Coronation Street icon John Savident – aka Fred ‘I say Fred’ Elliott – has little time for the show that made him a household name. Six years after his much-loved butcher character died of a heart attack, John sees no appeal in tuning in five times a week to follow the lives of Weatherfield’s current crop of residents.
While many familiar faces still remain from his days on the Street, he admits it's the younger generation of stars who turn him off.
“Honestly I rarely watch Corrie now,” the 73-year-old admits. “Some of the young people just want to be on screen and have no ambition to act elsewhere – what future do they have when their contract ends?
“One of them asked me who this Laurence Olivier was I was talking about as he’d never heard of him! Olivier was my hero and I had the honour of working with him on a couple of occasions.”
Since John left Corrie, there has also been a noticeable influx of celebrities making appearances – another development in the soap world that he doesn’t welcome.
“Don’t get me started on that score,” exclaims John. ”I took Sir Ian McKellen to task by asking how he could play a role in Corrie which meant some poor actor who needed the work lost out. He didn’t reply – just hung his head.”
But John’s place in Corrie legend is secure thanks to his 12-year stint as loveable Fred.
Laughing, he explains, in cultured tones, that when he first got the role in Coronation Street, he copied the idea for Fred’s repetition from millworkers in Ashton where he was raised. “They used to shout and repeat themselves to be heard above the noise of the looms,” he explains.
“When I first arrived on the set all those years ago I’d no idea I’d stay so long. We filmed at a decent pace and I’d often put in a few dialect phrases which caught on with the public and people would tease me about them. People just took to Fred.
“When the pace changed to five shows a week, I knew the quality would suffer. My family were in Surrey but I was in Manchester, often going into work every day and never filming a scene. I was also waiting for heart surgery so I asked for a meeting and explained my situation. The producer didn’t try to dissuade me and it was decided I would go.
“Although I’d asked to leave, I wanted to go quietly and suggested that Ashley discovers Fred dead in bed on his wedding morning. But they preferred a big dramatic finish so as he was about to marry landlady Bev Unwin, he died on his last visit to Audrey.
“But I’ve no real regrets about leaving, apart from missing all my friends in The Street particularly the lovely Sue Nicholls who is such a lady, Bill Roache and the wonderful Betty Driver. Now most of my other friends have also left like Steven Arnold (Ashley) and Julia Haworth (Claire) who were the loveliest family. At least they were given plenty of notice.”
John’s in jocular mood because he’s returning to Manchester soon to narrate A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Manchester Camerata. “I really miss the wonderful Hallé Orchestra and my beloved Camerata,” he says. “I started compering concert performances with them and occasionally I’d sing. In fact, I recently appeared in HMS Pinafore as I’m a great Gilbert and Sullivan fan and loved every minute.”
Fans may be unaware that John has sung professionally, appeared in landmark films such as A Clockwork Orange, Ghandi and Remains Of The Day and performed at the National Theatre.
“Not bad for a little lad who arrived in the north from Guernsey at the age of three and couldn’t speak a word of English,” John admits. “My dad escaped from the Germans during the war and we came to Huddersfield first and then Ashton where I grew up. My family spoke Channel Islands’ French patois – a kind of dialect – but we had to learn to speak English quickly or we’d always be marked as different.”
When he left school John became a policeman and in his spare time was a keen member of amateur dramatic and operatic societies before quitting the force not long after he got married to pursue acting full time.
John rarely gives interviews since the court case nine years ago in which a man, Michael Smith, was imprisoned for attacking him with a knife.
“There were so many lies woven by some of the press at that time,” he recalls. “I was hounded by the paparazzi for a while, but the people who know me well know the truth and that’s all that matters in the end.”
In private, John is a family man who enjoys spending time with his children and grand-children and is planning to take his wife Rona to Rome.
“I think my appearance belies my sense of fun although people in the business know how much I love comedy,” he reveals. “That was the beauty of working on the Street – one week there’d be comedy and the next you’d be reaching for your hanky.
“Now, in what I call the tea-time of my career, I’ve turned down quite a bit of work because I had a heart operation and a new hip. But working on this script for Shakespeare’s The Dream has been an absolute pleasure. I’ll be using the text wherever possible set to Mendelsshon’s score and as it’s mainly the fairy scenes it’ll be delightful.”
Will John be catching up with his old friends while he’s here? “Definitely. But top of my list is my dear old mother who’s in a care home in Denton and is 100 this year. She refused to move south with us so we’ll have a lot of catching up to do. I don’t know if she’ll be able to make it to the concert which would be a pity because it’s a mixture of two of our greatest passions, theatre and music."