Monday, 30 March 2015

124 Coronation Street

First  watched  :  23  April  1973

I  have  one  clear  memory  of  my  first  episode  of  Coronation  Street ( watched  with  my  gran  because  Mum  was  out  somewhere  )  which  has  enabled  me  to  date  it  precisely. Prim  Emily  Bishop  ( Eileen  Derbyshire ) took  on  a  photographic  assignment  at  a  night  club  (  run  by  a  young  and  hirsute  Paul  Freeman )  and  found  herself  taking  pictures  of  a  stripper. The  final  shot  was  of  a  dangling  bra  from  behind  with  Emily  looking  up  from  the  old-style  camera  mortified. It  was  a  rather  risque  storyline  for  the  time  but  was  indicative  of  the  soap's  bent  towards  good-natured  comedy.

Heavens , how  do  you  write  something  short-ish   and  snappy  about  this  national  institution ? It  had  already  been  running  for  13 years by  this  point with  neither  my  mum  nor  gran  catching  its  start  though  they  were  both  avid  viewers  by  the  time  I  became  aware  of  it.  A  bit  of  research  shows  that  I  watched  it  more  or  less  continuously  until  Monday  25th  April  1988  so  almost  exactly  15  years  before  a  long  break.

My  favourite  character  for  the  first  few  years  was  Ray  Langton  ( Neville  Buswell ) ,  the  jack-the-lad  builder  who  fairly  regularly  got  into  fights , about  half  of  which  he  won. He  eventually  married  Deirdre  of  course  but  despite  the  birth  of  daughter  Tracey, started  looking  elsewhere - well  you  would  to  be  honest - and  left  the  street  for  Holland  in  1978. Buswell  went  off  to  be  a  croupier  in  Las  Vegas  but  when  producers  wanted  him  to  come  back  for  an  abduction  storyline  in  1983  he  couldn't  be  found. He  eventually  did  return  in  2005  to  make  amends  with  Tracy  before  he  died  from  cancer; apart  from  odd  unintentional  snatches  that's  the  last  time   I  tuned  into  the  programme. Ray's  return  after  28  years  drew  much  comment  at  the  time  but  they've  repeated  the  trick  so  often  since  that  it's  become  predictable  and  annoyingly  self-congratulatory.

With  regard  to  Tracey  it  always  intrigued  me  that  they  put  the  baby  Christabel  Finch  in  the  cast  list   in  1977  when  she  could  hardly  have  qualified  for  an  Equity  card  at  15  days  old. She  was  in  the  show  for  6  years  until  her  parents  decided  to  move  to  Guernsey  without  even  telling  the  producers. There  was  no  way  to  tell  if  she  had  any  dramatic  talent  or  desire  to  be  an  actress  and  it  must  be  weird  for  her  to  contemplate  that  what  in  all  probability  will  be  her  greatest  fame  was  achieved  as  an  unconscious  toddler. She  did  actually  take  up  acting  and  is  now  a  drama  teacher  in  Australia.

My  most  hated  character  was  undoubtedly  Mavis  Riley,  the  nervy  virgin  at  the  newsagents  played  on  one  note  by  Thelma  Barlow  for  26  years. Les  Dennis  launched  his  career  on  impersonating  her.  Deirdre  runs  her  a  close  second; I  could  never  quite  believe  that  she'd  have  men  fighting  over  her. Mind  you  at  this  point  she  didn't  have  much  competition  , the  rough  as  sawdust  Bet  Lynch, the  old- before- her- time  Lucille  Hewitt  played  by  hard-drinking  sixties  starlet  Jennifer  Moss  and  rather  dowdy  Norma  Ford   played  by  Diana  Davies  who  would  later  turn  up  in  Emmerdale  Farm.  Later  in  1973  Tricia  Hopkins  played  by  the  rather  nice  Kathy  Jones  started  a  fresh  line  of  young  females  to  pep  up  the  show.

There  was  no  doubt  though  who  was  the  star  in  this  period  despite  the  competing  claims  of  Ena  Sharples  or  Elsie  Tanner.  Jean  Alexander's  Hilda  Ogden  is  possibly  the  greatest  TV  character  of  all  time. The  gossipy  cleaner  with  her  hair  in  curlers  and  her  social  pretensions  continually  scuppered  by  being  tethered  to  a  useless  indolent  lump  of  a  husband  was  a  magnificent  creation  achieving  an  unequalled  balance  between  pathos  and  comedy. When  Stan  died  with  actor  Bernard  Youens  in  1984  the  character  was  softened  somewhat , allowed  to  gentrify  to  a   small  degree   and  act  as  a  mother  hen  to  her  young  lodgers. Alexander   decided  to  leave  the  show  in  1987  and  has  continually  refused  offers  to  return;   her  departure  was  undoubtedly  a  factor  in  my  disengagement.

What  were  the  highlights  of  this  period  for  me ? In  no  particular  order ;

  • the  bonfire  incident  where  a  boy  ( not  a  regular cast  member ) got  injured ?
  • Len  Fairclough  becoming  a  suspect  when  a  woman  was  found  murdered  in  his  home
  • the  warehouse  fire  where  the  rather  amusing  Edna  Gee  ( why  couldn't  it  have  been  Vera ? )  was  killed 
  • the  holiday  in  Majorca  when  the  ladies  had  a  pools  win 
  • the  lorry crashing  into  the  Rovers
  • Ken  helping  a  woman to  read  and  then  knocking  out  her  husband  when  he  objected
  • Ernie  Bishop  getting  shot
  • the  start  of  the  Ken-Mike  feud
  • Jack  Duckworth  posing  in  a  lonely  hearts  video
  • the  death  of  Brian  Tilsley  played  by  the  appalling  Chris  Quinten
As  you'd  expect  my  viewing  became  intermittent  when  I  went  to  university  although  it  was  always  on  in  my  hall  of  residence  and  I  couldn't  start  my  regular  Bad  Video  club  on  a  Monday  night  until  it  had  finished. I  picked  it  up  again  when  I  returned  home  in  1986   but    Hilda  leaving  and  the  ridiculous  scene  where  Terry  Duckworth  turned  up  at  his  mate's  house  and  said  "I've  come  for  your  wife"  persuaded  me  to  quit. The  last  scene  I  recall  seeing  is  the  one  where  Audrey  tells  Gail  about  her  half -brother  in  Canada  which  idea  seemed  an  unnecessary  import  from  the  big  US  soaps.

Apart  from  the  car-crash  saga  of  Lynne  Perrie  (  I  never  appreciated  the  unsympathetic  treatment  of  Catholicism  associated  with  her  character )  and  her  Botox  I  know  little  of  what  went  on  until  the  end  of  1997  when  I  got  married  and  my  wife's  enthusiasm  and  mortgage   tyranny  brought  me  back  to  it. I  was  amazed  that  Perrie   and   Julie  Goodyear's  Bet  Lynch  seemed  to  have  been  the  only  notable  departures  in  the  intervening  years  with  characters  who  seemed  to  have  long  outlived  their  usefulness  still  featuring, the  crowning  example  being  Betty  Turpin, the  only  barmaid  with  "Land  Girl"  on  her  c.v.

Nevertheless  I  became  reasonably  enthusiastic  again   and  enjoyed  seeing   members  of  the  cast  knocking  around  Manchester  until  I  ceased  working  in  the  city  in  2004. I  also  appreciated  some  of  the  young  female  talent  particularly  Maria  ( Samia  Ghadie )  who  would  never  in  a  million  years  have  agreed  to  go  out  with  Tyrone  Dobbs. Towards  the  end  of  1999  I  got  online  and  my  viewing  became  intermittent  again  and  the  proliferation  of  silly  stunts - the  tram  crash, the  head  transplants  of  Gail's  children  ( when  she's  the  most  in  need  of  one ), the  comedian  cameos -  eventually  drove  me  and  my  wife  away  for  good. I  have  no  current  intention  to  pick  it  up  again  but  who  knows  ?  



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