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Saturday 30 November 2013

Weatherfield's winter of woe

With December and Christmas knocking on the door, the time of year sought to remind me of one of the bleakest periods of Corrie's history. A moment's silence please for the winter of 1983. It's startling to think that thirty years have passed since the programme entered a period of seemingly endless exits.

The important thing to remember is that back in 1983, Corrie was a very different animal. The cast was much smaller and therefore the impact of a departure was felt all the more keenly. As much as we 'love' them (or not), the disappearance of a brace of Prices and McIntyres has little effect. Thirty years ago this was not the case.

1983 saw several prominent faces disappear from the cobbles and for a variety of reasons. Geoffrey Hughes decided to call time on his portrayal of Eddie Yeats. Hughes later recalled that he realised that with Bernard Youens' failing health, much of the 'Stan Ogden' based storyline had been transferred to Eddie. With less time with his family and increasing fatigue, Hughes quit. He was less than enamoured with his character's shotgun wedding to Marion Willis. The actress who played her, Veronica Doran, was also told that Marion would be axed. In a smart piece of writing though, we saw the newlyweds sneak out of the Ogden's ruby anniversary party and ponder over the arrival on the Street of the police who, unbeknownst to Eddie and Marion, had arrived with news of Len Fairclough's death.

The demise of the Street's resident everyman felt like a punishment meted out to the actor Peter Adamson. During 1983, the tabloids had frothed at the mouth while reporting on Adamson's trial for allegedly assaulting two girls. He was found not guilty but incurred the wrath of Granada by selling his story to a newspaper. Having breached his contract, Adamson was sacked. Len was mentioned for the rest of the year prior to an off-screen death in December. The memory of the character was tarnished by the fact that he had been cheating on Rita, a woman who then ascended to the moral high ground where she has perched ever since. The death of Len was the making of Rita.

Annie Walker's disappearance from the Rovers Return had not been planned. Doris Speed had appeared in the soap as late as October but a mystery stomach illness saw her hospitalised. A muck-raking piece by one national newspaper revealed Doris was not sixty nine years old, as she had maintained, but eighty four. Quite what they expected to achieve by embarrassing an ill, elderly woman is unknown. Convalescing at home, Doris Speed was then left traumatised by a break-in  She announced her immediate retirement an moved to a nursing home in Bury. It was an unhappy end for such a glorious character and the Rovers became a slightly awkward, less friendly place over the next twelve months.

In the midst of this turmoil came the front page news that Pat Phoenix had quit after a total of twenty one years on the cobbles. She claimed boredom and restlessness had driven her from the show. Certainly, recent storylines had seen Elsie Tanner lose her lodgers, receive a demotion at work and save from propping up the Rovers bar, do very little. Pat Phoenix craved love stories for Elsie but even when these did make it to the screen, she was unimpressed with the middle-aged men who were cast. With the decision made, Elsie was given a decent send off as she was paired-off with ancient Bill Gregory and dispatched to Portugal forever. Her final episode in January 1984 included that now famous walk down memory lane, heels clacking across the pavement and her enigmatic "Ah - now there's a question" sign-off.

For viewers, it was difficult to watch popular faces disappear from the screen one after another. With a much smaller company, the focus had to be switched to other characters. The likes of Bet, Rita, Vera and Ivy all shuffled centre-stage which seemed like a good move. The characters were already known and popular. Shoe-horning old faces such as Linda Cheveski and Billy Walker back into the mix jarred horribly, particularly as the returnees were pitched as being quite unpleasant. With Albert Tatlock and Stan Ogden having to be written out during 1984, it would be another year before life on the cobbles truly began to settle down again.

Did the powers-that-be handle Weatherfield's winter of discontent well? On the whole, they probably did. The producer, director and writers had to respond to circumstances that in some cases were well beyond their control. Sad as this period was, it did help to usher in a new front line of characters, many of whom saw out the next decade and beyond. Nowadays, Corrie can afford to lose faces without it being too much of a retrograde step which is perhaps a good thing - the show should and always will be bigger than any of its individual characters.

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Anonymous said...

A brace of Prices, yes, but a brace of McIntyres? You know a brace is a pair? Tina is the only McIntyre going, isn't she?

Glenda Young said...

What a fantastic trip down memory lane but my word, was that really 30 years ago? crikey!

Ruth owen said...

That was fantastic and gave my memory a good jogging -thank you.

Llifon said...

I've just realised, that apart from No3 and the Corner Shop, every household on the street in that period lost a character:

The Rovers - Annie and Fred (also Billy)

No1 - Albert (Tracy was also absent between Nov 83 and Jul 85)

No5 - Bert

No7 - Len (Sharon returned and left)

No9 - Chalkie

No11 - Marion, Elsie (Suzie also left after a brief return)

No13 - Eddie, Stan

You mention how TPTB handled it. If this had happened ten years before, I think it would've been very different. In 1973/4, the bosses realised, with the departure of Pat Phoenix and the ill health of both Vi Carson and Doris Speed, that characters weren't invincible. So they had to invest in other characters. This paid as those characters (Bet, Rita, Mavis, Deirdre) steered the show through the storm of 1983/4. By then, producers had the benefit of hindsight and were better prepared.

And they have kept to that formula since. Despite the departures of Hilda, Bet, Mavis, Alf, Mike Baldwin, the Duckies, Betty and Blanche, the show still goes on. Don't get me wrong, they were classic characters but like you said, no character is bigger than the show. Some actors have struggled to deal with this but it is true.

Great post Clinkers that's got me thinking on a Saturday afternoon! :)

Clinkers (David) said...

Re the brace of McIntyres, it just sometimes feels like there is more than one of her, given the number of scenes she features in . . .

Anonymous said...

The tradition of returnees being pitched as quite unpleasant seems to continue.

Anonymous said...

Well, I can't wait for the current list of actors leaving next year to finally go. Why is Tina shoved into each scene? Why has Brian become a complete a-hole? Why is Haley being so vile to Roy - dragging him into a funeral home - only to watch him suffer? I don't know, but I sure hope next year is better that this.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 14:59 - Gail is a McIntyre by marriage isn't she? That makes two.

Anonymous said...

But Gail isn't leaving isn't she?


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