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1972: Rita Littlewood launches a rambunctious opening night with Didn't We

The Capricorn was a Weatherfield cabaret club which opened its doors in 1972. Benny Lewis and Jimmy Frazer owned the nightclub in an equal partnership, with Rita Littlewood employed as hostess and singer.

Appropriately, the Capricorn was decorated with the signs of the Zodiac along the walls of the stage and bar areas. Just three months after it was launched, the club's new owner Dougie Bowker opened up the back room for screening pornographic films. Unhappy with the seedy direction the club was going in, Rita packed in her job at this point.

History

The initial idea to open a nightclub came from Jimmy. Once Benny had committed, Jimmy took a backseat and appointed his associate Alan Howard to look after his share of the business. Benny was the day-to-day manager and handled all of the preparations, including staffing. The name "Capricorn" was suggested by Hilda Ogden with the expectation that Benny would reward her by making her head cleaner - which he did, after initially thinking that she fancied herself as hostess.

Auditions for other roles including bar staff and go-go-dancers were then held at Benny's penthouse, with Stan Ogden, Billy Walker and Albert Tatlock gatecrashing to ogle the talent. Rita was selected as hostess over Edna Gee in spite of Len Fairclough asking Benny as a favour not to hire her. Len had just been informed that he was in the running to succeed Harold Chapman as Mayor of Weatherfield, and as Rita would be his Mayoress he wanted her in a respectable job.

The club opened for business in late November 1972. A stressed Benny dealt with a number of crises as the day progressed, including a burst pipe in the cloakroom, cleaners Hilda Ogden and Bessie Proctor arguing over pay, and Jimmy and Alan being too busy to attend. The former issue was sorted out by Len in exchange for all future maintenance work being carried out by Fairclough and Langton, much to Benny's chagrin. Billy Walker also "helped out" by giving the barmaids free lessons in exchange for complimentary tickets to the opening. Things improved once the club opened its doors, with Rita and the band going down well, and VIPs Mayor Chapman, Alderman Rogers, Len and councillor Alf Roberts all enjoying themselves. However, a fight broke out at one point started by Rita after a tipsy woman called her a "brass-faced bitch" for stroking her husband's hair suggestively as part of her act. Rita ended up on the Mayor's lap, with a Gazette photographer capturing the moment on film. The main loser from his was Len, whose chances of becoming Mayor were scuppered by his association with Rita.

In December, Alan's wife Elsie Howard patronised the club for the first time with Bet Lynch and Norma Ford, with Ken Barlow joining them. Elsie meant to keep an eye on Alan but found the club boring and left early with Bet.

Two months later, Len met Rita at the Capricorn, hoping to wheedle his way back into her life after a period of absence. Even when Rita introduced him to her new boyfriend Johnny Mann, Len wouldn't admit defeat and sparred with Johnny, eventually retiring to the gents' toilets to resolve their battle of egos with a fist fight. When Johnny held him in a judo choke hold, Len realised he stood no chance and bowed out gracefully.

Within weeks of this meeting, Benny and Jimmy had withdrawn their money from the Capricorn and Dougie Bowker had bought it over. Rita had remained in the reduced role of waitress. After taking charge, Dougie opened up the back room for screening blue movies, charging customers £2.50 a head. When Alf Roberts paid a visit as part of his duties for the council's Watch Committee, with Ray Langton going along, they were shocked to see what a dive the club had become, despite the increased entry fee. The next day, Len came back to persuade Rita to jack it in, but was unsuccessful. Things didn't improve and after another week, Rita got fed up with Dougie and walked out.

Gallery

List of appearances

1972

1973

See also

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