Tony Warren, Creator of World's Longest-Running Soap 'Coronation Street,' Dies at 79

The ITV soap opera first aired in 1960 and has become a cornerstone of British TV.

Tony Warren, the British scriptwriter who created soap opera Coronation Street, has died. He was 79.

The news was announced on Wednesday on the official Coronation Street Twitter account. An ITV spokesperson later said that Warren had died Tuesday night "surrounded by his loving friends after a short illness."

Born Anthony McVay Simpson near Manchester in 1936, Warren first adopted his stage name as a child actor, becoming a regular on BBC radio. But it was at the age of 23 in 1959 when he would conceive his most famous creation, reportedly while on a sleeper train when he woke up a BBC producer and said he had a "wonderful idea" about a "little back street with a pub at one end and a shop at the other, and all the lives of the people there, just ordinary things."

Coronation Street — as it became known when it first aired on Manchester-based Granada Television in December 1960 after the BBC rejected the idea — would soon become the most-watched show in the U.K., go on to change the face of British TV and become a pillar of popular culture in Britain. In 2010, it became the world's longest-running TV soap opera in production.

Although ratings have declined from the highs of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when Coronation Street episodes would regularly draw in excess of 20 million viewers, the show is still one of the most popular on U.K. television, with around 9 million tuning in per episode (of which there are five per week).

Warren regularly wrote scripts for Coronation Street until 1968 and then sporadically after until the late 1970s. He won countless accolades for his creation, including a lifetime achievement award from the Royal Television Society. In 1994,  Warren was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

Although it wasn't the first-ever soap opera, Coronation Street's depiction of the ordinary lives of working-class people paved the way for a slew of other similar series in the U.K., most notably the BBC's London-based EastEnders, which first aired in 1985 and would become a ratings rival.

Over the years, alongside its regular cast, which included a young Ben Kingsley during the late 1960s, several famous names would prop up the bar of Coronations Street's famed pub, The Rovers Return. Ian McKellen was a notable casting addition, appearing for 10 episodes in 2005, while Prince Charles appeared in a live episode in 2000 to mark its 40th anniversary.

Among its fans were late stage and screen icon Laurence Olivier, who reportedly was due to appear in a scene but scheduling conflicts with 1976's Marathon Man forced him to cancel. More unusually, Snoop Dogg also has spoken of his love for the show, claiming in 2010 that he had urged his agent to to reach out to the producers to see if they could find him a role.

Warren himself made a cameo in the 50th anniversary live episode of Coronation Street in December 2010.

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