Patricia Phoenix was born in Manchester in 1923. She is best known for her role as Elsie Tanner in “Coronation Street”. She has acted on film in “The L Shaped Room” with Leslie Caron and Tom Bell in 1961. At the time of her death in 1986 she was married to actor Anthony Booth.
Bold, brassy and larger than life, Pat Phoenix was television’s favourite scarlet woman. For nearly 25 years, she dominated the soap opera Coronation Street (1960) in the role of Elsie Tanner and sent shivers down the spines of Britain’s menfolk twice a week. With her low cut cleavage, she was known as “the working man’s Raquel Welch” and was once dubbed by the then UK Prime Minister Jim Callaghan as “the sexiest woman on TV”.
Pat Phoenix’s life very much mirrored that of the character she played. Tough and determined, she came from a poor working class family in Manchester, but fought her way up to the top. Married three times, she was blunt, outspoken and a notorious chainsmoker. But like Elsie Tanner, she had a heart of gold and inspired affection in everybody.
Born in 1924, she desperately wanted to be an actress but her first job was as a filing clerk. She broke into repertory theatre and worked throughout the North of England with a variety of companies. “I played everything” she said. “When I was 22, I played 90 year old women. I was brought up in the theatre and I made my own way. I was in the theatre for many years before I was in television. The stage is most exhilarating. You know when an audience loves you”.
After working with the Joan Littlewood Theatre Workshop in London in the early 1950s, she found herself out of work and nearly gave up acting. Success came in 1960 when, at the age of 36, she was cast as Elsie Tanner in Granada TV’s new soap Coronation Street(1960). With the rise of interest in northern based sixties films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), the earthy characters and gritty settings of Coronation Street (1960) became an instant hit.
Created and written by Tony Warren, the role of the headstrong Elsie was a classic and transported Phoenix to international fame. Viewers followed “the Street” in such huge numbers that when she married US Army Sergeant Steve Tanner in 1967, over 20 million viewers tuned in to the programme.
“I was one of the first anti-heroines” said Phoenix, “not particularly good looking and no better than I should be. The character of Elsie had overtones of me in it, and overtones of my mother”.
Phoenix played Elsie for over 24 years but shocked producers and audiences when she decided to quit Coronation Street (1960) for good in 1983. She still remained on television in series such as Constant Hot Water (1986) and as an agony aunt for an early morning magazine programme. Her last TV role was as a bedridden actress in the dramaUnnatural Causes (1986).
A television legend, Pat Phoenix was loved by millions and numbered Laurence Olivieramong her admirers. Characteristically, she summed up her own talent saying “I don’t know what the word ‘star’ means. I only know I am a working actress”.
– IMDb Mini Biography By: Patrick Newley
The above IMDB entry can also now be accessed online here.