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Steve Burbridge In Conversation With . . . Debbie Arnold

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 4th Nov 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge


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Actress Debbie Arnold talks to STEVE BURBRIDGE about joining the cast of Britain’s best-loved soap.

Setting foot on the hallowed cobbles of Coronation Street may be a daunting prospect for even the most experienced of actresses, but for Sunderland-born Debbie Arnold it feels like a homecoming.

‘About thirty years ago I played the part of Sylvie Hicks, a girlfriend of Mike Baldwin’s father, Frankie,’ says Debbie. ‘It was around the time of Dallas and Dynasty, when a man in his seventies could be seen with a girl in her twenties on his arm and nothing odd was thought of it.’

Debbie has the honour of having appeared in all of the major British soaps. At various points in her highly successful career she has played April Branning in EastEnders, Debbie Wilson in Emmerdale and Janice Bolton in Hollyoaks. It’s something she’s extremely proud of.

‘I think a lot of people may have appeared in a lot of the soaps, but possibly not as regular characters, and I don’t know if anyone else has actually done all four,’ she says. ‘All my characters have been totally different and there was even one period when I was on air playing Janice in Hollyoaks and April in EastEnders at the same time.’

Now, though, Debbie is poised to make a return to Weatherfield as Carole Evans.

‘She’s the landlady of the Weatherfield Arms and an old acquaintance and sparring partner of Stella Price,’ Debbie reveals.

During their reigns as Queen of the Rovers Return, the larger-than-life landladies of the most famous pub in Britain have always had to contend with rivals from other bars. Bet Lynch had to suffer the scheming Stella Rigby from The White Swan, whilst Annie Walker revelled in the long-running game of one-upmanship she played with the licensee of The Laughing Donkey, Nellie Harvey (who was portrayed by Mollie Sugden).

So, is that the kind of relationship we can expect to see between Stella Price and Carole Evans?

‘If it’s the same sort of relationship I’d be delighted because it was very bitchy and also very funny,’ says Debbie, enthusiastically. ‘Mollie was one of my most favourite actresses and my absolute idol, so if Michelle and I could replicate or emulate what they had it would be fantastic.’

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Debbie is looking forward to working with fellow ex-EastEnder Michelle Collins, who plays Stella, and also catching up with some old friends.

‘I’ve worked a lot with Nigel Havers and because I’ve been in the business for quite a while, I know most of the people anyway. We see each other at the soap awards and various other events, so I’ve never gone out of their radar.’

Although some aspects of working on the top-rated soap have not changed, others certainly have, including the pace at which the programme is produced.

‘There’s a huge amount of difference in that respect,’ admits Debbie. ‘There was a rehearsal period when I was last there and, of course, there isn’t any more. We were only doing two episodes a week and there are now five, so it’s massive.

‘We would rehearse on Monday’s and Tuesday’s, have the run on Wednesday, have Thursday morning off, film on Thursday afternoon and all day Friday and have the weekend to learn our lines,’ she recalls.

Nevertheless, Debbie is used to the demands of working on series’ which are broadcast all year round.

‘They all have different ways of filming,’ she says. ‘But my favourite has always, always been Corrie, probably because I hail from the North.’

Debbie was actually brought up in Ashwood Terrace in Thornhill, Sunderland.

‘It used to be a toss-up, every night, whether to wet the bed or get up and go to the toilet because it was so cold,’ she laughs.

However, Debbie has only fond memories of her former home city, adding that she still supports the Black Cats. And despite the fact that she has lived in Surrey for many years, she can still revert to her native accent at the drop of a hat.

Indeed, it is due to her extraordinary talent for mimicry of accents and voices that Debbie became the country’s top voice-over artiste.

‘For twenty-five years, you could hear me in virtually every commercial break,’ she jokes. ‘I never ever had a week out of work and I was the voice of everything from Red Bull to Asda to Ford, but now my daughter, Ciara, seems to have taken over the crown.’

A showbiz career was, perhaps, inevitable for Debbie. Her father, Eddie, was an impressionist and her mother, Mary, a theatrical agent. After a brief spell working as a secretary, Debbie’s talent was spotted by comedian Johnny More, who introduced her to the producer of Now Who Do You Do?, and her fate was sealed.

She went on to appear in many of television’s top-rated sitcoms, such as The Liver Birds, Terry and June, Don’t Wait Up and Birds of a Feather and played diverse roles in hundreds of television dramas, including Holby City, Footballers Wives, Doctors, The Bill, All Creatures Great and Small, Miss Marple and Minder.

Her theatrical career has been equally impressive. She has many West End credits to her name, such as Women Behind Bars, Four in a Million, Lives of the Wives, Last of the Red Hot Lovers and The Sleeping Prince, in which she was leading lady to Omar Sharif. Her most recent stage role saw her take on the character of Rose, sister of the social-climbing Hyacinth Bucket, in the national tour of Keeping Up Appearances.

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And yet, she has still managed to avoid becoming typecast.

‘I made the business work for me,’ says Debbie, her voice revealing a trace of steely determination. ‘If you’re not doing television or theatre you do radio or voiceovers, you know. You juggle around, but you’ve got to be doing something else within the industry – the minute you come out and start doing things that aren’t connected, you might as well forget it. You’ve got to be committed.’

·         Debbie Arnold will be appearing in Coronation Street from 5th November onwards.

 

Comments

1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Great interview, Steve. Thanks. Such a varied career!
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