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How Corrie baddie is centre stage helping Shropshire community theatre

By Andrew Morris | Oswestry | Features | Published:

He’s known to millions for playing the biggest villain on British television, bullying and controlling his partner during a reign of terror on Coronation Street.

Ian Bartholomew

But while Geoff Metcalfe is known for tormenting his wife Yasmeen to breaking point, serving up her own pet chicken for dinner and convincing her she’s an alcoholic, few know that actor Ian Bartholomew is championing a community theatre in Shropshire.

The actor, 65, lives on the Shropshire border with his wife, creative director Loveday Ingram and together they are playing an important role at the Holroyd Community Theatre at Moreton Hall School, near Oswestry.

The theatre was opened last year as a base for groups across the region to showcase art, drama and music. And while the theatre has been closed during the coronavirus pandemic, it has turned to broadcasting performances online on Thursday evenings to keep the community together.

Ian, who joined Coronation Street in March 2018, said the arts are now more important than ever – but it is set to be a challenging road ahead.

“The arts have been very badly hit,” he said.

“The problem is you rely on full houses to make any kind of headway in covering costs and making money.

“I know that West End theatres are thinking it could be as late as next April before they can be up and running again.

“When you look at the amount of money that theatres generate for the country it is huge. The creative arts industry as a whole contributes something like £111bn for the economy each year.

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Ian Bartholemew as Geoff Metcalfe alongside Shelley King as Yasmeen Matcalfe in Coronation Street

“A great many regional theatres are going to go to the wall. Already the Nuffield in Southampton has closed permanently and other theatres are very close to shutting up shop soon too.

“The problem is, even if it's dark, a theatre is still costing money to keep the building up to standard and that is why The Holroyd and community theatre in general is so important.

“It allows people in the local area and the local community to access theatre and the arts which is so important, especially for young people.

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“It’s important that we encourage young people to write, become directors and to act, because it gives them social interaction, and they can gain real confidence from being in theatre groups.

“I am very happy to be a part of the Holroyd project, not only because my wife is involved, but to support them because it is something that we need.

“It’s grassroots theatre. Amateur, professional, it doesn’t matter – it’s all the same.

“We are all working towards the same goals, which is to bring arts, theatre and music to the community – it’s a vital thing to have right now especially given the Covid-19 situation.”

Ian has been acting since the mid-1970s and he has starred in dozens of stage shows, alongside television appearances in shows such as The Darling Buds of May with David Jason and Catherine Zeta Jones, Spooks and Rumpole of the Bailey.

So how did he come to live in the Shropshire countryside?

“We were both living in London and Loveday fell pregnant. We both felt that we did not want to bring a child up in London, so were looking to move away and Loveday’s mother and family had a house that we could rent which is the house we now live in.

Ian Bartholemew as Geoff Metcalfe in Coronation Street

“It is just on the border of Shropshire. We moved out here about 15 years ago and don’t regret it at all.

“It’s great here, it can be difficult to adjust because as everybody in London will tell you the world revolves around London. Apparently the business is based entirely in London, but of course it isn’t.

“There is so much more now and so many people now work at Media City in Manchester, which is where I am working at the moment on Coronation Street.”

Over the last 12 months Ian’s character Geoff has tightened his grip over wife Yasmeen, cutting her off from friends and family, forcing her to clean incessantly and even using escorts behind her back.

It all culminated in a terrified and humiliated Yasmeen fighting back and defending herself by hitting him over the head with a wine bottle and stabbing him in the neck with the broken glass.

Geoff survived the attack and viewers are now awaiting the outcome of the storyline, which has won praise for how it has highlighted coercive control.

They have had to wait a little longer than expected due to the coronavirus pandemic which saw filming halted in March and the number of episodes broadcast each week reduced from six to three.

“Covid-19 has put the kybosh on everything at the moment,” he said.

“I have been back to Media City for about a month now. They have incredible precautions and regulations put in place which are keeping everyone safe. Everybody works in different studios. There’s arrows and signs all around the buildings. There is no canteen. It is all very different. But what is interesting is that they have spent an awful lot of time and effort in getting this right.

“The soaps at the moment, and especially Coronation Street and Emmerdale have the eyes of the filming industry watching them to see how to do it in the future. We really are leading the way.

Ian Bartholemew as Geoff Metcalfe in Coronation Street

“They can take what we do as a template for all sorts of TV work. We are the guinea pigs. It is interesting and slightly daunting.

“There’s also a security guy with a two metre stick who walks around and says ‘you’re too close’ and ensures we are working safely.

“The trouble is, if someone from one of the crews gets ill it means that that cohort gets closed down, and that means you are not filming anything, and therefore you are losing money because you are not producing the programme which you sell all around the world.”

The impact of playing the soap’s biggest villain is also not to be taken lightly.

“Playing Geoff is rather disturbing to be honest with you,” Ian shared.

“It hasn’t been the easiest ride. But both Shelley King, who plays Yasmeen and I are focussed on the fact that the story we tell is extremely important.

“Especially since the advent of Covid-19 and lockdown, so many people have been locked in with their abuser. The story has been incredibly apposite with the timing, but I wish it had been in different circumstances.

“It has highlighted a very serious problem that was exacerbated with the lockdown.”

Some fans of the cobbles were surprised to see a scene where Geoff made Yasmeen wash her hands while singing the lyrics to Happy Birthday as recommended by the Government at the beginning of the pandemic – and wondered if it had been filming specifically to fit in.

“The Happy Birthday hand wash scene was a complete and utter coincidence, we couldn’t believe it,” he says.

“That was because he was being that controlling. You have to do this, you have to do this, you have to do this.

Holroyd Community Theatre has been shortlisted for a design award

“But we didn’t realise quite how prophetic it would turn out to be, nor the storyline as a whole peaking at the time it did.”

When Geoff first entered the show he was touted as a love interest for Audrey Roberts, who met him in his role as the hospital radio host.

“He was going to be Audrey’s new love interest and then they decided he was not, so they had this bumbling twit who they didn’t know what to do with really,” he says.

“Then when he got together with Yasmeen, they knew they wanted to do a storyline about coercive control, and they decided they would do it with an older couple in the street rather than younger characters to really emphasise the fact that it can happen to anybody at any stage of their life, and also to highlight the fact that perpetrators of this kind of abuse work in serial fashion.

“This isn’t the first time he has done this to someone. To take a strong, female Asian character like Yasmeen and see her descent into being controlled in the way she has is always, I believe, part of a perpetrators modus operandi.

“They like to look for strong women to break and that is why they paired us together.

“First off I was doing daft magic tricks being silly and then it turned to this.

“It is a very important storyline and I am incredibly impressed with how the Street have presented it, and the way people have responded to it has been remarkable.

“Shelley is great, very forthright, and we get on terribly well. We laugh a lot but it’s always about the work, it is not about us as actors or our egos.

“We have to present what we are given and we have to present it as truthfully and make it as real as we can so it has an impact.”

The intensity of filming the scenes with the wine bottle, where Geoff was left bleeding from the neck and unconscious on the living room floor was the culmination of “several weeks” filming, which Ian admitted was “physically hard”.

So what does the future hold for Geoff?

“I couldn’t possibly tell you that or I will have to kill you,” he says.

Ian Puleston Davies, Loveday Ingram, Ian Bartholomew at the concert

“He is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. I know broadly, but I don’t know dates or whatever.

“Because of the pandemic everything in Corrie and life in general has been thrown wide open. There is so much upheaval, life will not be the same for some considerable time now.

“All the stories that had been written and set up are now out of the window. There was going to be a big court trial scene – they can’t do it, because of social distancing, we physically can’t do it. There will be lots more scenes with just two or three people rather than big scenes or big dramatic stunts.

“I don’t know how it will pan out because I am not sure they are aware themselves just yet – I know they have a plan, they just have to put it into operation.”

As part of her work with the Holroyd, Carolyn Tilley, board member, said it is more important than ever to support the arts.

She said: “The Holroyd Community Theatre came about through a gentleman called Bill Holroyd.

“He was a parent at Moreton Hall and has done an awful lot with community involvement in the North West for young people and wanted to donate money to a community project.

“He decided he wanted to give £500,000 for us to develop and realise a community theatre.

“This is something we have always been very heavily involved with, community projects through the school and an awful lot of creative arts projects through music, so it was fitting that he wanted to help us to develop this further.”

Construction began in Summer 2019 and we had our very first community event at Christmas.

“Ian was part of that, and his partner Loveday Ingram, who is creative arts director, was heavily involved too,” she said,

“It was a really fantastic community concert involving Welsh male voice choirs and local schools, and so that was the start.

Whitchurch Mayor Peggy Mullock and actor Ian Bartholomew turning on the lights Whitchurch Christmas light switch on 2012

“Hopefully it is not just a theatre. We want it to be a place that people can use for all sorts of things, art exhibitions, community events, theatre, music, it can be anything,

“We want it completely open for community use. That is what we are doing at the moment through the Community Together programme.

“Due to Covid, the Theatre has moved online. Every Thursday night we light the theatre up in blue in recognition of key workers nationally, and we have different themes and members of the community locally, into the Welsh borders, Cheshire and Shropshire, who can send us pieces of work they would like to share or promote every week.

“We have had a programme already and then our new series will take us to August.

“We have meetings every month with members of the local community that give us ideas and thoughts about how they would like to see the theatre used and to help us reach out to as many people as possible. Keeping it alive virtually has been vital.

“It’s quite nicely placed too. The nearest theatres locally are Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury or Theatr Clwyd in Mold, but this is in the heart of Shropshire and therefore will be a vital place for the community to get together.

“We have talked bingo nights, quiz nights, there’s lots of things we want to develop.

“We are delighted to be here and delighted to have Ian’s support.”

You can find out more about the Holroyd Community Theatre by visiting: www.theholroydtheatre.co.uk

Weatherfield became haven for bad boys and girls

From serial killers to dastardly drug dealers, the cobbles of Weatherfield have been a haven of bad boys and girls since Eric Spear’s legendary theme tune first aired back in December 1960.

Perhaps the most memorable of the lot was ‘Norman Bates with a briefcase’ himself – Richard Hillman.

It was back in 2001 when Hillman first appeared on the Street, wooing Gail Platt – even becoming the third of her five husbands.

Financial troubles saw him responsible for the deaths of his business partner and ex-wife, before he killed Maxine Peacock and left Emily Bishop badly injured as he tried to bump her off as part of an inheritance scam.

Brian Capron as Richard Hillman and Helen Worth as Gail Platt in Coronation Street

He came up short when trying to finish off Gail’s mother Audrey and confessed his crimes before locking her and children David, Sarah Lou and granddaughter Bethany in a people carrier and plunging it into the canal to the memorable sound of the You & Me Song by The Wannadies.

Hillman wasn’t the last multiple murderer with serious charm to boot however, with builder Pat Phelan arriving in 2013 all set to make life hell for Gary and Anna Windass and fellow brickie Owen Armstrong.

He soon fell into a relationship with Eileen Grimshaw and began a property scam which ripped off many of the Street’s residents.

Pleading ignorance, he bumped off business partner Vinnie, left poor Michael Rodwell to die, shot Andy Carver and repeated the trick on pal Luke Britton during a high speed chase.

He wasn’t done there though – after being found out, terrified Eileen managed to toss him into the sea one winter’s evening, only for him to resurface – in true soap style – inside a B&B days later plotting his revenge.

It all came to a head for Phelan during June 2018, when he took Gary and Sarah Louise Platt hostage, shot daughter Nicola and poor-old Michelle Connor on her wedding day, before Anna finally gained her revenge and plunged a kitchen knife into his chest inside The Bistro, with the immortal line: “I win”.

Turning the clock back to the late 1980s and Alan Bradley was as bad as they come, using his volatile temper to leave poor Rita Fairclough terrified.

He had tried to kill her once, forcing her to escape and take up a career as a hotel lounge singer in Blackpool. Once he found out he decided to try again and he gave chase – literally – running out in front of a tram and being fatally struck in one of Corrie’s most iconic scenes. If Scottish men in good suits are more your bag, then Tony Gordon will prove memorable – for all the wrong reasons.

Alison King as Carla Connor and Jane Danson as Leanne Battersby in Coronation Street

The knicker factory boss – and husband of Carla Connor – found out she had been having an affair with her ex brother-in-law Liam – so had him killed in a hit and run. After confessing to Carla, she fled Weatherfield and Tony embarked on a relationship with Liam’s widow Maria, even helping deliver Liam’s son. They got engaged, but Tony suffered a heart attack and confessed his crime to Roy Cropper – before then trying to kill him too.

He was banged up, but escaped just a year later, shooting dead his prison pal who helped set him free. Unable to cope any longer he locked Roy’s wife Hayley and Carla inside Underworld and set it on fire, only for our two heroes to escape as it burned to the ground with just him inside.

And no list of Corrie baddies would be complete without the mention of ‘Mad’ Maya Sharma.

The solicitor had a disastrous relationship with corner shop casanova Dev Alahan, culminating in a dangerous feud with his wife Sunita.

She eventually held them both hostage in their flat, leaving the gas on before walking out. They escaped, but walked into the path of her car, which missed, hit the arches next to the shop and was hit by a lorry. Maya survived – but has never been seen on screen since.

Soap favourite marks 60 years of murder, mayhem, love triangles and endless drama

This winter marks 60 years of stories from the Street – and with drama by the bucketload fans are already awaiting a spectacular set of episodes to mark the milestone.

For it was 10 years ago that Corrie had fans gripped to the edge of their seats as the show turned 50 – when a tram crashed off the viaduct after an explosion at The Joinery bar below – careering first into the corner shop and then The Kabin.

Vicky Binns as Molly Dobbs and Michael Le Vell as Kevin Webster in Coronation Street

The spectacular stunt saw the end of Molly Dobbs, Ashley Peacock and Charlotte Hoyle (who, rather than meeting her end by the falling tram, was brutally murdered by hapless killer John Stape) and left countless others seriously injured, including Peter Barlow, who married Leanne Battersby on his near-death bed.

But it also marked the final nail in the coffin for one of Weatherfield’s most loved couples – with Molly revealing to Sally Webster that her baby was not fathered by husband Tyrone – but by Sally’s husband Kevin.

And forbidden love has been the theme for many other Street classics – none more so than the love triangle between Ken Barlow, Deirdre Barlow and Mike Baldwin.

In January 1983, Deirdre began having an affair behind “Boring? I’m Boring” Ken’s back with his arch nemesis Mike.

It came to a head in spectacular fashion, with Deirdre actress Anne Kirkbride revealing even she did not know the level to which Bill Roache was going to go in throwing her around and slamming her against a door upon finding out.

The couple eventually managed to work it out – and despite several affairs by both partners – they eventually came good and formed one of Corrie’s greatest ever partnerships until Anne’s sad death in 2015 aged just 60.

Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs) asks Deirdre Barlow (Anne Kirkbride)

Young love has also sparked some wild moments on the street, with Sarah Louise Platt’s teenage pregnancy in 2000 – when she was just 13 – sparking headlines in the real world as a nation reflected on how it mirrored the alarming reality for many in the UK. This one ended well, with baby Bethany only leaving the Cobbles earlier this year as she turned 20 to become a journalist in London. Every soap has a classic Whodunnit in their history – and Corrie is no different – with Tina McIntyre’s death in 2014 keeping viewers hooked for weeks.

Tina’s downfall began when she started an affair with Peter Barlow. Believing he would leave wife Carla Connor for her, she was let down.

She began a row with local dodgy dealer Rob Donovan – threatening to report him and partner Tracy for selling dodgy goods at their pawn shop.

Tipping him to the edge Rob attacked her before pushing her to her death off the builder’s flat balcony.

Of the four suspects – Peter Barlow, Carla Connor, Rob Donovan and Tracy – Peter was arrested and charged before Tracy shopped her lover to save her brother. Finally, no Coronation Street reflective would be complete without a mention of Hilda Ogden. A one-woman whirlwind, her shrill voice left an indelible mark on the Street – with her famous ‘muriel’ and husband Stanley remembered to this day.

She uttered perhaps the Street’s most famous line ever on a second honeymoon with Stan, who asked her what her lipstick tasted of, replying: “Woman, Stanley. Woman.”

In 1984 Hilda was involved in one of Corrie’s most heartbreaking scenes when her beloved Stan passed away.

In a quiet moment at home, sat at her dining table, Hilda quietly untied a brown parcel from the hospital containing Stan’s belongings.

Picking up his spectacles she broke down into tears as the end credits ran in silence, Jean Alexander paying tribute to co-star Bernard Youens who had died off-screen. She departed the show in true Hilda fashion – singing Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye as all the characters gathered in the Rover’s Return at Christmas 1987.

Andrew Morris

By Andrew Morris
Local Democracy Reporter - @AndyMorrisLDR

Local Democracy Reporter covering Shropshire.

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