"So did you hear about Rita and Norris's love child turning up?" As the in-the-know studio tour group chuckled, we all knew that for most of us, touring the sets where the longest running television show in the world had been filmed from 1982 to 2013 would be sort of a mecca for us.
The Granada Studios in Manchester saw some of the most dramatic storylines of Coronation Street unfold over its 31 year tenure, representing a full 8,200 episodes. The studio and surrounding lot were finally outgrown as the show moved to the much larger Media City, which has permanent sets, both inside and out, and the show could be filmed seven days a week.
The tour opened April, 2014, and will welcome more than a half a million fans before it closes on December 31, 2015. It starts inside the actors' green room, and heads down the hallway towards the wardrobe and make up room, passing the dressing rooms that would have been like second homes to the many actors who have remained on the show for decades. Besides the actors, it takes 200 staff to put together each half hour episode of the show.
The wardrobe room was surprisingly small, but has several notable outfits on display including the three wedding dresses used to film the violent non-wedding of Tracy Barlow and Rob Connor, in their various states of distress. The wardrobe staff would shop as though they were their characters, with the example of Ken Barlow only buying his socks at Marks & Spencer. Roy Cropper's clothes are "vintage", and sourced off Ebay.
The make up table is small, and seats only one actor at a time, with a sign on the wall warning the men they had 15 minutes, and the women a scant 45, unless of course there were special effect cuts and bruises to be added.
When the studio moved Coronation Street from the Granada location, they had already painstakingly recreated the sets still required -- the Platt's home, the local newsagent The Kabin, the Underworld factory, and more. But original sets were left behind at this site, including Jack and Vera Duckworth's home, and one of Carla Collins' first flats. A pair of Deirdre Barlow's luminous round glasses are set on a stand, next to Hilda Ogden's ubiquitous hair curlers.
We learn during the tour that the actors had extensive amounts of dialogue to deliver, and with a tight filming schedule, they didn't rehearse scenes. "Learn your lines and on to the set you go!" Some of the older actors were known to place post-it notes around their set, inside pots or on tables, for a quick prompt.
"Betty's Hot Pot is more like the "not-pot", says our guide, as we are led into the core of the show, The Rovers Return. Deceptively small, sitting in Britain's most well known pub is a moment which had tour guests squealing, as we took turns pulling a (pretend) pint at the bar.
Walking through the studio control room you have the sense of being in a time capsule, as the show finished filming in December 2013, there were Christmas decorations up, and they were simply left as the crew walked away.
After a walk through to the "underpass" where the tram explosion happened, and where Ashley Peacock met his demise, and with the well-known soundtrack playing, we enter The Street. It is a little disconcerting, firstly because of it's familiarity and sense of fictional world meeting reality, but also because the scale of the set outside is 7/10 to life-size (the Rovers seems quite small), while it has been increased to 9/10 on the new set, due mostly to the development of high definition television sets which exposed the differences.
We pass The Kabin, looking down a side street to Webster's Garage, Underworld, and then along the street past the homes of some of the most well known television characters in the world. Dev's shop, The Rovers Return, it's all there. Down another side street, past Barlow's Buys, we spy Prima Doner, Roy's Rolls and the long shut Elliott & Son Butcher shop.
The Medical Centre is the studio's gift shop, and as I pick up my USB key fob loaded with an image of my turn as a new Rover's barmaid, I'm conscious of how upsetting the end of this era will be when the site is leveled in early 2016, as developers Allied London revealed their plans to build hotels, a theatre, other performance venues and up to 2,500 apartments on the site. Plans for the Coronation Street sets, buildings, and props have not been announced. But it's fair to say most fans will have a "face like a wet weekend" when the cobbled street is crossed for the last time.
Coronation Street airs on CBC Television, Monday to Friday.
This article originally ran in the Vancouver Sun.
You can hear Kathy talk about travel on her How She Travels segment on What She Said on Sirius/XM Canada, channel 167.
MORE ON HUFFPOST: