Jack HOWARTH (1896-1984)

Jack Howarth
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This is his life …

An article from RTE Guide - Ireland's televison listing magazine

Betty Driver

Johnnie Hamp

Thora Hird

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Jack Howarth, actor, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews on the set of ITV's long-running soap opera, Coronation Street, at Granada Television's Manchester studios.

Jack was born in Rochdale, Lancashire, where he began acting at the age of twelve playing juvenile roles on stage at the town's Theatre Royal.

Following the First World War - in which he served with the Lancashire Fusiliers - Jack returned to acting, touring the country in theatre performances, and running his own theatre in Colwyn Bay. He also worked in television, and made a number of apprearances in films, including David Lean's Hobson's Choice.

Jack became a household name when he was cast as Albert Tatlock in Coronation Street, a part he played since the programme's first episode in December 1960.

“Yes - well I'm going home!”

Screenshots of Jack Howarth This Is Your Life

Surprise of your Life book

Eamonn Andrews and producer Jack Crawshaw recall the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in their book Surprise Of Your Life...

Within moments of showing Jack Howarth The Book at the bar of the Rover’s Return I was literally laughing on the other side of my face. For a man who gives you the impression of moving ever so slowly, his feet suddenly seemed to move like one of those toys that you wind up and then over accelerate. In the blink of an eye he had vanished.

All I could hear was the producer addressing me as you would a Labrador or a Red Setter or any good gun dog: “Go get him”.

Having been in not dissimilar situations before, it was a reflex action that made me jump to the command and as I ran out of the studio, I wondered had we made a huge mistake?

Months had gone by since we first decided to have a go at telling the real story behind the grumpy exterior of Albert Tatlock.

One of our early schemes was to surprise Jack and do the show as an outside broadcast in Rochdale where he was born in 1896, when Victoria was Queen and one of the most familiar sounds in the Lancashire mill town was that of clogs on the cobblestones.

Jack’s dad was a well-known singer and compere and when Jack left school he started work behind the scenes at the town’s Theatre Royal.

When the First World War broke out 19-year-old Jack was quick to join the famous Lancashire Fusiliers and spent four years in the trenches of the Western Front. He survived to return to England, where he resumed his career in a touring troupe. Later, he switched to radio drama and for fourteen years was Mr Maggs in the long running serial, “Mrs Dale’s Diary”.

Next, came films and in 1960 the offer of a role in a new television series, Coronation Street – a series that was to bring him fame throughout the world.

What better, then, than to surprise him in a role in which millions of viewers knew him best – as Albert Tatlock at the bar of the Rovers? And not all that far from Rochdale, after all.

Having got the all-clear from Jack’s wife, Betty, we contacted the Street’s former executive producer, Harry Kershaw, an old pal of ours who put us in touch with producer, Susi Hush, who agreed to let us gatecrash the pub.

Next on the agenda was to decide where to continue and spring our surprises. Granada’s busy studios were all occupied and for security reasons we felt we couldn’t return to Manchester’s Piccadilly Hotel. There were too many people there who knew Jack and who knew us.

We hunted around and finally found a hotel on the outskirts of town which fitted the bill – the Alma Lodge on the road to nearby Stockport.

I am sure there are still some members of the staff there wondering what happened to that block booking that was suddenly cancelled two days before a somewhat mysterious group was due to move in.

The cancellation came after the threat of another industrial dispute which could have wrecked our plans. So, with an air of controlled panic, we managed to switch all the travel arrangements to re-route the guests to our London studios.

By now, though, we were technically committed to surprising Jack in Coronation Street itself. And that is how I came to take a dramatic day return trip to Manchester that was looking like a waste of time as Jack Howarth walked off that set.

It was 2.45pm and we had seats booked on a train leaving Manchester Piccadilly shortly after 3pm, which, with a bit of luck and the wind behind us, would get us back to London in time for our live show.

It is difficult to explain just how I felt when I caught up with Jack because, although subsequently I have got to know him rather well, at the time I couldn’t quite penetrate his face.

I thought he was angry. But he wasn’t. He was trying to say he couldn’t come on the programme because he was far too sentimental.

At that moment, his wife Betty joined us. Jack and Betty have been happily married for 45 years or more and there was no one in the world better fitted to assure him that all would be well.

She knew our plans and told him that she felt he was sure to enjoy himself. Between us, with no total agreements made, we got him to the station just in time to grab the seats researcher Carol Lee had been keeping.

Carol, Betty and myself never seemed to stop talking all the way to London in our attempts to assure Jack that he wouldn’t regret it. And thankfully he didn’t. As he wiped away the odd tear during the programme he whispered to me: “I told you so”.

Jack’s last guest was Merrie Hamp, daughter of Granada producer Johnnie Hamp. Merrie lost her sight in a laboratory explosion at school. Jack had visited her in Spain where she had been taken for a series of eighteen operations to save a little of her vision. Later, he left his own sick bed to attend her wedding. Merrie and her American husband, Carson, flew 5,000 miles from their home in Texas to tell us just how much she thought of Jack Howarth.

After the programme, Jack walked from his seat, across the studio floor to the audience, which included many members of the Old Comrades Association, fellow veterans of Jack’s regiment The Lancashire Fusiliers.

Jack, the former front line soldier, told them: “I didn’t want to do this programme because I knew I would cry … Well there’s nowt wrong with a good cry is there? I’ve enjoyed the show.”

The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his book This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

Cast in the original six episodes of Coronation Street, the character actor Jack Howarth told his wife it was 'some North Country thing about a corner shop'. Jack didn't think it would 'catch on'.

But he was still in it when Eamonn Andrews popped into the Rover's Return at opening time on 20 November 1974.

When Eamonn said, 'I'm taking you to London' Jack must have still been playing crusty old Albert, because he said with steely determination, 'Oh no, you're not, you know.'

It took a great deal of persuasion to get him to change his mind. Jack had spent four years in the First World War trenches in the Lancashire Fusiliers and if he wasn't for shifting, he wasn't for shifting.

He was delighted he surrendered that night, though, especially when he spotted old comrades in the front row of the audience and we played the regimental march.

In fact, afterwards, Jack and his wife, Betty, became such devoted fans of the programme they used to pop in to see us socially.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 390
  • Subject No: 390
  • Broadcast live: Wed 20 Nov 1974
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 15
  • Edition: 3
  • Code: Hall

on the guest list...

  • Anne Kirkbride
  • Barbara Mullaney
  • Betty Driver
  • Bryan Mosley
  • William Roache
  • Doris Speed
  • Eileen Derbyshire
  • Graham Haberfield
  • Jean Alexander
  • Julie Goodyear
  • Ken Farrington
  • Margot Bryant
  • Neville Bushwell
  • Stephen Hancock
  • Thelma Barlow
  • Betty - wife
  • John - son
  • June - daughter-in-law
  • Grant - grandson
  • Karen - granddaughter
  • Old Comrades from the Fusilliers in audience
  • Sid - brother
  • Kay - sister-in-law
  • Cardew Robinson
  • Thora Hird
  • Johnnie Hamp
  • Merrie Ray
  • Carson Ray
  • Filmed tributes:
  • David Lloyd
  • Peter Lever
  • Arthur Lowe

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher: Carol Lee
  • Writer: John Sandilands
  • Director: Robert Reed
  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 15 subjects: Jack Ashley > John Conteh > Jack Howarth > Chay Blyth > Bill Maynard > Richard O'Sullivan > Dick Francis > Arthur Askey > Jean Kent > Geoff Love > Ray Cooney > Queenie Watts > Harry Johnson > Leonard Rossiter > John Hanson > Denis Law > Ted Ray > Peter Butterworth > Nina Baden-Semper > Dickie Davies > Moira Anderson > Precious McKenzie > Mollie Sugden > Michael Bates > Willie John McBride > Petula Clark > Garfield Sobers