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Rita & Me

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Rita and Me

Rita & Me was a one-hour programme made to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Barbara Knox making her debut in Coronation Street and was transmitted on Wednesday 31st December 2014 at 8.00pm, just under a month and fifty years after the debut of the character of Rita Littlewood in Episode 415 (2nd December 1964).

Barbara Knox's career in showbusiness was covered in some depth, from her birth and childhood in Oldham including family trips to Blackpool where she was entranced by the performances in the Tower Ballroom leading her to dream of being in show-business herself. The actress was taken back to the Oldham Coliseum where she made her acting debut in May 1962 and where she appeared on stage in many productions with future Coronation Street stars including Roy Barraclough, Judith Barker, Meg Johnson and Julie Goodyear. From there she appeared in her debut Coronation Street episode but then went back to theatre and other television productions including working extensively for comedians Les Dawson and Ken Dodd, the latter appearing in the programme, paying tribute and reminiscing about their time together in the ATV show Funny You Should Say That when Barbara was invited to return to the Street and she had to ask him for time off from recording to take part in the audition. One section of the programme recalled the decision to make Rita a clubland singer and the release of her own record On The Street Where I Live in 1973.

Rita and Mavis reunited

Barbara Knox and Thelma Barlow enjoy clips of themselves from past episodes of the programme

Miss Knox was shown meeting Canadian fans on a special tour of the Media City Studios and outdoor set while a surprise was sprung on the actress herself when friend and fan Paul O'Grady appeared in the Kabin set during rehearsals to congratulate her on the anniversary. The turbulent relationship with Elsie Tanner was shown as well as the long partnership between Rita and Mavis Riley. To illustrate this, Barbara Knox was reunited with Thelma Barlow and the two were shown watching selected clips of their time in the programme including Rita and Mavis's first meeting in Episode 1294 (11th June 1973). Special attention was naturally played to the character's most important storyline ever - that of her relationship with Alan Bradley in the late 1980s while the latter years were also covered with Rita's working partnership with Norris Cole.

Cast members who have appeared with Barbara and were interviewed included William Roache, Malcolm Hebden, Helen Worth, Sue Nicholls, Sally Dynevor, Brooke Vincent and Mark Eden while other contributors were senior storyliner Martin Sterling and Downton Abbey creator and Coronation Street fan Julian Fellowes.

Unusually, the programme was first aired in Canada on 26th December, five days before its New Year's Eve showing in the UK. It was given a repeat airing in all ITV regions except for STV on 1st January 2015 at 5.45pm. The programme was narrated by Nigel Havers, the executive producer was Mark Robinson and was both produced and directed by Patrick Talbot.

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