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Else Tanner Knew My Nanna by Caroline Beeson Spence at Cleethorpes Library 04 December 2021

Updated: Apr 8, 2023


By Caroline Beeson Spence

New Perspectives Theatre Company

Cleethorpes Library


This evening, I had the privilege of witnessing a heart-warming piece of theatre in the cosy confines of the Albert Room at Cleethorpes Library. New Perspectives Theatre Company and director Jayne Williams have developed quite a relationship with Grimsby over the last few years and this production, part of their Open Pitch submissions, is the culmination of a wonderful story introducing new voices to the stage. And tonight, we witnessed the arrival of a very unique voice, Caroline Beeson Spence. Caroline is a writer, poet and a spoken word performer. She discovered her love of writing and performing through a local writing group set up as part of the East Marsh’s Sun and Moon Festival.

The idea for this production is founded in Caroline’s family history and is the true story of a platonic love affair between a small screen icon and her most devoted fan. Written and performed by Beeson Spence, we are presented with the little-known story of Caroline’s Great Grandmother – Nanna Goddard, otherwise known as Biddy, and TV legend Pat Phoenix. Caroline Beeson Spence wrote a poem with the same title as the play, and it was realised that there was a deeper story than could be explored in a poem alone. It was selected by New Perspectives for further support and development culminating in this lovely production.

From the early 1960s, Granada’s greatest ever success story, Coronation Street, has spoken directly to the ordinary, “real” people of the UK and particularly the North of England. It has developed a devoted audience. None more so than Biddy, who took it upon herself to write to Pat Phoenix on an almost weekly basis. Biddy would offer her thoughts on the storylines, the costuming, and how to deal with the men of the cobbles on TV, as well as Pat Phoenix’s own private life. She adored Phoenix and referred to her as “My Queen”. Astonishingly, Nanna Goddard’s Queen deigned to reply and did so regularly, enjoying a 21-years long relationship with her devoted fan.

The entire play is a love letter to family, to mutual admiration and adoration. It is a beautifully written, well-constructed piece of work and won over the capacity audience at Cleethorpes Library. More than a few tears were shed by the audience, as they witnessed an emotional performance from Caroline Beeson Spence in a star-making turn.

The ease and charm with which she related her family story, was warm and truthful in equal measure. It is clear that Biddy Goddard was a strong woman who recognised in "Elsie Tanner", a fellow Northerner and equally strong woman. It cannot be easy, laying bare your feelings for a lost relative in front of an audience, as you are leading them through a story that is making them fall in love with her. But that is what was happening this evening. Although Nanna Goddard was a stern, strong woman who broached no-nonsense and dished out clips around the ear whenever required, she was a forthright, plain speaker with a lovely sense of humour that emanated from the words shared with the audience. We really got to know Nana Goddard and wished we could have met her in person.

The set for the play was simple, a red Formica table with two red vinyl-cushioned dining chairs, over the back of one was draped a faux fur coat - Elsie’s of Nanna’s? We may never know… Behind were three simple, black flats. It really doesn’t need more, because all eyes remain on the performance of the author, who is truthful and emotional. Beeson Spence’s delivery was clear and light in all the right places, her voice carried perfectly, and the audience was hanging on her every word as she drew letter after letter from an old biscuit tin, sharing their contents. Each letter revealed something of its author, be it Biddy or Pat, and the affection for the intended recipient oozed out of every missive.

To see a full house enjoying this play was, as mentioned above, a privilege but its worth stating that the audience ranged from primary school children to pensioners. It really didn’t matter that the youngest have no idea who Pat Phoenix or Elsie Tanner were, they responded to the beauty of the relationship shared by two such strong women. This tale is universal, you don’t need to understand Coronation Street, you need to understand people. And Beeson Spence makes it child’s play to understand these two people.

Director Jayne Williams has been a wonderful inspiration and advocate for the area, since leading the creation of the 2019 community play, “Scales” and bringing her husband Gary Lagden’s wonderful show “Fly Half” to the area. We hope that she continues her relationship with the area but wish her well in all her future endeavors.

The play receives another airing at Freeman Street Market tomorrow but deserves repeated showings to a wider audience. I hope that New Perspectives continue to work with the creatives of Grimsby and Cleethorpes when the opportunity arises. I look forward to seeing what Caroline does next.

Andy Evans


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