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Interview: John Savident
1:03pm Friday 18th January 2008 in News
Everyone's favourite butcher Fred Elliot, aka John Savident, talks of his hesitance of taking on another Lancashire role in Hobson's Choice - coming to Manchester.
He also reveals his vow to never do reality TV and walks down the memory lane of his early days - including life as a policeman!
JOHN Savident in full anecdotal flow is surely one of the great phenomena of British showbusiness today, a spontaneous outpouring so entertaining that it should really be classed a national treasure and saved for posterity.
Even the fact that he's recently been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, now brought under control by medication and some changes in diet - "My least favourite four-letter word!" he pronounces - cannot dampen his enthusiasm for a good story well told, titbits from a lifetime in theatre, film and television that means he can switch from a morsel on Hollywood icon Faye Dunaway to a snippet about Liz Dawn without pausing for breath and all delivered with the sort of flourish that would have made Sir Donald Woolfit proud.
Audiences will know John best, of course, as Fred Elliott, Coronation Street's booming butcher and one of Weatherfield's most enduring comic creations. What they might not realise is that the actor, who was born in Guernsey and grew up in Manchester, actually started out in a very different career, pounding the beat as a young Lancashire police officer.
"I was a policeman for six years," he explains. "Do you remember John Stalker? I was with him. We were cadets and PCs together."
Already an enthusiastic amateur, however, when the chance came to join a touring production of old musical favourite The Student Prince, starring John Hanson, in 1962, he took it. Over the next three decades he appeared in the full range of TV shows, including The Saint, Callan, The Avengers, Doctor Who and even that other piece of cult sci-fi, Blake's Seven.
He's been a costume drama regular too; with parts in such prestigious slices of ratings hit fare as Moll Flanders, Middlemarch and Parnell and the Englishwoman.
His film career included everything from The Battle of Britain to The Remains of the Day, A Clockwork Orange to Loch Ness and period romp The Wicked Lady.
Not to mention a host of theatre appearances too, with parts in rep, the West End - he was in the original cast of The Phantom of the Opera - and classics like Pirandello's Henry IV, Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth and celebrated pieces of great English drama ranging from the Restoration's She Stoops to Conquer to crowd-pleasing farce See How They Run.
In 1994, though, he won a lasting place in the nation's affections when he first blustered his way into Coronation Street as the redoubtable Fred Elliott, a man who would never use one word when 10 would do.
"I based that on people I knew who really spoke like that," he says. "It was all to do with the Industrial Revolution and the Lancashire mills, where people repeated themselves because of the noise of the looms.
"It was still happening when I was at mixed Infants. The girls would come out of the factories with cotton fluff everywhere and they used the repetition because it got into normal usage.
"So I started to put it into Fred's speech and people would say: 'Are you allowed to do that?' But I say bugger that! We had all these writers who wrote in the wrong accent.
"The writers they used to have would use Lancashire humour, which isn't just cracking jokes. I'll give you an example. I was in a butcher's shop and a woman said: 'Is that chicken fresh?' and the butcher said: 'Fresh? A good vet will have that bird back on its feet in no time!' I've used that one myself."
So Fred is gone but in his place comes another larger-than-life Lancashire character, the overbearing Mr Hobson, heavy-drinking boot-maker and ultimately browbeaten father -a sort of northern comic King Lear you might say - in the new touring revival of stage classic Hobson's Choice.
"I didn't want to do it really because it was another Lancashire character," he admits. "For years nobody asked me to play a Lancashire character, only once or twice before Coronation Street and it never really took off. But now I've done Fred and I'm lumbered with it."
And after Hobson's there is one thing for sure - he won't be doing any more soaps.
"They've even asked me to do that celebrity Come Dancing thing, I was horrified to hear. They've asked me twice to do it and offered me a lot of money but it stands for everything I hate about television today."
See John Savident in Hobson's Choice at The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, from January 23-27. For tickets call 0870 787 5780.