The Elsie Tanner Story was a three-part piece of Coronation Street fiction which appeared as a headline article in TV Times magazine's Christmas 1967 edition and the two subsequent issues. Written by TV Times reporter and recently-appointed Street writer James Bryant, the instalments were illustrated with photographs of Patricia Phoenix both in character and in her youth from the actress’s own family albums. The story coincided with the beginning of a two-month absence from the programme as Elsie flew to the United States of America to begin a new life with husband Steve Tanner.
As a young girl, Elsie Grimshaw used to look at a small, rubbish –infested stream down the street from where she lived as a young girl and used it as a metaphor for her life: sometimes grey, sometimes colourful, as the water turned different shades from the dye works downstream. Elsie was a dreamer, like her father, who used to tell Elsie that people shut up and listened when he sang and one day a London agent would hear him and the family could look forward to living in luxury, in Altrincham, perhaps even London…
One January night Elsie and her brother sneaked out of the house and made their way to The Saddle Inn to watch him through the window and they saw him sing…reed-voiced and red-faced, being laughed at by the regulars, at least those who took any notice of him, until finally he fell off the stool he was stood on and headlong onto a drinks-covered table. Stunned by this revelation, Elsie and her brother never spoke of the incident again. She saw her father for the last time when she was still a girl. Sent home from school ill, she witnessed her parents arguing after her mother discovered that he father had taken the few shilling from the “emergency jar” under the stairs that was used when the rent man caught them in. He told him wife that if she was calling him a thief, he might as well leave. She agreed – he might as well leave. He did so, and Mrs Grimshaw started crying for the one and only time that Elsie ever saw her do so.
By the time she left school at 14, Elsie had witnessed her mother leave the life of a drudge and made up her mind never to be like her. She wanted the good life and intended to avoid the entrapment of marriage. But then out at the Roxy one night when she was 16, she met sailor Arnold Tanner. To her he looked like a cross between Clark Gable and John Wayne and his charm also worked on her mother when he came round to their house with flowers especially for her. Elsie and Arnold were married three weeks later, with Elsie’s mother paying for everything with money from the emergency jar and Arnold promising to pay her back. However, he never did.
One year later, in 1940, Elsie found herself at home at 11 Coronation Street with a baby called Linda and Arnold calling home infrequently from the war. Their relationship was still good but as time went on it started to deteriorate. Dennis had arrived on the scene by this time – more of a handful than his sister – and Mrs Sharples was dropping broad hints about the gossip she had heard about Arnold’s goings-on abroad. Elsie’s friend Dot Greenhalgh was having a good time with Yankee boyfriends from Burtonwood air base and Elsie was bored, trapped and envious. She decided again that she too was going to have some enjoyment in her life.
Dot came round one night and suggested a double date with two Yanks. Elsie agreed and somehow got Ena to agree to babysit. Nervous about what their dates would be like but calmed by Dot’s assurances, Elsie was horrified by the two men. Dot’s was thin as a rake and six feet four while Elsie’s was fourteen stone and growing. In her own mind she compared them to Laurel and Hardy and the two women spent the night giggling at their escorts. The die was cast though and frequent trips to Burtonwood became the gossip of the street, which used to be stilled in Elsie Lappin’s Corner Shop as soon as the "notorious" Mrs Tanner walked through the door. One night, at the Roebuck Inn, Elsie met Steve Tanner, an incredibly good-looking Bostonian who was introduced to her by Frank Capolino on the spurious grounds that he might be her long-lost brother. He took her home and asked to see her again but Elsie, remembering her own and her mother’s disastrous marriages, refused his request and ran indoors, sobbing.
After four depressing weeks, Steve came calling again, a bottle of whisky in his hand. He charmed his way into her house and after excuses and nervousness on both their parts, Elsie gave in and the next eighteen months were the happiest in her life as they saw each other three times a week. After getting a disapproving and yet strangely understanding Ena to babysit again, Steve took Elsie to Stratford-upon-Avon where he asked her to divorce the absent Arnold and marry him. Elsie baulked at the suggestion, scared at the thought of their different backgrounds the elegance of his Boston upbringing. She told him no and soon afterwards he was drafted abroad and it would be twenty two years before they met again.
As Elsie prepares to leave Weatherfield to face that Boston society which so unnerved her in the war, she thinks back to that refusal and the waste of the years in-between.
- Elsie is portrayed as being chaste and faithful to Arnold Tanner in the war prior to meeting Steve. This contrasts with the later accounts in Coronation Street at War by Daran Little, and The Way to Victory by Christine Green where Elsie is shown to have several scandalous flings and affairs during the war.
- The same source gives Arnold’s occupation as a rent collector when they met and states that Elsie was pregnant when she married him. The 1967 version of the story has Arnold as a sailor and makes no mention of Elsie’s expectant state.
- Elsie’s brother, who is unnamed, is said to be employed during the war at a cable works in Collyhurst, Manchester, and is hardly the apple of his mother’s eye. Elsie's sisters, Fay and Phyllis, are unmentioned.
- This contradicts information that Elsie's father Arthur was a strict man who beat his children and that all of the Grimshaws, aside from Elsie, Fay and Phyllis, were killed in an air raid.