Dennis Tanner is the son of Elsie Tanner and a Coronation Street resident from 1942 to 1968, and from 2011 to the present. He is the husband of Rita Tanner, the brother of Linda Cheveski, and the uncle of Paul and Martin Cheveski.
Dennis was the black sheep of the Tanner family. An ex-borstal boy, Dennis pursued a legitimate career as a talent scout for Lenny Phillips and spent a few years working in clubs. His camp, charming manner made him a natural entertainer, but his hare-brained schemes never went to plan and after a few years he quit the business.
In 1968, now a sales rep, Dennis married Jenny Sutton and the two moved to Bristol. Five years later, the marriage had broken down and Dennis found himself in prison for conning money out of pensioners. After some lean years, including a spell of homelessness in late 2010, Dennis found himself back on the Street in 2011 after some forty years away.
Within months of his return, Dennis had entered into a romantic relationship with old flame Rita Sullivan. Though reluctant to continue the relationship for fear of sponging off her, the two ended up realising their love and got engaged in March 2012, marrying in June of the same year.
1942-1960: Early life
Dennis Tanner was born on 1st April 1942, the son of Elsie and Arnold, and younger brother of Linda. The family lived at 11 Coronation Street, Weatherfield, such as it was; Arnold and Elsie separated in 1945 and Arnold didn’t contact Elsie again until 1961. Growing up without a stable father figure, Dennis was frequently in trouble as a child. Aged 9 years old, he even managed to etch "Dennis Tanner 1951" into the window ledge of No.11. He always lived by his own rules and ended up spending time in a borstal in 1960 after committing petty theft.
After he returned home, he spent more time moping around the house than looking for a job, however unlikely it was that anyone would employ him. When he won £25 at the dog track, people were quicker to believe he had stolen the money. Elsie was relieved when neighbour Harry Hewitt revealed that he had seen Dennis win the money, providing him with an alibi.
1960-1963: Career in showbusiness
When Dennis did find work, it was in the auditorium of the Orinoco Club; a job with prospects but not quite in the way Elsie had envisioned. He briefly dated one of the club's acts, Eunice Bond, but when he took her home Elsie was unwelcoming. Dennis told Elsie that he was embarrassed to bring girls home and called her a hypocrite - she had had more than her fair share of boyfriends over the years.
Dennis was intrigued by the world of showbusiness; after a few months, he took a regular singing spot at the club, performing under the stage name Ricky Dennis. He hoped that an agency would recognise his talent and sign him up, but when well-known agent Lenny Phillips asked to see him, he was advised by Lenny to abandon his singing career as he wasn't very good, and work for him as a talent scout. Dennis was made Assistant Manager at the Orinoco and in 1962 left Weatherfield for London to open an office there for Lenny's agency.
In 1963, Dennis returned and moved back in with Elsie. True to form, he immediately caused trouble by opening the door to bailiffs, unaware of the lengths Elsie had gone to to keep them out. He was quiet about his life in London, but when Mavis Fox arrived looking for a Dennis Tanner who lived in a detached house in Coronation Street, Elsie smelled a rat and got it out of Dennis that he had been living with Mavis's family and that the upper-class girl had believed he was from a wealthy family. He tried to pretend that his gran lived in Coronation Street and Elsie was the maid but had to admit the truth eventually. When he did so, Mavis lost interest in him and returned home.
Still working for Lenny Phillips, Dennis kept his eye out for new talent. He was ecstatic when he met window cleaner Walter Potts, who turned out to be a talented singer. Walter agreed to hire Dennis to find him gigs. Walter’s career was just starting to take off when Lenny’s partner Laurie Frazer showed up and put Dennis under pressure for not signing up Walter officially, only on gentleman’s agreement – Walter had since signed a three-year contract with a London agency, invalidating his agreement with Dennis. Amazingly, Dennis wasn't sacked, but later lost the job anyway for failing to open the office over Christmas.
1964-1966: Back to square one
To the residents’ surprise, Dennis went back to square one when he got a new job in the loading bay at Amalgamated Steel. It was a physical job he wasn’t suited to and he didn’t get along with his workmates. Without a care, he took the blame for damaged stock so he would be sacked.
Next up was a job at the Viaduct Street Social Club, which he had to thank Elsie for as she was dating its manager Laurie Frazer. Surprisingly, he packed it in after only a few months to study hairdressing. The course was unpaid but Elsie approved of it and wanted to encourage him, and so she secretly took a job posing for art students in order to fund Dennis while he wasn't earning. When Dennis found out, he offered to drop out of the course for Elsie's sake but she persuaded him not to. After passing his exams, he got a job at the posh Gerald's Salon.
Later in 1964, Dennis met Sandra Petty, who fell for him. To his horror, Sandra's dad Lionel Petty bought the Corner Shop, making it impossible for Dennis to avoid her. In exchange for use of the shop storeroom to keep bulk items he intended to sell, Dennis agreed to go out with Sandra. His scheme worked until Sandra got into trouble for storing 144 boxes of crackers in the loft at Gamma Garments for Dennis. She finished with him, calling him selfish. Dennis was disheartened - but only because he now had 108 Christmas trees and nowhere to put them!
In 1965, Dennis decided he wanted to work somewhere else but a clause in his diploma meant that he couldn't practice hairdressing professionally at anywhere other than Gerald's. He left the business anyway, and - after a short spell working at the Corner Shop - got a job as a salesman for the Children's Novelty Toy Company. In typical Dennis fashion, he started out with a zest for the new challenge but after a few months got bored by it and got himself sacked by skipping work.
The following year, Dennis decided to get back into showbusiness. After a short-lived venture running an auction room with borstal friend Jed Stone, Dennis took a job as the Entertainments Manager at a holiday camp in Carlisle, and left Weatherfield to move closer to work. He returned to the Street in June, hotly pursued by two thugs who were after £94 he owed them. Elsie found Dennis a job at the betting shop in Rosamund Street but he gambled away his earnings, and when he found out the thugs were after him, he hid away in No.11 until a generous Len Fairclough paid the thugs off and offered to let Dennis work at the Builder's Yard to pay off the debt.
1966-1968: Leaving the Street
With few job prospects, Dennis stayed on at the yard but quit after accidentally setting Len's house on fire while decorating it. Dennis accepted a job offer from Emily Nugent to manage the men's section at Gamma Garments. He got on well with his co-workers Emily and Lucille Hewitt.
In 1967, Dennis taught English to Swede Inga Olsen and the two started dating. They were caught in Gamma Garments late at night by Emily and the owner Mr Papagopolous. He would have been sacked anyway, but he resigned so Emily wouldn’t have the burden of firing him. Keen on Inga, he went to Sweden with her, returning a month later not with Inga, but her sister Karen, who he signed off as his au pair, claiming to be Steve Tanner (the real Steve Tanner was Elsie’s fiancé). The affair ended when a Swedish official visited Weatherfield to check on Karen and discovered the deception. Karen was sent elsewhere.
Dennis went through a few more jobs but never stayed anywhere for long. When Elsie married Steve, the newlyweds moved and Dennis took in some circus performers as lodgers, which horrified the neighbours. Elsie wasn’t shocked that Dennis was up to his usual tricks and was fine with it as long as the bills were paid and the house stayed in one piece. Eventually Dennis got rid of the lodgers but couldn’t even manage the cooking on his own, relying on the neighbours to help him out.
The Tanners reunited at No.11 to spend Christmas together before Elsie and Steve emigrated to the United States of America. When Dennis was left alone again, a party at No.11 went out of hand when the party-goers – hippies – decided to squat there. The neighbours complained to the landlord who wanted everybody out, including Dennis. With his family all gone, Dennis decided there was nothing left in the Street for him and didn’t fight the eviction.
He took a shine to one of the hippies, Jenny Sutton, and got her a job at the hotel where he worked as a waiter. Jenny was impressed when Dennis blackmailed his boss who had groped her. Hoping for romance, Dennis followed her to London when she left Weatherfield abruptly.
Later in 1968, Elsie separated from Steve and moved back into No.11. Dennis returned with Jenny in tow, lying that they were married so that Elsie would let them sleep together. Elsie wasn't fooled and tried to make Jenny feel uncomfortable but became more supportive when they announced that they were actually going to get married.
Dennis got a job as a salesman again, selling hairdressing toiletries. A crisis arose when Dennis's boss asked him to be in Bristol for a work meeting on 29th May, the day of his wedding. Dennis waited until after he and Jenny had married to tell her, but Jenny understood that he'd been put in a difficult position and his boss was so impressed by his dedication to the firm that he offered him the position of area manager in Bristol. He accepted, and the Tanners moved to Bristol for a new and better life.
1968-: Later years and return to the Street
In 1973, Dennis was sent to prison for defrauding pensioners in a double-glazing scam. By this point, Dennis and Jenny's marriage had broken down and she left him. Although Elsie continued to live in the Street for over a decade afterwards, Dennis never returned to visit her. Elsie often complained but her affection for her son still stood: when he was sent to prison, Elsie visited him, allowing her neighbours in Weatherfield to think that she was having a secret affair.
In 1984, Elsie left the Street to run a wine bar in Portugal with her old boyfriend Bill Gregory. Dennis reconciled with her not long after she and Bill married, and was a frequent visitor to the Gregory household until the two were killed in a road accident in the mid-2000s.
Dennis gradually found that his "speciality" acts were becoming increasingly unneeded and unwanted in the 21st century. However, around 2009, he found a lifeline, and meal-ticket, in Norma Fountain. Dennis moved in with Norma and, pretty soon, they made arrangements to marry. Dennis knew he didn't love her but found it difficult to tell her face-to-face. On the day of their wedding, he didn't turn up, leaving Norma confused and upset.
By late 2010, with Elsie no longer around to lean on, Dennis' luck finally ran out and he ended up homeless. He found himself back in Weatherfield, frequenting a local soup kitchen run by the Roof and Refuge charity. During one of his visits to the kitchen in May 2011, Dennis ended up chatting to two volunteering teenagers, Sophie Webster and Sian Powers, who were charmed by his manner and stories. They invited him to Roy's Rolls in Victoria Street for some dinner. Not realising how close in proximity the cafe was to his birthplace, a hesitant Dennis made a quick exit. Under the cover of night, he returned to Coronation Street to examine No.11. He was tackled by ex-cabaret singer and one-off girlfriend Rita Sullivan, running off when the two recognised each other.
Rita managed to track Dennis down while volunteering at the soup kitchen the next day, and after initially making yet another hasty exit, returned to see her, nearly fifty years after their last encounter. The two talked and reminisced about the old days over cups of tea, with Rita offering Dennis her sofa in her flat above The Kabin. A clean-shaven Dennis made his first visit to the Rovers in four decades, along with Rita who reintroduced him to Ken Barlow and Emily Bishop - and introduced him to a somewhat irate Norris Cole, who warned Rita that Dennis may be up to no good. In spite of this, Rita and Dennis began to grow close and, after months of living together, entered companionship.
A chance remark in July 2011 helped to unearth a link between Dennis and the Grimshaws of No.11: after Dennis revealed that his mother Elsie's maiden name was Grimshaw, Julie Carp convinced herself that Dennis was related to her half-sister Eileen Grimshaw. Researching the family trees of all involved, Julie discovered that Arnley Grimshaw, a cousin of her and Eileen's father, was also Elsie's cousin - making Julie and Eileen long-lost nieces of Dennis.
In November 2011, it transpired that the Roof and Refuge charity was in fact a money-making scam set up by its managers Rob and Janet White. When the two were tracked down and arrested, a well-meaning Norris contacted the Weatherfield Gazette to tell them of Dennis' personal story and his struggle with homelessness - without informing Dennis himself. The article, which included particular details including the address of The Kabin, was published in the evening edition. Dennis flew off the handle, insulting Norris for wading into his life in such a manner - and his worst fears were confirmed when Norris told him that a woman called Norma Fountain had turned up at The Kabin in search of Dennis. True to form, Dennis disappeared. He was tracked down by Rita and Deirdre Barlow and, with Rita's encouragement, faced Norma in the Rovers. He admitted to Norma that he never loved her - but she revealed that she already knew, and that all she wanted was somebody to look after. She left, finally putting the matter to bed.
In March 2012, Norris built on Dennis' insecurites by pointing that he had made no effort to pay Rita for her hospitality. Rita insisted that it was not necessary, but Dennis felt guilty for "taking advantage". He managed to contact an old friend in Birmingham, who offered him a job in a DIY shop. He accepted, leaving Rita devastated. She revealed to Audrey Roberts that she did not want him to leave - Dennis had filled a gap in her life and she had grown to love him. Nonetheless, both she and Dennis remained unable to convey their true feelings to each other, and the two parted tearfully. However, Dennis - spurred on by the thought of Rita's support over the last year - changed his mind and returned. Finally admitting that they both loved each other, Dennis proposed to Rita and she accepted. However in June prior to the wedding, Dennis began seeing Norma again in secret as he was supporting her after her son ended up in a car accident. When Norris spotted Dennis letting Norma into the flat, he informed Rita who thought Dennis was cheating. Despite finding out it was just a misunderstanding, she claimed she couldn't trust Dennis, leaving him to wonder if she would go ahead with the wedding. At the registry office, Dennis became worried that Rita was late, unaware she had been kidnapped by loan shark Rick Neelan. Dennis believed he had been jilted, and it wasn't helped by Norris' constant jabbing. However, Rita later turned up in the safety of the police, and they went ahead and got married.
Camp and charismatic, Dennis lived life on the edge, charming his way through his problems, even though things rarely went his way. He lived by his own rules, and was difficult to trust as he would be dishonest if it suited his interests to do so. He was also impulsive and self-assured, an attitude that caused great distress to his mother Elsie, who greeted his latest escapades with trepidation. In later life, many of the attributes that coloured his early years - running away from his problems rather than tackle or resolve them head-on - remained with him unless he was persuaded otherwise.
Hobbies and interests
Dennis tried his hand at everything while he lived in the Street, but tended to move quickly onto new interests. He briefly played the guitar, but gave it up in favour of singing - which he also later gave up.
- Dennis was godfather to nephew Paul Cheveski, born 1961.
- Jerry Booth asked Dennis to be best man at his wedding in 1963. In 1968, Jerry was best man at Dennis's wedding.
- In late 1961, Dennis was accused of stealing from the Rovers Return till by landlady Annie Walker. Elsie leaped to Dennis's defense, and told Annie that the Tanners were withdrawing their custom. Dennis was happy to be vindicated but surprised that the neighbours had all backed him for the first time ever.
- In October 2012, Dennis overheard Rovers landlady Stella Price and her mother Gloria talking about a mystery drinker judging the Rovers Return, so pretended that he was the mystery judge in order to get free drinks out of Gloria. However, she had given him too many free drinks, causing a drunken and delighted Dennis to collapse in the pub.
- Dennis was one of the original characters of Coronation Street. He was originally concieved as a petty criminal but this part of his character was quickly downplayed in favour of more comedy storylines involving Dennis's fledgling career in showbusiness, to make use of actor Philip Lowrie's comedic talents.
- Due to the Equity actors' strike, Lowrie could not renew his contract when it expired in early 1962. After his appearance in Episode 129 (7th March 1962), the character did not appear again until Episode 244 (15th April 1963), when the actor signed a new contract (the strike ended on 3rd April 1962). The character's absence was explained as Dennis is said to be in London during this period. His return was penned by Jack Rosenthal, who was so fond of writing for the character that he confessed to shedding a tear as he first typed the words "Enter Dennis" in the script for the episode.
- In January 2011, it was announced that Philip Lowrie was to make a comeback to Coronation Street after 43 years as Dennis Tanner. . He made his return in May that year. The character also now holds the record for the longest break of a soap character, beating the record of Kenneth Cope's character Jed Stone, who was absent from the show for 42 years between 1966 to 2008. Speaking about his return and the homeless storyline used to bring back Dennis, Philip Lowrie stated: "This is actually one of the reasons why I accepted the contract - Dennis is brought back into the show as a homeless person. I thought, 'That is wonderful', because that gives me something to play but it also gives the character somewhere to go, somewhere to develop." . In June 2012, Philip Lowrie elaborated further on how it came to Dennis being reintroduced in the programme on This Morning. He had stated his agent emailed producer Phil Collinson asking if it was possible for the character to be resurrected, and Barbara Knox who plays Rita Sullivan was talking to Mr. Collinson at the time about the possibility of Dennis being brought back into the programme, which Collinson, and the story writers thought was a good idea [].
"Where's what?" (First line)
|Ken Barlow | Frank Barlow | Ida Barlow | David Barlow | Jack Walker | Annie Walker | Elsie Tanner | Dennis Tanner | Linda Cheveski | Ivan Cheveski | Harry Hewitt | Lucille Hewitt | Concepta Riley | Ena Sharples | Minnie Caldwell | Martha Longhurst | Albert Tatlock | Christine Hardman | Florrie Lindley | Esther Hayes | Leonard Swindley|