LONDON – British writer Tony Warren, who created the long-running soap opera Coronation Street, has died at 79. The show he leaves behind is 56 years old, a national cultural fixture whose fans have included royalty, poets, rappers and millions of TV viewers.
Broadcaster ITV said Wednesday that Warren died Tuesday night, “surrounded by his loving friends,” after a short illness.
Anthony McVay Simpson — Warren was a stage name — was a 24-year-old actor when he had the idea for a television series set in a working-class street in northwestern England, where he had grown up. He wrote the initial 13-episode run of what was originally called Florizel Street — renamed before it was first broadcast in December 1960.
WATCH: Actors Ian Puleston-Davies and Mikey North share the scoop on the long running English Drama Coronation Street.
Some TV executives had their doubts about the program, calling the characters’ northern speech “the language of the music halls.” But its workaday setting, memorable characters, dramatic story lines and tart northern humour was a hit.
Corrie — as it is popularly known — set the model for British TV soaps, which to this day offer grit rather than the gloss of their American counterparts.
Coronation Street still has millions of regular viewers and a surprising range of fans around the world. Prince Charles once made a cameo appearance, and his wife Camilla pulled a pint in fictional pub The Rovers Return during a 2010 visit to the set. The late poet laureate John Betjeman compared Corrie to the novels of Charles Dickens, while Snoop Dogg recorded a message for its 50th anniversary.
For Warren, the show’s success had a dark side. He said in a 2010 interview that the pressure of creating it left him addicted to alcohol and morphine for many years.
Warren wrote for the show for many years, and ITV said he remained a consultant on the series until the day he died.
Warren also wrote several novels, other TV shows and the 1960s film Ferry Cross The Mersey, starring the Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers. But nothing else had the impact of “Coronation Street.”
Actress Helen Worth, who has played the often-married, long-suffering Gail McIntyre in the soap since 1974, said Warren was “a genius of our time.”
“He brought real life into our homes for us all to relate to and enjoy. He will, of course, live on forever through ‘Coronation Street,'” she said.