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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Why I think 1970s Corrie is far from dull

I've always believed the golden era for Coronation Street was the late 1970s and early 1980s. For me there were so many iconic characters, classy performers, brilliant writers and a wonderful mix of comic storylines and high drama. All qualities Corrie is famous for. 

However, some comments recently have made me question these long-held beliefs. Was Coronation Street in the late 1970s actually pretty dull and boring? 

What's striking about Corrie at that time is how slowly each episode moves. The storytelling is allegedly less sophisticated than today. Budgets were obviously tighter and technology less impressive. The sets would occasionally do a Crossroads and wobble like a blancmange. Everything was, as Scott said in his brilliant blog yesterday, brown. Brown and beige. Outside filming was still pretty rare and the quality of film used made it deeply unappealing. The cast was also noticeably smaller and diversity had yet to become an issue. 

However what a cast that was! Bernard Youens and Jean Alexander as the forever downtrodden, always bickering Stan and Hilda Ogden. Doris Speed as the irreplaceable, regal, snooty Annie Walker. Violet Carson still making her mark as Ena Sharples. We had the swagger of Mike Baldwin, the dourness of Albert Tatlock, the wittering of our Mavis and the sassy motormouth that was Rita Fairclough. Bet Lynch, Betty Turpin and Fred Gee proved themselves to be the finest bar staff the Rovers ever had. 

There was also the dynamite of number 11 Coronation Street. The trio of Gail, Suzie Birchall and Elsie Tanner may only have lasted a few years but so many of their scenes were memorable and beautifully played. Putting these two gobby young girls under Elsie's roof was a masterstroke. 

True, there wasn't much male totty to be found. Ken Barlow was between wives and heading for the cardigans and slippers. Eddie Yeats was too fond of the ale and the offerings at Dawson's Caff. We did still have the lovely Ray Langton for a time - those jeans should have come with a public health warning!

While practically every member of the onscreen talent was legendary, credit must also go to the sublime writers who grafted away during the late 1970s and early 80s to produce some stunning work. Many of the episodes produced at this point in Corrie's long life can still work now as stand alone plays. 

The likes of Adele Rose, Harry Kershaw, Leslie Duxbury and John Stevenson crafted some truly excellent scripts year in, year out. The dialogue crackled and sizzled and yet often it wast the moments of quiet, simple reflection that had the biggest impact.

In those days we learned more about the wider Weatherfield world. Characters like Ena Sharples would refer to unseen, unknown people and it made the whole thing seem more real and grounded. The show also remembered what had gone before. 

The archivist reigned supreme. Eric Rosser was the show's archivist for many years, sitting in on rehearsals and keeping intricate records on each character. Such care and attention comes across on screen without a doubt.

Yes I know it was hardly glamorous and it was rarely explosive, but it felt authentic. Times change and the Street needed to adapt, broaden its horizons and move on. I know lots of people will disagree but this period in Corrie's history still strikes me as Weatherfield's finest hour. The Powers That Be very obviously trusted the writers and had faith in the actors who in turn, cared for and nurtured their own characters. There was time to get it right. And I for one think that more often than not, they did. 

The storylines were certainly more basic, but they reflected the people who lived in those back streets. The characters battled hard, sometimes succeeding, often not. Most of the regular characters still had very little but they worked hard and had dreams. Little things happened to them in a very big way - weddings, funerals, births, new jobs...all quite ordinary but the sense of community carried them on and turned them in to big events. 

Have we, the viewer, become too sophisticated these days? Do we become bored too easily? 

The pace is faster, the characters more plentiful, everyone has more and there is more of Coronation Street than ever before. Is there too much though and have we lost the ability to enjoy the simple, every day tales of normal folk? 

Coronation Street in the 1970s is far from perfect but it has charm and honesty, it has passionate, gutsy, truthful performances and writing that elevates it to a different level altogether. And I for one adore it. 

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BSteinhouse said...

What a wonderful write-up!
The last few months I've watched the better parts of 1976 and 1977 Corrie on Youtube, and I absolutely love it. Yes, the story-lines are smaller and slower, but this only highlights and makes room for cracking dialogue.

I also notice such frequent reference to past events. I love that, because one huge appeal of such a long-running show is the depth of character development and back-story. I think they should increase such references in today's Corrie. How many shows can boast 40+ years of character development for several characters?

Llifon said...

My sentiments exactly Graeme! Whilst eating lunch today, to mark Hilda's anniversary, I watched the Ogdens' honeymoon on DVD. 37 years later and it's still gold! It wasn't perfect but isn't that reality? And Corrie should portray reality - ordinary life.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering why the video suddenly goes into reverse? Very weird.

Tvor said...

I agree that most of the characters were great, but a lot of the storylines weren't rivetting. Yes, they were gentle and less dramatic than these days mostly, with exceptions but I suppose I've become more used to the faster pace over the past 20 years.

John said...

I cannot understand any criticisms of the Bill Podmore era. Pure television gold.

La La Land said...

Why do we keep harking back to the past "glory days". Times have moved on and Corrie aint that bad, it wins awards every year so must be doing sommat right!

Humpty Dumpty said...

Agree 100%, Graeme, that period was wonderful. Society could still be very straight-laced in the 70's, and an affair with a married man was quite improper. We enjoyed being horrified by the antics of these characters and many a coffee break at work was spent dissecting their morals.

The cast had their roots in theatre and variety so they knew how to go from comedy to pathos. The characters were recognisable and well-drawn. Elsie the flighty piece; Annie the snob; Hilda the gossip; Ken the angry young man; and various layabout males.

We have got too sophisticated when we talk about story arcs, character development, retcons. I'm afraid we spoil it for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I'm not disagreeing with this blog, I like the 70s era too. But I thought what Scott's blog yesterday did was to place an old episode under the same close scrutiny we apply to weekly episodes now, and what that demonstrated was that even episodes from the Golden Era suffered from discontinuity, wooden acting, and silly plot devices. What I'd love to see is a review of a vintage episode that dissects the performances and the writing to show exactly what did make them passionate, gutsy, and truthful.


Talia said...

Beautiful, well-thought out piece, yet again Graeme.

I nod my head in agreement throughout all of your write ups; you are so spot on, and I know you speak for so many of us yet.

Admittedly, by today's standards, C.S. did look 'brown and beige', and certainly moved along at a slower pace as did most shows of it's time.

As you mentioned, the careful research by an actual archivist, in conjunction with the care shown by each actor who took ownership of their screen persona,is something that I feel,is for the most part, missing today.

There simply isn't time in such a hectic production schedule for today's actors, or writers, to invest as much energy and thought in the characters.

There WAS a feeling of authenticity in the early C.S.; "authenticity" certainly was the word for it.

With less characters on the street, there was more care taken to show the residents of a small back street living their every day lives.
Anything out of the ordinary, like a trip "off screen" or a catastrophic occurrence, was a treat to be appreciated, and remembered.

Today we are more sophisticated and apparently we want more, and faster with a regular dollop of excitement thrown in, no matter what the cost to the integrity of the character.

There are too many characters in a once small street, that now unbelievably seems to have stretched to accommodate an infinite number of residents.

Back in the early days,viewers enjoyed the show because it was refreshingly ordinary.
This as compared to American soaps which have always thrived on appealing to those who need to look to the small screen for excitement.

So far I maintain that most of the actors are of high caliber,
but it's the continuous "explosive" story lines I have a problem with and the absolutely dead boring way long term characters are suddenly thrown together with other long term characters in a sexual tryst.
Too easy for the writers to inject cheap thrills into so many stories and it's getting old really really fast, imo anyway.

Thank you for the wonderful write up Graeme, I always look forwards to them.

Talia said...

Think it's time I too started watching early Corrie on Youtube; I have to admit, I've been missing my habit of a lifetime!

David said...

Agree with most. I only have very minor complaints about the Bill Podmore years, it really was a golden era of television.

Like with any piece of archive telly, you have to adjust your expectations (NOT of writing quality, but of format, pace, style and budget).

Comment - trips away from the street were actually pretty common then, much more so than today!

Carry On Blogging! said...

ELK - thanks for your comments and I love the idea. I'll certainly have a go if I have the time!

Carry On Blogging! said...

Thanks Llifon - that second honeymoon episode is one of my all time favourites

Carry On Blogging! said...

Yes you are quite right David, and in those days one or two street residents even worked somewhere other than the street itself!

Anonymous said...

A couple of points

First the point I made yesterday about rose painted spectacles applies Graeme is unwilling or unable to acknowledge the faults of Corrie during this time

Second and yes there faults, there was poor acting, storylines either went on too long or weren't interesting and some of the acting was wooden

Thirdly. But I will concede that there were some great storylines, characters and performances, Ernest getting shot, Deidre's rape, Janet Barlow's suicide, the lorry crash et cetera

Fourthly Corrie was good and bad then just as it is now. It's the same with television then and now. For every I Claudius there was a crossroads. To quote the good Doctor 'There never was a golden age, it's all an illusion'

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, those were the glory days; "authentic" being the key.

Anon (Canada)

Defrost Indoors said...

One thing that really strikes me about the older shows is how people didn't make big life changes so quickly. Nowadays, if a new character hits the Street with any sort of profession, they will lose it (see Kirsty, Jenna and others, although Marcus and Brian were the rare recent exceptions). They change jobs too fast *and* relationships barely last, because it's so much more "explosive" and "exciting" to have partnerships disintegrate into murder, infidelity, and so on. The ink was barely dry on Rita and Dennis' marriage license before they threw Gloria between them. Smaller, simpler stories have a place too, and I still say that the studio leaking storylines well in advance does spoil the show a little.For instance, we now know that Tyrone is going to have an accident while doing renovations, and the storyline was described as "explosive". Really?! A collapsing ceiling or fall from a ladder? Enough already.

David said...

Anonymous - "Corrie was good and bad then just as it is now" Very true but as Graeme said in his post "Coronation Street in the 1970s is far from perfect". No one has claimed it's flawless, and I disagree with your claim of rose-painted spectacles as a lot of people are now coming to the Bill Podmore years having been born after it and still picking it as the best of the bunch (granted, the '60s is for the most part inaccessible).

And a genuine question - which storylines went on too long?

Carry On Blogging! said...

Thanks as always to everyone for your comments - I love those that agree with my views and those that don't! I love the 1970s Corrie and always will - I know it was far from perfect. Some storylines went on too long and some acting wasn't the best ever, but much the same goes on today, if not more so!

BarrieT said...

I could watch the Bill Podmore era forever. The writting was certainly corrie gold. What was good about this era was the humour and upbeat mood was forefront and any progress on storlyine came second. It was gentle, it was slow moving and not a lot happend each day but it was very real. I loved how the residents were mostly struggling to make ends meet in a back street. You really felt for Hilda who lived on very little money, and what she did have was often soent by stan on horse races. The rovers was such a fun pla e to work in and the community spirit amoungst the street residnents made you want to live there if you could.

Anonymous said...

Agree that late 1970s to early 1980s Corrie was the golden period for the show.

It was character driven in those days rather than being about the BIG sensational , headline grabbing storylines.

It's strength lay in the writing and dialogue and as you say there were some fab characters such as the glorious Oggies, their lodger Eddie Yeats, Annoe Walker, the Tilsleys and the golden trio of Bet, Betty and Fred holding court behind the Rovers bar.

Also, the fact that it had a much smaller cast also helped to give it a strong sense of community - something sadly lacking in today's Corrie.

Although, the production values were obviously very much of their era this is all we would have ever known at the time of it being originally broadcast.

Also, I have to disagree about the exterior scenes. Being shot on film helped to give them a wonderful grainy quality which was very much in keeping with the setting of a grimy Manchester back street.

I sometimes wonder what some of the characters of that era who are still involved with the show (Rita, Drear etc) would TRULY think about today's Corrie..

Talia said...

I certainly don't want to be accused of wearing "rose-tinted" goggles here, and I will concede it fair to agree that not all the acting was great in the earlier years, or the story lines always wonderful.

However, be it because our taste in serial drama was simpler then, or we had less choice, or had only American soaps to compare with, I can never remember once wanting to skip an episode like I now do.
Quite the opposite, I would do anything NOT to miss one, pre VCR, Anything.

I cared about all the characters back then, I felt I knew them.

Just watching that video clip of Hilda confronting Billy and Annie Walker in the pub brought the pleasure of Jean Alexander's acting skills straight back.

If the acting or story lines had been so out of touch with reality then, sacrificial of character integrity,would C.S. still be around today?

I too have thought many times that the constant 'spoilers', fed out to entice viewer's interest, have done much to actually spoil the element of surprise, which was much of the appeal of keeping up with it.

I agree with BarrieT; characters back then lived very modestly, worked hard, and were for the most part Cheerful with real humour so often woven into their daily interactions.
Now it's tough to find a smiling face amongst the lot of them.

Anonymous said...

David and a genuine answer

The seance episode and the whole haunted Rovers which frankly comes across as something out of Scooby Doo.

Brain and Gail's engagement

From 1980

Brian and Gail trying to buy a house. On a wider point about 1980 apart from one or two storylines nothing has really grabbed me from that year.

Also the sight of Hilda Ogden blackfacing is something I would prefer to forget.


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