No 11 and talked her out of it:

In 1973, Violet Carson suffered a breakdown through overwork and took an extended break. Carson's health began to fail throughout the 1970s, and this, with her hatred of her character, meant Ena appeared less and less. In 1974, she returned to Coronation Street and appeared sporadically the next year. Carson often commented to the British press: "Violet Carson was destroyed the day Ena Sharples first appeared in Coronation Street."

In 1980, Carson became ill with a serious bout of anaemia and could not return to the show; her last filmed scene was telling Albert Tatlock that she wanted to leave Coronation Street for good. Granada Television was disappointed that Carson could not return to the cast in 1982 to watch Queen Elizabeth II open the new exterior set in the Granada backlot.

Carson died in her sleep in 1983, aged 85. As a tribute to her, an episode of "Coronation Street" from January 1967 featuring Ena was screened on ITV.

Ena Sharples died in 1983, but her death was never announced in the programme, and was only revealed to viewers in 1985 when a video special entitled "The Jubilee Years" was released, with all references made to Ena have been worded as if she has died.

Trivia

* Ena did not wear her famous hairnet in early episodes of the programme (see image); Violet Carson added it to her costume because she refused to let the make-up department touch her elegantly-styled silver hair.

* Violet, a native of Blackpool (a coastal resort in the North West of England), switched on the Blackpool illuminations in 1961, then considered a real honour.

* When she received the insignia to her OBE in 1965, the Queen told Violet that she was "an ardent fan".

* In the programme, Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner were mortal enemies; in reality, Violet Carson and Patricia Phoenix were the best of friends.

* Ena's hairnet was put up for auction in 2005, and was sold for £65. It was bought by a Dutch gentleman, who had bought it for his mother, a lifelong fan of the programme.

* Ena's distinctive overcoat still exists, preserved by Granada TV. When Granada operated the tour of their studios, it was the main exhibit in the costume museum section.

* In tests and pilot episodes of Coronation Street, the role of Ena Sharples was played by Nan Marriott-Watson. A rare photograph of Marriott-Watson as Ena Sharples can be found in Daran Little's 1995 book "The Coronation Street Story". The picture also shows Alison Bayley as Minnie Caldwell and Doris Hare as Martha Longhurst.

* On the programme "Victoria Wood As Seen On TV", early "Coronation Street" was parodied; Victoria Wood played Ena, Julie Walters played Martha Longhurst, and Lill Roughley played Minnie Caldwell.

* Future Monkees member and TV/stage actor Davy Jones appeared in a 1963 episode as Sharples' grandson.


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