I’ve had over a week in which to silently and thoughtfully digest and grieve the loss of the character that was Pat Phelan. I’m glad, because it has given me the time in which to write everything I wanted and needed to say about the character and the man who played him.
Grieve a psychopathic, serial killing, narcissist, you say? Yes, absolutely. And isn’t that intriguing in itself? Such is the measure of this iconic character, the like of which I don’t believe we’ll see on Coronation Street again.
I started writing for this blog in October 2013, the same month and year that a dodgy developer with a large house and a bigger ego had his motorbike stolen by Owen Armstrong and Gary Windass in lieu of a debt which was settled in exchange for its safe return.
As I found my feet and came to experience the joy of writing about my favourite programme, my words were stitched by a needle through which Pat Phelan’s progression was threaded. From that October to April 2014, we watched as he manipulated the Windass family on to the breadline with relish, we reeled at his indecent proposal to Anna, and recoiled in horror at seeing his plan to rape her come to fruition. She did what she did to clear a crippling debt, save her son, and free those she loved from his interminable grip. He did what he did because he was predatorial, odious and depraved.
Yet, there was something about Pat Phelan that had me wanting to see more when he departed that spring. This was down to Connor McIntyre who, in the space of six months, had brought something compelling to this role. His capacity and talent as an actor was clear, and a major draw, but in bringing this to bear on the part, he had added something more; he had made it his own, and it was impossible to imagine anyone else in it.
It would be January 2016 before we would see him again, this time divorced, bankrupt and working as a builder on Kevin Webster’s garage. And while we knew we were in for quality performances, I don’t believe anyone could have predicted the magnitude of what would develop over the next two and a half years.
He was no sooner back than he was throwing a bag of chips out of harm’s way, and himself in front of a runaway car containing Carla Connor. Did this near instant act of heroism herald a new Phelan? No. But it did have us wondering from the off if this villain had an honourable side, a conscience even. Of course, he picked up where he left off, conning, scheming and manipulating those around him at every turn to engineer the life he wanted for himself. While capable of psychologically outdoing those who may have suspected enough to threaten his cover, thus ensuring his own survival, he also proved to be witty and clever, and fell in love with Eileen. And so, the crafting and shaping of a wonderfully complex character with an inherent duality had begun.
It wasn’t until he watched Michael Rodwell die that we realised who we were actually dealing with. It was notable, however, that Pat didn’t kill him, and how much his conscience relied on this bending of the reality of Michael’s death to justify to himself that he wasn’t a murderer.
It would be Andy Carver who would prove the ultimate test in that regard. Kidnapped and held hostage by Pat for months on end, Phelan’s inability to kill him was the sole reason he was kept alive. We saw Pat go to confession, a key moment in the religious, often biblical, dimension to Phelan’s character and mindset which became apparent as we got to know him better in his second incarnation on the street. He even faked illness to obtain medicine from the doctor for Andy when he was unwell. These indications of a conscience, of inner turmoil, of a moral compass, offered intriguing insights into the man who was not necessarily evil, but certainly capable of it, and struggled to reconcile himself with this side of his own personality.
A crucial development between Andy’s disappearance and viewers finding he was alive, was the introduction of Pat’s daughter, Nicola. His blossoming relationship with her gave us a glimpse of the man he might have been, wanted to be, or could at least still have the capacity to become. And he believed it. But, what we soon learned was that deceiving Phelan, and threatening to expose the actions which were a product of his dual nature, ignited a revenge that did not respect his own moral boundaries, and the lives of three men who did so came to be lost by his hand; Andy, Vinny and Luke.
Nicola turning against him on discovering that he had raped her mother proved a key moment in tipping the balance of his personality even further towards darkness, as what he had gained, then lost – a daughter, and an unborn grandchild – left him with less to lose than he had before. Now a murderer, we realised that this was a man capable of exacting the worst deeds capable of being committed by human hands.
We weren’t the only ones. Jailed Anna, Seb, Tim, Gary and Nicola were all convinced of his guilt. Even Eileen had begun to doubt her husband as the net of suspicion closed around him. His hatred of deception reared its head again as he rejected his own daughter by her hospital bed for tricking him and harbouring Seb. His tears were real, but so was his determination to disown her.
His world further imploded when Andy’s and Vinny’s bodies were uncovered at the building site. Anticipating the discovery, Pat had dragged Eileen off to a cottage in Whitehaven on the premise of a holiday which turned into a raging battle between the pair as she learned the truth from Tim, Phelan found out, and they engaged in a dramatic showdown on the pier. In a gripping scene worthy of everything he had become, he declared, “I am the darkness and the light, Eileen. That’s me. I’m a creator. I’m a destroyer. I’m the accuser and the prosecutor. I am the lord of hope and the layer in wait.” The horrific culmination of his transformation delivered to powerful effect in one tremendous speech, Pat would fall and Eileen would ensure his death. Or so she thought.
He would be found alive and taken hostage by Gary Windass, only to break free, intent on seeing his grandson. His daughter shot in the melee, his desire to keep her alive for the sake of her son would see him enter the Bistro where he would meet his end at the hand of Anna Windass; the only fitting conclusion considering how all of this began. Or, might we add, at his own hand too – Pat’s downfall at every turn has been his enraged and spiteful reaction to deceit and betrayal, and in his very last moments, he decides he would rather remove the knife buried in his chest and die if it means Anna going down for murder, than leave it in place on doctor Ali’s orders with a chance of living. His flaw, which to others had proven fatal, would now cause his own destruction.
As I saw the life drain from Phelan’s eyes in Connor McIntyre’s exceptional closing performance, I was witnessing the death of many things.
For me, this was as defining and iconic a character as you could possibly hope to see on any stage or in any work of literature, gothic, or otherwise, who electrified this programme for the best part of three years.
Connor’s interpretation and performance of the character was a rich and endless source of enjoyment, and a reason for tuning in each night. He was also gifted with some of the best writing and direction we’ve seen on the street in recent years; great work inspires great work. Something has to run counter as Corrie residents fret about the comparatively humdrum, and Phelan, wearing the affable mask of normality for as long as he could maintain it, was a glinting sliver of malice which coursed through their world. For some, it was too much. For me, it was exhilarating.
Coronation Street simply won’t be the same without him.
Another very special element of our experience of having Pat Phelan in our lives is Connor McIntyre. He was utterly exceptional in the role and, let’s face it, the very reason the character had such longevity, and will go down in the annals as a true Corrie great. But, beyond even this, his generosity of spirit, and the manner in which he embraced being the man who played the part, both online and off, has been a constant source of joy for myself and, I know, the many, many fans he has gained and whose lives he has enriched along the way. His outlook and attitude are inspirational, and while we’ve come to the end of the line with Phelan, it will be a pleasure to remain on the road with Connor to see where his journey takes him next.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting him in Manchester in May to talk about his exit from the show. His description on that day of how he sees the conclusion of his relationship with this role seems a fitting end to this piece as we too reach the end of our time with Phelan. And so, as the darkness and the light, creator and destroyer, accuser and prosecutor, the lord of hope and the layer in wait falls silent, I leave the final words to the man who made him everything he was.
“I think leaving any part that you’ve been really invested in is a period of recalibration. You’re used to going every day and generating that level of adrenaline, if you will. So, it’s a few weeks after that that you just have to get used to that, and you put it down as concluded. If I can make the analogy, because I do a bit of painting, when a painting goes out the door and a customer buys it, there’s a time that you go ‘that was nice and I’m glad now that it’s in somebody else’s hands.’”
As we ourselves prepare to recalibrate after the departure of this iconic character, I’d like to thank you, Connor, for placing your creation in our hands, so that we can always look upon it as a remarkable piece of work that enriched our lives, and the living tapestry that is Coronation Street.
This piece also appears on the Coronation Street Blog.