The Baileys on being part of Coronation Street history as the first Black family

When the Bailey family made their arrival to Coronation Street in 2019, the four cast members – Lorna Laidlaw, Trevor Michael Georges, Ryan Russell and Nathan Graham – knew how notable their debut was, playing the first ever Black family on the ITV soap.

The show boss, Iain MacLeod, was also aware of the importance behind introducing this new family, and its contribution to Coronation Street’s long-running passion of representing the people who sit down every night in their living rooms to watch these characters’ lives unfold.

‘The North West and Great Britain as a whole is a big melting pot of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities and the more representative we can make Corrie of Manchester and Britain, the better really, so it was a no-brainer’, he said at the time.

As expected, Coronation Street stuck to their word, shining a spotlight on the Bailey family to highlight racism in ways such as being pulled over by a police officer, or working with Baroness Lawrence on an episode that saw Ed confront a racist.

As October marks Black History Month, we sat down with three of the Bailey family cast members to talk about their own experiences as a Black person in the UK, and how they feel about their game changing role within one of Britain’s best-loved soaps.

History is written by a very narrow set of people from a very narrow perspective

Lorna Laidlaw plays Aggie Bailey, and on top of her Coronation Street role is working on an all-female production that focuses on the extraordinary relationship between Queen Victoria and two women of colour.

Tell us about the play you’re doing, ‘She’s Royal’

When they asked me to do it, I said I would only direct it if it was an all-female crew – front back, left, centre, sound, light, everything. They were a bit tentative because there’s male characters in there. I said, listen Shakespeare had no problem having men playing women so let’s go with it. So, it’s an all-female crew, 14 strong community cast of women, with three amazing lead actresses.

Can you tell us how this relates to Black History Month?

Queen Victoria’s goddaughters – one was Black, one was Asian. She did have eight in total, but these are particularly interesting because Sarah Forbes Bonetta was given to her as a gift at the age of seven, a young African girl, very intelligent, spoke English really well and she basically became Queen Victoria’s goddaughter.

Then there was Sophia Duleep Singh who was massive in the suffragette movement – but how did we not know this? How did we not know that these two women were really quite integral to the royal household. A lot of Queen Victoria’s diaries got destroyed by her youngest daughter so a lot of that information has gone. However it’s well documented that they were there.

Telling true history is what I’m interested in. There was something on the radio about Black Tudors and there’s no way that kids would have thought there were any Black people in England in Tudor times but actually there was quite a number. It’s about making sure that those  people who were around voices and those, are part of history, because it does depend who writes it. A lot of the stuff that my kids know about Black history, I taught them. 

When I was at school the most you learned about Black history was slavery. Being piled up in ships was as far as you got. There was nothing about Black resistance, it was all about oppression.  Women, people of colour, gay people are all eradicated because history is written by a very narrow set of people and it’s from a very narrow perspective.

The play is on at the Birmingham Hippodrome and then we’re at Wolverhampton Grand on November 1 for one night only. These venues have been so generous. The publicity department at the Wolverhampton Grand has gone into overdrive for it, there’s a huge poster for it – about 12 feet – and it’s incredible. When you’re working with a predominantly Black cast and all female, these people are invisible.

It’s a community cast, which means these people work. We’ve got somebody who’s a theatre nurse and she goes through her lines with her colleagues, then she comes here and is performing. We’ve got people who are working in the daytime and come into rehearsals in the evening for three hours. So, it’s a real big commitment from them. 

But these are invisible people I’m working with who, historically, their stories are not really told.’

How has your Corrie journey been so far?

It’s weird because we started in 2019 and then lockdown, so I don’t feel I’ve been there that long. It doesn’t feel like four years. For the first Black family in Coronation Street, to be part of that and making history, is quite a thing. Nobody’s ever going to take that away from you, so it is embedded in history. When I did Doctors, I was the first Black practice manager and directed it. Pushing, constant pushing.’

What’s it like working with your Bailey family?

We get on like a real family. We’ve just got Channique, who’s started as my daughter Dee-Dee, we’ve been out for food together and she’s been messaging me asking how things are going and saying “We really miss you!” I’ve got two boys, and my real boys are not far away from the age of my on-screen boys. I love those kids like food! 

What’s it like working with newcomer Channique?

There’s a fantastic energy about her. It’s this thing of a very professional woman in a high-paying important job, also being a complete mess.I find it quite disarming to have somebody who seems a bit flaky then she’s absolutely on it. The flakiness is a really great character trait in juxtaposition to this woman who’s a solicitor, and that’s not what you expect from a solicitor.’

How do Corrie fans react to you and your character?

It doesn’t happen very often, because I wear a wig! I’ve got blonde hair, so I look completely different. Usually people look at my blonde hair and by the time they suss I’m from Corrie, I’m gone. I quite like being able to walk around Manchester and nobody knows who I am, and I know a lot of the other actors don’t have that, so I feel very lucky I can go to the Arndale Centre and the Trafford Centre, and no one has a clue. 

Tell us a bit more about Aggie’s recent storyline and developing friendship with Tim

I’m really adamant, these two people should never have an affair. It’s alright for a man and a woman to be mates. The panic about them is they’re worried about what other people are going to think. The fans don’t want them to be together and they should never get together, but I hope the writers carry on the friendship because I think it’s important to reflect the world – I’ve got loads of male friends.

It’s very rare on Corrie you see a man and a woman who sit down and have beers together, give advice to each other, with no other thing other than friendship. Joe’s a dream to work with – he’s a very naughty man! We do laugh a lot and we get on really well because the storyline’s really important to us and it’s so well-written. If you took Aggie away and put a man there it would be practically the same dialogue. For me that’s what’s interesting about it. 

The reason they hide it is because of people’s perception of that, that they’re having an affair.’

Growing up, so little was expected of us

Trevor Michael Georges, better known as Ed Bailey, shares what life was like as a young Black man growing up in the 70s.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Obviously awareness, and bringing forward aspects that are always an undertone, certainly for the diaspora and the Black community that do need further airing from time to time. It’s not just history, it’s consciousness. It’s understanding, connecting the dots between behaviours in society today that go back hundreds and hundreds of years and are still lying around in customs and the way we communicate.

History lessons in schools are often structured in a way that means students don’t really learn about iconic Black people...

Yes, there are quite a lot of engineers and designers in particular over the centuries. I’m always fascinated from a more social point of view, like Black people’s history in this country and how long they’ve been here. And various aspects that make this country blacker than one thinks.

A few years ago, I did a play in Chester where I played an American GI. I couldn’t help noticing every time I came off stage there would be some very elegant, intelligent senior aged ladies who were… I don’t think ‘giving me the eye’ is the right word, but certainly smiling in an amorous way that I found a little unusual, and it went on every night for the run.

Eventually I walked past a group sat at a table, smiling at me, and I thought, ‘I need to get to the bottom of this.’ I asked, ‘Is there something I need to know?’ After a little conversation it turned out they’d all had affairs with American GI’s and the sight of me in costume had brought back all these memories – and, I won’t lie, I was a bit shocked.

I went off and did some research, and it transpired that there was this huge wave of romance during the war as American GI’s were posted to England before going out to Germany.

The idea was brought to Churchill and Eisenhower and, talking about racism, it was actually the British that stood up for the American GI’s because they were Jim Crow [state and local laws enforcing racial segregation]

The Black regiments were Black only, with racist white officers in charge and, as far as the British were concerned, those Black men had come over to fight for this country.

It was a fascinating angle that would never have come up had I not discovered all this. There are just so many things sitting in history about Britain’s relationship with Blacks that isn’t always negative. And so, it’s both sides of the coin.

How was it for you growing up?

I grew up in Southall which is something like 80% Asian. It was actually the West Indians and the whites that were in the minority. It’s more about class than race – I learned that because poor whites and poor Blacks were very happy together in that environment.

There was racist language everywhere and impossible to avoid. I’m not surprised it still goes on in cricket because it was so intense back then. It still needs cleaning up as it does with misogynist language. It’s a generational thing that dies out very slowly. 

When I started out in Southall, so little was expected of us. We weren’t supposed to succeed or  do well. I was very good at athletics and drama, but  I think my teachers had earmarked me for a job as a car mechanic’s assistant, as they kind of put you in a stereotyped image in those days where you weren’t seen as being any use for anything else.

I actually got as far as being weeks away from joining the RAF as officer air crew before I changed my mind because I realised I’d just done it to be bloody minded, just to prove I could. I was relieved to have got that far and then walked away. It was hard.

We had race riots and the National Front coming through – it was constantly violent and difficult, so I can’t help but see a huge difference between now and then. Southall was very difficult back in the 70s.

My first experience of change was my first job out of college, which was Glyndebourne Opera, which wasn’t a planned experience, but we were the first Black chorus at Glyndebourne. It was a very, very successful production.

That was my first bit of hope, growing up, that things could be different and much better. I wasn’t sure what I was going to expect, but I did go with trepidation. It left me very positive.

How has your journey been on Corrie?

We didn’t know what to expect from the word go, because there was no one I could phone up to say ‘what’s it like being a Black actor full time in Coronation Street?’ That was the big thing, no one had really done it before to the extent that the Baileys were moving in properly and becoming part of the furniture. To this day it still feels like a huge privilege. That’s never going to go away I don’t think.

When I was a child, the entire nation was watching Corrie. You could go to a factory and you could have a conversation about Coronation Street where everybody could join in regardless of creed, colour, age, everyone had seen it. So it had this lovely unifying thing going on for it that I think still passes down the generations.

What’s it been like having Channique coming into the family?

First of all, Channique’s fabulous. She’s been bright sunshine coming into the company. She’s a very intelligent young lady and she’s got a great attitude on set. It’s really helped to make the Baileys richer. 

It couldn’t not, really, but the producers are very clever and they really know what they’re looking for. Competition was really high – it was pleasing to see so many great actresses coming for the role, as well as Channique, who’s just right for that character.

While we do discuss the Baileys as this family, we’re all individual professional actors who have our individual journey to try to do things as best we can.

The nature of Coronation Street doesn’t make it as homogenous as you might think because different people are in the building at different times and the scheduling is erratic.

There’s a good chance I might not see Ryan (Michael) for six months even, and we’ll have both been in at different times. The same can happen with Channique who goes off on her own storyline. That’s just part of the game and you just have to sit down and focus and get through your bit of the journey. But when we come together it’s always fabulous.

Do you get recognised as Ed from Corrie?

It does happen! I try and ignore fame. When I come out of the building I revert to being a father. I have two daughters. They’re 17 and wonderful people who need a lot of time and attention in their own way – independent, but still my daughters. So I’m ferrying people around from here to there and providing this and that and fixing up the house. And I try and ignore fame from the point of view of I’m just Trevor.

A couple of weeks ago someone did approach me, not expecting to see a Corrie person around, and was slightly hyperventilating and I found myself in a sort of first aid capacity, calming them down. 

I think Ed’s a good soul and hugely patient, far more patient than I am.He’ll always try and do his best to help people out and everything. And that’s appreciated amongst the fans. 

There are times I’ve walked into a room and just seen everyone’s faces light up. A couple of times I’ve thought, ‘What on earth are they looking at?’ and then I’ve remembered Corrie, because I’m still in dad mode. I have to take off my dad hat and quickly put my Ed hat on. Everyone else seems to know I’m Ed except me.

A few weeks ago, before James left Weatherfield, Ed was involved in a scene that saw him fully accept his son for who he is in terms of his sexuality. Was that important to you?

I was really grateful for the writers to take that route because it’s more about the generation gaps. Every generation looks at the next generation and it’s hard to work them out, to understand why they see things so differently and how everything we value isn’t dying, but has less relevance in the world.

I have the same relationship with my daughters. We got into a big argument the other day because someone on the radio said something about making IVF available to women in same-sex marriages and also, they said, to single men who want to have children. My reaction was, ‘oh, I’d like to know more about that.’

My children, being totally in tune with the present dialogue, were horrified that I should think it unusual. I had trouble explaining to them that I would have loved the opportunity to have a child without being married. It was just not a concept. To them it might sound like I’m an old man rejecting new ideas, but I just want to understand.

I really identify with Ed because he just wants to understand. He doesn’t mean to be stupid about it, he doesn’t know and he just wants some education. he’s never going to stop loving his son – that aspect is just not on the table as far as he’s concerned. But coming into the 21st century with your children can be hard, regardless of what the topic is.

It’s really important to know and understand what it means to be a Black Brit

Channique Sterling-Brown, recently arrived on our screens as Dee-Dee Bailey. She discusses her time in school and what it’s like to be a Black person living through events such as the death of George Floyd, and the fatal shooting of Chris Kaba

What does Black History Month mean to you?

I almost feel like this should be called British Black History Month because obviously Black History Month in America is in February and ours is in October. I feel the distinction is really important to know and understand enough about British Black history, and what it means to be a Black Brit.

To me it’s such an important time to have an understanding of the role Black people played in Britain, how our communities have been shaped.

Black children are not seeing themselves in history, as it’s taught in schools…

We didn’t do the civil rights movement in history when I was at school. I loved history, I remember doing my GCSE, flying through the paper. It was World War II, then I finished the exam and started looking through the booklet at the other modules and realised the civil rights movement was in there.

I went to my teacher, and I was like, ‘why haven’t we done the civil rights movement?’ He used words to the effect of, ‘you’ve studied World War II,’ and it increases your chances of passing, basically, because you’ve got knowledge of it because it’s what we’ve always done.

And I’m thinking that’s not helpful, we need to teach history to stop it happening again. If we’d have done the civil rights movement, it still would have been American history. The civil rights movement in the UK, there’s no understanding of it –  things like the Brixton riots.

Even right up to Mary Seacole, who’s someone who I always admired so much as a historical figure. I think it was in year two we were doing Florence Nightingale and my mum said, ‘are they teaching you about Mary Seacole?’ I said no, so my mum taught me about Mary Seacole and I did a project on her while everyone else did Florence Nightingale. She was her contemporary – so why were we not learning about her?

Have you noticed a change recently when it comes to Black History Month?

I definitely would say so. I think Black History Month was something that was never acknowledged in all my time at school, it just wasn’t a thing.

Even in terms of what’s going on in the media, it’s great that it’s being acknowledged now and being spoken about. I know that more schools do have the curriculum focused around Black History Month.

Obviously in an ideal world we’d spend more than just a month looking at Black history, but I do think it’s important to have that distinction and I’m glad it’s more prevalent and spoken about.

In Trafford where we work, I go past Old Trafford and there’s the big screens and they’ve got different things every day about Black History Month this month and I’ve been really enjoying it, taking it in and learning about new creatives and thinking I’ll check them out.

There’s no denying that after the weight of the Black Lives Matter movement that we saw in 2020 – personally I’ve been following Black Lives Matter for quite a few years before that – and seeing the impact it had in America, it’s heartbreaking what happened and what continues to happen.

But I think it’s important to remember these things do happen in our country. Let’s carry that energy and the same weight. A lot of people got behind it and rallied round but then we see like the death of Chris Kaba which happened last month, there’s still such a long way to go to have the same support and the same understanding.

We have to do the learning, we have to do the talking and I think Black History Month is a really important time to open those conversations.

How’s your Corrie journey been so far?

It has been brilliant, an absolute whirlwind and overwhelming at times, but I’m just so loving my time there. Everyone is just so kind, so warm, especially my fellow Baileys who’ve totally embraced me. It’s been so special to be part of it and bring Dee-Dee to life.

My first screen test was just with Lorna. I think I was the first person and she just put me straight at ease. She was so kind and warm through my first test. She said: ‘you can do no more, girl, you can do no more, baby.’ The second screen test, Trev and Ryan were there as well as Lorna, and again it was such a warm and safe environment to walk into.

It’s been so great to work with them. Even Nathan, who obviously left, we miss him so much, he’s such a wonderful person. After I got the job he sent me a message on Instagram before I came in. It made me feel so reassured. It’s so comfortable to go into that environment, where people were going out of their way to make me welcome, and I can’t thank them all enough for that.

How are Corrie fans reacting to you and Dee-Dee?

Honestly I thought it was going to take people absolutely ages to recognise me and it happened in the first week. I’ve been stopped in Lidl three times! I was out shopping recently, and I had a cap on and sat with my back to the shop, when a woman walked past and said, ‘she’s on Coronation Street. It’s that Dee-Dee.’ She was walking behind me – how the hell did she know that? People have got very keen eyes. It’s been strange, but it’s been super positive and super kind.

I met a girl at the Lowry last week and she was saying ‘you look like me,’ and ‘I love your character.’ That means so much to me, to be representing young Black women on the iconic cobbles, it’s such a blessing I couldn’t be more grateful and humble for it.

How did you enjoy the Stu storyline?

I loved throwing myself into the story, it was fun to keep the momentum up, because it’s a storyline that has been happening for quite a while. It’s been great to be part of getting him exonerated and the big reveal. It has been super fun and you get to work with more of the cast –  I loved working with Sair and Shelley and Bill and Qas –  it’s so fabulous.

Can you tease what’s ahead for Dee-Dee?

Dee-Dee is here to stay, which is really exciting. I can’t really say too much. I can say that hopefully we’ll see her back in a work mode soon. I think there’s going to be something really special about seeing her settle in, the contrast of her at work and at home. She’s going to make some friends that people wouldn’t necessarily put her with. It’s just good personalities that gel well together. I think that’s going to be really fun.

Dee-Dee’s getting around, she’s popular. Hopefully people will really enjoy her journey as she settles into Weatherfield.

I’m sure eventually she’ll just be part of the furniture.

Black History Month

October marks Black History Month, which reflects on the achievements, cultures and contributions of Black people in the UK and across the globe, as well as educating others about the diverse history of those from African and Caribbean descent.

For more information about the events and celebrations that are taking place this year, visit the official Black History Month website.

October is Black History Month (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

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