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Sunday, 8 December 2013

Should Corrie look back to the 1970s for inspiration?

I've been watching a lot of old Corrie episodes from the 1970s lately, thanks to the joy of Youtube. Why they are never given a proper rerun on one of ITV's countless digital channels I'll never know. Anyway, it made me wonder whether the powers that be of the 2010s shouldn't pop onto Youtube themselves.

Should modern day Coronation Street learn a few lessons from days gone by? 

For a start, the collection of characters Corrie had to offer in the mid to late 70s is far fewer than the cast of thousands we watch today. I often struggle to keep track of all the comings and goings and feel that some characters barely get a look in. In the 70s the cast totalled thirty regular actors if that and each and every one of them holds my attention and gets a chance to shine.

The viewers also only got an hour of Weatherfield life each week during the 1970s. Half an hour on Monday, the same on Wednesday. There was no need for double episodes, hour long specials or, heaven forbid, special weeks with Corrie broadcast every night. Yes I know there were only three channels at the time, but Corrie's viewing share was still immense. Less was more. A cliffhanger on a Wednesday evening would have the viewing public hanging on tenterhooks until the next episode the following week. These days, as I've often said I can miss several episodes without worrying that I'm missing out.

Everything in the 70s seemed to move at a slower pace too. We can probably count the major disasters, events and incidents on one hand for the 1970s. In contrast, the Weatherfield of today seems to be increasingly explosive, dramatic and 
bizarre in a desperate attempt to keep us watching. In the 70s a wedding or a funeral would take place without an explosion, a murder or a punch up at the reception or wake. These events resembled the weddings or funerals of the viewers who tuned in loyally each week, and that's why it worked. These days Corrie weddings take place at grand country houses and most congregations are subjected to a dramatic intrusion or an explosive secret tearing a family apart. 

Some could say the content of Corrie episodes from the 1970s was a bit dull or that nothing momentous happened. It just feels more real to me, I can believe in the characters and situations. You would never see the majority of an episode in 2013 devoted to a character like Deirdre's forlorn search for council housing, however the sight of Deirdre, Emily and Alf climbing the stairs of a desolate block of flats in January 1979 somehow had me hooked. There was more tension and drama in a scene where Annie Walker found out that Fred Gee had taken forty pounds from the Rovers till than in any one of Tina McIntyre's attention-grabbing trysts.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned and in the minority on this one, I don't know. I know modern soap operas are not supposed to reflect real life and most people don't want to see their own boring day to day existences, they want escapism. However I want to believe in the characters, empathise with them and understand their problems. 

Is that not what working class, continuing drama is all about?

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Imogene said...

Agree, agree, agree!

John in Cincinnati said...

All I can say, is AMEN!!

Dubcek said...

Somebody should email this to SB so he can see what the Street is supposed to be and it's not the drivel he is foisting on us now, I think he is rapidly killing the Street.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you are old-fashioned, Graeme, but not in the minority!


Anonymous said...

I don't think it's just the explosions, fires, car crashes, and inflammatory secrets that have ruined the storylines, it's that the current writers, as someone on this blog said in a previous comment, have no visceral understanding of class conflict or class consciousness.

In the 70s, you could actually see how characters' choices were shaped by their economic and social circumstances. Hilda Ogden was such a brilliant creation, because we could see how poverty limited her human potential – an inquisitiveness that might have blossomed with education had nowhere to go except buzz around, like a fly trapped in the amber of Weatherfield gossip. There was also the brutal small-mindedness of the place, wedded to old world morality, which allowed a character like Dierdre to enter a room like a blast of fresh spring air, a miraculously free-standing and free-thinking young woman. Elsie, on the other hand, a generation older, could never fully shed her reputation as a loose woman and Mavis! Mavis Riley was attracted by everything the world had to offer, but immobilized in a tangle of prudish fairy tale notions of blushing virgin brides, which even Mavis recognized were painfully unsuited to the realities of the 1970s.

In 2013, Gail is the new incarnation of Hilda Ogden, but without the curlers, the dingy flat, or the layabout husband. The economic realities have gone missing. Gail dresses well, lives comfortably in the house she supposedly lost after the Lewis debacle, and is limited by nothing but her own myopic meddling.

I suspect that Tina McIntyre is the Street's latest stab at Elsie Tanner, the firebrand who can't help but draw men to her flame. But, as an audience, we encountered Elsie later in life, with an improbably sparkle that could not be extinguished no matter how many heartbreaks she had to weather. Tina's been around the block countless times despite being only 20- something and it's not as though her magnetism persists despite age and personal tribulation, it's more like, in the new age of feminist freedom, she expects to have her sexy bod and attitude too. She emanates entitlement, not uphill struggle.

Anonymous said...


Humpty Dumpty said...

Agree with anon above. Different times, different mores. If anyone's watched the excellent Last Tango in Halifax, there's been a pitiful lapse from character driven plot to modern soap land with one dramatic confession after another. We can't turn the clock back; the class war isn't so sharply defined these days, it's about money. But there'd be plenty of mileage in that. Corrie, if it wanted to, could show us some really hard up families where drinking and eating out is an absolute no-no. Why isn't Dev concerned that his neighbours are going to the likes of Aldi? Why doesn't Fiz, for example, say 'no cream cake for me today, I'm broke'. You could imagine snobby Sally recognising a Primark dress at forty paces. More than anything, and we've said it many times on this blog, the moral compass has gone. We don't have Percy, Maud, Blanche etc to voice their disapproval of endless affairs and dodgy dealing. I rather hoped that Fiz might grow into the role of moral guardian of the Street. She and Tyrone should stick around and have the guts to stand up for what's right and reject what's simply not on.

Anonymous said...

I think TV as a whole had its heyday in the 70s, not just Coronation Street. Nowadays, it's all about money, viewers and coverage in the tabloids.

How can five episodes a week compete with two? Nowadays there's little rehearsal, minor mistakes are left in, changes cannot be made easily...

You can criticise the writers, and I do, but I bet scripts have to be churned out quickly with little or no time for research, character development or experimentation. Its all about good lines and an exciting cliffhanger before the ad break.

It's a soap, a fantasy of working class life, produced by middle class people for women who love to speculate on characters motivations and reactions.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 18:24, everything you says seems true. Is Coronation Street big enough to risk a spin-off, or a more experimental extension, that would take some of the under-used cast members and put them into stories that developed on a different timeline, with an emphasis on character development and innovation? An option like that might keep some of the better disgruntled actors happy while they wait around...

@Humpty Dumpty, agree completely, except that the moral compass of the Street used to be full of contradictions - morality was important, but it was also destructive and stifling. The old Street kept the poles of tradition and freedom in tension by making morality into as much of a struggle as everyday life.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything and your no in a minority, I know we have Emily, Rita and Dennis now, but I still think there is a space for elderly characters they are as much as real life now as Ena, Albert, Phyllis, Percy, Maud etc were. My own grandmother is 85 and her partner is 90 and they still have a voice in the real world and are part of a community, why can't corrie show this ?

Cat said...

I agree with everything you wrote, Graeme, and I'm 20.

NZ Coro Junkie said...

I wonder whether a smaller cast also gave the individual actors more power over the development of their characters. So if a writer suddenly wanted to give someone a complete personality transplant, or more subtly have them say or do something which the actor thought was out of character, he/she had some liberty to depart from script.

I'm remembering in particular the legendary story of the Ken/Deirdre/Mike scene in 1983, when the writers would have had Ken behave sensibly and moderately but Bill Roache came up with some impromptu anger, scared the proverbial out of poor Deirdre (AND Anne Kirkbride too) and created one of the most memorable Corrie scenes in the process.

These days, there are so many actors, probably none of whom have much job security, and such intense work schedules that we've lost the old quality controls that used to protect much-loved characters from losing their credibility.


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