Here is a lady I bet you have noticed in the background for many years, but haven't known her name. I am happy to introduce you to Toni West, and she had kindly allowed us to speak to her, and find out a little bit about her life.
Toni's Photo Gallery
Hi Toni, thank you so much for allowing us to speak to you. How long have you been a Background Supporting Artiste with Coronation Street?
I have been working at Coronation Street for just over 30 years.
Have you also done the same sort of thing on other shows?
Yes, I have worked on shows such as 'Bread', 'Brookside', 'Albion Market' and 'Bulman'. Also I did a TV advert for 'Family Credit' in 1989.
However, as others have told you, it is an absolute pleasure to work at Coronation Street, and all the extras I work with say the same - it is the best show to work on, we are treated very well by both cast and crew alike.
So many people have told me this. I really envy anyone who gets paid for doing something they love.
I am amazed by how many people would give anything to have my job just for one day, so to have been doing it for so long is awesome - I only hope it continues for another 30!! I remember thinking I had 'arrived' when appearing at the lodge one morning, the Security man said "Good morning Toni", without me telling him my name - I was well chuffed!
I bet you were. It's nice that you are considered on a par with the front line cast there. Tell me, what did you do prior to joining Corrie?
Back in the day, we had to have an equity card to do TV work, so consequently a lot of the 'older' SA's are acts in their own right. I began singing age 13 at the local youth club, and then with bands in the early sixties - playing the Cavern amongst other places in Liverpool.
Wow! That's where the Beatles started back in the sixties isn't it? Did you ever meet them?
When I worked at the Cavern (as The Squad and Rita) the Beatles were already well established and had “moved on” to touring bigger venues and theatres. Some of the bands I did work with were The Searchers, The Swinging Blue Jeans, The Fourmost, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes and The Big Three but I’m not sure if you have heard of any of them. At other venues, I worked with Lulu, The Drifters and Tony Christie.
Oh yes, I have heard of most of those groups, and I am sure others from the UK will have too. Some of them went on to very big things! Plus Lulu of course, whom we still see in some of the Absolutely Fabulous reruns over here!
Where did you go from there?
Since the age of 19, I have been a solo performer and have enjoyed working all over the north west of England.
How did you go from this to being a Supporting Artiste on Coronation Street?
I was visiting a friend one day and her Aunt Enid was there – Enid was a well seasoned performer and she advised I join Equity as it was a very good Union and looked after its members very well. Of course the added bonus was that with an Equity card you could do television and film work. I joined an Agency and did work on Brookside, Bread and lots of films in Liverpool. I was asked to go to Granada for an interview – all extras had to be interviewed in those days – and was given my first booking on Coronation Street.
So if your real name is Rita, as in 'The Squad and Rita' how did you become Toni West?
I took a break from the band I was with at the time ( Rita & the Vogue ) to do a week at Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club in Manchester supporting The Ivy League. Bernard thought my real name Rita Mather wasn’t “show biz enough” so he asked me to choose another name. I’ve always loved the name Toni so chose that. On a table at the side was some sheet music and the top copy was the score from “ West Side Story “ so he picked it up and said “ Toni West it is “ Ironically, West Side Story was my favourite musical at the time.
Oh I certainly remember The Ivy League too! That's really interesting.
Getting back to Coronation Street, which scenes have you been in that stand out in your memory?
Some of the scenes I remember the most: May 2007, when the Peacocks house caught fire, and Claire nearly died.
I was asked to do Blanches funeral and was also in the Rovers when Ken made his speech about how she would be missed.
It was lovely to do Rita and Dennis' wedding, it was a great setting and "Emily" came and sat with us in the Green room during takes for a good old chin wag!!
I was also in the audience at the Nativity play when Chesney and Katy's baby Joseph was born.
I think the most memorable has to be filming the tram crash scenes - we filmed overnight and I was wearing a little black dress and it was minus2 degrees - the funny thing was it didn't feel that cold as the fires were burning. Luckily though they allowed us to "go back into the Rovers" and get our coats for the subsequent nights.
Yes, everyone I have spoken to has said that has to be the very best episode they have ever been in. Looking at it yet again, I can understand it, I think it was the most spectacular they have ever produced to date. Certainly a worthy mark of their 50th Anniversary.
I don't know if you got to see Text Santa over in Canada? It was to raise money for charity and Coronation Street was asked to do a sketch. At the end of it, I got to hug Norris - down girls, don't be jealous!! - and also Eileen's fireman!
I did see it! In fact everyone can find two videos of it on the videos page of this site. I also found you and have added screen grabs below!
How do you find working with your fellow S.A's as they are known?
Over the years, I have made some really good friends on the set of Coronation Street and we generally have a real good laugh when working together - I say work but really it's a pleasure.
Are you married Toni? Do you have children?
I am married to Ernie and have 2 daughters, Toni who is 39 and Jaime, 33 and a son Jordan who is 19. Also, 2 beautiful grandchildren, Molly,6 and Sonny, 3
And now, are you content to just do background work? Or do you have other irons in the fire?
Over the last few years I have got into the recording side of my music and have produced a number of CD's for a friend of mine. Also over this last year I have written some songs with my friend Geoff Taggart - I was in his band when I was 16 - my favourite being Longer than Time which was written with my 3 great kids in mind. The other 2 are Lay it Down and Never Enough. Also, I have put some cover songs on You Tube - Toniwest1 channel - if anyone is interested to listen to them.
My favourite of the songs you have written is the one playing in the background. But I urge people to check out your others, including the covers you have done, 'Look For Me In Rainbows' is absolutely beautiful. You have a wonderful talent.
Thank you so very much for giving us your time Toni, I just know everyone will have fun picking you out of the background of their favourite show from now on.
It's Dennis & Rita's wedding, and Toni is a guest right at the back on the right.
Toni (who was then Rita), singing with her group in 1966
We couldn't go without showing you Toni's beautiful family. On the left, her children Toni, Jaime and Jordan. In the middle, Granddaughter Molly, age 6 and Sonny, age 3.
Still on a Christmas theme, the above three scenes are taken from Coronation Street's donation to the charity 'Text Santa'. This year they put on a delightful skit based on Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' with Norris Cole as Ebenezer Scrooge. The above scenes are from the end, when Norris has seen the light, and has decided to become a better person. He is in his nightshirt and cap. In the first photo, Toni is bottom right, in the second she is in the beige coat, being hugged by Norris, and in the final one, she is getting a hug from Eileen's boyfriend Paul. The fellow with the scarf is Ken Barlow, and walking in front of the Rovers is another Background Artiste by the name of Chris Shepherd, whom we are hoping to meet properly before long.
Here are four screen grabs from the nativity play in 2011, this was the one where Katy took over the role of Mary, and made it all a little too realistic by having baby Joseph right there. Toni was sitting in the audience, looking as if she was really enjoying it.
And this is who they were listening to, Ken Barlow was giving a touching eulogy, nicer than she probably deserved the way she spoke to him sometimes! Everyone is raising their glasses and saying goodbye to a Corrie legend.
If you would like to see the Text Santa Corrie video in full, click on the Fun Pages logo below, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the Videos page. You will find it in two parts at the bottom of that page. It's well worth seeing, because the ghosts who appear to Norris are Mike Baldwin, Maxine Peacock, Derek Wilton and Vera Duckworth.
Here is Toni standing behind the pairing that didn't work too well, Tina and Dr. Carter.
Toni is in the background pretending she can't hear Tina shouting at Tommy! :-)
This shot was almost impossible to grab because everyone was moving so fast. Gail had just come into The Rovers and announced that the Peacock's house was on fire. Toni is in the pink jacket, and her date that evening was none other than our last Featured Extra, Pete Reidy.
The above two were from the same episode as the one over on the left. One scanned from a magazine, Toni is linked arms with Pete, and the other very blurred one was grabbed from the episode, everyone was in panic mode, plus it was at night, so not very clear, but you can just make out Toni and Pete behind Leanne and Hayley.
This scene was at the funeral of Blanche Hunt. Toni is sitting behind Emily and Norris.
And look who has sat down behind her, none other than husband and wife SA's Joel David and Maureen Seaberg.
And of course it all kicked off in the cemetery afterwards between Becky and Tracy (who was there in handcuffs on a pass from Her Majesty's secure residence) You can see Toni looking concerned behind them.
After the service, everyone (except Tracy) went back to the Rovers to drink her health, including Toni, who is just behind Anna Windass.
Oh yes, these boots were definitely make for walking! I had a pair just like that in 1972 when this photo was taken!