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Sunday 7 July 2013

Fan review: Coronation Street archives at the BFI

Hello everyone, this is David the Wavid from Corriepedia. This week I've paid a visit to the BFI (British Film Institute) archive in London to watch some old Corrie episodes as research for our site and Flaming Nora has kindly invited me to blog about it.

It's a little known fact that the BFI archive in London is open to the public at a rate of £10 per hour for research purposes. In their holdings are a lot of Corrie episodes that aren't viewable anywhere outside ITV's vaults.

Nearly all of the episodes we watch there for Corriepedia originally aired between July 1969 and March 1976 – those episodes which have never been repeated (sadly, the bulk of the 1960s episodes aren't held there as the BFI hold the defunct 2-inch mastertapes which the industry no longer uses and the majority of the decade is held by ITV as film prints known as telerecordings for foreign sales). It started off as a project to answer the unknowns from Corrie's past – how it changed to colour, how it was affected by all the strikes in the 1970s, first and last appearances by the main characters, and things like that, but we're now on a mission to watch them all and improve basic storyline details, check casts and production credits, obtain information on minor characters and make notes about little things such as small but notable changes in the arrangements of the theme music.

Of course, while this is officially a research project, it's impossible to be a Corrie fan and not be giddy just being there and watching these things. The early 70s aren't generally held up as one of the great periods from Corrie history, being sandwiched between the glory days of the 1960s and the point where Bill Podmore gave it a fresh injection of comedy in 1976, but having now watched a chunk of it, I've seen enough great moments to rival Corrie at its best. It's a time where Ken is the street flirt, Dave Smith fills the Mike Baldwin role, Jack Howarth steals every scene as Albert Tatlock (seriously, this man left everyone else in the cold), Bet is the rising star and Deirdre is sassy and street smart. 1975 in particular is one of the best years in Corrie history.

Full details of the episodes I watched this week are being added to Corriepedia including some great quotes but there are a few standout moments I'd like to mention.

The first is a comedy storyline from 1972 that lasts just one episode. The Ogdens are on their way to Paris – that is, until they miss the plane because of Stan's nerves. The thing is, Hilda has made sure everyone from the Rovers to Bessie Street knows the Ogdens are going to France, so she's not about to go back home with her tail between her legs. They proceed to spend the rest of the episode getting smashed in the airport bar while going through their French phrasebook (with Stan's mispronunciations being corrected by an equally clueless Hilda).

When they do return to the Rovers at the end of the episode to brag about what a good time they've had, they're nearly falling over but the neighbours go along with the charade. A comedy storyline dominating an episode wasn't unusual in the 1970s but I think it's fair to say that we wouldn't get this today as Corrie is more of a drama now so this was a real treat.

Another highlight was a storyline from 1974 where Emily and Ernest Bishop's marriage is in crisis. The whole thing goes by without any massive rows – this is about a quiet, private, sensitive couple who are in a rut and it's played very realistically.

Our sympathies are with Ernie, who can't seem to say or do anything without Emily taking it the wrong way, but Emily doesn't come off as unreasonable, rather as a woman who has become jaded and yearns for something more but doesn't know what. A good bread-and-butter type of storyline that's purely about the characters, which happily still has a place on Corrie via Roy and Hayley – the Bishops of today.

A memorable storyline from 1969 is “the marriage that never was” between Albert Tatlock and Alice Pickins. Jack Howarth’s aforementioned comedy genius comes to the fore, especially in the scenes on his stag night when he realises that the drinks are on his slate in the Rovers and he scurries round telling the invitees to “sup slower” and proceeds to get blind drunk himself – his rendition of “If I ruled the world” as he holds on to a lamppost in Burton Road has to be seen to be believed! One of the invitees to the wedding is Albert’s aged Aunty Ada Broadbent. Albert is 73 at the time of the episodes so goodness knows how old this lady is. Albert describes her as being “blunt spoken” and she calls a spade a spade “with embellishments” – it must run in the family then!

Each visit usually provides a nugget of information which comes as a surprise – this time it was the revelation that Rita’s maiden name is not Littlewood but Foster – she tells Len this in Episode 1183, shown on 17th May 1972. This must mean there was a short period before June 1972 when the production team decided that the Rita Littlewood who appeared in December 1964 and the Rita of ’72 vintage were one and the same!

See also: Coronation Street night at the BFI

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Martin Rosen said...

I suppose if you are paying by the hour, then it is best to try and research specific episodes, rather than take pot luck.

Stevie said...

I didn't know this, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I really didn't like it a lot in the early '70s at all, but I'd love the BFI to get the 1960s episodes. Oh, to be able to see the full saga of Ena, Minnie and Martha and Gamma Garments! Perhaps one day...

Anonymous said...

Really interesting post! Thank you.


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