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Saturday 16 January 2016

Late 80s to early 90s - a golden era for Coronation Street?

Guest blog post from Martyn Hett
Follow Martyn on twitter at @martynhett

Every Corrie fan has their favourite era. Be it the grainy, black and white 60s, the shoulder pad-cladded 80s or the sex and violence-filled noughties, there’s an era for everybody. For me, it has to be the late 80s/early 90s, and it’s an era I’m quite fond of in general. Shirley Valentine is one of my favourite films of all time, I spend a large proportion of my life watching reruns of Supermarket Sweep and my general aesthetic is loosely based on the McDonald’s twins in the above iconic family photo. It was a brilliant time for everything from fashion to music and Coronation Street was, in my opinion, at its peak.

I’ve spent the past year or so watching episodes from 1988 onwards on YouTube, having currently reached mid-1990. It’s been such a delight to watch, with some incredible storylines such as the death of Brian Tilsley, Rita’s domestic abuse at the hands of Alan Bradley and Ken’s affair with Wendy Crozier.

One of the main things that draws me to the time period is the sheer glamour of it all. Not a scene goes by without a set of shoulder pads, sequins or hair that would put Dolly Parton to shame. ‘Happy Birthday Coronation Street’, a televised gala that aired in 1990 to celebrate the show’s 30th anniversary, is a great way to illustrate this point - you can watch a short clip of it here. It essentially consists of a sea of Corrie stars dressed in sparkly dresses chatting to Cilla Black in front of an illuminated, neon version of the set. The glam levels are so high it’s like Dynasty on crack and it’s camper than Sean Tully at a Kylie concert. When did everything become so drab and serious? Why can’t we go back to this golden age of sequins and shoulder pads?

The cast around that time were completely rock solid. Naturally, as Corrie has progressed from three, to four, to five and now sometimes even six episodes per week, the number of characters has grown in size significantly. In 1990, when there were around 30 cast, it was much easier to invest in the characters. You could keep track of their relationships with one another without becoming confused over who had previously slept with, attempted to murder or been jilted at the altar by who. The show was simply made up of a small, core cast filled with powerful women such as Deirdre Barlow, believable villains like Mike Baldwin and strong couples such as Jack and Vera (when couples stayed together long enough to reach iconic status!). Their behaviour remained consistent and there were no sudden personality transplants.

There was also a lot more on-location shooting, which is something I particularly enjoy when watching old episodes (this scene featuring Gail storming through Manchester Victoria station and boarding on a train with a manual door made me giddy with nostalgia). The supermarket scenes with Vera, Curly and Reg led to some moments of comic gold, and seeing Jenny Bradley and Flick in their student halls at the polytechnic added a dimension of realism that we rarely see today (Nick’s Bistro must be just about ready for the FTSE100, as apparently it’s the only restaurant in the UK!).

Perhaps another reason I’m so fond of the late 80s and early 90s is that the storylines were incredibly believable. Sensationalist plots were rare, and each story developed slowly and gradually, with only two to three running at any given time. Comic relief was a constant yet subtle device that helped to break the episodes up, and the storylines were very much driven by the characters and their traits. It’s hard to believe that Rita’s domestic abuse storyline unfolded over the course of two years, but I never found myself getting bored of it; in fact, I shed a little tear when I heard Bet utter those poignant words, “It’s over Rita, it’s over!” I didn’t want it to be over!

I’m aware my musings make me sound a little like Percy Sugden, but they are in no way a criticism of modern day Coronation Street. I have come to accept that the show needs to move with the times, particularly given that it is broadcast on a commercial channel. Not only this, but my ‘golden era’ will more thank likely be seen as inferior to fans whose hearts lie with the 60s or 70s. Who knows? In 2042, a new generation of fans may look back at the 2010s and class it as their golden era. 

For me, however, I look back on the late 80s and early 90s with a great sense of nostalgia and northern pride. At a time when my life was just beginning, the entire nation was gripped to my favourite TV show – and with good reason. Perhaps I’m stuck in the past, but for me, the past is a very nice place to be. It feels warm, it feels exciting and I thank my lucky stars that YouTube and its lovely contributors have allowed me to experience it in full.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll pop over to Tracy Barlow’s house. I hear she has a great collection of tapes.

Martyn Hett

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Louby said...

Thanks for a really interesting article. I've been watching since the late 70s, in fact the first storyline I remember is Ernie Bishop being shot. Gail and Suzie worked in Mike Baldwin's shop and lived with Elsie. So that is a great era for me, but I can't really pick out a particular time. However, I agree with what you said about plots unfolding slowly and I think that when there were fewer episodes each week the quality was better. I can certainly do without the"high drama" fires and car accidents that seem to occur so often.

Tvor said...

A wonderful look at one of my favourite eras, too. While I was aware of Corrie here in Canada before then, I only started watching regularly in 1989. One of my all time favourite stories was the extended triangle between Des, Raquel, Des's boss Alex, then Bet and Charlie whom Tanya stole from Bet. Tanya's ongoing bitchiness against everyone especially Raquel; Des, Curly and Raquel back and forth. All the fun in Bettabuys. All of Deirdre's men including the sweet Samir. Alf in the corner shop. Early days of the McDonalds. Ah those were the days

Anonymous said...

Superb Martyn. For me it's never been better than that time. I think the great mistake was increasing the number of episodes that led to sensationalism, too many characters, poor acting, lack of rehearsals, too many writers, lack of continuity and drawn out tedious tales.

Beth said...

Absolutely Flaming Nora, those were Corrie golden years. Great characters, with strong dialogue, no sensationalism and the community was strong.

There doesn't seem a sense of community anymore, few characters interact outside of their group/ family. It all seem to lack imagination in the small stuff.

Characters had that little extra about them. That's why I felt that Cathy's sister Nessa, although full on and annoying, fit in well and would have settled as a good Corrie character over time. She had that over the top, flamboyancy to fill the screen, that so many current characters lack. Take Maria, Sophie, Chesney, Michael - all so blah. Nothing to to them and so bland.

We can hope the new Producer is a fan of the old days and bring a bit of that higher standard back.


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