At the centre of Phil's empire was PJ Leisure, owner of a string of amusement arcades. In 1991, he bought Unit 14 in Coronation Street from Maurice Jones and started up PJ Promotions, which Deirdre ran as an equal partner. A run of bad luck followed leading Phil and his wife Valerie to flee the country to escape debtors.
Philip Smith, as he was known then, was a small-time crook who mixed with some dodgy characters. Alec Gilroy knew him during this period when he was managing the Graffiti Club, and was aware of his reputation for tax dodging. At one point, Phil did time in prison for assaulting a man he was trying to steal from. Upon his release, he legally changed his surname to Jennings and started building a legitimate empire.
Phil kept his long-suffering wife Valerie comfortable in a council flat but only lived with her whenever he was down on his luck or lying low. In the outside world, he presented himself as a bachelor and had a string of girlfriends, which Valerie knew about and put up with, considering them part of Phil's fantasy life.
Phil's bread-and-butter was PJ Leisure, sportswear distributor and amusement arcade owner. Phil lived life on the edge but always kept up appearances; he drove a Merc with the number plate "PJ 1" and was always calm and confident. His employees were used to being paid at irregular intervals but he always managed to find the cash before they turned on him.
In September 1990, Mike Baldwin invited Phil to a party at No. 6 Quebec House, Weatherfield Quays to entice him into placing an order with Ingram's Textiles. To sway him further, Mike also invited Deirdre Barlow, a local councillor on the planning committee, and introduced her to Phil at the party. Phil was impressed and gave Ingram's the contract, and more importantly he hit it off with Deirdre, gaining a valuable contact.
Phil crossed paths with Deirdre again a month later when she made a nuisance of herself at one of his amusement arcades. Deirdre had caught her daughter Tracy playing truant from school in the arcade and was preparing to take action after being met with indifference by the manager, Dean Lockwood. Phil paid Deirdre a visit and offered to erect a sign refusing entry to under 16s in all the arcades. He charmed her into dropping her campaign and demonstrated his public spirit by getting PJ Leisure to donate sports equipment to Weatherfield Comprehensive and produce new strips for all of their sports teams.
Ken Barlow, Deirdre's estranged husband and a teacher at Weatherfield Comprehensive, tried to block the sponsorship deal on the grounds that PJ Leisure encouraged truancy. Accused of bias by headmistress Sue Jeffers, Ken did some digging and learned that from Alec Phil was living under an assumed name from Alec. He immediately informed Deirdre, but Phil managed to talk his way out of it by making a 'brave' confession about his time in prison. Phil attempted to silence Ken by cornering him in a car lot late at night with a heavy, Benny, and warning him to keep away from Deirdre. Ken reported the matter to the police, which succeeded only in pushing him and Deirdre further apart. On 31st December, Phil took Deirdre to Paris to see in the New Year.
For two weeks in February 1991, Phil lodged at the Rovers Return Inn for £20 a night. The explanation he gave to Alec and Deirdre was that the police had asked him to disappear for a bit in case he was called as a character witness at a trial. While staying at the pub, he adopted Alec's idea of renovating the old Graffiti Club premises in Rosamund Street. Phil convinced Alec to go into partnership with him and came up with the AlPhiBet Club as a name. Alec and Bet were prepared to sell the Rovers tenancy to come up with their half, but before anything was signed Phil dropped the Gilroys as partners, telling them he couldn't let them risk everything.
To get back at Phil for nicking his idea, Alec convinced Alf Roberts to stand against Deirdre in the upcoming Council election and organised the candidate's campaign himself, with the end goal of getting Alf to block the club. Alec promoted Alf as a family man - a backhanded slur against Deirdre, a divorcee. When Phil's reporter friend Jeff Longton found out that Alf had a bit on the side, Phil got the message out by calling into a radio talk show which was interviewing Alf and asking him about his relationship with Vivian Barford (which was in fact totally innocent). Alf still won at the polls but Phil scored a victory by telling Bet that he was never serious about the club, and therefore Alec had gone to all that effort for nothing.
In February, Phil bought the new factory unit of 14 Coronation Street from Maurice Jones and opened it as a repair and storage facility for his arcade machines. Following Deirdre's defeat in the election, he asked her to front his new business, PJ Promotions, as an equal partner, and set her up in an office in the same building. Deirdre was never given a clear job description and ended up being a glorified secretary - a position she'd previously turned down. He also offered Andy McDonald a job after helping him deal with an official, Jimmy Charlton, who caught him selling knock-off T-shirts at a gig, but Andy returned to school instead.
In June, Phil's debts began to mount and he had to close an arcade in Travers Road. Meanwhile, Phil had agreed to be Mike's best men at his wedding to Jackie Ingram. Phil made a show of being Mike's friend before asking him for a £6,000 loan, claiming that his money was tied up, but Mike refused to cough up even £500 to tide him over, sensing Phil's desperation underneath the cocky veneer. In revenge, Phil told Jackie about how Mike had scammed her to get a piece of her late husband Peter's factory, causing the couple to split up after two weeks of marriage.
In a foolhardly attempt to raise capital, Phil borrowed £200 from Deirdre, making out that it was to get his Merc repaired, and organised a card school with Don Brennan, Des Barnes, Jack Duckworth and Jim McDonald. However, Don won £650 off him with four of a kind. Phil paid Don the £200 and told him to get off his back, but when Phil's heavy, Scotch Tommy, thumped Phil instead of Don, Phil fled the scene, never to be seen in Coronation Street again. Via Dean Lockwood, Deirdre traced Phil to a council flat where he and his wife Valerie lived. There, she found a badly beaten Phil about to leave the country with Valerie. She faced the realisation that she was just one of his many mistresses and his flash lifestyle was all show. Phil asked Deirdre to hear him out but she'd had enough and walked out on him without looking back.
- "His problem is he's a Walter Mitty, aren't you? Gets carried away with his own fantasies. In the end he starts believing them." - Valerie Jennings
Phil presented himself as a slick, high-flying businessman. He drove a Mercedes with a personalised number plate, possessed a mobile phone, and operated a number of businesses which bore his initials. This Phil was unflappable and constantly charming; a man who could lose £650 in a card game and laugh it off.
However, his home life told a different story. (Occasionally) living in a meagre flat with his long-suffering wife Valerie, ex-convict Phil ran up huge debts to fund his extravagant lifestyle and was often late paying his employees. His marital status and financial state were his deeply-held secret and he played his cards close to his chest in order to protect his public image, and his ego. During his relationship with Deirdre Barlow - the latest in a long line of mistresses - Phil led a double life, often disappearing for days at a time with no explanation, but ladies man Phil was always able to beguile her into overlooking it.
First and last lines
"Deirdre, pleased to meet you. Is that Weatherfield Council or Manchester City Council?"