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Monday 16 September 2013

Corrie A-Z: S is for the Seventies

Bookended by strikes, it could be said that this decade was the most testing for Coronation Street in its history. It was the first time that the producers experienced that the cast wasn’t invincible. They had experienced departures in the 1960s, but not the loss of big characters. During the 1970s, they lost many key characters through death or departures while other characters were absent due to ill health. Producers had relied on the same characters more or less since the show’s inception, and so during the 1970s had to invest in new characters to secure its future.
In 1970, the show experienced the first death of a cast member. Arthur Leslie, who had played publican Jack Walker since the beginning, died suddenly and Jack was the first character to be written out due to the death of the actor. Doris Speed, who played his wife Annie, considered leaving but decided to stay put and Annie soldiered on behind the bar with barmaids Betty Turpin and Bet Lynch. The same year Anne Reid, who played Valerie Barlow, also decided to leave. Valerie was electrocuted by a faulty hairdryer in 1971 and over 18 million watched her death and her funeral.
In 1973-4, Coronation Street reached crisis point. The ratings hit a new low: 8 million (about the same ratings we get these days) in early 1973 while Pat Phoenix, who played central and popular character Elsie Tanner, quit the serial without notice later that year. To add fuel to the fire, Violet Carson, who played as-central Ena Sharples, suffered a stroke and was absent for most of 1974 and didn’t appear on a regular basis for the rest of her time on the show. Doris Speed also took a couple of months sabbatical leave. During this time as well, ITV’s other soap Crossroads was also gaining success with its Thatcheresque lead character Meg Richardson very popular. Many saw Meg as a replacement to Elsie as she was also a redhead. The sudden departures of Elsie and Ena and the absence of Annie led producers to develop characters who had before been in the background. Characters like Bet Lynch, Rita Littlewood, Deirdre Hunt, Mavis Riley and Gail Potter were built up in this period. As we know, these characters would be in the show for years to come – while some are still there!
Humour of course had been a vital ingredient in the success of the street very early on. By the early 1970s, the humour was few and far between. In 1976, new producer Bill Podmore decided to re-introduce the humour back into the show involving Stan and Hilda Ogden, Eddie Yeats, Mavis Riley and Fred Gee. As well as this, 1976 was also a positive year for the show. Pat Phoenix returned to the show after a three year absence and Violet Carson also returned on a more regular basis – 42 appearances compared to the 13 she appeared in 1974. But the same year the show lost another of its stalwarts. Margot Bryant, who played original character Minnie Caldwell, had begun to suffer memory loss and had to be written out in April 1976. But the late 1970s was a period where the old guard and the newcomers were brought together with various relationships being formed between characters of different ages: Elsie took in Gail Potter and Suzie Birchall as lodgers; Eddie Yeats became involved with the Ogdens; Mike Baldwin becme the new factory boss; and Annie Walker continued to reign supreme at the Rovers with Bet, Betty and now Fred Gee.
Storylines during the decade consisted of various marriages and romances – Alan Howard and Elsie Tanner, Ernest Bishop and Emily Nugent, Billy Walker and Deirdre Hunt, Ray Langton and Deirdre Hunt, Len Fairclough and Rita Littlewood and Mike Baldwin and Bet Lynch and Brian Tilsley and Gail Potter. Others include Betty Turpin revealed as the mother of Gordon Clegg in 1974, the warehouse fire in 1975, the murder of Ernie Bishop in 1978, and a lorry crashing into the Rovers in 1979.

As for competition, the 1970s was a quiet decade for the show. Both the other two soaps of the 1970s, Crossroads and Emmerdale Farm, weren’t a competition to Corrie (although Crossroads did grow in popularity between 1973 and 1975) and were, as someone said, the little boats floating alongside the huge ship. It would be in the 1980s that Corrie’s position as top soap would be threatened.

Do you have a favourite storyline from the 1970s? Did you start watching Corrie in the 1970s?

What’s your favourite moment from the 1970s? Vote in the poll below. And if you haven't yet, you can still vote for your favourite Rovers boss here. Voting closes at midnight tonight.

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David said...

Good article, but on a minor point:

"In 1973-4, Coronation Street reached crisis point. The ratings hit a new low: 8 million (about the same ratings we get these days) in early 1973"

You've been reading Daran Little's 40th book, yeah? Not sure why, but a lot of his ratings data is wrong, including this. The lowest rated episode of 1973 was seen by 4.8 million homes (not viewers, which is how ratings were measured until 1977), but this was on a bank holiday when Corrie had always got a similar figure, right back to when it started.

Ratings were actually consistent throughout the 1970s, on about the same level as the late 60s. Where Corrie had fallen in grace was in chart positions - from 21 episodes reaching the top of the weekly viewing charts in 1971 (a typical number for Corrie post-1965) to none in 1972. It wasn't until 1981 with the Ken/Deirdre wedding hysteria that it regained its dominance in the charts.

Sorry for the long post, felt I had to quash a myth!

Carry On Blogging! said...

My favourite Corrie decade! One the best episodes ever must be Stan and Hilda's second honeymoon. A joy from beginning to end.

70sStreetFan said...

My favourite decade of the show. Enjoyed the piece,but would have to quibble with a few of the facts.
As explined in the first reponse above,the ratings didn't sink particularly during 1973-74.
Ena was a full time regular again from March 1975 to the end of the decade apart from the period between August 1977 and March 1978 when she didn't appear.
Crossroads was a genuine ratings rival for a period in the 70s- particularly 1976(ironically the first year of the Podmore Golden Age)when it frequently beat the Street in the ratings.
The other point I'd take issue with is the alleged lack of humour in the prePodmore era. Whilst I'd certainly agree he put more of an obvious emphasis on the comedy,I'd dispute there was little or no humour in the early 70s. With characters like
the Ogdens,Bet,Annie and others there was always humour. I think that Bill Podmore's book is,in part,responsible for the myth that there was no comedy until he took over.
All that said,I enjoyed the piece. The Street in the 70s is always an interesting subject.

David said...

Agree about the humour 70sStreetFan. Podmore can't have been watching the programme if he thought the humour was nearly gone.

Llifon said...

I've also read Sean Egan's brilliant book that also emphasises the crisis Corrie faced in 1973/4.

You have to think about the position the producers were in at the time - first Phoenix went, then Carson had a stroke and Speed was absent. They didn't know that Phoenix would be back in three years or that Carson and Speed would return to regular roles. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

You could say the same about the year 1982 - the producers had no idea that the next two years would see countless popular characters leaving or dying. Yet again, hindsight is great.

David said...

I'm not denying there were some headaches for the producers, just pointing out that the viewing figure 'low' didn't happen.

You're right about hindsight though. With Elsie away, Rita, Bet and Deirdre's roles were beefed up and they inherited some of Elsie's character traits, and it ended up being the making of those characters.

Llifon said...

Ah yes - I agree with you about that. It's because you're reading a book from a Corrie expert, you expect it to be right don't you. So, to sum up, there was a crisis - but cast wise, not ratings wise. Sorry, I should've addressed my first response to 70sStreetFan haha

Anonymous said...

For the last few weeks I've been watching the 70s episodes on youtube and I'm surprised how much I've enjoyed the storyline about the factory strike. I had no idea before what kind of firebrand Ivy Tilsley used to be. The contradictions between high principles and base pettiness are played out really well between Mike Baldwin, Ivy, and Hilda Ogden. If the current writers had been half as smart about the recent racism storyline, it might have proved watchable.

I get frustrated when people say it would ruin ratings for Corrie to address politics more square-on, because the 70s prove otherwise. I just watched the episode where Len Fairclough was on trial to clear his name after being arrested for drunken, disorderly conduct. The courtroom scenes provided realism rather than 'drama,' and the tension was not in high stakes outcomes but the everyday consequence of folk like Alf and Rita taking a day off work to give testimony, and other folk like Ena and Hilda acting as members of the chorus, commenting on how judges and councillors all 'spit in the same pot.'

Them were the days:)


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