Monday, 21 July 2014

Could you ever call time on Coronation Street?

(This post was originally posted by Nathan Richardson via Flaming Nora on the Coronation Street Blog in June 2014.)

Corrie fan Nathan Richardson emailed me this wonderful guest blog post a few days ago. I loved it so much it almost made me cry.  Comments are turned off on this blog post here on the Coronation Street Blog because I know Nathan's beautiful words will hit a soft spot with so many die-hard, long-term Coronation Street fans, just as it did with me.  If you'd like to comment on Nathan's work, please visit his website to leave your thoughts there. 

Guest blog post by Nathan Richardson

Nicholas Hytner, long-term collaborator of Alan Bennett, said of the playwright’s most recent work for the stage, People, a kind of state-of-the-nation play, “He is talking about our failure to let things decay when it is time for them to decay.” I am reminded of these words watching Coronation Street this week. I have been watching the soap for as long as I can remember – it’s always been there, and, on the whole, I have always enjoyed watching it. It has been, to use a rather hackneyed phrase, a home from home. The heroine in Barbara Pym’s novel No Fond Return of Love thinks “Life’s problems are often eased by hot milky drinks.” Life’s problems are often also eased by half an hour in Weatherfield, but recently, that half hour, for me, has become something of a chore.

When I watch it today I do not feel that warmth of the street resonating as it once did. It feels instead so lifeless. Those old episodes may have been in monochrome, filmed on cardboard sets, but the wit, the character made it all so vibrant, so colourful. I am not a look-back bore. I am not here to say: oh, once upon a time…in the more recent past Coronation Street shone too. Take this scene from 1999, which was posted on these very pages a few months back. At the bar of the Rovers, the locals reflect on the recent passing of Alf Roberts – it should be morose and mournful, but it is in fact a comic scene, but in a gentle, not offensive, way. This is a very good piece of writing that highlights a certain aspect of the northern character: it would not look out of place in an Alan Bennett play. Would you see a scene like this today? No. For today, Coronation Street seems to exist solely in competition with other soaps to cram as many murders and affairs into the narrative.

This week’s song and dance focused on the death of Tina McIntyre. I never warmed to Tina. I expect the writers were surprised the public took to her so well. She had no family, other than the father who appeared briefly before disappearing in the most ridiculous circumstance, she simply floated from man to man, from job to job. Had Michelle Keegan not been welcomed with open arms by readers of FHM (World’s Sexiest Female, six years running, I’m told) then she would be have been long axed. The acting was…so flat, so dull, so tiring; her storylines unbelievable. And now she has been pushed off a roof, and we’re expected to care?

The new set is fancy, the large cast is young and beautiful but the show is dying a horrible death, and the writers know it. This story is a ploy to bring in viewers, to bring back viewers, to keep the few surviving viewers tuned in. But viewers will not tune in if it does not improve, and one very easy way of improving it would be to reduce the hours: these double episodes, by their very form, create something of a cliff-hanger effect, which is awkward, and they should be stopped, and the week long specials should cease to be completely once this one concludes. It should be on, if at all, but twice a week, as it once was. They wouldn’t be cobbling scripts and storylines together for the sake it, and, for us viewers, watching it, all five episodes a week, wouldn’t feel so stressful.

I may be unique in this view, but I find the big story-lines very unmemorable indeed. I can’t remember much at all about Tony Gordon, or Frank Foster, but I do remember Jed Stone’s cat, and those crumbling terraced streets where he lived. In the North, the “kitchen sink drama” is an established form that shook the world of cinema and television with things like A Taste of Honey and Coronation Street in the early 1960s, but it exists still today in works like Shameless. It is the drama that was comic for every bit it was tragic, representative of the real North, and, as the great Wilfred Pickles said, “May it be forbidden that we should ever speak like BBC announcers, for our rich tapestry of voices is a thing of great beauty and incalculable value, handed down to us by our forefathers.” He was right, and the above scene is testimony to it – there is something very poetic about northern dialogue, but it raises its head only occasionally today on the street. I rarely laugh, I rarely cry, I feel nothing in fact but uncontradicting boredom. I see nothing of real life as I once did, but I still watch it because I want to like it. It feels very natural to like it, but increasingly, I think of those words by Nicholas Hytner.

Hayley’s death was beautifully done, as was Jack Duckworth’s, and, yes, occasionally, there is a scene that reminds you why you love the show, but at the moment, and we see it on a big scale this week, with fast, flashing scenes of young people behaving irrationally, there is nothing remotely appealing about the show. And so I can’t help but wonder, is it… is it time to call it a day? Was Coronation Street but half a century’s wonder? The new set cannot hide the decay, and although it may be in our English nature to keep something alive because we’re too afraid to see it go, I think the time has come. I think we do more damage by ringing it out, and love it as do, it is time the Rovers shut its doors for good.

Nathan Richardson

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