Viewed now, it’s amazing how realistic the entire sequence seems. Some of it’s down to Julie Goodyear noticing that the nightie she’s wearing isn’t as flameproof as she was led to believe, but mainly it’s the overlapping dialogue from those on the street outside that give the scenes an almost documentary feel.
We’re used to the residents obeying the rules of TV drama and taking it in turn to speak their lines, but here we have Percy guiding Kevin along with his ladder, Terry yelling at Ivy, Ken trying to get Deirdre and Tracy outside and Sally attempting to rouse Bet. All at the same time. It feels as complex as one of those elaborate tracking shots on episodes of ER. But somehow they make a highly choreographed event appear very natural and it’s a trick they’ve not managed to pull off as effectively since, even during the bookies’ inferno of 2009.
The construction, pace and plotting play their part too. Nowadays, they’d have a longer build-up, some cutaway shots of the faulty fuse box and a “continued in half an hour” cliffhanger just at the moment when Sally whispers “fire”. Back in the mid-80s, the advert break came after Bet had been rescued and bundled into an ambulance, leading to a recrimination-filled second half that mainly takes place around kitchen tables as Jack chews his fingernails and the pub’s staff fret about their futures. The closing frame of a sorry-looking Rovers Return with boarded-up windows leaves you feeling as bad as the characters.
Yet despite flames having ravaged the heart of the Street, a sense of community remains: even Mike Baldwin has a kind word to say to the Barlows in the café. There’s a sweetness too that seems to have been lost in recent years. In the opening minutes, Sally and Kevin talk about having had “eight hours solid rock ‘n’ rolling”, Terry Duckworth (the closest thing to a Weatherfield heart-throb) takes a long time laying his hands on a jumper and Hilda even manages to fetch her milk bottles inside. It takes real skill to mix high drama with small moments of comedy – but then this is Corrie. What else did we expect? As Audrey says to Gail, “what a to do, eh?”