Ena Sharples, the role that Violet Helen Carson O.B.E. is best remembered for, came at the end of a long and eclectic career.
Born in Manchester (specifically German Street, Ancoats, which was renamed Radium Street in the World War I and which still exists) on the 1st September 1898, though she often claimed to have been born in 1905, Violet was, along with her elder sister Nellie, part of the singing act "The Carson Sisters". She was employed as a pianist at Manchester's Market Street cinema. She married George Peploe, who she had known from childhood, in Manchester Cathedral on 1st September 1926 on her twenty-eighth birthday. George died two years later and Violet never married again.
Violet found work as a singer in early radio adverts and she was employed for her piano skills on the radio series Have A Go with Wilfred Pickles. Radio was the medium in which she first found widespread fame becoming known by the nation's children as "Aunti Vi", the presenter of the World Service programme Children's Hour. She also presented the BBC North's Women's Hour. One of the child actors on Children's Hour was Tony Warren, then known by his real name of Tony Simpson, who was later to suggest her for the part of Ena in Coronation Street in 1960.
Carson was a late-minute casting as Ena Sharples and was the last actor to audition for the role. She made a memorable appearance in the second half of the first episode. She took over the role from Nita Valerie and Nan Marriott-Watson who played her in the dry runs. Ena's iconic hairnet was an addition of Violet's own, to protect the hair she was so proud of from the ministrations of Granada's make up girls.
Violet was quickly established as a major success in the role and became both a household name and one of the best-known faces on television. She was named "ITV Personality of the Year" for 1962 and was awarded an O.B.E. in 1965, the first member of the Street cast or production team to receive such an honour and one of the very first people associated with the television industry. Other honours and tributes followed such as two waxwork models, and an honorary degree of Master of Arts from Manchester University in 1973. In 1963 a rose was named after her.
In February 1968 she boarded the P&O passenger ship Oriana in Southampton and went on a three-month cruise and promotional tour to Australia. She was absent from the programme for this time, only reappearing in late May.
During her time spent in the programme her musical talents continued to come in useful. She was often seen playing the piano; she also found work elsewhere as a singer on the ITV programme Stars on Sunday where she was billed as "Miss Violet Carson".
Failing health meant Violet played a diminishing role in the programme throughout the 1970s. She was absent from the programme for most of 1974, citing that she was tired and needed a rest. In December of that year she returned to the studios, two stone lighter and admitting to the press (as quoted in the Daily Express of 5th December), that she had suffered a near-nervous breakdown. The following year she suffered a stroke and from hereon in her appearances reduced in number to some forty episodes a year at most. Towards the end of the decade there could be a gap of several months between appearances before she made the last of her 1150 appearances as Ena in 1980. The character was not given a conclusive storyline as it was the intention of all involved that she would return from time to time. This was not to be and Ena's retirement to St. Anne's was permanent. One of Violet's last public appearances was to celebrate the 2000th episode of the programme where she attended a street party with local children for pictures for the TV Times special Coronation Street 2000. Her final 1980 appearances totalled only five episodes: Episodes 1957, 1966, 1967, 1982 and 1983. Violet's last appearances as herself on TV was in a pre-taped telephone message for Julie Goodyear's This Is Your Life on 22nd October 1980 and finally an interview on the BBC's Look North programme the following year to mark the closure of their Piccadilly studios where Violet had carried out so much of her early work.
This was filmed at her house in Bispham, Blackpool where she had been a resident since the 1920's and where she lived in seclusion with her elder sister. She died on 26th December 1983. She was cremated at the Carleton Crematorium, Blackpool, and there is a commemorative memorial at Bispham Parish Church in Blackpool. ITV screened Episode 742 from 24th January 1968 (in which the Vestry and Mission of Glad Tidings are demolished) as a tribute to her but her lasting memorial is that she is still remembered for her iconic performance. Indeed nearly three decades after she last appeared as the character, her waxwork model is still on display in Blackpool's Louis Tussauds Waxworks and her name is always associated with the phrase "television battleaxe".