Alexander "Alec" Gilroy was a theatrical agent who had two stints as landlord of the Rovers Return.
Alec's first wife was Joyce, with whom he had a daughter, Sandra, in 1958. In 1971, he became estranged from Joyce and Sandra, and concentrated on his career, managing clubs and artistes, including singer Rita Littlewood. In 1986, he was managing the Graffiti Club in Rosamund Street when he had a dalliance with Bet Lynch, then-landlady of the Rovers. He claimed not to be interested in the Rovers but when Bet couldn't afford the tenancy on her own, Alec proposed marriage to her so that they could run the pub together, and Bet accepted.
Alec was happy with Bet but they were rather an odd couple; Bet was bold and brassy, while Alec was morose and miserly. Theirs was a marriage of convenience but while they came to love each other, they had different outlooks and goals in life and in 1992, when he was offered the job of MC on a cruise ship, Bet refused to relocate to Southampton with him, and Alec told Bet their marriage was over.
Alec returned to Weatherfield in 1996 and spent a year running the local branch of Sunliners Travel Agency. After being made redundant, he bought into the Rovers, gradually edging partners Jack and Vera Duckworth out of the business until he had total control. In 1998, a tired and weary Alec sold the Rovers to Natalie Barnes to go into partnership with granddaughter Vicky McDonald at a wine bar in Brighton.
1935-1971: Putting on an act
Alexander Gilroy was the younger of two children born to Reg and Mabel Gilroy at 4 Back Gas Street, on the rough side of Weatherfield. Growing up, Alexander (or "Alec" as he preferred) and his sister Edna became accustomed to the house's peculiar smell which was caused by fumes from the local gasworks, where Reg worked as a stoker, and the lingering odour from Tasker's Glue Factory clinging to Mabel's clothes.
At fourteen, Alec left school to go into grafting, but he was never destined to follow in his father's footsteps. Edna could belt out a tune, and not one to be outperformed by his own sister, Alec built up an act using trained ferrets. Performing as a duo with Edna at any venue that would have them, Alec's first foray into showbusiness ended when Edna got married, and after a particularly raucous evening at the Weatherfield Rugby Club, Alec's ferrets were set free.
Remaining in the showbusiness game, Alec moved backstage with a job at the Weatherfield Majestic. It was here that he honed his craft as a talent scout, bolstering the Majestic's roster of speciality acts with a keen eye for talent, and negotiating skills to match. Alec became known locally for his ability to pluck a performer from obscurity and have them on stage that same day. One of his acts was Harry "Bing" Crosby, who played a musical saw. Harry was assisted backstage by his daughter Joyce, who on meeting Alec was swept away by his tales of showbusiness and the big time. Thinking he'd found his Mrs. Gilroy, Alec popped the question, and in 1955 the couple were married. Alec's rise to the top continued when he was promoted to front of house and in 1958 Alec and Joyce's daughter Sandra was born.
Unfortunately, in wider circles, Alec's success at the Majestic amounted to little more than a blip. Alec had joined the industry at a time when all good talent was deserting variety in favour of television and cabaret, and although his farmyard impressionists and balloon benders were an improvement on the slackwire acts and strong women who tore up telephone books, Alec was powerless against the changing tide, and in 1971 the Majestic was turned into a bingo hall. An unemployed Alec also faced the end of a marriage, as Joyce, seeking a more glamorous life, ran off with footballer Stan Shaw, taking thirteen-year-old Sandra with her. Alec maintained minimal contact with Joyce, and didn't see Sandra again for many years, putting his heartbreak behind him by concentrating on his career.
1972-1985: Alec Gilroy presents
In 1972, Alec tried his hand at club management, taking over the Working Men's Club in Victoria Street when it was opened in June of that year. One of the acts Alec booked for opening night was singer Rita Littlewood, who at that point was back on the club circuit after leaving her common-law husband Harry Bates. The night's entertainment went down well, with Alec telling Len Fairclough over a drink that he was keen to hire Rita again. Having taken a shine to Rita, Len tipped her off her about Alec wanting her back, allowing her to get more money out of him.
After three years toiling in working men's clubs, Alec was still as penniless as the day he started in Victoria Street, when at last his chance came. At eighty years old, talent agent legend Joe Bluntstone was retiring, which meant his agency of 100+ acts would soon be on the market. Alec offered the man 50% of the agency's takings for the rest of his life, in exchange for Alec getting the rest with no money down. A week after Joe accepted the deal, he dropped dead. While basking in his good fortune, Alec encountered Rita Littlewood in the Rovers Return, and persuaded her to sign with the Bluntstone Gilroy Organisation (later renamed Alec Gilroy Presents), with Ernest Bishop as her pianist. Rita and Ernie played together at a number of venues in the latter half of 1975, after which her singing career once again died a death.
After Joe's death, Alec found his acts gradually deserting him, having only stayed on out of loyalty to Joe. Within a few short years he had only novelty acts left on his books, and he was forced to take on additional work managing local night spots.
In later years, Alec would describe 1981 as "a very bad time" for him.
By the mid-1980s, Alec was managing the Graffiti Club in Rosamund Street. The Graffiti Club was a Newton & Ridley venue, and Alec maintained a sideline of providing acts from his dwindling agency for entertainment at Newton & Ridley's establishments.
Originally a venture of Mike Baldwin and Alec Yardley aimed at the young and trendy crowd, the Graffiti Club's best days were behind it by the time of Alec's arrival; the disco had closed down, and the bar area made the Mary Celeste look overcrowded. The club saw a revival of fortunes when the Rovers Return was closed following a devastating fire, with Alec poaching Jack Duckworth and Gloria Todd as bar staff. However, trade fell back to normal levels when the brewery opened a renovated Rovers, and Alec's new recruits abandoned him. Not that Alec minded; his talent agency was once again thriving, and raising its profile was far more worthy of a man of Alec's skill than tending bar.
Across the Street from the Graffifi, the Rovers Return was a backstreet boozer, managed by Bet Lynch, with whom Alec had established a friendly rivalry. In November 1986, under pressure from the brewery to increase trade, Bet turned to Alec for artistes, but refused to pay his prices and held an open mike night instead. The night was a disaster, but Alec gained Bet's respect and friendship by giving her a special discount for a second night's entertainment, putting her back in favour with the brewery.
Alec continued to visit the Rovers to discuss business with Bet, developing an attraction to the brassy barmaid at the same time. In fact, he spent more time at the Rovers than the Graffiti, and the brewery decided to sack him from the Graffiti - not that he minded. After an enjoyable night out with Bet, Alec told her that he hoped they had a future together, but, offended by Bet's insinuation that he was only interested in her because he wanted the Rovers, Alec walked out of her life.
After going on a Spanish tour with a cabaret package, Alec returned to Weatherfield and resumed contact with Bet. At that point, she had just been offered the tenancy of the Rovers by Newton & Ridley, but was unable to get a loan with affordable repayments, and faced losing the pub. Keen to help, Alec loaned Bet the £12,000 she needed, asking her to keep the deal a secret from the brewery. Afterwards, he proved a handful for Bet, with his ordering the staff around and using the back room as his office causing her to remind her that the Rovers was hers.
In May, Bet upped sticks, leaving behind a note for Alec blaming her disappearance on financial pressures. With Bet apparently untraceable, Alec tried to recover his money from the brewery, but his ally in the brewery, Cecil Newton, could only offer him the measly position of temporary manager in lieu of the tenancy being bought over. With his money tied up in the pub, Alec had no choice but to accept, and became the Rovers' seventh licensee.
As the Rovers' most sour-faced landlord yet took control, he wasted no time in putting his mark on the place. Out went Betty Turpin, who resigned when Alec kept watching her like a hawk when she so much as walked past the till, and in came Margo Richardson, a hand-picked barmaid replacement.
Finally, in August, Bet got in touch with the brewery to arrange the repayment of the money, returning the tenancy to Newton & Ridley. As his financial arrangement was with Bet, Alec was told by Cecil Newton that it was up to him to contact her and get his money back. With only the knowledge that she was working at a bar in Torremolinos to go on, Alec flew out to Spain to track her down, leaving Gloria in charge of the Rovers. After spending the day searching hundreds of bars, Alec found Bet waiting tables at Mac's Bar. After initially fussing about his money, Alec surprised Bet by being gentle with her, showing concern that she didn't feel able to confide in him. When Bet lamented her failure as a landlady, Alec made the radical suggestion that they buy the tenancy together and run the Rovers as man and wife. The suggestion stunned Bet, who, knowing Alec, understood that this was as much a declaration of feelings as it was a business proposition, and although disappointed that his motivation hadn't been entirely romantic, she accepted his proposal, and the couple immediately returned home.
Back in Weatherfield, Alec and Bet successfully lobbied for the Rovers tenancy, and set a date of 9th September for the wedding, at All Saints Church. Their engagement stunned friends and neighbours, with some expecting them to come to their senses and cancel, including Alec's best man Charles Halliday, who spent the stag night trying to put the bridegroom off marriage. However, the wedding went ahead without a hitch, and as a wedding present Alec told Bet the Rovers was hers.
1987-1989: A marriage of convenience
A period of adjustment followed for the Gilroys. Their relationship having been mostly business beforehand, it wasn't until they got married that they really got to know each other, and their histories; after finding out from Hilda Ogden that Bet had previously shared a house with Mike Baldwin and not told him, Alec felt he was the butt of the customers' jokes, and responded by making cracks about his wife's promiscuity, causing the couple to fall out. After a few days not speaking to each other, Alec made up with Bet, admitting that his trust issues were due to his incredulity at being married to her.
In early 1988, Bet broke the news to Alec that she was pregnant at forty-seven. Both were anxious about being parents at their ages, especially Alec to whom children were an alien species, but the thought of having a son or daughter who would be theirs saw them warm to the idea. Sadly, Bet had a miscarriage a few days later. The Gilroys mourned their baby together, admitting how much it had come to mean to them in that short space of time.
Alec kept up his theatrical work, and was often seen negotiating with friends in the business using the phone in the Rovers hallway. In October 1987, Alec was asked to assemble a troupe to entertain the British Army in Germany, resulting in his absence from the Rovers for a few weeks. In July 1988, he set up his "friend" Gus Ferris with a duff act (Jack Duckworth) to put him in lumber with Margery Smith at the Old Band Club, causing Margery to drop Gus and come to Alec for acts in future.
Alec kept Bet out of his agency business, not even telling her how much money he was making from the enterprise; this caused trouble when he was mugged on his way to the bank in September 1988, with his briefcase containing the weekend's takings plus his club earnings being stolen. He submitted an insurance claim for the contents of the case, which amounted to over £2,000. Neither Bet or the police believed that the briefcase could have contained that much money, thinking Alec was just trying to scam the insurance company. Even worse, Cecil Newton also didn't believe him and told Alec that if the Rovers was really making so much money then the brewery would increase his rent. Thankfully, the police recovered the briefcase and Alec proved with the paying-in books that he'd been telling the truth. Bet apologised for doubting him, but also told Alec that now she knew he was making so much money she was more than willing to help him spend it.
The insurance company paid out on Alec's losses from the mugging but his financial problems were to continue. In January 1989, Wally Simpson offered Alec the job of managing a nine-week tour of the Middle East. He was going to accept, but when Bet showed her jealousy of his friendship with Megan Morgan (aka Tanya the Exotic Dancer), who was also going on the trip, he decided to turn down the tour.
Immediately afterwards, Alec's accountant Bernie Greenwood informed him that the Inland Revenue was onto him about his tax returns - due to Newton & Ridley disclosing his payments on his entertainment work for them, the tax office suspected Alec had undeclared earnings. Faced with the alternative of shopping his artistes who hadn't paid tax, and therefore losing his standing in the business, Alec did the unthinkable and paid £8,000 in unpaid tax on his artistes' behalf. To recover funds, Alec accepted the Middle East tour after all and departed right away.
In May, Alec returned home from the tour three weeks early, planning to surprise Bet, but instead he found the staff running the Rovers and Bet nowhere to be found. Bet had gone out with Paul Rigby, husband of her friend Stella, and returned with him at midnight. Cross words were exchanged as Alec sent Paul packing and accused Bet of being unfaithful in his absence - Paul was a well-known womaniser and Alec refused to believe their dalliance was innocent, although Bet swore that there was nothing in it. Hoping to prompt a confession, Alec demanded a divorce, but instead Bet hit back at him by consulting a solicitor, asking for a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour.
A battle of wills then followed between man and wife; Alec fired Bet from the Rovers and told Stella what had been going on behind her back, causing Stella to fall out with Bet, while Bet put off Alec's new housekeeper Mrs Hargreaves by telling her Alec was a sex maniac. However, Alec was mistaken in his belief that Bet had shopped him to the brewery when Nigel Ridley got wind of their marital problems - having actually been informed by Jack Duckworth, who wanted to take over the Rovers himself. When he accused Bet, Alec was surprised by her defeated attitude, and finally lowered his guard and admitted that he'd got it wrong, allowing the couple to make peace. Their reconciliation was heralded by a much-delayed honeymoon in Spain.
1989-1991: The Gilroy connection
Later that year, the sudden death of an old act, Frankie Radcliffe, got Alec thinking about the his own legacy, and, feeling the shame of his absence from Sandra's life, he decided to track down his now grown-up daughter. Getting her address from Joyce, Alec found Sandra living in a massive house in Handforth, Cheshire, now married to solicitor Tim Arden, and mother to twelve-year-old Victoria. Tim and Victoria responded well to Alec but Sandra was merely shocked, giving no immediate impression whether she would welcome Alec back into her life.
Giddy at the reunion, Alec made plans to get re-acquainted with his daughter, and having received an invite to her birthday party by Tim, dragged a nervous Bet along. Alec was aware that Bet had mixed feelings about the whole affair, so when she told him that she'd overheard Sandra telling Tim that she didn't want Alec there, he didn't believe her, despite her words being supported by the fact that Sandra hadn't made the effort to speak to Alec at the party. Hoping for something more intimate, Alec invited the Ardens to a meal at the Rovers, but when Sandra arrived, it was to tell Alec that she didn't want him to be a part of her life - he'd stayed away so long that his return meant nothing to her. A heartbroken Alec decided to respect Sandra's wishes, but Bet had a word with her and she agreed not to cut him off. Backing off, Alec contented himself with the occasional visit.
In May 1990, the Gilroys faced their biggest crisis yet. With Cecil Newton retiring, Nigel Ridley made plans to turn the Rovers into Yankees, a New York-style theme bar, expanding into 1 Coronation Street which Deirdre Barlow had agreed to sell to the brewery. Having previewed the new bar and decided it wasn't for them, the Gilroys tried to oppose the move, causing Nigel to order them out of the Rovers. With the support of the neighbours, Alec and Bet protested by locking down the pub, with Alec at one point bodily ejecting Nigel from the premises. The story made waves in the local press, with the Gazette interviewing the Gilroys about their eviction and the local radio station interviewing them from the upstairs window. However, it was a battle the Gilroys were doomed to lose, and the brewery eventually came to repossess the pub. Alec and Bet were moments away from eviction when Cecil Newton arrived and, reminding Nigel that he was still on the board, told him that he'd put a stop to his "foolish young ideas", and that the Rovers was to stay as it was, with Alec and Bet being kept on. Alec celebrated with free drinks all round - before putting the prices up the next day.
Alec still hoped to make his fortune and he knew he would never make a penny running the Rovers. In February 1991, he decided to go into business with Phil Jennings, setting up a club in the empty Graffiti building. Alec became so keen on the idea that he planned to sell the Rovers tenancy to go in with Phil, as he was only able to get a £30,000 loan from the bank, and together they came up with "The Al-Phi-Bet Club" as a name. However, Phil suddenly dumped the Gilroys, telling Alec he couldn't let them risk everything. The club never opened its doors but Alec still felt the need to retaliate and, remembering Deirdre selling them out to the brewery, managed Alf Roberts's council election campaign when he was standing against Deirdre, with Phil managing her campaign. Alf was successfully re-elected, reclaiming his council seat from Deirdre.
In July, Sandra informed Alec that Joyce had passed away. Alec decided not to attend the funeral, and instead look after Victoria while Sandra and Tim were at the funeral in Whitby. Alec and Bet were just about to leave to collect Victoria when a policeman called at the Rovers to break the news that the Ardens had both been killed in a car crash in Whitby.
Alec told Victoria the news himself, and after a period of grief by both parties, discussion turned to Vicky's care. As Alec was her closest surviving relative, Vicky was placed at the Rovers, despite her wish to be among friends in Handforth. Vicky spent the weeks before going back to boarding school dejected and resentful of her dingy surroundings in Weatherfield, struggling to find common ground with her grandparents.
1991-1996: Alec sets sail
Alec yearned for more glamorous surroundings, and in November a job for Sunglobe Shipping Company supplying six artistes for a cruise became much more when his chosen Master of Ceremonies, Archie Archer, dropped out, and Alec decided to take on the job himself, seeing it as a stepping stone to greater things. Bet stiffly opposed the idea, angry at the thought of Alec abandoning her over Christmas and New Year to go on holiday. After failing to win Bet over by laying on an early Christmas dinner, Alec left for Southampton to board his ship.
While on the cruise, Alec befriended Cherie Watkins, who was related to a director of the shipping company, and told her he was a widower so as not to put off the woman who was clearly interested in him.
Just before Christmas, Bet summoned Alec home, however he claimed to be too busy. When he returned home in early January, he discovered that Bet had got a past love of hers, Des Foster, to decorate their bedroom, and that Des had tried it on, resulting in Bet having to fight him off. Alec was initially sceptical but he believed Bet when she showed him the bruises she got fighting Des off, and with the truth out in the open Alec agreed to drop the subject. Shortly afterwards, it was Alec's turn to explain himself, when Bet intercepted a postcard from Cherie Watkins. Bet invited Cherie to tea and forced Alec to confess her the truth about being a widower by playing the role of Alec's mother (as Cherie had assumed she was when she heard she was "Mrs. Gilroy"), by bossing "little Alec" about, much to the embarrassment of both Alec and Cherie.
Alec didn't expect to hear from Sunglobe again but in August, they contacted him out of the blue to ask him to manage their entertainment full-time, a job which would entail relocating to Southampton. Alec didn't need asking twice - the Rovers was neither fulfilling nor rewarding - and broke the news to his stunned wife, telling her he wanted to take it but that it would be a joint decision. Bet felt the pull of the Rovers, having worked there for 22 years, but after seeing Alec at his happiest in years, she agreed to go along with his plans.
Alec then busied himself with arrangements, selling the Rovers tenancy back to the brewery and announcing their departure to the regulars. However, on the day of departure, a forlorn Bet told her disbelieving husband that she was staying behind, and remaining at the Rovers as manager, having accepted initially only for his sake. Refusing to see his wife's point of view, Alec reacted angrily, accusing Bet of trying to blackmail him into staying and stifling his career. But Bet knew that Alec would still go, and as Alec drove off, he told Bet sternly that even though he was leaving, she was the one walking out on him.
Settling into his new life, Alec accepted the demise of his marriage but he was so hurt by Bet's betrayal that he refused to get involved with another woman except for companionship.
In 1994, Vicky left school and the following January she turned eighteen, whereupon she inherited her parents' fortune. As she'd moved in with Bet, Alec was absent throughout her financial dealings with ex-boyfriend Steve McDonald. Vicky had invested in Steve's print business Dun 2 A T and ended up losing money, but she remained with Steve as she hoped to drive him away from his girlfriend Fiona Middleton.
In July, Vicky and Steve announced their engagement, and fearing that Steve - who had a history of messing Vicky about - was only after her for her money, Bet summoned Alec from Southampton. Returning to the Rovers for the first time in nearly three years, Alec teamed up with Bet to stop the wedding, although Alec's measures were more underhanded, such as asking Steve's debtor Frank Mottram to lean heavily on Steve, and inventing a clause in the Ardens' will which would give Alec control of Vicky's finances. In the end, Vicky and Steve fled to St. Lucia to marry there, and as an unusually sentimental Alec prepared to return to Southampton, he asked Bet if she would have him back. Though she'd enjoyed their reunion, Bet knew that he hadn't really changed and gently turned down his request.
The following year, Alec had to move on from the cruises after clashing with his new boss, who'd been promoted over his head. Taking the position of manager of the Weatherfield branch of Sunglobe, now renamed Sunliners Travel Agency, Alec returned to his old stomping grounds.
1996-2002: Alec's greatest hits
Alec had traded Coronation Street for a life on the seas and he returned to Weatherfield full of bluster about his grand lifestyle, enthusing to Vicky and Steve about his "promotion" up north when he arrived in April 1996. Taking permanent lodgings at a B&B at 15 Park Road, run by ex-chorus girl Jessie Wilcox, Alec took control of the shop, recruiting Deirdre Rachid as an assistant and Joyce Smedley as cleaner. Sadly, his diminished circumstances were plain for all to see as former staff and customers visited his dump of a workplace.
By the time of Alec's return, Bet had resigned from the Rovers and left the area, and within a few weeks Vicky too moved on, taking a hotel management course in Lausanne, Switzerland, after a messy breakup with Steve which saw Steve jailed for two years for handling stolen whisky and perverting the course of justice after trying to put the blame on Vicky.
After Vicky's departure, Alec bought 12 Coronation Street flat above The Kabin. He still avoided getting too serious with women but he wasn't averse to marrying if the right one came along, as he explained to Joyce Smedley, with whom he had rapidly become friends. Joyce agreed to accompany Alec on a break to the Lake District, where they slept in separate rooms, and was disappointed when Alec didn't make a move, but they reached an understanding when Alec explained to her how he'd been hurt in the past. Their friendship ended when Alec caught Joyce stealing from the Rovers and the travel agents, and sacked her when she threatened to blackmail him for having her invoice Sunliners for cleaning his flat.
If Sunliners wasn't the most invigorating workplace, Alec at least had more time to put into his agency. He hoped to find an act that would take him to the big time and started his search in Coronation Street, nurturing Fiona Middleton as a singer and Roy Cropper with his perfect memory. However, neither performer wanted to work with Alec and they had to go to extreme measures to put him off.
At Christmas, while Jack Duckworth was in hospital, Alec helped Vera out at the Rovers, which was now under Duckworth ownership. Vera swore Alec to secrecy, but Jack found out anyway and warned Alec to stay away from the Rovers and Vera.
Made redundant from Sunliners the following May, Alec began sniffing around the Rovers, advising Rita against a 50/50 partnership with the Duckworths before offering them one himself for £17,000. With a VAT bill of £17,650 to settle, Jack got £25,000 out of Alec, with Alec ceding the accommodation to the Duckworths. It was an unprecedented partnership with no trust on either side, but unlike Jack and Vera who feared Alec was trying to push them out of the Rovers, Alec only had to worry about the Duckworths not pulling their weight. The relationship got off to a bad start, with Vera changing the locks upon finding out about the deal after her return from a holiday in Morecambe. Alec and Jack has to pose as draymen to get back in. Alec ran rings round the Duckworths with ease, making them pay to hold their 40th wedding anniversary at their own pub and billing Jack for all the free drinks.
Another of Alec's ventures was the Golden Years Agency, which offered escorts for companionship, although he was forced to lie low for a while when one of his clients, Babs Fanshawe, passed away during a meal with Ken Barlow.
Since moving into the flat adjacent to Rita Sullivan's, Alec had become friendly with his former artiste, with Rita finally looking on him favourably after years of keeping him at arm's length. In July 1998, when Rita was hospitalised with carbon monoxide poisoning, Alec felt responsible for her and tackled Steve McDonald about a gas fire he'd installed which was the cause of Rita's illness. When Rita was back on her feet, Alec confessed his growing feelings for her and proposed, however she fell out with him when he reported Steve to the Health and Safety people against her wishes, accusing Alec of using her to get back at Steve for what he did to Vicky. Soon afterwards, Rita started becoming forgetful due to the after-effects of the poisoning, and again Alec came to the rescue, taking over the Kabin and arranging for her to visit Mavis Wilton in Cartmel. Seeing that Alec genuinely cared about her, Rita cooked him a meal to clear the air, however she became annoyed when he proposed again as she was happy with things the way they were.
After a spat with the Duckworths, Alec decided to end the partnership and return to Southampton, but in a surprising turn of events, Rita agreed to marry him after all, and Alec pushed for full ownership of the Rovers, offering them £30,000 for their half of the pub with the promise of keeping them on as staff and allowing them to stay on in the living quarters. The Duckworths agreed, but once Alec had total control, he decided to fire them, only holding back because he knew that Rita would find it despicable. Meanwhile, he and Rita decided to live together instead of getting married, with Alec building a door between their two flats so that they could come and go as they pleased.
As Christmas loomed, Vicky paid Alec a Yuletide visit and told him about her plans to buy a wine bar in Brighton. Meanwhile, annoyed at the Duckworths' cheek at asking for Christmas off to visit their grandson Tommy in Blackpool, Alec decided to grant them the holiday and evict them from the Rovers in their absence. He had their belongings put in storage but, having been tipped off, Jack and Vera returned home on Christmas Eve and barricaded themselves in the living quarters. Alec decided to wait them out - they had to come down sometime - but when Rita told him that she was the one who warned the Duckworths as what he'd done to them was cruel, Alec became dispirited and told Rita he didn't want to see her any more.
Realising he had nothing to stay in Weatherfield for, Alec accepted an offer by Natalie Barnes to buy the pub, using the money to go into partnership with Vicky. After boarding up the door in the flat, Alec left for Brighton, stopping only to congratulate the Duckworths on their much-earned victory.
In 2002, Bet returned to Weatherfield and told the residents that she and Alec had got a divorce.
- "You view people as opportunities - what you can get out of them, not what you can give them." - Bet Gilroy
Alec entered the world of show business as an artiste, performing onstage with ferrets. He honed his craft as a talent scout, learning to be savvy and devious enough to keep the Weatherfield Majestic supplied with acts. He dreamed of fame and fortune, but it never came, replaced with a stoic cynicism as he fought to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of show business.
Club management led naturally to the licensed trade and, eventually, the Rovers Return. He considered it a waste of his talent, but Alec ran the Rovers efficiently, treating the bar like a stage and putting the staff on their best behaviour, cracking the whip when required (usually snarkily). He was a workaholic; all of his time went towards running the pub, his agency, or meeting friends in the business. Bet even had to drag him away from his work to be physical with him.
Alec was mean with money, and being a man so consumed by his work, he could come across as having no motive in life other than greed. He pocketed the wages of staff who no longer worked under him at the Rovers, and at Sunliners, he claimed Joyce Smedley's salary even after she'd passed away. At the Rovers, double Scotch drinker Mike Baldwin was always met with a smile and chit-chat, while Percy Sugden was left in the cold to nurse his half of mild.
Underneath his prickly exterior, Alec was a sensitive man, though few people got to see this side of him. He kept people at a distance emotionally to avoid heartbreak; his separation from Bet was so painful that for a few years he only had lady companions. He liked a laugh, although it was usually at someone's expense. Ultimately, it was his ruthlessness in getting what he wanted which alienated him from some of the most important people in his life.
Alec was short (although he described himself as "slightly above medium") and wore glasses. He smoked heavily, often to steady his nerves. In 1988, he claimed he disliked holidays which were "too foreign".
Alec had a fear of dogs. When Bet took in an Alsatian guard dog, Rover, from the RSPCA, Alec paid Tommy Ferguson to say it was his missing dog. However, he didn't mind spiders, as evidenced by him hiring a £500 Mexican mouse-eating spider to display in the Rovers to stir up trade. The escapade ended when the spider got loose and Alec had to squash it with his bare hands without being noticed during an inspection by the health inspector.
- "I'm not the exhibitionist type, Bet. Come to think of it, I don't think I even said I love me own mother."
All Alec got from his father Reg was a propensity for penny-pinching and being in public houses (albeit on opposite sides of the bar). Reg left Alec's mother Mabel for another woman when Alec and his sister Edna were children. They were reunited many years later, when Reg got in touch with Alec out of guilt when he thought Reg was dying, and introduced him to his 27-year-old half-sister Brenda.
Alec's theatrical bent arose from competition with his sister Edna, although, like his parents, Edna played no part in Alec's adult life. However, he kept in touch with Brenda and helped her out by giving her work in the entertainment industry as Melody Lane, including a prestigious spot on the QE2 in December 1995, despite her questionable level of talent.
When Alec settled in Coronation Street in 1986, Rita Fairclough was the only person he knew from the "old days"; they'd collaborated a few times in the 1970s in their respective roles of impresario and singer. During her short time on Alec's books, Rita found Alec and his showbiz pals dodgy, claiming that she only survived it as she was old enough to know her way around. When Jenny Bradley sang for Alec, hoping he would sign her up, Rita told Alan her experiences and advised him to put a stop to it.
Rita and Alec crossed paths only rarely during his and Bet's marriage; early in their romance, Rita advised Bet not to get involved with Alec, telling her he was rotten to the core, but Bet ignored her friend's advice. In 1989, concerned friends learned of a missing Rita's whereabouts when she turned up at The Strand Hotel in Blackpool, which was run by a friend of Alec's, Cyril Partridge, and Cyril rang Alec.
Rita's opinion of Alec began to change when they were on a cruise together in December 1995. Having been dismissive of him the entire journey, Rita was surprised to learn that a talentless singer he'd given a spot to on the QE2 was not a woman with whom he was having an affair, but his sister Brenda, and also that he'd given his cabin to Curly and Raquel Watts. They shared a rare moment of understanding, with Alec confessing that he'd pocketed money owed to her when she worked for him and that he hadn't sold her contract to a big London agent who could have taken her to the top. His kindness and candour went a long way to convincing Rita that the heartless money-grabber she used to know had changed.
Alec and Rita became closer upon Alec's full-time return to Weatherfield in 1996. Spending more time finding new talent for his agency, Alec sometimes asked Rita her opinion on acts, and she agreed to coach Fiona Middleton as a singer. Their newfound friendship was noticed by Rita's would-be suitor Fred Elliott, though at that point Rita insisted her relationship with Alec was strictly business. In 1998, after Rita's carbon monoxide ordeal, Alec's intentions became more serious, and Alec decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Rita. It was only with time - and two proposals - that he managed to win Rita over, but when his battle with the Duckworths became more heated, Rita saw the old Alec emerge and decided to warn Jack and Vera that Alec was going to evict them from the Rovers while they were away. When she confessed to Alec, Alec immediately turned against her, proving to her that he hadn't really changed. Alec left Weatherfield without saying goodbye to her.
In 2002, when Bet Lynch returned to the area, Rita broached the subject of her engagement to Alec, causing Bet to reveal that Alec had described the entire ordeal as him "going through a nostalgic phase".
Alec and Bet Lynch crossed paths very briefly when Alec drank at the Rovers in 1975 when Bet was working behind the bar. Eleven years later, Bet was a year into her stewardship of the Rovers and still finding her feet in the job. Meanwhile, Alec was a dab hand in the licence trade and would seem to be a good fit in the flashy Graffiti Club, but in fact his was a lonely and dull job. Their relationship started out professionally - they were colleagues in the trade, and friendly rivals. Alec was attracted to Bet, and slowly moved their relationship in a more personal direction, while Bet appreciated Alec's agency help and advice and gradually began to trust him.
Alec and Bet had never properly dated before they became engaged; Alec fell out with Bet when he found out she thought he was using her to get to the Rovers. Their interactions afterwards were purely financial, although Alec demonstrated a great deal of faith in Bet by loaning her the money to buy the Rovers tenancy. Bet proved to be a financial risk but after recovering his losses, Alec offered marriage so that she could remain landlady. Alec was proposing a real marriage but, keeping his feelings for Bet close to his chest, he seemed to Bet to be suggesting a marriage of convenience. However, Bet knew that Alec was serious about her, and even though his proposal could have been more romantic, Bet accepted, and they were married on 9th September 1987.
Alec and Bet couldn't have been more different. Bet was a fun-loving barmaid, sassy, and popular with the customers, and her pint-sized husband morose and miserly. They had in common a jaded, unsentimental outlook on life, which both helped them bond and gave rise to many catty exchanges between the pair. The spice of the Gilroy marriage was Alec and Bet's power games, with man and wife conspiring to get one over on each other. For example, in December 1988, Alec found out from Paul Rigby that Bet and Stella successful turn at a health farm had actually been a disaster, with the women dropping out of the regime and spending the rest of their time feasting in a hotel. Alec got a kick out of making Bet talk about the health farm at every opportunity and going on about it in front of the customers, although Bet soon cottoned on and pretended to book the health farm for Alec to scare him.
The practicality of the Gilroy marriage both guaranteed its survival in the short-term but also doomed it from the outset. When Alec got the opportunity to move to Southampton and manage the entertainment on the cruise ships, it was the move he'd been waiting for. At first, Bet went along with his plans, not having the heart to ask him not to take it, but her doubts were overwhelming and she decided to remain at the Rovers. When she broke the news to Alec, Alec accused her of trying to blackmail him into staying, but Bet knew that Alec would still go - he'd always done what he wanted. As he left for pastures new, Alec told Bet that she was the one walking out on their marriage, however much she tried to blame him.
During Alec's brief return to Weatherfield in 1995, he and Bet put their own feelings aside to concentrate on stopping Vicky Arden from marrying Steve McDonald. Although Bet enjoyed having Alec around again, his presence made her certain that she'd done the right thing three year earlier; he viewed people as opportunities, and she was no exception.
Alec was introduced to one Jack Duckworth when the Rovers cellarman asked him for a job at the Graffiti Club just after the Rovers fire. Reeking of desperation for work, Jack had nothing to recommend him but Alec seized upon his boast that most of the customers only went into the Rovers because of him; subject to him bringing that custom to the Graffiti, Alec agreed to take Jack on. Jack won the challenge by buying people free drinks at the establishment, but his employment at the Graffiti only lasted for a few weeks, as he returned to a refurbished Rovers when it opened.
Jack became a regular thorn in Alec's side when Alec became Rovers licensee. Lazy, shifty, and incompetent, "Jacko" was only useful for doing the donkey work. When Alec was in a bad mood, Jack was the usual recipient of his vitriol, although Alec was insulting and snappy with his instructions in any mood, often getting in jibes about Jack being henpecked by Vera. Jack was a perennial suck-up, and so he always took what Alec threw at him, but occasionally he would show loyalty to Newton & Ridley over the Gilroys, such as in 1989 when he informed the brewery about their break-up in hope of being offered the Rovers himself. Their relationship wasn't entirely acrimonious, however, with the pair often sharing their musings on the strange phenomenon of women.
A notable incident involving the pair occurred in March 1992. Secretly working as a pallbearer, Jack feigned back trouble to get a day off work so he could do a funeral. Unluckily for Jack, it was one of Alec's friends who had died, and, when the pair made eye contact in the graveyard, Jack abandoned his post and ran off, with Alec giving chase. Jack made it home and covered himself up in a blanket, which fooled Alec when he arrived there moments later, intending to catch him out, but his eagle-eyed employer spotted the muddy shoes and sacked Jack on the spot for moonlighting. Fortunately, Alec was adverse to cellar work and Jack managed to grovel his way back into the Rovers.
Later, as business partners, Alec and Jack got on better; two years of being lord and master of the Rovers had taught Jack a thing or two, and he'd developed the confidence to put Alec in his place. The Alec of this period was a man biding his time, waiting patiently for his opportunity to oust the Duckworths for good, but keeping them sweet in the meantime.
- "There's no getting rid of her, is there? She should be written into the deeds of this place."
Business was no place for sentiment, and when Alec first arrived at the Rovers, one member of staff who stood out for all the wrong reasons was 67-year-old Betty Turpin, the pub's longest-serving barmaid and hotpot queen. Alec saw Betty as the most expendable member of the Rovers staff, and any staffing crisis would invariably see Alec try to force her into retirement.
Their first clash came when Alec first took over the Rovers as manager in 1987, when Betty walked out because of Alec watching her whenever she went over to the till, despite her stainless record at the pub in her years of loyal service. Bet managed to persuade Betty to return while Alec was off sick, and got him to be nicer to Betty as they needed her in the kitchen. However, even Betty's famous hotpot wasn't safe from Alec; he once tried to get her to put more salt in the recipe to make the customers thirsty, but Betty was having none of it. In 1992, when the Health and Safety people were onto the Rovers about the state of the kitchen, Alec decided to stop serving food and unceremoniously fired Betty. Once again, she wasn't gone for long, as profits fell so much without her cooking that Alec decided to invest in a new kitchen and grovelled to Betty to get her to return. Alec made another attempt to oust her in 1997 when he got sick of her taking time off due to illness. He wrote Betty a note telling her she was fired and posted it through her letterbox, however he then had to retrieve it when Betty's husband Billy Williams passed away that same day. After the funeral, Vera Duckworth promised Betty a job for life.
Alec and Betty's closest encounter came on a night in 1998, when Alec returned home feeling randy and climbed into bed in the dark with who he thought was Rita, but was actually Betty, who was staying at Rita's while the decorators were working at her house. Betty woke up and hit Alec with a pillow.
When Alec was introduced to his 12-year-old grand-daughter Victoria Arden by his son-in-law Tim, it was the second time he'd seen her that day; earlier, while stopped in a country lane, Alec had sharply reversed his car, nearly hitting Victoria while she was riding her pony Saracen. Steadying the horse, Vicky tetchily reminded Alec that there were "country codes for motorists" and made him switch off his car's engine until she'd made her way down the lane. Alec then moved off, labelling her a "stupid little brat" under his breath as he continued his search for his daughter Sandra's house in Fernwood Place, Handforth.
Victoria (or "Vicky") was the apple of her grandfather's eye from their first (proper) meeting. The same age as Sandra when Alec split from Joyce, Vicky was a reminder to Alec of his failure as a father. She brought out his softer side, and they rarely exchanged a cross word. Occasionally Alec's mask slipped, such as in April 1992 when Vicky discovered that Alec had charged her estate for most of the cost of Saracen's new saddle which he had supposedly bought as a Christmas present, Alec having been unwilling to pay the full price.
Sandra and Tim's deaths meant that Alec's role in Vicky's life was more parental than grandparental. In 1992, when he caught Vicky kissing Steve McDonald, he warned Steve off as Steve was three years older than Vicky and had a criminal record. Shortly before leaving for Southampton, he caught Steve with another girl and told Vicky, ending their relationship. By 1995, Steve was living a lifestyle beyond his means, and Vicky was willfully funding his business interests, having recently turned eighteen and inherited her parents' estate. When they decided to get married, Alec visited to make sure she didn't go through with it, doing everything he could think of from luring her away to Southampton to "discuss" the wedding, to offering Steve a lucrative job on the cruise ships and £5,000 to stay away from Vicky, all of which failed. Before leaving for Southampton, Alec remarked to Bet that he wasn't surprised that Vicky stuck to her guns - she was a Gilroy.
Alec maintained a good relationship with Vicky throughout her troubles with Steve but his return to Weatherfield was marred by her rapid decision to move on from the area. In 1999, they opened a bar in Brighton together, however in November of that year Alec missed Vicky's wedding to Robert due to being held up in Dubai.
Creation and casting
Roy Barraclough was a Preston-born actor who began his career as a draughtsman, performing in local amateur dramatics groups in his spare time. He eventually quit to pursue an acting career, and trod the boards in repertory in Huddersfield, Stoke-on-Trent and Oldham, where he developed a love of the theatre. In the 1960s, he branched out into television, making a number of appearances on programmes for Granada and YTV, usually in guest parts.
In Episode 1194, transmitted on 26th June 1972, Barraclough made his debut appearance as Alec Gilroy, appearing in both of that week's episodes. At that point, Barraclough was one of Coronation Street's most prolific bit part actors, having appeared in four previous episodes in different roles: a Speedwell Cavern Tour Guide in June 1965, an electric guitar salesman in July 1967, window cleaner I-spy Dwyer in June 1968 and finally restaurant-diner Harry in June 1970. A four-episode reprisal of the character in 1975 cemented Barraclough's role as Alec, but with the actor enjoying success as part of a comedy partnership with Les Dawson, producers failed to tie him down to a regular role.
In 1986, the producership of John G. Temple and Bill Podmore (as executive producer) finally persuaded Barraclough to sign for the Street full-time, granting him eight weeks off a year to do a play. On signing the actor, Bill Podmore recalls: "It was never a great problem inducing Roy to make a fleeting visit to Weatherfield. The tough job was persuading him to stay. While many actors would give their right arm to land a Coronation Street contract, Roy's terrific talent meant he was rarely short of work, either on stage or the more lucrative television, and he was not easily tempted." (Coronation Street: The Inside Story, Bill Podmore, 1990) Episode 2632 (23rd June 1986) was Alec's first appearance as a regular.
Partnership with Bet
Alec appeared initially as manager of the Graffiti Club in Rosamund Street - a temporary home to the Rovers regulars while the pub was renovated - but writers quickly decided to focus on his sparring relationship with Bet Lynch. Barraclough enjoyed playing Alec's nasty side, and was surprised at the direction writers took the character: "The public loved to hate Alec because he was such a devious so-and-so and was up to every scam in the book. The viewers loved all that roguery, I think. Of course, when he got together with Bet he was really up against it because she had the measure of his craftiness. " (Fifty Years of Coronation Street, Headline Publishing Group, 2010).
In 1987, Alec's relationship with Bet became more serious, and the couple decided to marry in what was the Street's unlikeliest marriage to date, with Alec becoming licensee of the Rovers. The decision stunned Barraclough and Julie Goodyear, who both had misgivings: "They were a most unlikely couple. I think that Julie and I both thought that. I wasn't very enamoured with the idea because I thought that the marriage, however unlikely it was, would of necessity mellow the characters down and I thought there was more fun to be had with the sharp banter that they had before." (The Coronation Street Story, Boxtree Limited, 1995) However, Podmore, who had recently returned to the position of producer, believed the comic potential of the pairing to be worth it: "Julie Goodyear's natural flair for comedy and Alec's droll, expressive face have produced some memorable moments. Theirs may have seemed an improbable match, but like Emily Bishop and Percy Sugden they make a perfect odd couple, and a fertile area for comedy writing." (Coronation Street: The Inside Story)
Alec's proposal to Bet was shot on location in Torremolinos, where Bet had been living for three months (as Julie Goodyear had been granted compassionate leave earlier that year to look after her seriously ill mother). When the time came to record the wedding, Roy Barraclough's mind was on matters more material: "These seamstresses had toiled for weeks, creating this Emmanuel-style wedding dress. I mean, if she fell off the Forth Bridge, she could have quite happily parachuted to safety. Yet there was no one available to hem up my trousers for the wedding suit. They were like concertinas, round the shoes, and in desperation the floor manager rushed forward and turned them up with sellotape. There I stood, with a crowd of what must have been 300 members of the public, who'd gathered outside the church to watch this very special wedding being filmed with these awful trousers." (The Coronation Street Story)
Despite his doubts, the benefits of Alec and Bet marrying were not lost on Roy Barraclough. Reflecting on his screen marriage, Barraclough: "He was very much taken with Bet, and marriage has changed him... For Alec, in that seedy little area, Bet represented showbusiness. She was the only one around there with style, panache, theatricality. Julie and I have worked very hard at making the two characters work as a couple, but we already knew each other so well. I performed at Oldham Rep more than 20 years ago when she was an assistant stage manager there and we've always been good friends and had a natural rapport and share the same, rather bizarre sense of humour. We have a lot of fun in rehearsals and joke a lot, which leads to a very relaxed atmosphere." (Life in the Street, Boxtree Limited, 1991)
Roy Barraclough calls time
In 1988, with his contract due to expire, Barraclough decided to quit the programme, citing typecasting as a reason for his departure. His exit storyline was in early planning stages when he had a surprise change of heart, as Bill Podmore recalls: "He insisted on leaving before he became better known as Alec Gilroy than Roy Barraclough, and all my efforts to dissuade him failed. Suddenly, out of the blue, he had a change of heart and the scriptwriters were spared the task of inventing a plausible exit for Bet's tubby hubby. To this day I don't know what brought about the change of mind." (Coronation Street: The Inside Story) Barraclough references this in a 1990 interview: "For the foreseeable future, I will continue playing Alec because I'm enjoying it, but two years ago I thought I was going to pack it all in. The actor's instinct is to do it, move on and tackle another challenge. With soap, once you have established the character, it's just a case of learning a different situation each week. There's nothing else to explore. But Granada outlined all sorts of interesting ideas they had to develop the character and it sounded smashing." (Life in the Street)
One of the new ideas for Alec was to introduce his estranged daughter Sandra. For this storyline, Alec's backstory was changed from established history (given in Episode 2810) that he and first wife Joyce had separated while Joyce was still pregnant, to them divorcing when Sandra was thirteen years old. In 1991, Chloe Newsome became a permanent addition to the cast, playing Alec's grand-daughter Vicky Arden (originally played by Helen Warburton in 1990).
However, Barraclough remained non-committal about his future with Coronation Street, a situation not helped by the addition of a third weekly episode in October 1989. Barraclough: "It's damned hard work. If you're featured prominently in a storyline for five or six weeks, the pressure begins to get to you and the strain really starts to tell. It's very much bed and work. At the moment it's OK, but one could foresee a time when it could all get too much. I spent my life permanently tense." (Life in the Street) Roy Barraclough had another short absence from the Street over Christmas 1991.
In 1992, Barraclough quit the Street, and this time he didn't change his mind. Although he expressed a desire for Alec to be killed off, writers instead chose to send him away to Southampton to resume his entertainment career, believing that Bet's new status as a separated woman had dramatic potential. Barraclough's first part after leaving was in Feed, a Tom Elliott-penned play at Bolton's Octagon Theatre.
When Julie Goodyear decided to leave Coronation Street after 25 years in 1995, Roy Barraclough was persuaded to return as Alec for a storyline which saw the Gilroys reunite to stop Vicky marrying Steve McDonald. The story saw Bet and Alec pick up where they left off, entertaining viewers with their bickering one last time.
Alec next appeared in direct-to-video Coronation Street - The Feature Length Special, also in 1995, before returning to the regular programme full-time from April 1996. Initially returning as manager of the local branch of Sunliners Travel Agency, Alec was eventually moved to his former position at the Rovers, this time opposite Jack and Vera Duckworth.
On 1st September 1998, tabloids carried the story of Barraclough's resignation from the Street, with The Mirror carrying a quote from the actor: "It's true I've told them I want to go at the end of my six month contract. It's hard work these days and I've just completed a 19 week stint at the studios." Episode 4534, transmitted on 30th December, was his final appearance.
In The Stars of the Street, a countdown of the top fifty Coronation Street characters released on DVD in 2010, Alec was ranked at #37.
First and last lines
"No, I'm sorry, no time Vera, any questions speak to your new boss." (Final line)
List of addresses
|4 Back Gas Street||Childhood|
|Rovers Return Inn||8th June 1987 to 2nd September 1992|
|Southampton||September 1992 to April 1996|
|15 Park Road||15th April to 1st July 1996|
|12 Coronation Street||1st July 1996 to 30th December 1998|
|Doorman||Weatherfield Majestic||Late 1950s to 1971|
|Manager||Victoria Street Working Men's Club||1972|
|Talent agent||Alec Gilroy Presents||1975 onwards|
|Manager||Graffiti Club||Until December 1986|
|Temporary manager||Rovers Return Inn||3rd June to 19th August 1987|
|Landlord||Rovers Return Inn||19th August 1987 to 2nd September 1992|
|Master of ceremonies||Sunglobe Shipping Company||November 1991 to January 1992|
|Entertainments manager||Sunglobe Shipping Company||September 1992 to 1996|
|Manager, Rosamund Street branch||Sunliners Travel Agency||April 1996 to May 1997|
|Owner||Golden Years Agency||c.1997 onwards|
|Co-owner||Rovers Return Inn||18th June 1997 to 4th September 1998|
|Landlord||Rovers Return Inn||4th September to 30th December 1998|
|Co-owner||Brighton bar||1999 onwards|