26 November 1923
St. Mary's Hospital, Manchester, England, UK.
|Died||17 September 1986
Stockport, England, UK
|Cause of death||Lung cancer|
(m. 1951–1952, divorced)
(m. 1972–1979, his death)
(m. 1986, her death)
She was later known as Patricia Pilkington, which was her stepfather's surname
Patricia "Pat" Frederica Phoenix (26 November 1923 – 17 September 1986) was an Anglo-Irish actress who became one of the first sex symbols of British television through her role of Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street. In her later life she was referred to as Patricia Pilkington, which was her stepfather's surname. Through her marriage to the actor Tony Booth, Phoenix became mother-in-law to Tony Blair who—eleven years after her death—became British Prime Minister.
Early life and career
Pat Phoenix was born Patricia Manfield at St Mary's Hospital, Manchester to Anna Maria Josephine "Annie" (née Noonan), originally of County Galway, Ireland, and Thomas "Tom" Manfield. Phoenix claimed she had also been born in Galway, although she stated some time after that that she was merely agreeing with something her elderly mother had already told the press. Her parents had been married for sixteen years and Pat was eight when her father was involved in a road accident and in court it was revealed that his marriage was in fact bigamous as he had never been divorced from his real wife who was living some miles away and who he had been paying maintenance to for many years. She later described this period in her life as a, "nightmare" saying, "I lost my safe, secure, normal world.". Her mother later married Richard Pilkington. Phoenix attended Fallowfield Central School, Manchester. As a child she nursed early theatrical ambitions, appearing regularly on the radio in Children's Hour at the age of 11, after having submitted a monologue. After leaving school, she worked as a filing clerk for the gas department of Manchester Corporation, performing in amateur dramatics in her spare time. She joined the Arts Theatre, Manchester, and other Northern repertory companies.
Her break came in 1948, playing Sandy Powell's wife in the Mancunian Film Studios' film Cup-tie Honeymoon, followed by a summer season in Blackpool with Thora Hird in the show Happy Days. Exposure led to more serious work with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. She also worked as a writer for ventriloquist Terry Hall and comedian Harry Worth. Some undistinguished film work followed in 1958 (Blood of the Vampire and Jack the Ripper), and in 1960 she returned to Manchester with her ambition all but spent.
Her fortunes improved when she was given her best known role as Elsie Tanner, the devil-may-care divorcée who lived at No 11 Coronation Street. By this time she had changed her name from Pilkington to Phoenix, after the mythological bird that rose from the ashes. Phoenix featured in the programme from 1960 to 1973 and again from 1976 to 1984. Her character became known for her fiery red hair, and was described by Prime Minister James Callaghan as "the sexiest thing on television". During her periods of absence from the series she failed in her attempts to find suitable alternative roles. She left the series for the final time in January 1984. In the story her character moved to Portugal to meet up with an old flame.
Other television and film roles
After her final departure from Coronation Street she appeared in a one-act television play, Hidden Talents in 1986. At this time, she was suffering from advanced lung cancer and in the play she played a woman dying of cancer.
The Smiths' record cover
Her parents' marriage was not legal as her father (Tom Manfield) was a bigamist, her mother later remarried (Richard Pilkington). Pat took her step-father's surname. Her love life was fodder for tabloid stories. Her first marriage was to Peter Marsh, an actor. They married in Bradford Cathedral; the marriage lasted only a year. In 1972, she married her Coronation Street co-star Alan Browning, who had alcohol-related problems and died from liver failure in 1979.
Later she married actor Antony Booth. Through this final marriage, Phoenix became mother-in-law to the then unknown back bencher Tony Blair who eleven years after her death became British Prime Minister. Pat campaigned for Blair in the 1983 General Election helping him win his first seat in a landslide majority. She also campaigned for Cherie Blair who came second in the safe Conservative seat Tatton. She was a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party and a practising Roman Catholic.
A 60-a-day smoker, Phoenix was found to have lung cancer in March 1986 after collapsing at home. Following her diagnosis she continued to work, hiding her illness from most people, including long term partner Antony Booth. In the summer of 1986 her condition deteriorated, forcing her to undergo more extensive treatment and confirming mild speculation in the press that she had health problems. It later leaked out that she had just weeks to live and had been given the Last Rites. On her deathbed she married Booth in Stockport, on 10 September 1986, attracting wide-scale media attention. Eight days later she died in her sleep, aged 62.
At her request, her funeral service at the Holy Name Church in Manchester featured a large brass band; according to Coronation Street histories written by show historian Daran Little, she wished the event that marked her death to be as lively as her life. Tony Blair and Phoenix's stepdaughter Cherie Blair were among the mourners.
She wrote two volumes of autobiography: All My Burning Bridges (1974) and Love, Curiosity, Freckles and Doubt (1983).
- Article from the New York Times press archive
- Navigation Inn
- "Historical plaques about Pat Phoenix". openplaques.org. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
- Photo of Pat Phoenix with details of Mancunian Film stars
- Patricia Phoenix at the Internet Movie Database
- Pat Phoenix's appearance on This Is Your Life