Cosy crimes and gritty sagas by Corrie Blog editor Glenda, published by Headline. Click pic below!

Thursday 19 September 2013

Tall, Dark and Tedious

The news that Mark Baylis (Rob Donovan) had been longlisted for Best Newcomer at the National Television Awards was met with befuddlement by many viewers.  But he's awful! they said.  His character is so dull!

First of all, it's the National Television Awards, not the Academy Awards.  In terms of prestige these are just above the British Association of Double Glazing Salesman's Annual Dinner Dance and Raffle.  Last year, Mrs Brown's Boys won Best Sitcom, and Best Factual went to Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs.  There used to be a category for "Star Travel Documentary".  I don't think Julia Roberts is sat at home crossing her fingers for an invite.

Secondly, he has to be nominated because the producers need to make the casual viewers aware of the Street's newest "bad boy".  Look! they say. We have an attractive male character in his late 20s/early 30s with dark brown hair and a bit of a sneer.  That's what you want to see!  He sometimes takes his shirt off, too!

Problem is, viewers have been stung by this before.  Over the past few years a parade of dodgy, handsome rogues have marched their way through Underworld.  Half of them went out in a body bag, and the other half disappeared without anyone really caring.

This is all Mike Baldwin's fault, of course.  The original and best, Mike swaggered onto the Street in 1976, permatanned, hair oiled, denim jacket majestically open so that we could fully appreciate his raw sexual magnificence.  He strode onto the cobbles and sent the female residents swooning.  He was a Cockney, of course; his powerful charisma was so alien to Weatherfield it had to have come from somewhere exotic, like That London.

For twenty five years, Baldwin dominated the show's business dealings.  He had his fingers in more pies than Diggory Compton.  Baldwin's Casuals, that dour grey building that churned out some of the most miserable looking outfits you've ever seen.  The fall in popularity of Status Quo lead to him flogging the denim business and having a go at manufacturing.  He had a garage and a limo business.  Finally he decided to combine his two interests - saucy women and money - and set up Underworld, creating the kind of scratchy knickers men buy their wives on Valentine's Day which then get chucked in the back of the drawer after one use.

Baldwin loved the ladies; he was so much of an Alpha male the Greek Parliament petitioned to rename the first letter of their alphabet Mike.  Factory girls, barmaids, florists, random dolly birds in hot pants - they all passed through his bedroom, barely ruffling his satin sheets.  He famously carried on with Deirdre behind Ken's back, an affair that is fondly remembered as the last time the subject of Mrs Barlow's sex life didn't make people retch.

This caused a long-standing, deep seated loathing between Barlow and Baldwin that only UN Peacekeepers could pull apart.  Under normal circumstances, we should be on Ken's side: he's the dependable, nice guy, whose wife did the dirty on him.  In reality, it's a bit like that moment in Jurassic Park when you see a tethered goat by the fence.  "Aw, a lovely sweet goat!" is your first thought, but your second thought is, "I hope a T-Rex rips it to pieces."  And then a bloodied leg falls on the roof of the car and we're all happy.

They batted back and forth for years - Baldwin marrying Susan Barlow for seemingly no reason other than it would really annoy Ken, Barlow having an affair with Alma because it would really annoy Mike - until they found a sort of peace over son/grandson Adam and his Horrible Hair.  The two men united to bring up the Scots irritation, and when Mike began suffering from dementia, Ken was - well, if not exactly supportive, he didn't run down the street singing Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead either.

Johnny Briggs' advancing years meant they needed a new character to strut his way around the factory smelling of testosterone, and so the scriptwriters naturally turned to his gene pool for a replacement.  Enter Danny Baldwin, played by a game show host and dragging along an impressionist for a wife.  I can't help thinking that someone misread the instructions.

Bradley Walsh did his best as Danny, but he was never as confident with the "swindling elderly men out of their money" or the "diddling his son's daughter" storylines as he was at "being a lovable chirpy Cockernee, apples and pears, luvaduck".  After a series of shenanigans involving more duplicate wills than a minor public school Danny departed, and the factory fell into the hands of the Connors.

There were two Connor males: Paul (short, dark, brooding) and Liam (tall, dark, brooding).  They brought with them sex appeal and a dodgy background, perfect for the role of factory boss, as apparently "being good at business" isn't good enough.  After Paul died in a series of ridiculously contrived circumstances (let's just say "hooker in the boot" and leave it at that) Liam took up the leading role as factory stud.

Problem was, now Carla Connor was involved in the business, and that derailed the chemistry.  Having a man march around the sewing machines in a pair of tight pants, making the girls swoon with his sheer erotic power, is one thing; if he then kowtows to a woman, it sort of destroys the illusion.  It didn't help that Carla Connor was a force of unstoppable fabulousness, a woman whose hair alone could reduce grown men to tears.  Naturally she immediately seduced Liam with her amazingness, forcing him to leave the factory and then get run over.

The cause of death was marked down as "Tony Gordon", his replacement in the dark haired chiseled factory owner role.  Tony had bought a share of Underworld - though how much was never clear.  In fact, the fractions of Underworld have baffled Nobel Prize winning economists.  Never is it more obvious that Corrie is written by a bunch of arty farty writers rather than say, Theo Paphitis, than when characters have to talk business.  People just start barking percentages at one another and writing mysterious numbers down on bits of paper and none of it really makes any sense.

Tony owned half, or maybe a third, or maybe thirtenty percent, or something, but his sex appeal was undermined by two facts: (a) his rogue eyeball, making him look like an anaemic Mad-Eye Moody and (b) his fondness for murdering people who got in his way.  Much as ladies like a bad boy, an actual psychopath is a bit too much, unless you're one of those insane women who get engaged to men on Death Row.  His nuttiness drove Carla away, so she appointed a manager to look after the factory in her absence.

Enter Luke Strong.  Right from his name downwards, Luke was as Generic Cocky Businessman as it is possible to get.  I can't believe that name got through the Script Editor - what was wrong with Tom Masculine?  Roger Sexsymbol?  Butch McStud?  The porn star-monikered character strode into the factory and attempted to make some kind of impression on our screens, but he was outmanouvred and outclassed at almost every turn.  It didn't help that he was played by Vince from Queer as Folk, so his raw sex appeal was undermined by the memory of him mouthing along to The Pyramids of Mars.  Luke eventually left after out-thinking Rosie Webster, which is a moment of Machiavellian genius just above persuading Peter Barlow to have "one more drink".

He was replaced by another dark and brooding businessman, Frank Foster, whose sex appeal was rather more "specialist".  After he tried molesting Maria, it was difficult to believe the scriptwriters would continue to make him the roving Romeo of the Street; it just wasn't going to happen.  And if the casting director thought we could forget Luke was really Vince, we definitely weren't going to forget that Frank was the trick in Queer as Folk who gave heroin to Declan from Emmerdale then ran off when he overdosed.  Basically he was a bad 'un, as he proved when he subsequently raped Carla.  Eventually he was murdered by Gwen Taylor.  The saddest part of his death was the thought that if Gwen had done that to Keith Barron in 1982 we'd have been spared three series of Duty Free

Now Underworld was being run by two women, Carla and Michelle, which left the factory girls nowhere to direct their lustful urges.  It was either Sean, which would be a waste of everyone's time, or Kirk.  Let's just say Kirk is "an acquired taste" and leave it at that, shall we?  The writers scraped around their barrel of characters and came up with Rob, Carla's hitherto unmet brother who, despite being just out of prison, had a bafflingly fine instinct for business.  In fact he was so good you wondered why he bothered with the armed robbery in the first place, as he clearly should have been on The Apprentice.  Though he's extremely pretty, Rob is utterly charmless - the fact that he's hooked up with Tracy Barlow and yet we feel sorry for her should be a clue.  It's a flaw in Carla's otherwise impeccable sheen that she bothers paying him any attention at all.

I expect Rob will continue to strut around the Street for a while longer, wearing jeans that are one size too small and winking for no apparent reason.  Then he'll be leave, and the producers will have to find someone to replace him.  I'm going to go out on a limb and guess he'll be tall, dark and brooding.

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Sunny Jim said...


Anonymous said...

Brilliant post!!

I haven't completely given up on Rob because I really want to find out more about Carla's past, and he's the link.

When it comes to the factory; Paul, Liam, Tony, Frank, Rob, Peter and Michelle - stuff them all! I would love to see Carla running Underworld on her own.

Failing that, I think Peter Barlow stepping up to the role could be interesting. He and Carla already have the good cop, bad cop thing going on with the workers. Seeing as they are being portrayed as the Burton and Taylor of the cobbles, watching them try to run the factory together should be fun. Of course that would have to be after Peter has been on his hands & knees, and begged Carla to forgive him for sleeping with Tina or whichever one it is this year.

Peter @peterprandradio on Twitter said...

I quite LIKED Duty Free. Especially as the hotel rooms where much of the show was played out was meant to be the Costa Brava, but was, in fact, a studio at Yorkshire Television!

Helen said...

What an amusing post! Every line so funny ( and SO true)! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Great article! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

If there were awards for Blogs, (There aren't any are there?), you sir, would be a winner! Well done!

Glenda Young said...

Merseytart is in fact an award-nominated blogger for his personal blog!

Carry On Blogging! said...

That's cheered me up no end!

Humpty Dumpty said...

Great blog as always! I don't think anyone will ever beat Mike Baldwin as factory owner. He was the right character at the right time. There was a sitcom 'The Rag Trade' - first series in the '60's - about a similar set-up which was then revived in the mid-70's so these factories were very much around at that point. None of the recent factory owners can do much with the business now as it is ridiculously old-fashioned. Danny Baldwin's done the next best job.

Clinkers (David) said...

Brilliant blog! All very true too. The faktry is obviously the natural home for the bland.

Shan said...

Ha, I had totally forgotten about Luke Strong. If it weren't for the picture, I would have wondered what you were talking about.

I assumed they picked Rob for Best Newcomer because they were trying to be fair and have one nominee from each show and he was the only choice.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, just brilliant. I giggled my way through this, but it also contains a lot of sharp insights. An absolute gem of a blog. Marvellous!

Anonymous said...

He's not so bad really. He's only as good as the direction he's given and pairing him up with Tracy is a death sentence for this character IMO. He was good in the scenes that had him winning loads of dosh off Peter B but then he's hooked up with the toxic Tracy and nobody really cares. They've been off screen for how long and nobody has even missed them - not me anyway.

Anonymous said...

What about a Russian to run Underworld? Maybe the man who does the Meerkat voice would be free.

Anonymous said...

I really hope Rob is the next one with his nose pressed up against a rain streaked window in a Weatherfield cab as it truckles its way over the cobbles, never to be seen again... that or being helped into the back of a police car. Not fussed as long as it's the last we see of a dreadful character.

Anonymous said...

"the Scots irritation" Lovely!

Anonymous said...

Don't dis double glazing salesmen. Those guys know how to party!

Anonymous said...

Tony Gordon did it for me. He was the epitome of 'dark and brooding'. The others didn't hold a candle to him IMO.

Tvor said...

Now, see, I don't mind Rob. I've enjoyed the layers they've built between Rob and Carla and I hope they do more with that. I don't even mind Rob and Tracy together because each is as bad as the other and they deserve each other!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tvor.

Barrie.T said...

Very funny blog and so true. I'm just baffled by why the producers have kept him on. He is so wooden. When Robs time comes to eventually leave i'm sure it will involve an explosion at the factory. That place has had more fires than the Crossroads Motel.


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