Len worked his way up as a carpenter with Birtwistle's Construction before setting up his own plumbing and building firm in Mawdsley Street in 1962, subsequently going into partnership with Jerry Booth and Ray Langton. Though he seemed to lead the life of a bachelor, spending his evenings propping up the Rovers Return bar, Len had a wife and young son, Nellie and Stanley. In 1962, after years of being treated like a drudge by her husband, Nellie left Len for Harry Bailey, taking Stanley with her. As a result, Len became almost completely estranged from his son.
From childhood, Len carried a torch for Elsie Tanner, and as adults they were close friends. Len tried a number of times to take things further but Elsie always resisted, afraid of spoiling what they had. In 1972, he began a relationship with nightclub singer Rita Littlewood, and the following year Len bought newsagent The Kabin and installed her as manageress. The two were married in 1977 and lived at 9 Coronation Street until 1982 when Len rebuilt the house next door, where his old best friend Harry Hewitt had once lived.
Len was also a councillor, elected to the Weatherfield County Borough Council in 1966 as an independent. In 1973, he was in the running for Mayor of Weatherfield but lost out to Alf Roberts. After twelve years on the council, he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and forced to resign.
1924-1961: Early life
Leonard Fairclough was born in Liverpool on 5th November 1924. An only child, Len moved with his parents to Weatherfield when he was a boy, growing up at the height of the Depression. He left school at fourteen to become an apprentice bricklayer, but eventually escaped to sea, serving in the Navy during the Second World War from the age of seventeen. During his time on active service Len served with the Russian Convoys, protecting the cargo ships carrying supplies across Arctic seas. In his five years at sea Len served with Bill Gregory, Walt Greenhalgh and Alan Howard. Bill looked out for Len on his first posting and when their ship was sunk off the coast of Norway, Len credited Bill with saving his life.
Upon returning to civvy street in 1946 Len settled in Weatherfield. After an apprenticeship with Joe White on Bessie Street, he found work with Birtwistle's Construction as a carpenter and for a time enjoyed a bachelor's lifestyle, spending his evenings propping up the bar of the Rovers Return Inn and entertaining young women with his best mate Harry Hewitt.
On one evening, Len and Harry went on double dates with Nellie Briggs and Lizzie Harding. Both men were interested in Nellie and ended up fighting over her, causing them to be thrown out of the Rovers. Len went on to marry Nellie on 12th July 1949 and their son Stanley was born on 8th June 1950. After getting married, Len considered joining the Merchant Navy but chose to stick with Birtwistle's as that was what Nellie wanted. The Faircloughs lived at 15 Mawdsley Street, with Len becoming of the few residents of the area to own his home.
By his own admission, Len was a terrible husband and father. In his view, it was a wife's duty to keep house for her husband and raise his children, and Nellie was treated almost like a servant. They were rarely affectionate towards each other, and then only at Len's convenience. The Rovers became a haven for Len to escape Nellie's nagging, and he continually left her at home while he socialised, even when he was invited to functions such as parties and weddings.
1962-1964: A time of change
In 1962, Len started doing foreigners in the area. One of these jobs was putting in a new fireplace at 11 Coronation Street, home of Elsie Tanner, his friend since childhood. When people started gossiping that he was spending more time at Elsie's than at work, Nellie was humiliated and left Len, taking Stanley with her. Len then exacerbated the situation by bringing in Elsie to cook and clean for him. Appalled by his behaviour, Martha Longhurst reported Len to his bosses for moonlighting and he was immediately dismissed from Birtwistle's. Elsie then distanced herself from Len and Nellie soon returned to him. However, when Len was charged with assault for hitting Dave Smith who was on a date with Elsie, Nellie walked out on Len for good, moving to Nottingham with insurance agent Harry Bailey.
Len set himself up in business, based in the yard at the rear of his home of 15 Mawdsley Street and the house next door, and took on an apprentice in Jerry Booth. When divorce proceedings began, Len began to court Elsie Tanner properly and swiftly proposed. She turned him down on 22nd November 1963, having taken his treatment of Nellie as a warning.
In 1964, Len was contracted to make alterations on the new Viaduct Sporting Club. He took on another apprentice, Eddie Thomas, and briefly dated a friend of his, Joyce Lennox, a young machinist at Elliston's Raincoat Factory. He was dismayed when he found out Joyce was more interested in Eddie. When Minnie Caldwell injured herself on a staircase Len had built, Len found himself paying £50 compensation, and with no work coming in he had to sack Jerry and Eddie and keep the business going on his own.
In October that year, Nellie passed away, and Len again proposed to Elsie, suggesting they provide a home for Stanley. At Elsie's suggestion, they had a trial marriage, but she refused to get intimate or cook his meals for him. Len came to see that she was right; they wouldn't work as a couple. Len decided that Stanley would stay in Nottingham with Harry Bailey.
1965-1967: Fairclough and Booth
In 1965, Len took on Norma Gee as housekeeper, but dropped her when he realised she had designs on him. He was surprised when Jerry returned to the area, and immediately gave him his job back. Friction was soon caused between them when Len turned down a job converting flats in Blackburn, and William Piggott talked Jerry into taking the contract himself by offering to give him money to pay back money he owed Len. Len had known that Piggott wanted it done cheaply and Jerry returned when the job folded. Len was angry at Jerry for a while but soon calmed down and offered him, as a birthday present, a partnership in his firm, and let him lodge at his house.
Fairclough and Booth's big break came when they secured a contract with Newton & Ridley in 1966. Jerry was committed to growing the business and hired Ray Langton to look after the yard while he and Len worked at the brewery. However, Len treated it as an opportunity to get drunk on free samples and spent more time playing cards than working. The firm lost the contract when Jerry fell off sub-standard scaffolding built by Len, bringing Len to his senses. He made reparations to his partner and sacked Ray when he threatened Lucille Hewitt.
Len entered local politics in 1966, backing the demolition of slums like Coronation Street. He defeated local publican Annie Walker at the hustings, winning the residents over by promising to fence off the canal. After winning the election, however, he voted against the measure. When Paul Cheveski, Elsie's five-year-old grandson, wandered off and fell in the canal, Len provided Elsie with emotional support. However, when Elsie found out what Len had done, she held him responsible for Paul's near-death. Ivan Cheveski, Paul's father, attempted to physically assault Len as a result of this, but backed off when he learnt that his son was well.
In mid-1967 Len invested £300 of Fairclough and Booth's money in an ill-fated property deal. To prevent anything like that happening again, Jerry insisted on restructuring the company, forming a limited company with the pair as equal partners, and Emily Nugent doing the company's books.
Stanley returned to Weatherfield later that year and started working for Len. Stanley was disrespectful towards Len but Len permitted his behaviour as he felt guilty that he had never been a good father. An accident led to Stanley being trapped in the yard whilst it was on fire and Len almost lost his life attempting to rescue him. Stanley realised he would never be happy in Weatherfield and returned to Nottingham.
Len became an unpopular figure in Coronation Street when he gave the the residents news that the area was being developed, with half the Street knocked down. Len got a plumbing contract for the new Maisonettes, but refused to re-employ Ray Langton, favouring Stan Ogden. However, when Stan nearly killed his workmates by dropping a partition, Len reluctantly gave Ray a job and sent Stan to do other jobs.
After the flats were built, Ken Barlow and his family moved across the street, and Len bought Ken's old house, 9 Coronation Street, so that he could knock down his old house and expand the yard. When Jerry's divorce came through, however, Jerry left the area for pastures new, ending the partnership. Ray continued to work for Len and moved into No.9 as a lodger after Len thumped him for his attitude towards his previous landlady, Elsie Tanner.
1967-1970: The end of Len and Elsie
In 1967, Elsie was reunited with her wartime sweetheart Steve Tanner and they were married that September. Len never thought Steve was right for Elsie but he kept his feelings to himself and wished the couple well. The Tanners emigrated to the USA but the marriage broke down after less than six months and Elsie returned to Weatherfield, separated from Steve. Len helped Elsie pull herself together and face the world, however his close association with Elsie, and dislike of Steve, caused him to be implicated when Steve was murdered in September 1968. Len admitted that he'd gone to see Steve on the night of Steve's death, but he was never charged. Nevertheless, Elsie's lingering suspicions that Len had killed Steve caused a rift between the pair.Annoyed at Elsie's attitude towards him, Len ran off with the petty cash from the yard, and lost the firm a contract due to his subsequent unavailability. Upon his return, Len's landlady Marj Griffin followed him to Weatherfield, having left her husband Basil for Len. Len made every attempt to get her to leave and was surprised when Basil showed up and told her not to return. Len tried to scare Marj off by proposing, and was horrified when she accepted. Ray helped Len out by pretending two local boys were Len's children, and Marj left him, refusing to be a mother.
In 1969, the business fell into debt, and a concerned Elsie gave Jack Walker £300 to give to Len in his name, as she knew Len would refuse the money otherwise. Elsie was surprised when Len announced his intention to use the money to make a new start with Town Hall clerk Janet Reid. Len became besotted with Janet, who unbeknown to him felt suffocated by his affections. When Janet ended the relationship after Elsie advised her to be frank with Len, Len thought Elsie had warned Janet off him and slapped her, causing Elsie to run off to Sheffield. Len only believed he'd got it wrong when Jack revealed that it had been Elsie who supplied the £300. Full of regret, Len missed Council meetings to repay Elsie until she forgave him.
Meanwhile, Ray left the yard and set up his own business, pinching Len's customers. In 1970, he returned with his tail between his legs and agreed to enter into a partnership with Len.
1970-1973: Fairclough and Langton
Len began the new decade torn between two potential lovers, shopkeeper Maggie Clegg and barmaid Anita Reynolds. Through he proposed to Anita, he had a change of heart when he discovered that she was young enough to be his daughter. A reconciliation of sorts followed with Elsie, with Len acting as a witness at her marriage to his old Navy friend, Alan Howard.
Later that year, Len thwarted an attempt by Willie Piggott to steal Len's contract for a student hostel by selling cheap material to Roscoe & Pitts so he could make a profit while Roscoe could get the contract by offering a lower rate. Piggott had used Emily Nugent to spy on Len to get details of his tender for the contract.
Len briefly employed Gina Fletcher as housekeeper, despite her lack of skills. He sacked her when he found out she had invited her boyfriend Charlie Braddock around during the day. In 1971, Jerry returned and Len took him on at the yard, and Jerry moved back into No.9. As there wasn't always enough building work for the three of them, Jerry effectively became Len and Ray's housekeeper and insisted on being paid for his work.
In 1972, Len went out with Rita Bates, and helped her find accommodation as her home was about to be demolished and Len was on the housing committee. Although Rita used the name of Bates, she wasn't actually married to Harry Bates. When Harry found out about Rita and Len, he beat her up and threw her out. Len warned Harry to stay away from Rita but Rita returned to Harry anyway.
A short time later, Len saw Rita singing in a nightclub and fell for her, although he had competition from Benny Lewis, who was employing Len to convert a penthouse for him. Benny proposed to Rita and she accepted, but when Len told Rita he wanted a relationship, she left Benny for him. Despite being rejected, Benny still gave Rita a job as hostess and resident singer at his new club, The Capricorn, but on opening night Rita showed Len up by getting into a fight with a tipsy woman. The incident was witnessed by several top officials, including the current Mayor of Weatherfield Harold Chapman. Len was being considered to succeed Chapman as Mayor and his chances were hurt by his association with Rita. Angry, Len called Rita common and she threw a drink over him. Len told the Mayor that he and Rita had split up but Alf Roberts was still chosen as the new Mayor over Len. As Alf was a friend, Len graciously agreed to be Deputy Mayor.
1973-1977: The long road to marriage
Len and Rita reconciled in 1973 when he made her resign from The Capricorn, which had been bought over by Dougie Bowker, who was using the club as a cover to make pornographic films. Len decided to make a big gesture and installed Rita as manager of a Rosamund Street newsagent he had bought from Walter Biddulph, with a lending library and cafe at the back, even allowing her an assistant. The move angered Ray who had designs on the unit himself. The relationship turned sour however when Len went on a trip to France and didn't invite Rita.
VAT was introduced that same year. The firm was asked to pay VAT on a job done for Weatherfield Plastics, which had gone bust still owing Fairclough and Langton for the work. Len and Ray steadfastly refused to pay up, and readied themselves for court. To protect the newsagent, now called The Kabin, he transferred it into Rita's name. Legal proceedings were halted when Jerry paid the money behind Len and Ray's backs, afraid of losing his livelihood. His actions angered Len and Ray, who disappeared for a while. The business thrived with Jerry and secretary Deirdre Hunt running it without their bosses, and upon their return Len and Ray made Jerry a partner.
In 1974, Len kept hidden from the residents a redevelopment plan that would see Coronation Street demolished. He wanted to sell his house and The Kabin and get a good deal on them before the development was common knowledge, but Rita refused to sell as The Kabin was now in her name. When he continued to put pressure on her, Rita told the residents about the redevelopment. The news sent shockwaves through the Street and the usually timid Emily Bishop threw a brick through Len's window in protest. Fortunately, the plan was voted out by the Councillors, including Len. Len seized the opportunity to propose to Rita, and she accepted, but she quickly broke it off when he wouldn't commit to a date.
Over the next few years, Len and Rita started seeing other people. Len had a brief fling with Bet Lynch, neglecting the business to spend time with her. Bet broke it off when she realised he was only interested in casual sex, while she sought a more meaningful relationship. In 1975, Len was suspected of murdering Lynn Johnson, an abused housewife who had turned to Len for help. Len spent two nights in the cells until Lynne's husband Roy confessed to the murder. Len was surprised when Bet, not Rita, went to see him in prison and fought for his release.
Ray moved out of No.9 when he married Deirdre Hunt. Later that year, Jerry died from a heart attack.
In 1976, Rita was beginning to warm to Len again, but Elsie Howard's return to the Street after a three-year absence prevented a reconciliation in the short term. As Len was still Rita's boss, he was able to block her from taking time off to sing in Torquay. At Rita's opening night at the Gatsby Club, Rita knocked Len out in anger over the way he was treating her. When he came out of hospital, he pretended to be sicker than he was as he enjoyed Rita taking care of him. When she found out he was putting it on, Rita threw his washing out of the window.
The following year, Stanley visited with his fiancée, Liz Brocklebank, and told Len he wasn't invited to their wedding. Liz wanted to make peace between father and son and sent Len an invite anyway, but he refused to go as Stanley didn't want him there.
Keen to make a new start, Rita took a four-month singing contract in Tenerife, quitting her job at the Kabin. She turned down Len's proposal, seeing it as a desperate means to keep her in Weatherfield, but she had a change of heart when Len appeared at the airport and begged her to stay. He had an eventful stag night, first refusing to sleep with Marie Stanton and then twisting his ankle after falling while drunk. On 20th April, Rita and Len finally tied the knot at St. Mary's Church, with Alf Roberts as best man. The couple went to Tenerife on their honeymoon and Rita moved into No.9.
1977-1979: Len loses his seat
Len and Rita's marriage was somewhat turbulent, with Len wanting Rita to give up her career as night club singer Rita Littlewood and Rita resolutely refusing. She continued to take on bookings on an occasional basis.
Later in the year, Ray and Len decided on new terms for the partnership, which currently stood at 60/40 in Len's favour. To avoid Deirdre and Rita's complaints - the relationship between the two women had become somewhat strained due to the supposed unfairness of their husbands' working arrangements - Len and Ray agreed to keep the new agreement from them.
Len and Rita's marriage hit a low point in the wake of Alf's stag night in March 1978. When W.P.C. Rogers tackled the stags for being rowdy in a built-up area in the early hours, an inebriated Len knocked on his door to get Rita to vouch for him. However, disgusted by his drunken state, Rita denied knowing him, causing the policewoman to charge Len being drunk and disorderly. Len spent the night in a cell and barely made it to Alf's wedding in time to serve as best man. When the scandal hit the newspapers, the Ratepayers' Association demanded Len's resignation, which Len refused to do until the independents, including Alf, withdrew their support for their fellow councillor. The magistrates returned a verdict of not guilty, but the policewoman's testimony that Len had made advances towards her in the police car on the way to the police station resulted in Len spending the night on the sofa.
Unfortunately, more trouble for the Faircloughs was to follow. When Len and Ray took out a contract to convert an old house into a hotel, Len stored £3,000 worth of material in Doug Clayton's warehouse, which later burned down in a fire. As the warehouse's contents weren't insured, Fairclough and Langton lost a fortune, and Len was forced to take out a loan from the bank, with Rita's singing career helping to help pay it back, even though it meant performing at second-rate men's clubs. The hotel development then went bust, leaving the firm £6,000 in debt. Len agreed to a repayment scheme and worked around the clock. There was relief all round when the hotel found a new investor and the project went ahead.
1979-1981: Rita makes a stand
By 1979, Rita was growing increasingly unhappy with the marriage. Len's Christmas present that year was a mere box of chocolates. In 1980, Rita gave Len a list of alterations she wanted done to No.9 to make it liveable. When Len scoffed at her demands, Rita walked out and went to stay with Gatsby manager Ralph Lancaster. When Len went to see Rita, she accused him of treating her like a housekeeper, not a woman. She decided to go further away so that Len couldn't track her down. After two months of solitude, Len was alerted by Sam Littlewood to Rita's whereabouts, and he went to Blackpool to see her and persuade her to return, promising things would change. After some consideration, Rita returned to Weatherfield, and Len set to work on the house.
Rita was keen to prove to Len that she was a good businesswoman and decided to secure the business a contract, with Len working at The Kabin in the meantime. He was impressed when Rita got a contract with Bob Atkinson, but when he made it clear there were strings attached, Len stepped in to see him off.
As Rita had never had children of her own, she eventually became interested in adopting. The couple pursued it in 1981 but were told they were too old to adopt. They were however accepted as foster parents, fostering first 13-year-old John Spencer. Len was surprised that John didn't like football, but made an effort by taking him fishing. In 1982, they fostered Sharon Gaskell, who liked them so much she decided to stay with them longer. After falling for married Brian Tilsley, however, Sharon left Weatherfield to take a job in Sheffield. Len had grown to care about Sharon and blamed Brian for her departure.
In 1981, Len became interested in building a house where No.7 had stood until its collapse in 1965. He did such a good job with it that Rita wanted to sell No.9 and move into the house next door. Len reluctantly bowed to pressure from Rita and sold No.9 to Chalkie Whitely, although the neighbours didn't get on as Len had left No.9 in a state and in revenge Chalkie didn't pass on Len's mail.
While on a job in Bolton, Len fitted a job for widow Marjorie Proctor, and comforted her over her dead husband. They soon became lovers. On 7th December 1983, while driving to Bolton to see Marjorie, Len fell asleep at the wheel of his van and crashed. He was killed instantly, at the age of 59. In the wake of his death, Rita found out about Len's affair and met Marjorie. She tried not to let it tarnish her memories of Len.
Len Fairclough spent his entire working life in the building trade, progressing from an apprentice bricklayer to carpenter to self-employed plumber. By the mid-1960s, he was a seasoned handyman, making a name for himself as a friendly and reputable small trader. On multiple occasions, his experience, honesty and good instincts proved the better of hot-headed younger builders such as Ray Langton, and those such as Willie Piggott who used dirty tactics to undercut him.
It was this good reputation which helped Len get elected to the Council in 1966, over Annie Walker. As a councillor, Len believed in helping families and individuals but didn't hesitate to back the less-popular proposals when it suited him, such as a move to demolish Coronation Street in 1974 which would enable him to make a quick buck by selling off his three properties in the area.
On a personal level, Len was a keen drinker, and keener on women, of which there were many in his life. His attraction to headstrong, independent women such as Elsie Tanner and Rita Littlewood seemed at odds with his view that women should be responsible for all the household chores, but he was a passionate man and an alpha male figure who never failed to attract women. Although skilled at his job, Len lived in squalor, scoffing at Rita's notion that their house wasn't fit to live in.
Len had an explosive temper, and was handy with his fists. He was most volatile when his pride had been hurt, or when acting on behalf of Elsie or Rita. His pride also meant that he was pig-headed and would often refuse to back down when in the wrong, such as when he refused to admit that he hadn't paid his bus fare, resulting in conductor Johnny Alexander being sacked. His position meant that there was frequently conflict between his roles at work and on the Council, and usually his love life. Despite trying to separate them, and being a very private man, Len carried the emotional baggage from one to the other, resulting in all three suffering.
Nellie and Stanley
Len was attracted to Nellie upon meeting her in 1949, and envied by his best friend Harry Hewitt when he began a relationship with her. As time went on, and their son Stanley born, the marriage began to crumble. Len was ill at ease with emotional complications, and instead of addressing the problems, spent more and more time drinking at the Rovers Return Inn - burying his head in the sand and his pint pot. Unknown to him, Nellie was forming a relationship with Harry Bailey, the insurance man, and she finally left Len for Harry, taking Stanley with her.
Len had difficulty forming a connection with son Stanley. He took an interest in Stanley's schooling, keen for him to get an education and at one time threatening teacher Ken Barlow for making Stanley go out in the snow with a bad chest. However, Stanley never forgave Len for his behaviour towards Nellie, and years later told Len that he did not want him to attend his wedding. Rita opined that Nellie had poisoned Stanley against Len. Len, however, saw Stanley's behaviour as justified - he'd been a lousy husband and father.
- "Best mate I ever 'ad, that bloke." - Len Fairclough
Len and Harry were longstanding friends. Personality and interest-wise, they were similar, although Harry was devoted to his family in a way that Len wasn't. In fact, Len got on better with Harry's wife Lizzie than he did with Nellie, and once had an affair with her which Harry never found out about. In 1961, two years after Lizzie's death in a road accident, Harry married barmaid Concepta Riley. The following year, Concepta had a go at him on Nellie's behalf over Len's 'friendship' with Elsie Tanner. The incident led Len and Harry to come to blows as Len abused Concepta when she appealed to him for Nellie's sake, and Harry hit Len to the floor. They rekindled their friendship a short time later, with Len accompanying the Hewitts on an Easter Monday picnic.
In 1963, Harry was embroiled in a dispute between Len and one of his fellow bus drivers, Johnny Alexander, who accused Len of not paying his fare. Harry stood by Len and reported Johnny although Len later admitted that he in fact hadn't paid the fare. Harry felt guilty as his report got Johnny sacked. When the truth came out, Johnny was offered his job back, but he refused to be employed by a firm that didn't trust him.
Harry and Concepta emigrated to Ireland in 1964, leaving Lucille to live at the Rovers with the Walkers. Len looked out for Lucille out of loyalty to Harry, and Lucille called him "Uncle Len". In 1967, when Harry and Concepta visited to attend Elsie and Steve Tanner's wedding, Harry was killed when he and Len were repairing a van and the jack slipped, crushing Harry. Len was distraught at the loss of his mate and personally broke the news to Concepta.
- "Every time you came a cropper, you turned to me. And every time you opened it all up. You turned me down alright. But would you let me go? Would you hell as like!"
Elsie Tanner was a year older than Len. They had known each other at school, where Len would tease Elsie. As adults, their relationship could be described as "complicated"; by the time they were both divorced, in 1963, their friendship was well established. Elsie was everything Len wanted in a woman, and he tried a number of times to take their relationship further, however Elsie always resisted. Elsie didn't want to tempt fate by turning a successful friendship into something sexual, and despite indirectly being the cause of Len and Nellie's separation, she disapproved of how he'd treated Nellie and felt that his archaic view of a wife's role in a marriage would cause them to fall out.
Despite agreeing to stay friends with Elsie, Len was jealous of Elsie's other men, including Bill Gregory, Elsie's lover from the Navy, who was an old friend of Len's, and bookie Dave Smith, who like Len had previously been rejected by Elsie. When Len signed a petition against Dave getting his betting licence renewed, Elsie accused him of being jealous. Len was afraid that it would be viewed as a conflict of interest in court as he had signed it as Councillor Fairclough, but decided to back his voters. In any case, the move was defeated.
In 1965, Elsie turned to Len when she had been out with Bob Maxwell, who had a heart attack at the wheel of his car while driving Elsie home. Elsie had fled the scene and not told the police. Len argued with Elsie, horrified that she had involved him, and disgusted with her when he found out that she had been with Bob longer than she had indicated. Even so, Len duly went to retrieve Elsie's gloves, which she had left in the car.
When Elsie was dating Steve Tanner in 1967, Len suppressed his jealousy again. When Steve was assaulted, Len was a prime suspect, but was cleared when the culprit was discovered to be Walt Greenhalgh. Elsie married Steve and emigrated to the USA, but returned early the next year and shut herself inside No.11, refusing to talk to the neighbours. Let eventually forced his way inside her house to confront Elsie and, finding the house a pigsty and Elsie looking a mess, made Elsie open up about her marriage and Steve, eventually giving her the strength to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.
In the 1970s, Elsie and Len pursued other relationships. They remained close, but Len refused to be used by Elsie any more, and over time the prospect of them getting together seemed less and less likely. Elsie did not attend Len's wedding to Rita Littlewood in 1977, although she did make an appearance at the reception, and her feelings of resentment towards Rita for marrying Len, and Rita's feelings of insecurity because of Len and Elsie's past relationship, led to years of tension - and sometimes outright hostility - between the two women.
Jerry Booth was Len's apprentice at the Yard from 1962 to 1963, and later labourer and eventually partner. Jerry was not at all like Len; while Len was confident, Jerry was shy. Len took it upon himself to train Jerry in the ways of the trade as well the ways of the world. He was concerned over Jerry's marriage to domineering Myra Dickinson and jokingly remarked to Jerry that Myra wore the trousers in their relationship. When the Booths fell into debt, Len tried to help them out but eventually had to sack Jerry as there wasn't enough work at the yard. As Jerry was reliable and hardworking, Len employed him whenever possible, sacking Stan Ogden in 1971 so that he could give Jerry his job (although he had planned to sack Stan anyway).
Although quiet most of the time, Jerry did not respond well to mockery, assaulting Jim Stoker when Jim accused him of sucking up to Len. Len testified in court on Jerry's behalf. Although keen to prove he wasn't under Len's thumb, Jerry looked up to Len, once throwing a walking race against Len so that they would draw.
Len met Rita Littlewood when he thought she was married to Harry Bates. When he found that she Harry's common-law wife, and that Rita had left him, Len started pursuing Rita. Rita was receptive to Len's advances, attracted by his masculinity, and broke off an engagement to Benny Lewis to be with him. However, it took them five years to make it to the altar as Rita didn't always rank highly in Len's priorities, and they had long periods of separation.
As their on/off relationship continued, Rita became more aware of Len's history with Elsie, and was suspicious of the fact that Len apparently still dropped everything to help Elsie when she needed him. When Fred Gee, who had a crush on Rita, accused Len of neglecting his wife, Len hit him. Len assured Rita that she came first.
In 1979, Len tried to cancel a caravan holiday in Morecambe due to work, but Rita went anyway, taking Bet Lynch along. Len decided to surprise Rita, and found them entertaining Alec Keegan and Tony Ball. To Rita's anger, he wasn't jealous, and joined the lads on their fishing trip. The incident was symptomatic of Len's usual behaviour: he would dismiss Rita's concerns about their marriage as quibbling over nothing, and only make small gestures to put things right. Rita was growing steadily tired with his pig-headedness, his taking her for granted, and his refusal to play a part in the housekeeping, which continued even after their separation in 1980.
After Len's death, Rita's world fell apart, as she not only had to cope with his death but the fact that he had cheated. Even in death, Len played a part in Rita's life; a later boyfriend, Alan Bradley, reminded Rita of Len, and in 1988 Alan used Len's name to mortgage No.7, without Rita's knowledge, so that he could get a loan.
Role in the community
As a builder and councillor, Len was an integral part of the community. His building firm operated out of 15 Mawdsley Street and he was the first port of call if anyone needed work done on their houses. In Coronation Street, he was responsible both for demolishing No.7 after the front collapsed due to a faulty beam, and the rebuilding of the house in 1982. He employed many of the Street residents as labourers over the years, including Bert Tilsley, Dennis Tanner, Terry Bradshaw and Eddie Yeats.
In 1966, Len ran a handyman class at the Mission when it operated as a community centre, using the opportunity to charm social worker Ruth Winter.
Even before becoming a Councillor, Len spearheaded several community events, including a knobbly knees contest. When elected to the council, Len represented his neighbours, fighting to secure Ena Sharples the job of caretaker at the Community Centre and speaking to the committee at Granston Technical College to convince them not to sack Ken Barlow when he was sent to prison for seven days. He was also spokesperson for an anti-firework campaign for the Weatherfield Gazette. On other occasions he was willing to stand against his neighbours, such as when he removed the Lawson family who were squatting at No.3, and when he went on an all-expenses paid trip to Torquay as a protest to WARP's accusation against the Councillors of wasting taxpayers money.
Len was also a regular participant in the Street's amateur productions in the Glad Tidings Mission Hall and Community Centre, playing Brockers Man in Cinderella (during which he got a custard pie in the face), Abanazer in Aladdin (when he left beer around the stage to keep him going), Lane in The Importance of Being Earnest, and Dandini in another production of Cinderella in 1975.
Hobbies and interests
Aside from drinking, Len was interested in sports, mainly football. In 1966, he went to a World Cup game in Liverpool. He also followed Weatherfield County FC and occasionally played the game himself.
Len was also interested in gambling and dog racing, and followed the career of Harry Hewitt's greyhound Lucky Lolita, convincing everyone to put their money on the dog until it hit a losing streak, coming in last.
At a 1966 fancy dress party in the Mission, Len dressed up as Batman. He later played billiards when competing on behalf of the Rovers against The Flying Horse, but lost.
- Len grew a moustache in 1969, but after a few months decided to shave it off.
- Len was injured in 1979 when a lorry crashed into the Rovers while he was drinking there. He suffered a head cut and wrenched shoulder.
- In 1962, Len had a dispute with Ken Barlow when Ken wrote an article criticising the working class, and a newspaper reported on it, as it had been published in a magazine. Len and the neighbours took it personally and when Ken didn't show his face in the Rovers, Len thought he was a wimp. Ken eventually faced his accusers, primarily Len, and a brawl ensued. Despite this, the pair eventually became friends and Len was best man at Ken and Deirdre Langton's wedding in 1981.
- Len was Leonard Swindley's best man at Swindley's wedding to Emily Nugent in 1964, although they didn't actually get married.
- In 1963, Len was suspected of wrecking the Mission vestry, home of Ena Sharples, as his key was used by the perpetrator to enter the building, and his whereabouts weren't known at the time in question. Len couldn't remember what had happened as he was drunk at the time, but fortunately Michael Butterworth was exposed as the culprit.
Creation and casting
Peter Adamson was a former extra and theatre actor who had turned to TV drama with the Granada series Skyport and Knight Errant. When casting began for the new TV serial Florizel Street, Adamson auditioned for the parts of Dennis Tanner and Ken Barlow, however at thirty he was considered too old for either part and instead he was cast as insurance man Harry Bailey. Adamson was one of several actors cast for the dry runs who did not appear on screen; when the series was commissioned, further casting and rewrites took place, and Harry Bailey was dropped from the episode (the character later appeared in Episode 5, renamed Ron Bailey and played by Ray Mort).
When the series was extended beyond its initial run, Adamson tried again, auditioning for the part of Harry Hewitt's drinking buddy by the name of Len Fairclough. He secured the part and made his on-screen debut in Episode 14 on 25th January 1961.
Despite a sketchy character brief, Len's role grew, and with the departure of Ivan Beavis from the cast in 1964 Len took over as the programme's leading alpha male. Then-script editor H.V. Kershaw credited this to Adamson's skill as an actor: "The character of Len Fairclough was formed in the first few weeks or Coronation Street mainly as a social partner for Harry Hewitt who had been a central character since episode one. So assertively was the character played by Peter Adamson that it rapidly achieved an importance of its own and by the beginning of 1964 the character led the male defence against the monstrous battalions of the Street's women." (The Street Where I Live, p98) 1970s producer Bill Podmore: "Peter had a great rugged quality, the right face and exactly the right build. His toughness only gave more weight to his acting skills. Off the set he could be as abrasive as the man he played, it was an underlying part of his nature which he passed on to Len. He turned him into a wonderfully earthy character who didn't mince words but was never unattractive to the legions of fans." (Coronation Street: The Inside Story, Bill Podmore, 1990) An early sign of the character's success was that Adamson was the only non-original cast member contracted for the duration of the Equity actors' strike between November 1961 and April 1962.
As noted in Life in the Street (Graeme Kay, 1991), the public reaction to the character varied from demands by viewers to drop the "loud-mouthed, hard-drinking bully", to male viewers offering Adamson a fight to "find out how tough he really was".
When he first appeared in the serial, Len was characterized as a neglectful husband and father, although his wife Nellie never appeared on-screen. For many years, Len was programme's central male character, appearing in more episodes than anyone else in 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1972. A key element of the character was his relationship with Elsie Tanner. Despite a mutual attraction between the pair, the writers never allowed Len and Elsie to get together, as writer Adele Rose explains: "The value of their relationship was always in the spikiness underneath the genuine affection they had for each other. It was far more profitable in terms of story and character to keep them with the love-hate relationship going on. He was the one who could say things to her that nobody else could and vice versa. If we ever brought it to any kind of conclusion, that would have been the end of both the characters' value to the show." (50 Years of Coronation Street: The (very) Unofficial Story, Sean Egan, 2010)
The other woman in Len's life was Rita Littlewood. The character of Rita, initially named Rita Bates, was specifically devised as a love interest for Len, although when Barbara Mullaney was cast the character was linked with her prior one-episode role from 1964. Five years later, producer Bill Podmore decided that they would finally tie the knot. He was surprised to be met with opposition from the actors: "Peter and Barbara argued that a wedding could be the beginning of the end for their characters. Len and Rita were cornerstones of the Street, and they imagined that a marriage could chip the bedrock away. Their individual independence within the programme would disappear first and that, they feared, would be swiftly followed by a watering down of their story-lines. Frankly, they didn't want to share." (Podmore, p49). The wedding was watched by 16.90 million viewers - the programme's highest audience figure of the decade - and the TV Times celebrated with a wedding souvenir magazine.
Peter Adamson's suspension
Len was absent from episodes 921 to 935 between October and December 1969 as Peter Adamson was suspended for two months without pay to deal with his alcoholism. H.V. Kershaw made the decision after Adamson was so inebriated during the recording of a scene that, for the first time in the programme's history not due to a technical problem, the scene had to be remounted the following week so that close-ups could be shot which were then edited into the previous week's footage.
Adamson's drinking had been a continuing problem behind the scenes. Bill Podmore, who directed the episode in question, says: "Peter had been pretty tipsy on set many times before but we had always got away with it and I don't think a single viewer ever suspected. If they did, they let it pass. Harry Kershaw was not prepared to be so generous this time. For him it was the last straw." (Podmore, p18) Kershaw: "Peter Adamson's drunkenness hung around like an albatross around the programme's neck and my responsibilities as producer were beginning to weigh very heavily indeed ... At each story conference during this period we would include the character in our projected plots, hoping that Peter Adamson's problem would miraculously disappear. This was wishful thinking at its most stupid and it rapidly became evident as matters grew worse that drastic action needed to be taken." (p99) On Adamson's reaction to his suspension: "His immediate reaction, as I recall it, was to call me a crafty bastard ... He had always banked on Granada's reluctance to tear up three months of planning and get rid of him. The cunning which leads alcoholics to hide their bottles in inaccessible places had led him to believe that his financial future at least was secure and the shattering of this belief was in fact the first step towards his recovery." (p100) (note that in The Street Where I Live, Kershaw wrongly claims that the suspension occurred in 1964) According to Kershaw and Podmore, Adamson beat the bottle at the first attempt.
- There is some confusion regarding the timeline of events here. In his memoirs, Kershaw dates Adamson's suspension to three months in 1964, while Podmore's description of the plot of the remounted episode seems to indicate that Episode 771, which aired on 6th May 1968, was the episode in question. Adamson's only absence from the programme lasted two months and took place between the dates given above in 1969.
Peter Adamson's dismissal
In 1983, Adamson got in trouble with producers for writing a series of articles for a newspaper criticising the programme and his fellow actors, in breach of contract. The decision was taken to suspend him but before this could be implemented, charges were made against him of indecently assaulting two young girls in a swimming pool in Haslingden. At Adamson's request, Len was written out of Coronation Street for the foreseeable future so that he could prepare his defence. Having been refused legal aid, Adamson turned to Granada, who granted him a loan, however he instead chose to sell his memoirs to a tabloid. He was subsequently acquitted of the charges against him, but when Adamson refused to make the necessary promises to Granada not to talk to the papers, Podmore decided not to renew his contract.
Len's last appearance before Adamson's leave of absence in Episode 2307 stood as the character's swansong, and seven months later he was killed off, dying off-screen in a motorway collision while returning home from his hitherto secret mistress Marjorie Proctor. Podmore: "Of course the public saw this as another twist of the knife, and Peter traded on their sympathy. He had been a professional actor long enough to realise that if a character of Len's fame was to be killed off, the sacrifice would only be made with the help of the most dramatic story-line possible. Instead he chose to believe that Coronation Street had taken revenge for his shame." (Podmore, p79) Writers John Stevenson and Adele Rose back up Podmore's claim that Len cheating on Rita was motivated only by the objective of maximum drama (50 Years, p156)
Len also appeared in The Magic of Coronation Street, a video spin-off in which Len, along with Elsie and Annie, reminisce over old times, recalling the events of six episodes from the 1960s, which are included on the video. The 1982 release was the first time episodes of Coronation Street had been made commercially available.
First and last lines
"Come on 'arry, I've been playing for you, where've yer been?" (First line)
"That's it!" (Final line (back to camera) playing darts)
List of addresses
|Liverpool||5th November 1924 to late 1920s or early 1930s|
|15 Mawdsley Street||1949 to June 1968|
|9 Coronation Street||June 1968 to 23rd August 1982|
|7 Coronation Street||23rd August 1982 to 7th December 1983|
|Apprentice joiner||Joe White's building firm||1946 onwards|
|Carpenter||Birtwistle's Construction||Until 16th April 1962|
|Owner||Len Fairclough's building firm/Fairclough and Booth/Fairclough and Langton/Fairclough, Langton and Booth||18th April 1962 to 7th December 1983|
|Councillor||Weatherfield County Borough Council||19th September 1966 to May 1978|