Thursday, 27 August 2015

Fan review: Manchester Pride Transcript event

Guest blog post from Tommy Cowell.  
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Tommy Cowell attended the Manchester Pride Transcript event on Tuesday 25 August in Manchester.  Here, he gives us his report from the evening along with his own pictures too. Tommy, we salute you!
Tommy with Daniel Brocklebank (Billy the vicar) and Bruno Langley (Todd Grimshaw)
“I came into contact with a lot of gay vicars,” said actor Daniel Brocklebank, when talking about researching real life gay vicars for the role of Billy in Corrie.

“We’ve heard,” chipped in Damon Rochefort, scriptwriter and host of the Manchester Pride TRANScript event. The room erupts with laughter. 

Dan: “No, no… we met up for tea and Scones. And lots of sex.”

It’s Tuesday 25th August, and we’re at Manchester’s Black Dog Ballroom for a very special evening. The cast and crew of Coronation Street have teamed up with the stars of Cucumber to discuss LGBT characters in both shows. It was sort of like a Northern Drama version of Comic Con. The night was full of hilarious banter between the cast members and the writers, and it was a joy to behold.

“When I came out, my Mum said ‘you’re not gay, you’re just showing off!’” Damon recalls. With moments like this to draw inspiration from, you can see why he writes some of the funniest Corrie episodes. Almost everybody on the panel covered the L, B, G and T aspect of society.  

Also present was Annie Wallace, who came onto the show as a researcher in 1998, working at Granada as somebody who could provide the writers with an insight into what life as a Transsexual was like. She recorded her thoughts onto a cassette tape, which was then used as a ‘bible’ for the writers to refer to. “1997 was a different time, politically,” says Julie Hesmondhalgh, who acts as the bridge between Corrie and Cucumber, starring in both as Hayley Cropper and Cleo respectively. “Hayley was introduced as a bit of a joke. Roy had been on a series of bad dates, and then he was to meet up with Hayley and hit it off with her, only to find out she used to be a man.” However, when the audience took Hayley to their hearts, the production team quickly rewrote scripts that were in development, reintroducing Hayley as a permanent cast member. The rest, as they say, was history. 

“You know things are changing, that views are changing, when old women in Accrington Asda come up to you and ask when Roy is going to marry Hayley,” commented Hesmondhalgh.

Dan Brocklebank was the resident gay. Damon, on the other hand, says of his sexuality: “I’m bisexual. If I can’t get it, I buy it.”

Ben Tagoe (scriptwriter) and Bruno Langley (Todd Grimshaw) were also present, to provide the straight perspective.

Annie, who was a researcher on the show, took part in guiding the production team with such stories as Roy and Hayley’s first wedding. “Me and Jules could have clashed,” said Annie. “But we’re best friends.” Despite her role, which was to bring “authenticity” to the Hayley storyline, she did this all anonymously, because as Annie admitted, she wasn’t out at the time. She obviously told Julie, who was extremely supportive, but it wasn’t until her 50th Birthday that Annie told all her friends at a meal. To this news, they reacted “fabulously”. Annie’s story was genuinely touching, and you could see that a burden had been lifted from her shoulders. She appeared in the soap as a supporting artist, but it was only recently - in 2015 – when she got her first lead role in a BBC sitcom pilot. She hinted towards something very exciting being announced later this year, to which Damon asked, “Are you Darth Vader in the new Star Wars film?” Annie, doing her best Darth impression, then said, “Luke, I am your mother”. The room cheered.

Bethany said she remembers Annie’s letter to the Radio Times, in 1997 about Hayley’s introduction, which got her the research role at Corrie. It’s fascinating that one member on the panel inspired and encouraged another to embrace who they were. “Visibility is key,” Black noted at the panel.

After five years, Hayley and Roy became “quite a conservative couple” in some ways, and they were as important to Corrie as the cobbles. However, the gays were “still waiting” for their representation on the soap.

Enter Bruno Langley. “I’d just finished High School. I remember on the last day, I took off my uniform, and was so happy. I hated it. Shortly after, I started at Corrie, and the first costume they put me in was a school uniform.” Todd wasn’t originally intended to be gay, but he was taken aside by the producer, who told him their plans. “They took one look at me, and said, ‘yep, he’s gay’”, joked Langley. “It was daunting, but then I just knew I had to do my job as an actor to do this storyline justice.” On the subject of writing for gay characters, Ben Tagoe said, “I never think I’m writing a gay character, just a character. It’s all about emotions, empathy.” It was also hinted that a new Lesbian character was to be introduced onto the show.

Before Dan was in Corrie, he was also in Emmerdale as Ivan. He shared a kiss with Paul Flynn ten years ago, which “received more complaints than the kiss he shared with Sean – as a vicar – in 2015,” showing how much things have changed for the better in such a short amount of time.

As a wannabe Corrie writer, I was very keen to hear what Damon and Ben had to say. Their opinion that a coming out story just isn’t interesting unless there’s a story involved was a good point, but they also recognised that coming out stories are still important for viewers at home, who may still be in the closet themselves. When discussing the character of Todd, who was the first gay character in Corrie, they said, “nobody sees him as a gay character, they just think he’s a bastard.” This, I think it’s fair to say, is a testament to the Corrie writing team.

Overall, it was a beautiful night. Uplifting, hilarious, and full of gossip. After last year’s successful pride event, it was great to see Corrie team up with Cucumber for a similar panel. “Corrie is the campest show on telly,” said Damon. “It came from gay man’s heart and brain and creativity: Tony Warren.”

It may have taken almost forty-five years for our favourite soap to introduce a gay character, but in spirit, Coronation Street has always – and will always be – the gayest show on television. In every sense of the word.

All the best,
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Tvor said...

Thanks for this Tommy! I was very interested to find out what else was discussed. Sounds like a really good evening!

maggie muggins said...

Thanks from me too, Tommy. Always love to hear about Corrie events like this! Looks like it was a hoot!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tommy! Also, I checked out your animated shorts. Well done!

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