Maggie Jones as Blanche Hunt (2009)
|Coronation Street character|
Patricia Cutts (1974)|
Maggie Jones (1974–2009)
|Duration||1974–1978, 1981, 1996–2009|
19 August 1974
11 December 2009
Leslie Duxbury (1974)|
Bill Podmore (1977, 1981)
Brian Park (1996)
|Book appearances||Coronation Street: The Complete Saga|
1 Coronation Street (1999–2009)Portugal (2009–2010)
Blanche Hunt (also Linfield) was a fictional character from the British ITV soap opera, Coronation Street. She was originally played by Patricia Cutts; however, the actress committed suicide after appearing in just two episodes in August 1974. Maggie Jones took over the role, playing Blanche in over 830 episodes from 1974 to her death in December 2009. The character subsequently died off screen in May 2010. Blanche was the mother of Deirdre Barlow (Anne Kirkbride), grandmother of Tracy Barlow (Kate Ford) and great-grandmother of Amy. Her storylines have revolved around her family life, various romances and her "acerbic tongue". The character's "gallows humour" has been well received by critics, and saw Jones win The British Soap Award for "Best Comedy Performance" in 2005 and 2008. Blanche has been described as "a true Coronation Street icon".
Blanche is introduced as the widowed mother of Deirdre Hunt (Anne Kirkbride). Her bank manager husband, Donald, died in January 1963 after being knocked down outside their house by a black Ford Prefect. Blanche immediately makes her mark by slapping Deirdre's suitor, Ray Langton (Neville Buswell), when she thinks he's treating her daughter badly; however, she is quick to criticize when she disapproves of Deirdre's behaviour. Blanche originally runs a corsetry business from but later takes jobs as a barmaid at The Rovers Return and helps Gordon Clegg (Bill Kenwright) run the corner shop.
In 1976, she meets bookmaker Dave Smith (Reginald Marsh), who she had a wartime romance with. They begins an affair and decides to move away to help Dave run his country club in Kenilworth. After her affair with Dave Smith ends, Blanche returns to Weatherfield in January 1977 to help look after her newborn granddaughter Tracy (Christabel Finch), accompanied by Warwickshire vet Steve Bassett (Dennis Chinnery). They become engaged but split up that May. In 1981, Blanche returns to Weatherfield for Deirdre's wedding to Ken Barlow (William Roache).
In December 1993, Blanche has a stroke (off-screen) and Deirdre goes to stay with her to nurse her (a storyline devised to cover Anne Kirkbride's sick leave). Deirdre returns to Weatherfield the following year after Blanche has made a full recovery. Blanche briefly returns to Weatherfield in 1996 when Tracy (now played by Dawn Acton) gets married and again in 1998 after Deirdre is sent to prison, following a wrongful conviction for fraud. Blanche begins matchmaking between a now divorced Deirdre and Ken, believing Ken is good for Deirdre. She fails but Tracy successfully gets them to reconcile and in 1999, Blanche returns permanently and moves in with the reunited couple.
Blanche quickly gains a reputation as a gossip and a meddler, with Audrey Roberts (Sue Nicholls) often being the target of Blanche's acid tongue when her 13-year-old granddaughter, Sarah-Louise Platt (Tina O'Brien), becomes pregnant. She sends hurtful comments at Sarah but backs down after the birth of her baby daughter, Bethany, when she finally stands up to Blanche and tells her to leave her and her daughter alone. Blanche briefly becomes Rita Sullivan's (Barbara Knox) assistant at The Kabin but soon drives Rita mad with her meddling and tactlessness. In 2002, Blanche has a new suitor, funeral director Archie Shuttleworth (Roy Hudd), but is unhappy when he makes friends with Audrey. Blanche suspects they are having an affair but later discovers Audrey, a hairdresser, is working with Archie to dress dead bodies for viewings. Archie is angry when Blanche spreads this around and ends their relationship. Blanche is upset but later moves on to supposedly wealthy retiree, Wally Bannister (Bernard Cribbins). However, Wally is more interested in Tracy (now played by Kate Ford), who simply wants Wally's money and decides to seduce him. This falls flat when Tracy visits Wally's house and discovers that he's actually the gardener, posing as the owner and isn't rich at all. Ken and Deirdre find out and, disgusted with their daughter, decide to keep the news from Blanche (who is away visiting her sister) to avoid upsetting her.
When Tracy falls pregnant, she tells Roy Cropper (David Neilson) and his wife Hayley (Julie Hesmondhalgh), that Roy is the father and tells them that she will have a termination if they do not want to adopt it. Blanche tries to persuade Tracy to keep the baby by buying No. 7 Coronation Street for them to live in, upsetting Deirdre, who wonders why Blanche never bought a house for her. Tracy gives birth to a daughter and gives the baby to the Croppers, who name her Patience; however, Blanche sees through Tracy's "indifference" and encourages her to fight for her daughter. Tracy breaks down and Blanche enlists Ken and Deirdre's help to get the baby back. Although they are disgusted when Hayley reveals Tracy sold her daughter for £25,000. Blanche, Ken and Deirdre stand by Tracy, who reclaims her daughter and renames her Amy (Elle Mulvaney). Blanche is relieved when Tracy later admits Roy isn't the real father. When Tracy and Amy visit Peter (Chris Gascoyne) in Portsmouth, Blanche moves back in with Ken and Deirdre, renting (and later selling) the house to Danny Baldwin (Bradley Walsh). Struggling with a bad hip, Blanche considers using some of the money for a private hip replacement operation but later has the operation in Poland where it is cheaper.
In 2007, Blanche supports Tracy when she is accused of murdering her lover Charlie Stubbs (Bill Ward). When Tracy is found guilty Ken refuses to support her and walks out on Deirdre, who knew Tracy was guilty. Blanche worries that her family is disintegrating, and is relieved when Ken and Deirdre reconcile.
On 25 June 2007 Blanche holds a mock wake for herself to gauge which of her friends truly appreciate her. She is upset by the low attendance and hearing her friends castigate her negative traits. She resolves briefly to be nicer to everyone, but quickly reverts to type, believing people should accept her for who she is.
In 2008 Blanche shows her softer side, becoming close to Peter's son Simon (Alex Bain), who finds Blanche's outspoken ways amusing. Blanche is visibly upset when alcoholic Peter turns up drunk to Simon's nativity play and ruins things. In May 2009, Deirdre discovers that Ken has been having an affair with actress Martha Fraser (Stephanie Beacham). When Deirdre takes Ken back, Blanche is incredulous. Tired of her mother's interference, Deirdre orders Blanche to move out of their home. She moves in briefly with Peter, returning to live with Ken and Deirdre after apologising a few weeks later. However, Blanche often makes barbed references to theevent, telling everyone at Peter's AA meeting that "Ken recently had an affair with an actress. Oh - it wasn't Nicole Kidman or Glenda Jackson. She lived on a tugboat". Blanche's tactlessness struck again later that year when Simon's maternal grandparents visited and, after one too many drinks, she blurted out that Deirdre had been to prison, Ken had had numerous affairs with other women, Peter was an alcoholic and his fiancée Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson) was a former prostitute.
Blanche's final scenes aired on 11 December 2009, just days after Maggie Jones' death. In the subsequent episodes, it was revealed that Blanche had unexpectedly been offered a free holiday in Portugal by her friend May and would be spending Christmas abroad. When May hurts her leg Blanche stays on to nurse her. On 3 May 2010 Blanche was due to return; however, when Peter goes to collect her at the airport he discovers Blanche has died earlier that day, devastating Deirdre. May (June Whitfield) later arrives and explains that the real reason Blanche had stayed in Portugal for so long is that she had fallen in love and become engaged to a man named Arnold. Deirdre is surprised Blanche never told her - and even more surprised to hear Blanche regularly spoke of how proud she was of her daughter "Dee-Dee".
Ken later finds instructions left by Blanche for her funeral, plus a request for a formal will reading. Blanche leaves her dog Eccles to Ken, with a final barbed comment that he shouldn't take her for walks near canals and theatres ("where women of ill repute may gather"). She also makes a dig at Ken's attempts to creative writing, leaving him her Maeve Binchy book collection and describing her as 'a proper writer'. She also leaves her jewellery to Deirdre, claiming she knew Deirdre had her eye on it, an imitation silver music box to Amy and her late husband Donald's fobwatch to Simon. Norris Cole (Malcolm Hebden) is also invited to the reading, but all Blanche has 'left' him is the chance to be the first to spread details of the will around the street - the only time he would get his hands on a piece of gossip before she did.
Creation and development
Blanche was originally played by Patricia Cutts; however, the actress committed suicide after appearing in only two episodes. The role was re-cast and given to Maggie Jones, who had also auditioned for the part. She accepted the role at short notice, as storylines for Blanche had already been written. Jones had previously appeared in the show in minor roles in the 1960s, as a policewoman and a shoplifter. She appeared in the soap as a series regular from 1974–1976, making brief reappearances in 1977, 1978, 1981, 1996 and 1997. She returned as a series regular in 1998.
It was revealed on 27 December 2008 that the Coronation Street production team were considering writing Blanche out of the series, but ultimately decided against it as they felt the character still had "a lot to give". A member of the production team explained: "It has been seriously considered and discussed at our latest forward planning meeting that the character of Blanche should be killed off. But we appreciate she's a great old, grumpy character and the chemistry between Blanche the Barlow clan and the other street regulars is superb so we felt we had to keep her."
Departure and death
Jones suffered long periods of ill-health in 1999 and 2003 and took time out of the show to recover. Blanche was again written out of the series in October 2009 while Jones recovered from an operation; however, she never returned to the role, dying on 2 December 2009. Co-star William Roache stated: "I don't think Maggie ever realised how much she was loved not only by everyone on the show but by the millions of Blanche fans out there. She will be greatly missed." Coronation Street's executive producer Kieran Roberts added: "Maggie was a much-loved colleague and a wonderful actress who turned Blanche into a true Coronation Street icon. She will be hugely missed by Coronation Street's many millions of viewers and by everyone who works on Coronation Street." Blanche's final scene was broadcast on 11 December 2009, with the 3 December 2009 episode of Coronation Street dedicated to Jones.
As a result of Jones' death, producers decided Blanche would also die. In May 2010 Blanche's friend May (June Whitfield) arrives from Portugal, where Blanche has been staying with her, to break the news of her death.
Blanche has been well received by critics and Coronation Street fans. TV critic Patrick Freyne has said of the character: "...Blanche is all curmudgeonly gallows humour and insensitivity; she gets all the best one liners...." In the same article he also praised the quality of writing for the older characters on Coronation Street: "with all the young people wandering around on TV nowadays, with their slang, texting and hippity-hop, it's great to see Coronation Street can still write fantastic older characters. There's prissy, kvetching Norris, long-suffering Rita and saintly Emily. But best of all there's Blanche Hunt, played by Maggie Jones, mother of Deirdre (formerly of the huge glasses) and tormentor of Deirdre's husband Ken..." BBC News named Blanche "Weatherfield's best-loved battle-axe", praising her "brutal honesty and withering put-downs". The Daily Mirror lauded Jones' "superb comic timing" in the role. At the 2005 and 2008 British Soap Awards, Maggie Jones won the award for "Best Comedy Performance" for her role as Blanche. She also won "Funniest Performance" at the 2009 Inside Soap awards. Jones commented at the time that she did not find Blanche funny, explaining:
|“||I don't find her funny and don't think I could play her properly if I did. Blanche genuinely believes what she's saying is right, and doesn't say things for comedic effect. If I started trying to play the lines for laughs, they wouldn't come out right and the performance would suffer. Everyone knows someone like Blanche - or if they don't, they wish they did. We'd all like to be as outspoken as her and have the nerve to say the things she does.||”|
|— Maggie Jones, Daily Mirror|
Pop star George Michael stated that Blanche was his favourite soap character, commenting: "When you're as old as her you can get away with saying anything." Following Jones' death, The Daily Telegraph wrote in her obituary: "As a deft exponent of Blanche’s withering one-liners and put-downs, Maggie Jones made the part her own, stealing scene after scene as the acid-tongued widowed mother of Deirdre [...] Maggie Jones's portrayal of Blanche as a meddlesome busybody was beautifully judged and finely understated." They deemed Blanche "a long-term favourite of Coronation Street fans", appraising: "With her trademark scowl and folded arms, Blanche epitomised the tyrannical mother-in-law as portrayed on the seaside postcard." Tim Teeman of The Times appraised: "To many Coronation Street fans Blanche was a finer battleaxe than the legendary Ena Sharples (Violet Carson). To many (including myself), Blanche [...] was our favourite character. She gleefully defied the maxim that if you hadn’t anything nice to say about somebody, you shouldn’t bother saying it. Instead, she broadcast her malevolence from the rooftops and to her victims' astonished, deeply offended faces." Teeman called Jones a "brilliant actress" and noted: "Blanche could be kind, but not often. She and Norris were the great gossip-mongering tag team of the Street, revelling in others' misfortune. Blanche often didn’t have to say anything at all. She’d just purse her lips. That was withering condemnation enough." Low Culture columnist Ruth Deller praised the work of the late Maggie Jones by stating: "even from beyond the grave, she delivered one of Corrie’s best storylines, with the reading of her will providing some classic Blanche moments. She’ll be sorely missed."
|Wikinews has related news: British actress Maggie Jones dies age 75|
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