Friday, 13 April 2018

Classic Corrie Conundrums

About six weeks ago, I tuned into Classic Corrie on ITV3 for the first time.  I'd not bothered before, because there's already three hours of Weatherfield to watch every week; adding another five hours seemed like madness.  But I realised it was coming up to Hilda's famous last episode, so I tuned in.

I'm still watching it.  And I don't really know why.

The thing is, I'm not really enjoying the 1988 version of Coronation Street.  It is incredibly tedious.  People have complained about the Phelan storyline "dragging on", but every single storyline in Classic Corrie goes at least one or two episodes more than it needs to.  Alf misses Audrey while she's in Canada; she comes back and they have a bit of a heart to heart.  Then there's another load of episodes which are basically Alf saying "you really ran off and abandoned me" and Audrey saying "well it was important."  We get the point.

When it's an interesting storyline, that's ok.  When it's a terrible one, it's a killer.  This week we've had the one-two punch of Sandra Stubbs' domestic abuse and Ken Barlow's newspaper business.  Sandra is barely a character at this point; it feels like she was introduced purely to handle the issue of domestic violence, without much thought being given to her purpose beyond that.  It's hard to care when she's getting followed by her husband, who we also have never met before, and considering she was all smiles a couple of episodes after getting smacked about - everything apparently resolved - I don't think the producers cared either.


Ken and the Weatherfield Recorder, meanwhile, is one of the most boring storylines I have ever witnessed; it makes Derek's missing gnome look like a witty escapade.  For weeks he's gritted his teeth and run his hand through his hair and talked about receivers and office equipment and it's awful.  I often laugh at the way the current writers deal with business in the show - Underworld being sliced up into ever smaller percentages, and a single missing delivery pushing the company into bankruptcy - but I'll take that brevity over this relentless minutiae about an entirely fictional business.  It doesn't help that 1980s Ken is an awful person; patronising, dismissive, uncaring.  He takes Deirdre for granted and belittles her (in a recent show he congratulated her on her improving punctuation in her council newsletter; I'd have jammed the paper down his throat, Misery-style).

And yet I'm still watching.

I suppose part of it's nostalgia.  I was eleven when these episodes originally went out, and Coronation Street was a sacred part of the evening.  We didn't get a video until later that year, so if you didn't watch it live, you didn't watch it at all.  Both my mum and dad had watched Corrie for decades, so they settled down, and as we had only one TV, me and my brother would basically have to watch it as well.  Now and then, as I watch these shows, bits of it come to me from the back of my brain.  I distinctly remember the "is Alf a racist?" storyline, for example.  Alf rented the shop flat to Curly over Shirley, and some of the other characters intimated he might have done it for prejudicial reasons.  I remember my tiny eleven year old brain being really horrified that nice old Alf might be a racist. 

Nostalgia can only get you so far.  Getting excited by the video covers in the back of the Kabin or the jackets that look a bit like one I had at that age (turquoise and blue, probably from C&A, probably a fire risk).  So there must be something that keeps me tuning in every day.

I think, at the end of the day, it's the characters.  There are so many absolutely fantastic characters in the show.  Bet and Alec are astonishingly good; there's an easy chemistry between them, and Julie Goodyear hasn't yet tipped over into self-parody.  She's warm and witty and has a fantastic presence behind the bar.  Meanwhile Roy Barraclough is funny and his miserliness is always well played.  (Although their miscarriage storyline was the one time a plot should have carried on for another few episodes and didn't - Bet lost the baby and then it was never mentioned again.  There's putting on a brave face and there's sweeping it under the carpet and pretending it never happened). 

Around them are the likes of Mavis, Emily, Mike, Jack and Vera.  Ivy hasn't descended into bitterness and is actually pretty likeable.  Her hen do was absolutely amazing; all the factory girls doing the conga round her front room, Audrey turning up half-cut with a bottle of gin, and best of all, Ida Clough!  I am obsessed with Ida Clough, although sadly she's now out of the show for the best part of a decade.  There are weak links - the aforementioned Ken, Nicky Tilsley getting lines even though he never fails to muck them up, Gloria is largely pointless, and I really can't stand Percy Sugden.  How no-one has belted him, I will never know, the interfering old troll.  Perhaps they don't want to risk the wrath of the wonderful Phyllis Pearce, who is a joy in every appearance.

It's fascinating to see characters who are still in the show at an earlier stage of their development.  Little Sally Webster, for example, cheery and bright, but showing little hints of the glorious monster she'll develop into.  She wants her new home to be the very best and can't see why she shouldn't have the best.  Gail is still fun and bright, before twenty years of relentless misery have worn her down.  And I'm afraid Rita has gone down in my estimation.  She's much funnier and earthier in these shows, but honestly, if she couldn't see any of the eight thousand red flags Alan Bradley was waving in her direction she deserves to get suffocated with a throw pillow.  I'd remembered him being a nice guy until she discovered his secret double life but no; he's a manipulative bully, a grasping thief, and Rita can see it.  She just chooses to do nothing about it. 


It's the characters that are bringing me back, not the drama.  I keep having days like today, where I found myself tuning out of the episode, bored, as Curly and Shirley debated having Sunday lunch with his parents, only to snap back to attention when Phyllis interrogated Emily for Percy's new address.  I keep thinking "if Ken mentions word processors one more time I'm deleting the series link," only for a removals man to give Percy Sugden a load of lip and I realise I'm back in.  I like spending time with these people.  See you in Weatherfield Monday afternoon?

If you want more furious tirades about Ken Barlow and the Weatherfield Recorder, be sure to follow @merseytart on Twitter.




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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love Classic Corrie so much I've stopped watching the current evening episodes completely. I adore Bet and Alec (and Betty) and it highlights how dull the Rovers is today. Of course you know what's coming - Don's turn to bitterness, Alan going bad and so on.
You have to remember that it was only two episodes a week then so we're now watching over a month's worth of episodes a week now so maybe that weakens the plotting of some of the stories.
I love the fact that the street is busy with passers-by and delivery vans and I love the 'extras' as customers with the odd line here and there, that we see 'main characters' chatting away with the extras in the Rovers. I don't know - it feels more community. Somewhere you might like to pop into whereas today nothing would drag me to live in that street.
But mostly, as you say, the characters lead not the issue (on the whole).
I love them and look forward to watching my two episodes every evening when I get home.

Humpty Dumpty said...

The skill of the old Corrie writers was to make something out of nothing. Flat storylines sometimes, occasional explosive storylines but mostly life on the Street was hum-drum. As it was for viewers at the time with hardly any choice in home entertainment or shopping. With no internet, social media, mobile phones, and limited choice in the shops, life could be very unexciting. If residents on the Street complained about their lot, we knew what they meant. It all boils down to caring about characters and there's very few these days that I would miss.

maggie muggins said...

Thanks for your Classic perspective, Scott! I haven't been watching them, but might try some when I have more time.

Interesting comments above here too. Though I would point out, Humpty, that the residents on the Street today are also always complaining about their lot. I do wish Nu Corrie could get better at creating awesome characters. And I love the idea of main characters interacting with extras and 'ordinary' folk in daily life.

Someone here recently said that Corrie feels like it's occurring on a deserted island, with no sense of reality attached to it. The Twilight Zone.

David said...

What's this people criticising Classic Corrie and pointing out that it wasn't always perfect? I'm on the right blog? But yes thanks Scott Classic Corrie wasn't perfect and I wish Percy was run over by a traction engine the little englander.

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