Thursday, 14 November 2013

Clever Stuff

When Coronation Street started, way back in the mid 20th Century, it was the ordinary tale of working class folk.  People who scrubbed their doorsteps, smoked fags in ginnels, and had a half of bitter at the end of the day as a treat.

The exception to this was Ken Barlow, who'd gone off to University and come back with all sorts of fancy ideas.  The conflict between aspirational Ken and the rest of the Street was a cornerstone of the early days of the show, particularly when contrasted with jailbird wastrel Dennis Tanner a few doors down.

The weird thing is, even though society has changed in many ways and Corrie has adapted with it, underneath it there's a weird antipathy towards people "bettering themselves".  Just as if you scratch EastEnders, the word FAMILY bleeds out, and despite its many explosions and lesbians, Emmerdale is happiest going down t'shed to birth a calf, Coronation Street is essentially about uneducated working class people.  It has no time for people with letters after their name.

The latest casualty of this phenomena is Todd Grimshaw.  When he lived on the Street, Todd was a sweet boy who abandoned plans to go to college to work in a corner shop.  The only person who really disliked him was Gail, but then he did knock up her daughter and snog her son, so that's sort of understandable.  Fast forward ten years and Todd, with a raft load of educational improvements under his belt, is now a raging ar*ehole.  He's barely been back a week and he's already annoyed his family, insulted most of the employers in Weatherfield, and usurped Fat Brenda on the switch.  It's no coincidence that he suddenly has the same hair as Hitler.


The same thing happened to Amber, a fiercely intelligent, wise beyond her years girl who was packed off to London to study.  When she returned, she was a wastrel who antagonised her stepmother for no apparent reason, treated her half-siblings with contempt and sexually confused Sophie Webster.  She was finally sent packing, and no-one was sad to see her go.  Ryan repeated the pattern, leaving Weatherfield as a sensitive musician and returning as a coke-addled womaniser.  The message was loud and clear: degrees are dangerous.

In the last twenty years, Corrie has introduced dozens of young teenage characters, a lot of whom have been smart school pupils.  Yet hardly any of them have gone on to do A-levels, never mind attend University.  Greater Manchester has a huge student population, but none of the Street's youth seem to show any inclination to attend.  The only character in recent years who's attended college was David Platt, who took time out from being PURE EVIL to go to hairdressing school offscreen.  It's notable that even an exam in Perming and Tinting is viewed as the kind of thing only a sociopath would be interested in.


Sophie dropped out of her A-levels, but Sian stayed on.  Which one was then written out of the show?  Tina is bright as a button, but thinks the only way she can improve her job prospects is to give birth to someone else's baby or act as a paid dog walker to the undeniably puppy-ish Simon.

If a character arrives with their education intact, then they're to be laughed at.  Brian is a buffoon.  Both Curly and John Stape were treated as comic relief for their love of astronomy and poetry.  Jenna was only allowed to stay on the Street once it was established that she could never do anything clever with her degree again; the only person who was bothered by this was Mandy, and she was incredibly annoying.  Roy's knowledge of classical music and science is part of his, shall we say, "quirky charm".  And Ken Barlow remains a figure of fun, sitting around in his armchair reading Proust in a silk dressing gown; we're invited to laugh at him, and to empathise with Deirdre missing Diamante Hour on QVC because he wants to watch Newsnight.

The laughs continue if anyone tries to return to their studies at any point.  Rosie Webster dropped out, but was persuaded to return to her A-levels only by the prospect of a quickie with the teacher in a layby; when the affair ended, the textbooks went straight in the bin.  Raquel and Sally tried to improve themselves a little, but their efforts were laughable, and right now Steve McDonald is heading back to college mainly as a way of avoiding doing any work.  When he announced his intentions to take an evening course, the reaction from his family and friends was pure hilarity.

If you want to study, you have to leave the show.  Andy tried doing a degree, but dropped out to work at Bettabuys; when he decided to go back to his studies he was written out.  Similarly, Toyah Battersby disappeared to That London to study and was never seen again.  It's a strange trend, not least because surely sending characters to University is a ripe storyline thread?  If, say, Faye Windass decided to go to Uni to get her degree in being obnoxious, that's three years when she's living at home and still has plenty of time to get involved in other people's storylines.  Plus, students tend to have friends who are also students, meaning the producers can introduce some other young sexy characters to join them.  We don't have to see them in the lecture hall every other week; they don't have to be buried under a pile of coursework all the time.

I'm not suggesting that Corrie should turn into Fresh Meat.  It'd just be nice to have a character who decided that a bit of studying might be a good idea; who genuinely wanted to not have to work in a knicker factory until they were arthritic; who wanted to better themselves, but in a good way, not in a Todd Grimshaw fascistic fashion.  I'm calling it now: Simon Barlow for the Class of Weatherfield University 2024!


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23 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a good post; how very true, makes you think when characters are pointed out in this way.
Certainly you're correct about "Family" in the East End being the backbone of the culture, but interesting that the backbone of the street is working class till you die or leave.

Humpty Dumpty said...

Absolutely spot on blog. Corrie's got a logistical problem of what to do with characters aged 15-25 when there aren't enough jobs or houses to accommodate them all. One answer would be to tag on a couple of new streets so there could be scope for unseen office blocks where Sophie might work as a trainee something or other. Corrie has a golden opportunity at the moment to stay real and devise interesting storylines. We read that degrees are not for everyone and apprenticeships must be encouraged, says the Government. Could be a great storyline for Craig which would keep him on the street, and publicise training programmes. Will it happen? Not while viewing figures make it unnecessary to change the producers' outlook. However, the Jenna/Sophie storyline changed because of outside pressure from the Physiotherapists Assn, and it would be interesting to see the Learning and Skills Council and the apprenticeship programme taking Corrie to task.

Flaming Nora said...

Cracking post! ANd look what happened to Sally when she tried to do her English A Level and got involved with John Stape!

Dubcek said...

Very good and accurate post, however all we can expect from the new producer (can he really be regarded as a producer considering what he has been producing) is more of the same tripe and worse, I wouldn't be surprised if he comes up with an incest storyline for Carla and Rob as the Peter/Tina storyline develops, which is just another example of what he is producing.

Tvor said...

Humpty Dumpty, now you mention Craig and apprenticeships, I'm predicting that Craig will be the next garage trainee much as Kevin trained Tyrone and Tyrone was attempting to train Tommy.

Anonymous said...

I hope Tvor is right, I can see Craig doing this.
I like Craig's basically kind character, and it would be good to see a young person taking an interest in a trade apprenticeship, rather than the factory or shops.

I'm not sure I would like to see characters working off " the street", although the possibilities for story lines and new characters could potentially become limitless.

I do wonder though how long the writers can keep the show fresh by focusing mainly on the personalities and everyday trials of the characters while neglecting the reality of housing and job shortages within such a small area.

Hannah said...

I so wish they'd bring back sarah Lou and Bethany they were amazing charachters of the past even if they just bring them back for one episode I would be greatfull they could even come pack to see how nick is getting on and meet Beth's new cousin lily and I'd love to see how Beth and Simon get on

Zagg said...

Well let's face it, the job opportunities on Corrie Street have always been based in fantasy land. Nowhere on earth can so many people land job after job in a 4 block radius. There's always a counter job, a cleaning job, a server job, a sewing job or a driving job at the ready. Step out your door and voila! You are employed. It is very unrealistic.
The backstreet knicker factory is an obsolete idea now. Why not open a large grocery store? That could employ lots of people and open up story lines.
And God forbid any of these people strive for anything above mediocrity. They might as well be marching en masse in the street chanting Pink Floyd's "We don't need no education!"These writers need to get real.
I hate to feel like I am always criticizing this show, because I do still love this show. But I feel like these current writers are taking it down a slippery slope of overdone storylines and misunderstood character development.
Case in point...TODD. I mean honestly, have they just not watched Corrie in the past? Do they think they are gaining a crowd of NEW viewers, so the past does not matter? It's a bit sad actually.

abbyk said...

Not sure what the qualifications are to be a substitute teacher, but I wish Todd would bump into Brian at the Rovers. If having a degree is such a rarity, he could have a pretty good job. Actually, why isn't Jenna pursuing that as well?

Instead of waiting for Craig & Simon, Sophie and/or Sinead should enroll in some type of course related to the 21st century. The street is going to turn medieval if they don't keep up.

abbyk said...

Oh yeah, not sure how old Bethany is but surely she could fly to grandma's by herself. She grew up with a mom who made something of herself. If she hasn't started university yet, maybe it is time to bring her back and set a good example.

Newfy Pearl said...

You are so right! Great post!
Also remember when Doc Carter's friends showed up for an episode? They were shown to be snobs.
Even Eastenders has a young girl doing an unbelievable amount of A-levels who has dreams of being a veterinarian. Her sister too goes back to college in between running over her dad with a car and sleeping with her cousin...all while battling alcoholism! lol
All joking aside....it is sad but true what you say about Corrie....it is okay to be gay, a surrogate mother, a cheater, a liar, a prejudiced stereotype, and even a convicted murderer - but aim to better yourself academically and you are written out asap!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for reiterating what I have been saying here over and over. Wealth is not a prerequisite for getting a good education, and young people from back streets are persuing education all over the country. I would like to see Sophie, Sian or Chesney go for it, as they are important characters already. Sophie and Chesney were both excellent students in their younger school days.
Please, writers, do something about this!
Bev

Llifon said...

Jenny Bradley was seen to attend school and university, although she opted for Manchester Poly instead of Brighton due to her worrying about Rita.

And she also moved out of Rita's to uni halls. And did Angie Freeman attend uni as well?

Defrost Indoors said...

The only characters with jobs outside the street are Brian and Marcus; it's a miracle they've even let them keep those jobs, although Brian is showing signs of wanting to leave teaching. The Jenna storyline was SUCH a huge waste of time -- why did she have to lose her job? Why couldn't she find something related to her field?

David said...

Llifon - yes, in fact Rita rented No.7 to Jenny and Flick Khan (and later Angie) in 1990/1 while they were studying. Angie was 'allowed' to stay in the show until she qualified, as were Andy, Curly, and indeed Ken.

Curly going from bin man to student to supermarket manager proves that characters can improve themselves and still have a place in the programme.

Anonymous said...

Being Canadian, I can only wonder if the attitude to education portrayed on the show is indicative of the current state of the class system in the UK. [I noticed in the coverage of Michael Le Vell's court case, there was often mention that he's "just a regular working class bloke". Presumably this was to help people identify with him.]
ITV is an independent TV network, run for profit, isn't it? So the demographics of the target audiences for its programmes are significant to the advertisers, Right? So who are they aiming their storylines and character choices at? If they are attempting to retain the aging loyal viewers, who've watched the show for years, then portraying a bunch of young people with little ambition will hardly sit well with the older group. If they're attempting to attract a new, younger audience by introducing characters in their own age bracket, with similar qualities, then showing them with no desire for a higher education is going to attract similar types in their potential audience. This may be an accurate approach, since young people who are studying and working have little time for TV viewing (although soaps are popular on college campuses here), but the flaw in this idea is that the "target" young viewers, without a higher education, will also be without financial resources, since the jobs they're qualified for don't pay very well, so they won't have much disposable income to buy the things they see advertised. Seems like tptb may be shooting themselves in the foot.

Anonymous said...

Uni is a very scary place. People come back from there with personality transplants and/or a new body/head.

Sally was a snob at one time - trying to better herself but is now Tim's fcuk buddy and it's a-ok with her.
Brian could have been Ken's replacement for the time being - a know it all and boorish but nope..get him out of there and fast.
What gets me is the no brainers who become office assistants, buyers, business owners etc without one iota of an education.
Tracy, Rob, Michelle etc. The dumbing down of Gail really bothers me though - don't know where she's gone off to but I think this nonsense with her as Nick's scullery maid has gone on long enough.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Coronation Street has moved with the times on so many issues, but has completely ignored the huge increase in the proportion of young people attending University since 1960. It is a blight on the show.

Anonymous said...

I've never really thought about this before reading the responses to this very observant post, but I have quite a relatives and friends, including my own Mother, who are well-educated, live in Britain, and who have never watched Coronation Street. I also have some friends who remind me a lot of many of the street inhabitants, maybe that's why I enjoy it, in fact, love it.
Could this be a reason my relatives and some friends disdain the show?
I never could understand it myself.

Anonymous said...

Steve and Andy Macdonald are another example. Andy was the smart one and Steve the dumb pretty boy. We all know which one stayed.

Laura said...

Let's all hope Faye decides to go to university, and is accepted early!!!

The.HR.Doctor said...

I think Craig has the potential to be one of the great ones.. Can't wait to see him propping up the bar at the elbow of old wise-men, Steve and Lloyd.

Faye's not likable and they can send her to the wasteland that education on Corrie has become, never to return..

Corrie remains, for the most part, typical of 60s working class England, where no-one got outside of the few backstreets around where you lived, unless your family immigrated to Canada, Australia or South Africa.

I doubt the conga line of producers on the show will bring any change to the status quo.

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

I love the original episodes of Corrie but your photo just reminded me that Ken has always been such a pretentious ass!

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