Despite what some ‘well researched’ sites may tell you, Coronation Street had a wheelchair-bound character long before 2010.
For six years and nearly 500 episodes, the battleaxe that was Maud Grimes was a force to be reckoned with.
So while others may insult the late actress’ legacy by seemingly not acknowledging her fabulous reign as Weatherfields first main long term disabled character, DJ Michael Keohan salutes the wonderful Elizabeth Bradley.
Elizabeth Bradley first stepped onto the cobbles of Coronation Street in 1977 in a small part as Councillor Adams, it wasn’t until over a decade later that she would return – only this time in a wheelchair.
The term ‘battleaxe’ is certainly not used out of context with the character of Maud Grimes. She was opinionated and wasn’t past trickery and cunning to get her own way.
First seen in 1993 as the mother of Maureen Naylor – a checkout worker who was being wooed by supermarket boss Reg Holdsworth – she wasn’t impressed with her daughter’s love interest, often picking her perfect moment to spoil her daughters ‘intimate’ moments.
The story had gone on since the 1960s [all off-screen of course] when Reg and Maureen had first met. The first time around Maud had her way and the couple parted, the second time around Reg was to win the battle, if ultimately not the war.
Maud was often bad-tempered and moaned about almost everything. The early days of Maud also lead to a much-remembered gaff. The original scenes with the actress were recorded in a real house – rather than a set – and during one episode the grumpy Grimes managed to get from the downstairs of the house to the upstairs – unaided in her wheelchair!
Despite her grouchy nature viewers took to Maud and in January 1994 Maureen married Reg – despite Grimes trying to break them up several times with different ploys, the wedding episode saw the audience see a different side to Maud when she overheard her two son-in-laws discussing her future, both declaring they wouldn’t be looking after her.
Maud upset took off alone into the night in her wheelchair. Reg quit his role as supermarket manager at Betterbuys to work alongside his wife in their newly purchased Coronation Street corner shop. At one point the newlyweds planned on buying Rita Sulivan’s former home, however, Maud planted suggestions into Maureen’s mind that Reg and Rita had been more than just friends, which caused a scene as they viewed the property with Rita.
Buying the Corner Shop from Alf and Audrey Roberts was frowned upon by Maud – she suggested the pair would ‘live to regret it’. When questioned why she couldn’t just be happy about the new venture she retorted ‘it’s just the way I am’.
Reg, despite knowing the shop was a little gold mine, was proved to regret buying it – but mainly because of the constant put-downs from his mother-in-law which ultimately saw Reg need to get away from the pensioner from hell. After only a few months he took up a managerial role at Firman’s Freezers – leaving Maureen and Maud to run the corner shop together.
The store gave Maud plenty of opportunity to gossip and moan in equal measure – the counter adapted for wheelchair use in order for Maud to serve customers with an insincere smile.
She did however have a soft spot for some people, notably Percy Sugden – such friendship didn’t go down well with Percy’s long-term admirer, café assistant and purple rinse icon, Phyllis Pearce. A battle ensued – ultimately Maud won when Percy commented that she would make a wonderful wife – misreading his intentions Maud took the remark as a proposal of marriage, the pair were engaged.
Happiness was short-lived however when Percy broke off the engagement after discovering that Maureen was the result of an affair with an American soldier during World War II, the pair remained friends and she always hoped their romance may resume. She did propose one final time, but Percy shrugged it off as a joke.
It wasn’t only ‘mother dearest’ who’s love-life was withering. Maureen and Reg also spilt up – to the delight of Maud. Reg had by 1995 been promoted in the Firman’s business and was working away. Maureen seeing less and less of her husband was left outraged in 1996 when she discovered he’d run off with another woman who was expecting his child.
The divorce settlement saw Maureen gain control of the entire corner shop, which had been placed previously up for sale by Reg as he felt the two women couldn’t cope on their own – this was endorsed somewhat when the store was broken into and ransacked after Maud forgot to turn on the alarm.
Viewers watched in horror in 1997 when she was tipped from her wheelchair onto the shop floor after being attacked by young thugs, nurse Martin Platt rushed to her aid.
As a businesswoman, it wasn’t long before businessman and butcher Fred Eliott cast his eyes over Maureen’s goods. But if he was to think Maud would treat him any better than Reg he was very much mistaken. From her wheelchair, she famously sprayed Fred and Maureen with a fire extinguisher in the corner shop when failing to be impressed with the pair. Despite her continued battleaxe behaviour towards Fred, he married Maureen in 1997.
Other memorable moments from her time on the street include trying to make contact with the ghost of Ivy Brennan – who Vera claimed to have seen in her former home. There were emotional scenes when Coronation Street visited Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
Paying tribute to the British fallen in both World Wars – Percy, Maureen and Maud visited the graves of the war heroes and paid their respects and discussed the loss of so many young men. It was also an eye opener for Maureen when they visited the American cemetery and Maud gave the grave of an American serviceman as her real father. She was also a tea-leaf reader, offered palm reading in the Rovers Return sitting room and was famed for her bizarre tea-cosy shaped hats.
In November 1999 Maud bid farewell to Weatherfield after appearing in 476 episodes.
Abled bodied [she never needed a wheelchair in real life] Elizabeth Bradley was born in Hamstead, London in 1922, the younger of two daughters born to senior civil servant Sir John Abraham. From an early age she enjoyed performing, however with the advent of World War II she took to nursing as a profession joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment with British Red Cross. Her father was killed onboard Winston Churchill’s private plane when it crashed in 1945. He had been serving as a senior official in the Air Force at the time.
WWII over Bradley decided to study acting and joined the Webber Douglas Academy, where she met her future husband – Garth Adams. The couple were married in 1950.
After a successful run in theatre shows across the UK Elizabeth quit acting in 1952 after becoming pregnant with her first of three children.
In 1965 she returned to work, once again proving popular in theatre productions including The Importance of Being Ernest. It was also this decade that television roles began to be offered. She starred in classics such as Dr Findlay’s Casebook and Z Cars. Television work continued throughout the 1970s and 80s including parts in Softly, Softly, Juliet Bravo, Casualty and Shine On Harvey Moon.
In the 1980s and 90s she also made a number of film appearances including in An American Werewolf in London, but book-ended her six years in Coronation Street with two successful theatre productions. She was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for her role in Billy Liar in 1993 while in 2000 returned to London’s West End starring in Alan Bennett’s Lady In The Van, playing opposite Dame Maggie Smith. Elizabeth died while on holiday in France in October 2000 aged 78.
Speaking to the BBC at the time of Elizabeth’s death Sherrie Hewson – who played Maureen – said:
“We were so close, like mother and daughter. I spoke to her only a couple of weeks ago and she was so full of life and plans for the future.”
While Ken Morely – Reg in the Granada saga – told the broadcaster: “She was a lovely lady and great fun to work with. On-screen our characters couldn’t stand the sight of each other, but off-screen I loved her dearly”
The BBC News report on her death commented: “Maud – who was confined to a wheelchair…became a permanent fixture in Coronation Street’s corner grocery shop, working alongside her daughter Maureen. As Maud, Bradley was outspoken, opinionated, and bad-tempered – regularly making her downtrodden daughter and son-in-law the target of her overbearing nature.”
And we wouldn’t have wanted her any other way. Elizabeth may be gone but here at ATV Maud Grimes is far from forgotten – and so we salute the mighty Maud – Coronation Street’s first long-term wheelchair character.
Michael Keohan is a radio presenter and has worked for stations including Lite FM and Capital Radio.
He also from 2008-2009 wrote a monthly personal showbiz column for ATV Today.
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