Thursday, 3 May 2018

Northern Culture on the Cobbles – how important were the first Weatherfield Women?


A guest blog post by Hannah Henderson
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On 9 December 1960, Coronation Street first graced our TV screens and within twelve months it had become Britain’s most popular television programme. Despite its hordes of fans – past and present – many remain unaware of the Street’s significance in portraying northern, working-class women on the small screen.

Historian Dave Russell has referred to the creation of our beloved cobbled street as a ‘crucial northern event’ – it was not until the 1954 Television Act that the north was properly represented on British television – seven years later, Coronation Street would become one of the first British programmes to sufficiently portray the plight of working-class northern women. 


Ida Barlow
The Housewife

Ida Barlow undoubtedly plays the ‘perfect housewife’ – in the first episode, Ida is seen putting dinner on the table for Ken and Frank Barlow before tending her other son, David. Later, Ida frets over having the house clean for Ken’s new, university-educated, love interest – Susan Cunningham.

While Ida presents the emotional side of being a northern domestic woman, the soap also broadcasted the financial ties associated with this role. Linda Cheveski confides in her mother in the first episode over her separation from her husband – she’s then told, in no uncertain terms, to consider the financial implications.

Ena Sharples and Florrie Lindley
‘Sharp Lancashire Lasses’

Marion Jordan has argued as well as ‘marriageable’ women, the soap also features ‘spinsterly women’ alongside ‘mature, sexy women’.

It’s not difficult to see who the producers were intending to play the role of hard-faced spinster in the first episode – in one of its earliest scenes, we see Ena Sharples interrogate shop-owner Florrie Lindley and also witness her impressive knowledge of the Street (and its ‘very funny’ residents). 

Corrie also reflected traditional depictions of the older, less beautiful woman who represented ‘our mam’. Despite working multiple jobs and keeping a home, Elsie Tanner seems more concerned in the first episode with her appearance as she exclaims in the mirror, ‘you’re just about ready for the knackers’ yard’.
Elsie Tanner
Interestingly, Coronation Street managed to portray these traditional representations of northern matriarchs while also presenting emerging liberal ideas surrounding women – Linda Cheveski and other younger female characters displayed this with their fashion and beauty choices.

Rita Tanner and Liz McDonald
The Legacy of the Weatherfield Women

Of course, we could go on about the Street’s individual characters and stories presented by its first episode alone, but there wouldn’t be time! Ultimately, the characters and themes discussed throughout this post contributed towards the representation of a northern, working-class community of women which Dave Russell has credited for provoking a fuller understanding of northern culture.

For many of us, the nostalgia of the Street is intrinsically linked with the women who have walked its famous cobbles – for me, this would be Rita Tanner and Liz McDonald, others would immediately think of Elsie Tanner and Ena Sharples. Regardless, it is these iconic characters who have allowed a light to be shone on the northern domestic woman, wise matriarchs and, of course, the local gossips we can all relate to.

Coronation Street, first episode, 9 December 1960:
https://archive.org/details/CoronationStreet9thDec1960

Further reading: 
Geraghty, C. Women and Soap Opera: A Study of Prime Time Soaps (Cambridge, 1991),
Jordan, M. ‘Character Types and the Individual’ in Richard Dyer, ed., Coronation Street (London, 1981),
Russell, D. Looking North: Northern England and the National Imagination (Manchester, 2004),
Hoggart, R. The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-class Life, ed. by Penguin Books (London, 2009). 


A guest blog post by Hannah Henderson

(And if you like that kind of academic Corrie post and would like to read more, there's a list of Coronation Street academic references that blog editor Glenda compiled over at www.corrie.net)

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maricha:

Thank-you! This was a very interesting post :-)

Ruth Owen said...

Enjoyed this, thank you. Ena was a widow not a spinster and has 2 daughters. She also had a son who died in infancy.

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