Happy Birthday Coronation Street was a one-and-a half hour spectacular broadcast on 9th December 1990 (exactly thirty years to the day since the live transmission of Episode 1) to celebrate three decades of the programme. It was recorded on the previous day.
The setting for the show was the Stage One complex next to the Granada Television studios in Manchester which had just been converted from a warehouse into a studio complex. After an opening of cast, both present and past (including Ivan Beavis and Cheryl Murray) getting out of limousines and walking past the press cameras while fireworks exploded in the rain-filled sky overhead, the action cut to the incongruous site of dancers on the outdoor set to the sound of Barry Manilow’s Swing Street and then transferred inside where Cilla Black was introduced as the host on a mock-up of the street with the present cast sat to one side. Black introduced the programme as a celebration of the “most popular programme on British television” and promised faces that everyone would remember and surprises that “you won’t believe”.
A montage of clips of deaths, wedding, disasters and funny moments was followed by the ubiquitous question of Ken Barlow’s many girlfriends and an appearance by Joanna Lumley who was the recipient of a badly-phrased comment by Black that she was back on the street - where she belonged! Magician Wayne Dobson then presented a round of comic mind-reading tricks with Peter Baldwin and Thelma Barlow. Gorden Kaye, at the height of his fame with 'Allo, 'Allo! was then brought on who reminisced about his time as Bernard Butler after which a voxpops of children talking about the show was followed by an appearance by Paul Shane who appeared twice on the programme in the 1970s. Marti Webb sang Take That Look Off Your Face to a montage of clips of the various affairs of Ken, Deirdre Barlow and Mike Baldwin and then Mollie Sugden came on to talk about her time on the show while her-life husband William Moore (Cyril Turpin) watched from the audience when she was “reunited” with an awful pink hat of Nellie’s that she wore in a clip from Episode 1210 (21st August 1972).
After an advert break, Cilla Black moved back to the outdoor set where she met various stars of other programmes who had once played guest roles on Coronation Street including Kevin Lloyd and Peter Ellis from The Bill, Frazer Hines and Arthur Pentelow from Emmerdale Farm, Bill Dean from Brookside and Michael Melia and Peter Dean from EastEnders. After another montage of clips, Roy Barraclough and his "Cissie and Ada" partner, the legendary comic Les Dawson performed a sketch where Dawson, in drag, tried to apply for a holiday relief barmaid job at the Rovers with the two at times barely able to suppress their laughter. After that, there was one of the highlights of the programme as a montage of clips of Hilda Ogden led to an appearance of Jean Alexander to a standing ovation from her old cast members and delighted the audience by indulging in a short piece of classic Hilda “singing”.
The programme moved to the Wembley Arena where fan of the programme Cliff Richard was in concert. The claim was made that his record I Love You was No. 1 in the charts when the programme began and Richard sang an exceprt (however the actual top of the charts on 9th December 1960 was Elvis Presley’s It’s Now or Never).
The guest of honour for the evening was introduced by another montage of clips before Doris Speed came on to rapturous applause and told a story of how her mother had told her that she wasn’t worth the £50 a week salary that she was offered back in 1960. The rest of the cast joined her on stage for a surprise for them all - a congratulatory telegram from The Queen.
Throughout the programme, video messages of congratulations were shown from rival shows Neighbours, EastEnders, Home and Away and Emmerdale Farm. The show was produced by and directed by Ian Hamilton and Daran Little was billed as its archive consultant. Future programme producers David Hanson and Jane Macnaught were the floor manager and producer respectively and David Liddiment was the executive producer of the whole enterprise. Broadcast at 7.15pm, the show attracted 13,100,00 viewers placing it 11th in the charts for the week.