I interviewed Wendi Peters for the Coronation Street Blog to chat about the return of her infamous character, Cilla Battersby-Brown
Whether departing soap characters disappear into the night gazing longingly from the rear window of a cab, or are despatched in more dramatic circumstances, the extent of their legendary status is only really felt through the passing of time, and I think it’s safe to say that Cilla Battersby-Brown has firmly etched her legacy into the annals. In some ways it’s hard to believe she has been away from the street almost twice as long as she spent causing havoc on it. I caught up with Wendi Peters at ITV in Manchester to chat about her infamous character’s return to the cobbles.
Wendi herself is surprised at Cilla’s iconic status considering she was only there for four years, putting it down to a combination of her storylines and her bold, brash nature. But what has Cilla back after seven years, and where has she been?
Despite her departure for Las Vegas, and later move to South Africa, Wendi reveals that Cilla has been living of late in slightly less exotic Wolverhampton. “That did make me giggle” says Wendi on learning the news.
She reveals that Chesney and Fiz are skeptical of Cilla’s reason for returning and are right to assume that there’s an ulterior motive, as Cilla is harbouring a secret. “She’s Cilla. She’s not back just to say hello,” observes Wendi, “there always has to be a reason.” However, her children don’t ask, accustomed as they are to being lied to.
Wendi reveals that the only person who really takes to her that doesn’t know her of old is Sinead who tries to persuade Chesney to give her a chance. Describing him as Cilla’s “blue eyed boy”, Wendi notes that, by extension, his son becomes the apple of her eye. “On her first sighting of Joseph, she’s absolutely thrilled” she reveals, “she thinks he’s very bonny and takes after his Nana.”
However, while Fiz isn’t exactly happy to see her, “Chesney is the one that really knocks her for six as he’s so hostile towards her” reveals Wendi who confirms that Cilla gets a “huge shock” when it becomes apparent that “they can’t wait to get rid of her.”
It’s clear therefore that Cilla’s return is going to be far from prodigal.
Much has naturally been made of potential clashes and comparisons with Beth Tinker. “All I’ve been getting Twitter-wise is ‘we can’t wait to see the arguments and the fights with Beth’” observes Wendi. “It’s an odd one this. You have to say we’re the typical strong Corrie women and I suppose there’s a slight resemblance.” However, Wendi anticipates that interactions between the two might offer “a bit of a twist on what people are expecting.”
So how did Wendi feel when she learned they wanted to bring Cilla back? “It was a complete shock” she reveals, “I’d put it to bed really, I’d moved on. It was something I’d never really considered. It’s lovely just to come back for a short break to find out where she’s been and what she’s up to, and to have the purpose of getting Jennie out for her maternity leave. The fact that my daughter’s properly having a baby, it’s so lovely to come back and see her go out”.
With regard to her preparations for playing the part after 7 years away Wendi reveals “I’d obviously learned my lines at home but I didn’t read them out with anybody, so the first time she actually spoke was when I walked on set and said ‘Well aren’t you pleased to see me?’ It’s really weird, because I feel like I’m in full swing again, it’s like riding a bike.”
While Cilla’s loud personality has traditionally been matched by her wardrobe, viewers can anticipate a change in this regard. “She’s gone a bit more upmarket this time” Wendi reveals, explaining how she was anxious to tone Cilla down. “Although she still has the essence of Cilla, she’s never going to change,” she notes, “we did want to bring her a little bit back down to earth. She’s still got the gold jewellery which I’ve picked out of my loft; I have a Cilla box in which I put a few scripts, my last continuity photos, her jewellery and a little hat from the last scene.”
Wendi’s preparations also included watching Cilla’s last week of episodes, but she regretted doing this, disliking bits of both the character and the way she played her. I asked Wendi if that contributed to her decision to tone Cilla down. “Before I even watched that I wanted to tone her down slightly” she confirmed. “She’s 7 years older, she’s nearly 50. I loved playing her, but I just felt we needed to find a little bit more reality in her. I felt over the 4 years she’d maybe gotten a bit too much at certain times.”
Wendi describes her nerves on returning as being like the first day at school, revealing, “It wasn’t until I’d got about 2 or 3 scenes under my belt that I relaxed and thought this is going to be okay now”.
With regard to whether or not she resembles Cilla in any way, Wendi observes “I think there always has to be a bit of you in a character you play. I’m very impatient, I’m a bit of a control freak, and I’d like to think a much nicer version of Cilla.”
Wendi has no idea if Cilla will return again after this 6 weeks, but isn’t closed to the idea. “Never say never” she observes, “for me it’s very much dependent on what they come up with, the way it’s going to go, and how she’s going to be” as well as what’s going on in her own life at the time. For now though, it’s clear that an intriguing few weeks lie ahead as far as her return is concerned.
Wendi is a true breath of fresh air, and the enthusiasm with which she talks about her character, her love of theatre and the life she has carved for herself, filled with all the things about which she is passionate, is an inspiration.
By Emma Hynes