UK

John Savident: Star of stage and screen best known for time on the cobbles

Savident famously played Fred Elliott in Coronation Street but had a varied acting career appearing on stage and the big screen.

John Savident celebrating Coronation Street winning best soap at the British Soap Awards in 1999
John Savident celebrating Coronation Street winning best soap at the British Soap Awards in 1999 John Savident celebrating Coronation Street winning best soap at the British Soap Awards in 1999 (Michael Crabtree/PA)

Actor John Savident appeared on screen in cinema classics and Hollywood blockbusters, but was best known to audiences as Weatherfield butcher Fred Elliott.

Born in Guernsey in 1938 to a local fisherman father and a Swiss mother, Savident and his family left the Channel Islands, then under German occupation, and moved to Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, when he was three.

He started his career as a policeman in Manchester and during his six years on the beat was stabbed in the arm as he tried to break up a gang fight.

Initially pursuing his acting ambitions in amateur productions, Savident quit the force when a producer overheard him talking in a pub and offered him a part as Robin Hood in a London panto.

He went on to star in numerous productions in the West End and Royal National Theatre.

His early film roles included parts in Battle Of Britain, Stanley Kubrick’s controversial A Clockwork Orange – which was banned for years at the director’s insistence – and later Gandhi.

He also attracted the attention of Hollywood, with roles in the Bruce Willis film, Hudson Hawk, and Loch Ness.

He took on roles of TV villains, such as the blackmailer Raffles in the BBC dramatisation Middlemarch, and was lined up to play disgraced publisher Robert Maxwell in a stage production before legal problems scuppered the show.

In 1994 he began life on the cobbles, taking on the role of Fred Elliott in Coronation Street, who he played until 2006.

John Savident playing Fred Elliott alongside Barbara Knox playing Rita Sullivan in Coronation Street in 1996
John Savident playing Fred Elliott alongside Barbara Knox playing Rita Sullivan in Coronation Street in 1996 John Savident playing Fred Elliott alongside Barbara Knox playing Rita Sullivan in Coronation Street in 1996 (PA)

The butcher was known for his booming voice and saying his lines twice, broken up with the catchphrase “I say”.

“I made Fred speak like the loud Lancashire people you used to meet in pubs – you could hear them from the other side,” the actor once recalled.

“I’ve got that booming voice anyway. I’m forever getting told at home, ‘stop booming John’.”

His storylines involved his disastrous love life, including three marriages and several failed proposals.

A secret son, Ashley Peacock (Steven Arnold), arrived on the show and the two later developed a close bond as they worked as butchers together.

John Savident, left, with Steven Arnold who played Fred’s son Ashley Peacock in Coronation Street
John Savident, left, with Steven Arnold who played Fred's son Ashley Peacock in Coronation Street John Savident, left, with Steven Arnold who played Fred’s son Ashley Peacock in Coronation Street (PA/PA)

There was drama offscreen as well, when in 2000 Savident was stabbed in his flat near the Granada studios in Manchester.

Attacker Michael Smith was later jailed for seven years for the incident, which happened after Savident met him in Manchester’s Gay Village, where he was making a personal appearance for World Aids Day, and invited him home to talk about the theatre.

The actor lost about two pints of blood after being stabbed in the neck, less than an inch away from his main artery, and later told police: “It was like a scene from Bates Motel.”

He was able to call 999 and was taken to hospital.

John Savident leaving Manchester Royal Infirmary after receiving treatment for knife wounds to his neck after an attack at his home
John Savident leaving Manchester Royal Infirmary after receiving treatment for knife wounds to his neck after an attack at his home John Savident leaving Manchester Royal Infirmary after receiving treatment for knife wounds to his neck after an attack at his home (Phil Noble/PA)

He rubbed shoulders with royalty and politicians during his time on the Street, raising a pint in the Rovers Return with Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005.

At an event in 2001, he told a teenage Prince William, as he was then known, to “wash his mouth out” after learning he watched rival soap EastEnders.

“He said he watched Neighbours as well. I couldn’t believe it. But it was all in good spirit. We had a good laugh and we had a great chat,” Savident said of the encounter.

His character, who was landlord of the Rovers for five years, was killed off in 2006, suffering a stroke on the day he was supposed to marry Bev Unwin (Susie Blake) in scenes which were watched by 11 million viewers.

Elliott’s death saw Audrey Roberts (Sue Nicholls) confess that she still loved him following her turning down his proposal of marriage years previously.

Audrey, played by Sue Nicholls, turned down marriage proposals from Fred in Coronation Street on numerous occasions (ITV)
Audrey Roberts, played by Sue Nicholls, says goodbye to Fred, played by John Savident, before his funeral Audrey, played by Sue Nicholls, turned down marriage proposals from Fred in Coronation Street on numerous occasions (ITV) (ITV/PA)

The butcher’s previous wives also included Maureen Holdsworth (Sherrie Hewson) and barmaid Eve Sykes (Melanie Kilburn).

Away from Coronation Street, Elliott was married to theatre director Rona Hopkinson and they had two children.

After leaving his soap work, Savident appeared on stage in productions of panto Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice.

He also reprised a role as opera house owner Monsieur Firmin in the Royal Albert Hall concert film of musical Phantom Of The Opera.

In 2011, he told an interviewer he rarely watched Coronation Street since his departure.

He said: “Some of the young people just want to be on screen and have no ambition to act elsewhere – what future do they have when their contract ends?

“One of them asked me who this Laurence Olivier was I was talking about as he’d never heard of him! Olivier was my hero and I had the honour of working with him on a couple of occasions.”