Sue Nicholls enters the room dressed in evening attire. As she picks her way towards the table at which we wait excitedly to interview her, she ‘halloes’ and jokes, and her laughter rings out like bells. “I don’t normally dress like this,” she says. “I thought, I’m going to show off because I’ve just been to a dinner date this morning, so I’ve kept it on for you.”
Sue is beaming, and exudes everything a person could hope to encounter when meeting anyone, not least a Coronation Street legend. Indeed, next year sees the fortieth anniversary of her first appearance on the programme in 1979 as Audrey Potter, now Roberts.
Her joie de vivre is abundant, and given that such opportunities to chat with her are a rarity, my fellow blogger Martin Leay and I felt extra privileged to be in her company. We’re in Manchester on behalf of the Coronation Street Blog to chat about what lies ahead for Audrey over Christmas, and so those not wishing to know what’s in this particular present, should leave it wrapped and under the tree for now.
If you’re still reading, pour yourself a smooth Burgundy, and imagine you’re in Grasmere Drive, where our story begins with the return of that most splendidly shameless of cads, Lewis Archer. Yes, Nigel Havers’ sublime character arrived back into Audrey’s life again earlier this year, sweeping her off her feet, on to a fictional cruise, and into Gail’s bad books. I absolutely adored that storyline, and wrote all about it here. The pair have remained afloat since, but the Christmas previews indicate there may be choppy waters ahead.
We now know that Audrey is set to inherit £80,000 from poor Archie Shuttleworth, as the undertaker himself finally goes under. I couldn’t help but wonder at the news if Ken’s salacious tales of his anonymised escapades with Audrey in the Weatherfield Gazette had proven too much for him.
We have also learned that Lewis will be seen wining and dining a mystery woman with whom he heads to a hotel room. Oh dear. And how do we know this? Gail, of course, who reprises her role as a spy.
Also in the previews is that Gail breaks this news to Audrey, Lewis stands her up on a date, and her inheritance is wiped from her account. We’re then told Audrey sits alone on Maxine’s bench, and breaks down in tears. It certainly doesn’t sound a very Merry Christmas for poor Aud.
So, is it possible that Lewis is just a bad guy after all? Sue says of her character, “There’s a bit of me where the doubts have actually started to make me worry. But you see, what you don’t realise is, that I really love Lewis.” She observes how true to life Audrey’s situation is, when an old flame that has treated you poorly returns and your desire to send them packing vies with the undisputable spark between you, and the desire for companionship.
Asked if she would personally like for this relationship to be a success, Sue says “When Audrey first arrived, she was a goer, she went with anybody that bought her a G&T, basically… But then she was very happy with Alf because she was maturing in a nice way, and she got a bit grand being mayoress, and all that palaver.” Remarking on life’s different stages, Sue says, “I don’t think the same now as I did when I was in my thirties even, but you can still remember them, so that’s how Audrey is now.” She says it would be nice for the relationship to last, even if she feels Lewis is out of Audrey’s league. “He’s very proper and very well spoken and all that,” she notes, “so it’s not like Alf, who was adorable, totally the opposite; or any of the other blokes she has lingered with.”
As to whether another possible break up would spell the end of romance for her character, Sue says “If that should happen, be it Lewis or anyone else, how can we judge? I don’t know how I would be. You say at the time, ‘I’m never going to do that again, ever. I feel such a fool, I look a fool,’ and then something happens, literally out of the blue, and you think gosh, you know? You don’t know.”
Asked if there would be any hope for Audrey and Ken perhaps, Sue replies, “Aw, how lovely. I’m not giving anything away, I’m about to go and do a scene, literally after I’ve spoken with you, and I’m desperately rude to Ken.” We audibly gasp. “I know!” Sue says. “And then, in a few days time,” she continues, “he comes back and tells me off. But it doesn’t matter, it’ll be fine.” She adds, “I’ll tell him that, if I may, when I’ve stopped being rude to him.” Sue smiles. “No, Claudia’s in there,” she acknowledges, shifting in her chair, her face falling, “well in there.” It’s the only glimmer of disgruntled Audrey we see today, and it’s hilarious.
When it is suggested to Sue that showing older characters falling in love gives a good message to viewers, she wholeheartedly agrees and notes that it’s true to life. Speaking of a story pitched to her years ago which involved a lonely Audrey going home and drinking a lot, Sue explains how she didn’t agree with it and asked at the time, “Why do you think somebody of – whatever age I was – because they just work in the salon and then go home, that they’re lonely and they’re going to drink? Not necessarily.” She adds, “To be honest, I can’t wait to get home, plonk on the sofa and pour the Rosé, but it’s not because I’m depressed. And I tried to pitch it back to them to say I don’t really want to play that I’m a drunk forlorn little thing because, again, it’s the age.” Sue was then happy that the storyline didn’t come to fruition.
One story she did love was Lewis’s initial return with fake psychic Rosemary, and her eyes light up at the mention of the wonderful Sophie Thompson who played her. “I just adore that woman, she was so funny,” she says. When told about our interview with Sophie in March in which she expressed her awe at Sue, she replies, “Well we’d gone to heaven with her. She was such fun and she was so bloody marvellous. I loved her. When she did this huge speech in front of us all in the village hall, I just adored it.”
I asked Sue if it was enjoyable to film her recent scenes at the North West Regional Stylists’ Awards in which Audrey threw a bouquet at Claudia Colby during her lifetime achievement speech. “It was,” she replies. “I’ve had a lot of feedback, and it’s jolly sweet of people. It was lovely, but I wanted to get it right,” she explains. “I did want it to be real more than just a kind of farce, as we all did. So if it worked it worked. And it was fun.” Sue adds, “When I saw it back, I had to smile, but was delighted – did you see Rula as Claudia when she was hit? She was so good, it looked like, and I actually thought, she had had a seizure. And then I looked at it again and I saw lovely Bill Roache, Ken, going to help her, just very briefly, but he looked like he was trying to throttle her. But yes, I liked that bit a lot. And the writing – I have to thank Damon [Alexis-Rochefort] very much for that.”
Asked what the secret is to playing drunk, Sue cites her husband, Mark Eden who played Alan Bradley. “He always says the secret is you don’t play drunk, you play trying not to be drunk,” she says.
It sounds as if we might be treated to more comedy scenes as Sue tells us of Audrey’s plans to treat the family to a holiday with her inheritance, and the mixed reaction at the campsite-style vacation she proposes. “I give them a little ticket each. We have a family meal and I say, ‘there’s your Christmas present.’” However, we’re told neither the big private balcony with views of the ducks, the hot tub or the watersports on offer do much to sell it. “Can you imagine the family?” she asks, laughing. Yes, and I’d want to see it for David’s face alone.
Sue is asked if Gail will be insufferable at suspecting the worst of Lewis. “If I see it from her point of view, she was really hurt, however many years ago it was,” Sue replies, adding, “She tends to forget that I was hurt too.” We’re told Gail is full on with this storyline. “She doesn’t come in the door without saying, she’s seen him cross a road with a woman, and then seen him doing something else,” says Sue. “But I don’t think she’s doing it through spite, she actually genuinely believes it, and cares.” We’re told Audrey doesn’t take this well, and Gail gets on her nerves a lot.
In terms of where Audrey is at in her life generally, in addition to still loving the salon, Sue says, “I think she is a family person…I’m happier now being the grandma, I think again it’s the age thing, you transcend up to that, and you can be more family orientated and speak to the kids more. The only person I never get through to is Gail. But long may that be really.” Hear, hear!
With Audrey seemingly in no hurry to hand over the reins of her business to anyone else, our blogger Martin notes that she hasn’t always had that work ethic, as the classic episodes currently showing on ITV3 demonstrate. “No,” agrees Sue, “what a tart she was then!” Asked if she watches it, Sue says “I do, and I love it because you see, without decrying anything we’re doing now, it’s just so wonderful to see Percy, to see Julie Goodyear, to see all of them – Betty! Is that because I was in it then?” she wonders, at the same time noting “But, people stop me in the street and say they’re watching it and they love it because they remember it. I can’t say I was much in love with myself when I watched that,” she says, “[Audrey] was a bit mouthy.”
Finally, asked if she thinks Lewis loves Audrey, Sue replies, “I’m going to answer you definitely yes, I do.” Casting her mind back to his flit when they were last together, she says “I went home to Grasmere Drive” adding, with a little wry boast “I live at Grasmere Drive – and there were some flowers with a message on saying ‘I did love you, you’re the one that I loved’ or something, I can’t remember. And I think that was lovely.” She continues, “You keep that in your heart, don’t you. She probably kept the note, actually, if she’s like me. And then of course he arrives back so many years later. So my answer is definitely yes, I may be proved wrong…”
While I’ve no idea where this is headed, I’m going to choose to keep the faith on this one, and really hope they stay together, as they make a great couple. But alas, Lewis has form, and there’s no denying that he’s up to something behind her back. Only time will tell how it all plays out.
I would have talked to Sue all day, but sadly it had to come to an end. As she moved to leave, she exited as she arrived, laughing and joking with a twinkle in her eye, and that mischievous grin. Press days don’t usually conclude with cheers and a round of applause, but this one most deservedly did. Sue is a genuine delight to spend time with. She has a fantastic sense of humour, and shines with a gorgeous energy that is as infectious as it is lovely to witness.
No matter which way it goes for Audrey this Christmas, we know that it will be a gift to watch with Sue at the centre of it all.
By Emma Hynes