The 1988 ITV Telethon was a mammoth fundraising twenty-seven hour continuous broadcast, carried by all of the ITV channels to raise money for UK charities which began on Sunday 29th May 1988 and finished on the following evening, a Bank Holiday, at 10.00pm. The concept of a telethon originated in the United States of America but Britain was slow to adopt the concept with the first one being organised in 1980 and only shown by Thames Television.
The 1988 event was the first national one and was hosted from the studios of London Weekend Television and presented throughout by Michael Aspel. All of the ITV regions took part with many local op-outs from the London coverage to highlight events in their own area. The Granada coverage came from the Quay Street studios in Manchester and featured many spots in which the stars of Coronation Street took part, including meeting fundraisers and entertainment slots. Two highlighted in the local edition of TV Times were "Percy Sugden and Liz Dawn - the Weatherfield warbler."
One Coronation Street slot that was seen by the entire country was the return of Doris Speed (Annie Walker) to the studios at the age of 89, five years after she had abruptly retired from the programme due to ill-health. TV Times did not specify she would be returning, only that a "familiar face" would be seen again but the news proper had been broken in the press on 12th May. However, the impression was given in the reports that the character would been seen again in the programme whereas in reality it was a short five-minute segment in which Ms Speed returned to the studios and met her old colleagues out of character.
The segment was broadcast during the programme's usual 7.30pm timeslot on Monday 30th May with no actual episode being shown that night. It was introduced by Michael Scott who had been one of the show's first directors in 1960 and who had since carved himself out a successful career as a producer and presenter for Granada and therefore knew Doris well.
She arrived in style in a Rolls Royce (Registration "RR3") in a pre-recorded sequence on the 1982 outdoor set where Scott was waiting with Sally Whittaker and Denise Wild of Barclays Bank who presented bouquets of flowers. The party then entered "the pub" (in reality, the studio set) where cast members Julie Goodyear, Bryan Mosley, Barbara Knox, Thelma Barlow, Sue Jenkins, Lisa Lewis, Sally Ann Matthews, Elizabeth Dawn and William Tarmey were waiting, most of them bedecked with large rosettes carrying both the telethon and Barclays Bank logos.
Scott welcomed Doris back who took her place behind the bar and asked her if she was pleased to return. Refusing to be unfazed or sentimental, Ms Speed gave a very guarded "yes..." but stated that she wasn't going to get too emotional about the matter. Scott discussed the fire in the pub (See Episode 2631 (18th June 1986)) which she admitted had saddened her but she praised the new decor of the pub - although she lamented the loss of the old pumps which she said were good for developing the bust! She refused the answer the question as to whether she thought Julie Goodyear as Bet Gilroy was running a good establishment and when asked what part she had liked best about being landlady, admitted it was being able to go home afterwards, something Julie Goodyear agreed with. John Davies of Barclays Bank was then introduced who welcomed Doris back as "the best-loved landlady of the best-loved pub in the best-loved street in Britain" and asked her to accept from him a cheque for the telethon in the sum of £100,000. She received the cheque and told Mr Davies that he had paid for the most expensive drink ever. Scott handed the programme back to Aspel and the five minute segment was over.
Six days later, in the Daily Mirror of Saturday 4th June the TV critic praised the segment and Doris Speed however she made discourteous remarks about Mike Scott's speech impediment. Of Speed she said "If only she could pop back regularly and wipe the smirk off Alec Gilroy’s face. Don’t tell me she’s too old - she looked, and sounded, great." All in all, the colossal sum of £21 million was raised, but this would be narrowly beaten two years later in the 1990 ITV Telethon which saw the return of Jean Alexander in a properly-scripted and shot mini-episode of the programme when Hilda Ogden made a short visit to see her old friends on the Street.
The entire evening segment gained 13.4 million viewers, putting it at 4th place in the charts.