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
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 ?