Violet Helen Carson, OBE (1 September 1898 – 26 December 1983) was a British actress of radio, stage and television, and a singer and pianist, who had a long and celebrated career as an actress and performer during the early days of BBC radio, and during the latter decades of her life as the matronly Christian widow, town gossip and original battle-axe Ena Sharples in the ITV television soap opera Coronation Street.
Violet Helen Carson
1 September 1898
|Died||26 December 1983 (aged 85)|
|Years active||1920–1980 (retired)|
|Relatives||Nellie Carson (sister)|
Early life and careerEdit
Carson was born on German Street in Ancoats, Manchester. Her father William Brown Carson, who was Scottish, ran a flour mill and her mother, Mary Clarke (Tordoff) was an amateur singer. As a child, she took piano lessons whilst attending Church of England school, Carson performed with her younger sister Nellie as a singing act called the Carson Sisters. In 1913, she became a cinema pianist providing the musical accompaniment for silent films.
She married road contractor George Peploe on 1 September 1926; her twenty-eighth birthday, but he died in 1929, aged just 31. They had no children. Carson never remarried. The premature death of Peploe mirrored the early life of Carson's iconic character Ena Sharples many years later; in the years long before the show was created, Ena's fiancé had died in World War I, and her husband died prematurely in 1937.
Radio and theatre careerEdit
In 1935, Carson joined BBC Radio in Manchester, singing a range of material from comic musical hall style songs to light operatic arias. She began in a show called Songs at the Piano and was a regular member of Children's Hour on the BBC Home Service and was the star of Nursery Sing Song from Manchester, in which she frequently sang with producer Trevor Hill, many years her junior. Contrary to popular opinion she was never known as Auntie Vi, that epithet belonging only to Violet Fraser back in the 1920s. "I was never anyone's aunt" exclaimed Carson when Hill produced a BBC Radio programme about her in 1981. She worked with the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts during the Second World War and was for six years the pianist for the Mabel and Wilfred Pickles radio show Have A Go.
Her extensive radio career included a period as a presenter and interviewer on Woman's Hour for five years and she acted in numerous radio dramas. It was while recording a children's programme in 1951 that she first worked with Tony Warren, who would later be the creator of Coronation Street. On stage her curriculum vitae included playing the Duchess of York in William Shakespeare's tragedy Richard III.
Carson is best remembered for her role as Ena Sharples, the flint-faced and gruff moral voice of Coronation Street, a role she played from 1960 to 1980. In 1962, she was named ITV Personality of the Year for her portrayal of Ena. For much of her near 20 years on the programme, Sharples' moralising caused her to spar regularly with Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix). She appeared in the first episode which was aired on 9 December 1960. Long after her departure from the programme and after her own death, Carson continues to be synonymous with the hairnet that Ena chose to wear for almost every occasion. As a singer, Carson was in the soprano range and was a regular on the Christian hymnal programme Stars on Sunday during its ten-year run from 1969.
On 14 February 1968, Violet sailed from Southampton on the Orient Lines liner Oriana, bound for Australia. She arrived in Fremantle on 6 March 1968 and Melbourne on 9 March 1968. Thousands of Australians greeted her on the docks. On 22 March 1968, she attended the 10th Annual TV Week Logie Awards (named after John Logie Baird) at the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne, where she presented awards to some of the main winners that year.
During the 1970s, Carson suffered a series of strokes and endured other health problems, and only played Ena sporadically throughout the decade. She took time off from Coronation Street in 1974 after suffering a nervous breakdown.
In April 1980, Carson's departure from Coronation Street was aired, except that nobody knew at the time that it would be her last appearance in the show. A storyline involving Ena moving to Lytham St. Annes, near Blackpool, to stay with a friend while her flat at the street's community centre was being renovated, was aired. When the character returned, the flat was not ready and Ena announced on screen (to characters Ken Barlow and Albert Tatlock) that she would return to her flat—but only if she felt like doing so. It was at this point that Carson became ill with pernicious anaemia and was forced to leave the programme, although at the time it was anticipated that she would return at some stage. However, this did not happen and henceforth, all storylines involving the return of Ena Sharples had to be shelved because Carson was not well enough to appear, although Ena Sharples was still considered an active character.
Carson lived in a bungalow in Cleveleys, Blackpool, with her sister Nellie, and refused to make any public appearances after her retirement. The year after she retired, Carson underwent surgery for an abscess from which she never fully recovered.
Carson died of heart failure, aged 85, in her sleep, on Boxing Day 1983, at her home, 18 Fleetwood Road, Blackpool. She was cremated at Carleton Crematorium, Blackpool, and is commemorated at Bispham Parish Church in Blackpool.
She was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1965 and had a rose cultivar named after her ('Violet Carson', McGredy 1964). Wax statues of her are held at Madame Tussauds in London and Blackpool.
- Julie Carpenter (8 September 2009). "Hidden life of Ena Sharples". Sunday Express. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
- Paul Morley (6 June 2013). The North: (And Almost Everything In It). Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 61–. ISBN 978-1-4088-3400-8.
- "Violet Carson, the actress who played Ena Sharples, the..." UPI Archive. 28 December 1983. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
- "Violet Carson OBE".
- "Violet Carson blue plaque in Manchester". openplaques.org. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
- Over the Airwaves [Chapter 9] by Trevor Hill (the Book Guild) (2005)