Tuesday 20 February 2018

Before Baldwin


I grew up watching the actor Johnny Briggs bring the Cockney factory boss lothario Mike Baldwin to life in Coronation Street. As a child I often got confused as at the time there was also a children's television show called "Johnny Briggs" - how could there be two? Anyway, for many of us, Johnny *was* Michael Vernon Baldwin, a fish out of water up North who brought capitalism to the back streets of Weatherfield and tried to take Deirdre from Ken.

As the role of Baldwin was so prominent and became incredibly iconic, it is difficult to believe Johnny Briggs did anything else. After all he played Mike for thirty years from 1976 until the character's death in the spring of 2006. However Briggs had an acting career stretching back to the post-war period, when, as a child actor he began appearing in small parts in various films. At the age of 12, Johnny won a scholarship to the famous Italia Conti stage school and from there, started earning a living as an actor. For many years he slaved away in small, often uncredited roles. His very first film was called Hue and Cry, made way back in 1947. Directed by the legendary Charles Crichton, it starred the wonderful Alastair Sim.


More films followed, among them Oliver Twist, The Lavender Hill Mob and Sink the Bismarck! - all small roles but Briggs kept going. Despite being known for drama, Johnny also appeared in countless classic comedy roles, mainly on the big screen. In 1960 he played Johnny Nolan in the Norman Wisdom comedy The Bulldog Breed. Coincidentally, another young actor who would become forever linked to Briggs also appeared in that film. Playing an uncredited role was William Roache, soon to be catapulted to fame as Coronation Street's Ken Barlow, Baldwin's greatest foe. Three years later, Johnny would have his first brush with the world of Rogers, Thomas and the like when he played one of the young medical students in the Betty Box/Ralph Thomas comedy, Doctor in Distress. He was in good company: his fellow students were played by Christopher Beeny, Derek Fowlds and Richard Briers. Although they didn't cross paths in the film, Johnny's future Corrie wife Amanda Barrie also pops up in Distress playing Rona. 

Also in 1963, Johnny Briggs was back working with Norman Wisdom. In the film Stitch in Time, Johnny plays a small time gangster who holds up Mr Grimsdale's butcher's shop at the start of the film, in a very funny scene featuring Norman and future Carry On legend Patsy Rowlands. Johnny went on to play small roles in the Morecambe and Wise film, The Intelligence Men in 1965, the character of Millet in the Reg Varney/Diana Coupland comedy drama The Best Pair of Legs in the Business (1973) and the part of a milkman in the 1974 big screen spin off Man About The House.


In between all that however, Johnny Briggs made his first appearance in the Carry On series. In 1968 he played the small role of "Sporran Soldier" in the classic Carry On Up The Khyber. Watch out for him sharing a few words with Terry Scott during the climactic battle sequence towards the end of the film. Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas were always loyal to actors they found easy to work with and true enough, Johnny did return to Pinewood to work with them again. Four years later, in 1972, Briggs was cast as a delivery driver in their big screen version of the classic Sid James sitcom, Bless This House. Johnny returned to the Carry Ons again in 1975 when he played one of the painters in the Clubhouse in Carry On Behind. That same year he also guest starred in one episode of the ATV Carry On Laughing series. In "The Case of the Coughing Parrot" Briggs played Norman in a cast which also starred Jack Douglas, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor and Johnny's future Corrie co-star Sherrie Hewson.

Johnny was given his biggest Carry On role the following year when he played Melly's driver in Carry On England. He shared a couple of decent scenes at the start of the film with its star, Kenneth Connor. This would be one of Johnny's last roles before taking on the life-changing part of Mike Baldwin up at Granada. Johnny turned Mike Baldwin into one of Coronation Street's most legendary characters and I loved following his ups and downs over the years. As I've written about in this blog, it's still worth remembering just what a varied career Briggs had before being cast in his most famous and long-lasting role.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

No comments:

Post a Comment