Friday, 15 February 2013

Coronation Street's long-term lack of diversity

(This post was originally posted by Graeme N on the Coronation Street Blog in February 2013.)

I had high hopes when Coronation Street bosses announced that Lloyd was to get a proper family. For one thing, it would give him more people to interact with therefore bringing a great character into the limelight. However, it also highlighted the lack of diversity that persists in Weatherfield.

It struck me that Lloyd, Mandy and Jenna are the first black family to be cast as regulars in Coronation Street.

Could it really be the case that it has taken 52 years for Corrie to create a black family? Apparently so. Mind you, given that actors from London and Scotland are forced to attempt Mancunian accents shows that today's Corrie bosses are less than up to date with the current make up of our major towns and cities. Not everyone living in Manchester these days must have a Manchester accent! Being a true Cockney worked out ok for Mike Baldwin!

So while I am pleased to see a black family establish themselves in Coronation Street, I am immediately rather worried about their chances for survival. Their arrival - long lost love and surprise daughter combo - was hackneyed and convenient to say the least. Mandy and Jenna did seem to be parachuted in rather quickly. I do think Mandy and Lloyd are much better suited than his last partner, Cheryl (who has very quickly been forgotten). As for the Jenna/Sophie pairing...I really hope this doesn't last long! They appear to have very little chemistry, although I'd rather Jenna stick with Sophie than end up with Kevin! I'm just sorry they have decided to rob an educated, intelligent character like Jenna of her career.  Despite my worries, I hope Lloyd's family do become established in the Street. Looking back in Corrie history, black and Asian characters have really struggled to make any headway.

The first prominent, regular black character I remember in Corrie was factory worker Shirley Armitage, portrayed by Lisa Lewis. During her six years in the Street in the 1980s she was known for working in Baldwin's Casuals and taking Curly's virginity. Despite this, she never achieved the legendary status of other characters of the time and is barely remembered at all these days. 

More successful was hairdresser Fiona Middleton, played by Angela Griffin in the mid-1990s. Fiona was a strong, independent, intelligent young woman who ended up running her own business despite having a love life that included both Steve and Jim MacDonald and a best friend in Maxine Heavey. I really liked Fiona, although things got a bit desperate after she did the MacDonald double. I would like to see her back in Weatherfield one day - I bet Steve would be pleased to see her too!

However since Fiona, Corrie bosses have really struggled to bring in long-term, prominent ethnic minority characters. There have been repeated attempts but in most cases the characters have been dull, badly written or simply not given any significant storylines. Bobbi Lewis or Sonia Marshall anyone? What about mechanic Nathan Harding? Or the twins Joanne and Jessie Jackson? Kelly Crabtree initially faired better although it was really no surprise when actress Tupele Dorgu departed in 2010. Her character had reached the end of the line - the writers really did not know what to do with her. We also had Polish factory worker Wiki Dankowska who I rather liked, but become embroiled in yet another daft faktry story with Carla Connor and subsequently disappeared. 

Dev Alahan must be one of the most enduring characters from an ethnic background, regardless of what you think of him. The Alahan family unit have established themselves in Coronation Street but again, in my opinion, have suffered from some truly woeful stories over the years (Mad Maya being the main exception!) Who knows what will happen to Dev once Sunita leaves? I did rather like Dev's cousin, Vikram, however his character was again rather short lived despite his obvious potential. 

So why do you think Coronation Street has always struggled to introduce characters which would show the true diversity of modern day Manchester? Do you have any favourites from the past you wish had been given more of a chance? What do you make of these latest additions to the Corrie cast? 

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