Drop dead Fred
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 by Matthew Rudd
“Be happy; I say, be happy.” The last words, as they turned out, of Frederick Handel Elliott, master butcher of Weatherfield, publican to the masses and one of Coronation Street’s finest entertainers. And now he’s dead.
John Savident’s decision to retire prompted a typically far-out soap exit (collapsing on your wedding day at the house of a woman you had proposed to years earlier) even though the quality of character-mindful writing and exquisite acting from all concerned did, as ever, make Corrie the yardstick example of how proper continuous drama should be executed.
As he issued those last words to Audrey Roberts and turned to go back to the church, we didn’t actually see Fred’s demise. We heard a shatter of glass (sadly this wasn’t the awful yellow tinted glazing in Audrey’s front door – she should have chosen better after Steve McDonald kicked the last one in to save her from the Hillman house fire) and then Audrey found Fred motionless in the hallway. Meanwhile, his son and best man Ashley, and usher Dev were desperately trying to keep bride Beverley away from the church, until Audrey herself turned up to tell a distraught Ashley what had happened.
Fred’s decade or so down Coronation Street has been a credit to everyone responsible for fleshing out and developing the character. Initially a loudmouthed businessman of locally lofty ambition, he became a rounded (figuratively and literally), caring and humble fellow, especially after his reputation as a serial proposer (Audrey said yes, then no; Maureen said yes, and then ran off with Kevin Webster’s dad after a week; Evelyn said yes, then turned out bigamous; and didn’t he also propose to Rita at some point?) was allowed to be crushed by a more obvious trait of being a man with real, unconditional affection to give. He couldn’t give it to Ashley, his so-called nephew, until the truth about the lad’s parenthood really emerged, and so it was eventually his community to which he mainly became betrothed.
The humour in Fred – from his hushed over-enunciation when trying to be subtle with people, to his glorious and much-mimicked habit of repeating himself (“I’m sick to death of repeating myself; I say, I’m sick to death of repeating myself”) – will be greatly lost as the Street picks itself up. Of course it will carry on – it always does – but until another massive comic character emerges, work will have to be done to make sure the likes of Kirk, Blanche, Eileen and that superb pairing of Rita and Norris get to hog the scripts for a few weeks ahead.
I’ll miss Fred. The laughter he could produce was just explosive at times. When he took Audrey to a Parisian jewellers to buy an engagement ring, he opened the door and declared, “There’s more carats in here than in Bugs Bunny’s pantry!” And as Ashley and Maxine toyed with the idea of turning vegetarian, the haughty butcher remarked, “If God hadn’t meant us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them meat flavoured.”
Savident has also brought out all the early potential in Steven Arnold, whose depiction of the ever-troubled Ashley should now earn him a job for life if he wants it. That character has dealt with all sorts of familial crises – finding out his uncle was his dad; losing his first wife to a crowbar killer; discovering his first-born isn’t his; forcing his post-natally depressed second wife into a mental home; and now losing his dad and influence. The new master butcher is due some happiness. Sadly, the Street’s happiest character – both in cause and effect – is now dead meat himself.