Friday 26 August 2011

Character Study: Gail Potter Tilsley Platt Hillman McIntyre

Many Coronation Street fans these days regard Gail Platt as a bitter, miserable, bossy woman, a clone of her horrible mother-in-law, Ivy Tilsley. I think Gail is a wonderful character and she's one of my top characters. She's also another one, like Sally Webster, whose personality hasn't really changed all that dramatically over the years, just progressed in a logical pattern due to life circumstances.

Gail Potter was the second child of teenage Audrey Potter. Audrey had a son, Stephen, a year or so earlier and was forced to give him up for adoption. She dug her heels in and insisted she keep her daughter. Audrey was not the most responsible single mum and Gail pretty much raised herself with some help from Audrey's parents while Audrey spent her time gadding about and chasing boys. Gail was the responsible one, and as a result, Gail had to be tough, strong and independent. What Gail missed most was the security and support of a real family.

When we met Gail, she was 16 and working in the Mark Brittain warehouse. She was soon living on her own, sharing a flat with Tricia Hopkins (photo above), and later with mate Suzie Birchill. Gail liked to have fun but always seemed to be the more sensible of the two, going along for the ride rather than instigating the escapades. She had her heart broken early by an older married man, Roy Thornley, the first of many. Career wise, Gail has often been in a supervisory position, even at that young age. Clearly she had the personality for telling people what to do!

She met her future husband, Brian Tilsley and he appeared to be everything she wanted. Good looking, with a full time job and a loving family, he was the ideal man; someone she could settle down with and have a family of her own. Gail's strong and bossy side soon came out, trying to force spendthrift Brian to save every penny for a house and her independent side surfaced when she insisted on working, even after her children were born. She had to stand her ground many a time over the years against her interfering mother-in-law who never really approved of her.

She and Brian even split up for a time after she turned to his cousin for comfort when her marriage was going through a rocky patch. A single mother, something she never wanted to be, was a hard row to hoe and in the end, she and Brian reconciled. She soon realized she made a mistake. She couldn't be the wife Brian wanted, someone like his mother who would cook and clean and look after him and his children above all else. After a massive row over a potential divorce, however, Brian was killed in an alley outside a club and Gail was now a widow.

Not only did she have to deal with her own and her children's grief, but she had to deal with guilt and even worse, Ivy's grief and anger. Strength and determination helped get her through this period and she soon found herself leaning on young Martin Platt who was a great help with young Nicky.

Even though she found love again, Gail's stubborn streak caused many a ruction in that house. She was always afraid she'd lose Martin to a younger woman and nearly terminated a pregnancy because she didn't want the young man to be tied down but he persuaded her to have the baby, David. They married, Martin adopted Gail's two children and they bought a house on Coronation Street, all of which Gail had initially not wanted to do, preferring the safe to the unknown. Martin's optimistic youthfulness was good for Gail, it helped lighten her a bit and he was more than willing to take on his share of responsibility.

But in the end, Martin let her down and did indeed leave her for a younger woman. Gail then had to deal with the shock of having her 13 year old daughter become pregnant. Gail was not only a single mother again, but helping to raise a grandchild.

She lost one of her best friends to cancer and it wasn't long after that when she married again, a man she thought would give her the security and love she was always looking for. He turned out to be a murderer, nearly killing her whole family and leaving her in debt and doubt about herself. Is it any wonder she started clinging to them and insisting she knew what was best for them?

The next really serious relationship was with Joe McIntyre, who was the father of David's first proper girlfriend, Tina. Gail really liked Tina who seemed to be good for David though didn't change him all that much. Joe and Gail seemed to be a good couple but Joe is also prone to depression and after a back injury, got hooked on pain medications.
Even then, Gail seems determined to try to make a go of it though her trust was severely dented. Joe also had money problems and signed his soul to a dodgey loan shark which came back to haunt both him and Gail. It's didn't end well.

Joe and Gail got married but, desperate for cash to pay off the ever increasing balance he owed to the shark, he first borrowed money from his father-in-law, Ted and then decided to forge Gail's signature on a life insurance policy. He attempted to fake his own death, but drowned when the boom of the little boat he'd restored swung around and knocked him overboard. Unfortunately, Gail thought he'd gone ahead with the plan and disappeared and, with David's help, covered up Joe's disappearance. This led the police straight to her door when the body bobbed up in Lake Windemere with injuries that were also consistent with someone bashing him on the head with a rolling pin.

They arrested Gail on circumstantial evidence and sent her to trial with the aid of additional lies told by inmate Tracy Barlow who pretended Gail admitted the murder to her. Tracy was hoping for a deal to get out of prison early!

Luckily, though at times the trial seemed to go against her, she was found innocent.

It wasn't long before her Ivy instincts kicked in. Golden boy Nick was seeing hairdresser Natasha and she was pushing Nick into a committment, which Gail thought was inadvisable. Then Gail found out that Natasha wasn't pregnant after all and had terminated the pregnancy but told Nick she was still with child. Gail tried to force Natasha to tell the truth and assuming she had, burst Nick's bubble herself. Natasha tried to kill herself but survived though Gail didn't seem to feel a lot of guilt over  her part in it all. Natasha took verbal chunks out of Gail before she left the area which caused Gail to lose her job because she'd snooped in Natasha's medical records to unearth the secret.
She seems to have made peace with her mother over the years but the old bitterness still bubbles over once in awhile. She's also finally met her biological father, a lovely man called Ted Paige who lives in London.

When her own life has been filled with turmoil, she pins all her hopes on her children, her only constants in life. She's become the woman she always swore she wouldn't, her mother-in-law Ivy! Ivy doted on and spoiled her only son but Gail's children were part of her survival instinct, they are what got her through so much tragedy.

Gail grew up knowing she could only depend on herself, that's where her "I know what's best for you" attitude comes from. She wanted nothing more than to be the mother that she didn't have but has gone too far the other way and over compensated. She was determined that her children would never have to fend for themselves but never figured out how to let them go and do just that when they were old enough. She has hung on too tightly and seen her offspring slip through her fingers and in David's case, go right off the rails at times. With David's marraige to the grasping, greedy Kylie, Gail just might have met her match. 

She makes excuses for them and seems to have blinders on to their negative traits because she feels guilty about making decisions that affected them badly. The Gail we know today is a product of years of guilt, tragedy and survival. She has built a wall around her heart and has made her children her life, even when there's a man in her bed, to the point where she's got blinders on to their faults because it's too hard to face her own. (Martin Platt should be thankful he got away!)  As she gets older, her choices in men haven't really improved and her blinders seem not to have shifted any when it comes to her boyfriends' faults until it's obvious and even then, she'll do everything she can to hold on until the bitter end. She's buried three of her four husbands.

She's had a number of friendships over the years. Her first best mate was Tricia Hopkins. The young women shared the shop flat and worked together and played together. After Tricia moved away, Suzie Birchill became Gail's mate. Suzie was a lot more outgoing and determined where Gail tended to be The voice of Reason. I think Gail had a lot more fun when she allowed Suzie to lead her astray to some extent but the girls got into a lot of mischief as well. Who can forget the time they decided to clean out Elsie's chimney and plopped a brick through Hilda's chimney instead, throwing soot all over Hilda's house!

Eventually, though, Suzie ruined the friendship herself when she tried to chat up Gail's husband, Brian and she was out of Gail's life. When Gail moved to the Street and bought Number 8 with Martin, she and neighbour Sally Webster were pregnant at the same time, she with David and Sally with Rosie. Though Gail is the older of the two, the women bonded over their pregnancies and have been really good friends every since. Gail was also close to Alma Halliwell Sedgewick Baldwin when they worked in the cafe for years and Gail was heartbroken when Alma died of cancer.

Gail has a few enemies as well, the main one being Eileen Grimshaw. Gail always felt superior to Eileen though I don't know why. Eileen might have two children by different fathers but so does Gail! (Three by two different men!) The arms-length acquaintance turned into high end rivalry and nearly a charge of aggravated assault when Gail's daughter, Sarah, was Eileen's son Todd's girlfriend. Eileen accused Sarah of luring Todd away from higher education but when Sarah got pregnant by Todd and was subsequently dumped by her when he admitted to her that he was gay, the two mothers had it out in a hair pulling barney on the cobbles. Literally, in wonderful Coronation Street tradition!

Gail has done a lot of jobs over her lifetime. She worked in Mike Baldwin's retail outlet and she's worked in the Rovers and the corner shop. The cafe took up many of her years and caused more than a little contention between her and her first husband, Brian and his mother Ivy who both felt she should stay home to raise her little'uns. Gail was even a partner in the cafe but sold her share to Roy Cropper after Sarah got pregnant and she needed to spend more time with her family. Gail has also worked in the medical centre but lost that job due to her interference with Natasha's medical records. She is now helping her son Nick at his bistro, cleaning mainly.

What will happen to Gail next? She's most definitely replaced what is missing in her life by interfering in her children's lives. She and son David have come a long way from the days when he pushed her down the stairs in a rage. He still holds a lot of bitterness against her but they have made a sort of peace. Most of the time. But her relationship with David's new wife is rocky at best. She's long since made peace with her mother and they've supported each other through good and bad.

Gail is still one of my favourite characters. She's bossy and interfering, she's strong and determined. She's a survivor because she's had no choice.

You can see other character studies here. 

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