Married to the man of her dreams? Check. Landlady of the Rovers Return? Check. On the face of it, Jennybradley Connor has it all. Alas, there is one lingering problem; she’s finding Johnny’s infidelity with barmaid Liz harder to forget than the number of Steve McDonald’s weddings.
I travelled to ITV in Manchester on behalf of the Coronation Street Blog, with my fellow blogger Martin Leay, to catch up with Sally Ann Matthews, who plays the legendary Jenny, to find out what we can expect for her character over Christmas. Those wishing to keep this particular festive gift wrapped should avert their mince pies now.
So, the story so far. We’ve seen some of Jenny’s customarily iconic looks as Johnny and Liz get on like a pub on fire, and that she has been stoking her paranoia by helping herself to the stock. She’s also placed a tracking device on Liz’s phone to chart her every move. And, we’ve also now seen sparks fly as Liz meets up again with the brilliant Mike Thornberry (please let it be a longer stint this time). But will this be enough to assure Jenny that she has nothing to worry about?
One thing is for sure, Jenny is clearly out to get Liz. Is it just that she simply can’t forgive her? “I think she would have been fine if she didn’t have to be confronted with it on a daily basis,” says Sally Ann. “But, unfortunately Johnny and Liz are taking her at her word that she’s fine.” She adds, “If Liz is interfering in anything to do with Jenny and Johnny, their family, it’s irking her, and she’s going to find ways of coping with that.”
Noting that there has been no distance to get over what happened, because Liz is “still bloomin’ there,” Sally Ann explains how the tracking app on Liz’s phone only serves to create confusion which makes her even more paranoid. “There are occasions where Liz is lying to her and Johnny is lying to her, and she knows their lying, but she doesn’t know what the truth is,” she reveals.
Asked how Jenny does handle the situation, Sally Ann tells us that it’s through alcohol. “She’s self-medicating really,” she says, explaining that it happens quite gradually with glasses of wine behind the bar, but adds “when something happens that really sparks her paranoia, she reaches for a shot, and it’s just her way of coping.” Asked if anyone notices, Sally Ann says that while some of the regulars do, Johnny remains oblivious. Nor does her drinking strike Liz as particularly odd. “I think they all just think ‘ooh she’s a bit out of sorts today, in’t she? She’s acting a little bit oddly, but it is Jenny Bradley…’ So no, nobody really thinks too much about it.” Jenny doesn’t want to discuss it, explains Sally Ann, because she said she was over their infidelity, and she is desperately trying to get there, but it’s proving a lot more difficult than she thought. However, while we’re told where she goes to with her drinking levels is “pretty massive”, we’re assured that Jenny does not become an alcoholic as a result.
One of the things which hasn’t helped Jenny is her husband’s lack of grovelling and making up over what he’s done. “She wants to do things to provoke a reaction from Johnny,” Sally Ann says, “she wants attention, and she wants to know that he does love her and that she is his number one. And he takes advice from somebody else who says, ‘just give her her space,’ so that makes her even worse. She’s now absolutely convinced he’s not interested in her.”
We’re told that after drinking too much over a night to herself in the back room, Jenny walks into a door, giving herself a black eye. But, we also learn that she does something else that evening involving Liz which she manages to deflect on to someone else, and hopes to have gotten away with. Now, what might that be?
Sally Ann also reveals that things get even worse for Jenny when her bruise leads to suspicions about where she got it, and after chasing Johnny upstairs in a drunken fury, their argument is heard by Gemma who then sees her falling to the bottom, and breaking her rib in the process.
“By the time we get to Christmas Day, Jenny and Johnny are not in a good place,” Sally Ann says, but reveals, “by the time [it] comes around, she recognises the fact that her head has been all over the place, and they reconcile on Christmas morning and it’s all going to be marvellous until other people come and just stick their bloody oar in. Gemma accuses Johnny of beating her, and then news about the tracking device comes out, and news of everything else comes out, so Jenny’s day – from looking like we’d got it back together and he does love her, and they are going to be together and it’s going to be great – it all just unravels on Christmas Day.”
Asked how she reacts to Gemma’s accusations, Sally Ann says “By now, she’s weary of it all, and she wants to protect the two of them and stop this marriage from imploding, which it’s about to do.”
Sally Ann believes that they really do love eachother, but have just had the most awful year. She also observes, “There’s always been this undercurrent of people suspecting that Jenny was a gold digger and that she didn’t really love him. But, I think it’s been nice that you’ve seen that actually no, she does genuinely love him, and they love eachother, and if all these other events hadn’t come into play, they would have been fine.”
Asked if Jenny’s behaviour is solely down to the affair, or if it might be a consequence of the part of her that is somewhat unpredictable and dangerous, Sally Ann replies, “You should never know what she’s thinking. There should always be that element that she could do this or she could do that. She’s unhinged, let’s be honest. But, you know? That’s the fun bit. That’s the joyous thing about her. You can’t predict how she will behave.”
Jenny generally tries to put on a front. Does Sally Ann believe she has the capacity to show vulnerability? “You see it very infrequently,” she replies. “She has vulnerable moments.” Recounting the traumatic events of her early life, including the loss of her parents, and then her child, Sally Ann says, “A lot of Jenny’s reactions to things, not everything, are learned behaviours from childhood, so that’s why she can be incredibly childish in some situations, but incredibly mature in others.” Contrasting the maturity she can show when offering advice to the likes of Gemma or Kate with her childish responses to loss and abandonment, brought on by the resulting insecurity, she continues, “I can pretty much do anything I want to do with her reaction, and it’s believable and it’s truthful. And so long as it’s truthful, that’s all I’m interested in.”
In terms of a potential Christmas showdown, Sally Ann can’t see a cat fight in the offing. “Jenny and Liz are more verbal,” she observes. “They’re both smart, sassy women. They’re matched in that way, so it’s always going to be a war of words between them.”
Asked if she ever saw herself as the landlady of the Rovers, Sally Ann says “I always thought, potentially, I’d end up in The Kabin, working with Rita and then taking over at some point. Never in a million years did I see myself in The Rovers. No one was more gobsmacked and terrified than me when Kate Oates told me.”
Confirming that she does watch the classic episodes on ITV3, Sally Ann says, “It’s great to watch it. Half of it I can’t remember, I mean, it’s so long ago, but they’re great to watch, all those characters who were so clearly drawn. There were fewer of us and we had more time and television was a very different beast than it is today. Percy Sugden was just a joy.” She recalls the press reporting that the show was boring and dated at the time, and so is glad that the episodes are now recognised as a “golden age” for the programme.
Interviewing Sally Ann is a joy. It’s always great when an actor speaks of their character with such depth and conviction, and her investment in her is undoubtedly why Jenny comes off with such authenticity on screen. As to how it will all pan out, we’ll just have to tune in and see…
By Emma Hynes