Elsie Gregory (also Grimshaw, Howard and Tanner) is a fictional character from the British ITV soap opera, Coronation Street, played by Pat Phoenix from the series inception in 1960 to 1973 and from 1976 until 1984. Elsie Tanner was one of the original core characters on Coronation Street and appeared in the first episode. She is considered something of an icon in soap history and regarded as one of Coronation Street's greatest ever characters.
|Coronation Street character|
|Portrayed by||Pat Phoenix|
|First appearance||Episode 1 |
9 December 1960
|Last appearance||Episode 2375 |
4 January 1984
|Created by||Tony Warren|
|Book appearances||Coronation Street:|
The Complete Saga
The War Years
|Other names||Elsie Grimshaw|
Her final appearance came in January 1984, when Elsie emigrated to Portugal. Phoenix decided to quit the series in 1983 to pursue other projects.
Three years after leaving, Phoenix died, and a few months later, in the video "The Lives and Loves of Elsie Tanner" Anne Cunningham returned as Elsie's daughter Linda, hinting about Elsie's previous passing and including archive footage for flashbacks. However, 24 years later, when Philip Lowrie returned as Elsie's son Dennis Tanner, it was revealed that Elsie had died in a car accident along with Bill Gregory in 2004/2005, meaning that the video is not part of the canon of the show (on which the events have not been mentioned).
Elsie is dubbed as the "siren of the street throughout the 1960s". She is described as being feisty and bolshy, but with a good heart, and is also said to have a passion for men but get hurt by all of them. In her later years she is described as struggling to keep up her glamour and has a series of sleazy one-night stands and dead-end jobs.
Linda had trouble with her Polish husband Ivan Cheveski (Ernst Walder) and his short temper, but they eventually reconciled and had two sons, Paul (Victoria Elton, Marcus Saville and Nigel Greaves) and Martin (Jonathan Caplan). Coronation Street's creator, Tony Warren, had originally planned the character of Dennis to be rather gritty and a real "bad boy", but actor Philip Lowrie's charm and knack for comedy led to Dennis becoming much more lighthearted. Dennis was shown to be sneaky and up to shenanigans, and embarked on many "get rich quick" schemes to help himself and his mother.
Elsie flirted on and off for years with Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson), but that ended when he married Rita Littlewood (Barbara Knox) in 1977. Even after Len's marriage to Rita, she remained a close friend.
Elsie married an ex-lover from the war, American serviceman Steve Tanner in 1967 (played by Canadian actor Paul Maxwell). Due to Elsie's massive popularity during the 1960s, Steve was given the same surname so that Elsie would not have to change her name. Elsie emigrated to America with Steve but returned to Coronation Street after they split up. Steve also returned, attempting to win her back, but was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs soon after his return. This led many residents to be in the frame for murdering Steve, but it was later revealed that one of Steve's former Servicemen, Joe Donelli (Shane Rimmer), had committed the crime. Now a widow, Elsie married Alan Howard in 1970 (Alan was played by Alan Browning, who would become Patricia Phoenix's real-life husband). This marriage was also rocky; shortly after they married, script-writers bankrupted affluent Alan so Elsie would stay in Weatherfield. Eventually, in 1973, the two went to live in Newcastle-upon-Tyne but Elsie returned alone in 1976 as she and Alan had separated and later got divorced. Elsie was also involved with bookie Dave Smith (Reginald Marsh) in the early 1970s, owner of local football team Weatherfield County FC.
After her third failed marriage, Elsie surrounded herself with youngsters and acted as mother figure to Suzie Birchall (Cheryl Murray) and Gail Potter (Helen Worth), who lodged with her during the late 1970s. Elsie saw a lot of herself in young Suzie, who was somewhat gregarious and enjoyed the company of men, but it was Elsie's relationship with Gail that was inevitably the strongest.
During her time, Elsie took a diverse range of jobs, including shop worker, croupier, machinist, factory supervisor, café worker and model. At the start of the series, Elsie worked in the department store "Miami Modes", before moving on to "Sylvia's Separates" dress shop in the 1970s. She also worked under Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs) alongside Vera Duckworth (Liz Dawn), Ivy Tilsley (Lynne Perrie) and Ida Clough (Helene Palmer) at Baldwin's Casuals clothing factory, where she spent some time as supervisor.
In late 1983, Bill Gregory (Jack Watson) returned to the Street (she had an affair with him more than twenty years earlier and last saw him in 1970) and confessed to Elsie that he was still in love with her. He asked her to marry him and help him run a wine bar in Portugal. After much agonising and thought, she decided to accept Bill's proposal. On the night she left, Elsie walked down the street and old memories filled her head; squabbles with Annie Walker (Doris Speed) and Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) and fights with her son, Dennis. While clutching photographs of Linda and Dennis, she smiled knowing that her life in Coronation Street had left her with no regrets. As she got into the taxi that was to take her to the train station, the driver asked her if she was to be away for long. Giving him a knowing smile, Elsie replied: "Ah! Now there's a question!". The taxi drove off into the night as Elsie left Weatherfield forever. It would be more than 25 years before anyone knew had finally become of her.
In May 2011, following the return of her son Dennis, it was revealed that Elsie had supposedly died "six or seven" years previously after her car crashed off a cliff, with rumour having that she was still holding the hand of her husband, Bill Gregory. Elsie apparently died as she had lived - never doing anything by halves and had been lucky to have 20 happy years living the high life in the Algarve. She was 81. In May 2012, Dennis gave his fiancée, Rita Sullivan (Barbara Knox) - who had previously been married to Len Fairclough, Elsie's close friend - Elsie's engagement ring. When Dennis died of Dementia in February 2020, Rita passed on Elsie's engagement ring to Amy Barlow (Elle Mulvaney) whose grandfather Ken Barlow (William Roache) knew Elsie when she lived in the Street.
In Dorothy Catherine Anger's book "Other worlds: society seen through soap opera" she brands Elsie a "tarty woman" who has the ability to "attract men like bees to honey". In Larry Warren's book "Left at East Gate a First Hand", he joked about the probability of UFO landing being "as unlikely as Elsie Tanner getting into a nunnery" and branded her as having dubious morals. In the book "Women and soap opera: a study of prime time soaps", Christine Geraghty describes Elsie as having open family situations to deal with in her later years. She stated that Elsie always seemed ill-equipped to offer other characters advice on their love lives when they needed it.
In 1983, it was announced that Phoenix would be leaving her role of Elsie and was to leave Weatherfield. Her final appearance was screened at the beginning of 1984. Phoenix died of lung cancer in September 1986 at the age of 62. Elsie, her character, died in a car accident, at the age of 81 in 2004 after leaving Weatherfield 20 years earlier, although it was not mentioned in the show until 2011.
- Little, Daran (1998). The Coronation Street Story: Celebrating Thirty-Five Years of the Street. Boxtree. p. 265. ISBN 0-7522-1019-X.
- Dorothy Catherine Anger (1999). Other worlds: society seen through soap opera. University of Toronto Press. p. 56. ISBN 1-55111-103-9. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
- Warren, Larry (2005). Left at East Gate a First Hand. Cosimo Inc. p. 110. ISBN 1-59605-753-X.
- Geraghty, Christine (1991). Women and soap opera: a study of prime time soaps. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 97. ISBN 0-7456-0568-0.