For the last few years BBC Four has been enriching our Thursday nights with repeats of thirty five year old Top Of The Pops. It's given us a valuable insight into the tastes of another era: last week's episode featured ABBA, Sparks, the Boomtown Rats and Legs & Co dressed like whores dancing to Donna Summer's "Bad Girls". It also encourages interactivity, as you shout at Peter Powell to take his hand off that 16 year old's shoulder or he'll get Yewtree'd in a few years time.
It lead me to wonder what was happening in Corrie 35 years ago this week and, because it's 2014 and literally everything is on YouTube, I was able to find out. So here's a little recap of what was going on in Corrie this week in 1979. It's like a very low budget version of Back to the Future.
Episode broadcast 9th July 1979
There's a surprisingly ambitious crane shot to reveal Len, Rita and Bet returning from a caravan holiday together in Morecambe. I'm not sure what lead to this threesome but I'm guessing there was a hilarious mix up. Meanwhile, at the Tilsleys, Ivy is wearing a really hideous nylon slacks and sweater combination that I wouldn't wear anywhere near a naked flame.
She's badgering Brian about his relationship with Gail, as usual, and in particular trying to get him to ask her about a certain Roy Thornley. She refuses to elaborate further, and neither does Bert Tilsley when he comes downstairs, leaving Brian looking more vacant than usual.
Rita's bought Mavis some perfume from her hols (Eau de Irish Sea?), leading to Ms Riley fantasising about her ideal holiday: a beach bar somewhere, with boats bobbing in the harbour. Rita suggests she goes to Trafford Docks (which is of course now known as Salford Quays, and is home to the new Corrie set).
It's lunchtime now, so Susie Birchall goes into the pub for a double bitter lemon. She's got a telesales job, flogging dance lessons, and talking all morning has given her a sore throat. She's still puffing on a ciggie, mind. Bet reveals that on holiday she copped off with a businessman (who was really a carpet fitter) by pretending she owned a chain of hairdressers. Elsie encounters Brian, who asks her about Gail's DARK SECRET with Roy Thornley; she refuses to comment, and Brian looks vacant.
After Ivy and Bert eat their lunch - some kind of brown mess - and he berates her for interfering with Gail and Brian's relationship, we cut to Dawson's cafe. Emily's going to pay for Gail's wedding cake - three tiers, pink and white - as her present to the happy couple. I'm distracted by the non-speaking kitchen worker in the background, who appears to be Rosemary West.
Gail then makes a callous remark to the recently widowed Mrs Bishop about how "nobody wants to be on their own," making Emily downhearted. Then Brian comes in and all is forgotten. Finally - after fifteen minutes of us beating around the bleeding bush - he asks Gail about Roy Thornley. She immediately bursts into tears and runs into the back, leaving Brian looking vacant.
After the ads, Emily goes into the kitchen, packing Rose West off into the front of the cafe to hold the fort. We then find out Gail's disgusting secret; when she was younger she had an affair with a man who turned out to be married, though she didn't know it at the time. "His wife threatened to cite me in t'divorce!" "Oh no, Gail!", gasps Emily, fully aware that this is quite literally the worst thing that can happen in the universe. She sends Brian away so Gail can gather herself together.
There's a brief scene with Susie, Mike and a man called Steve who I have to look up on IMDB because he looks just like the lead singer from Black Lace, but the action resumes with an outdoor sequence. It's shot on scratchy film, and involves Gail going to see Brian at the garage he works at. I spend the whole scene trying to work out where in Manchester it is, and wondering how many hundreds of thousands of pounds apartments in those warehouses go for now.
Susie is sexually harassed over the phone while trying to flog a dance class, and concludes that telesales may not be the job for her. She asks Elsie for money for a modelling course, which causes Elsie - and the audience - to tell her to get a grip. She's never going to be a top model. Especially with that bloody awful hairdo.
The Tilsleys are eating their tea in tense silence. To break it, Bert starts whittering on about some bloke at work who breeds budgies, until Ivy finally asks Brian if he's spoken to Gail about her saucy past - "how many more have there been that we don't know about?" Brian loses it, as best as he can, and storms out, leaving Brian to call Ivy a "stupid bitch." "Who are you calling names?" she demands, so Brian clarifies why he called her "stupid"; presumably the "bitch" part is taken as read. Brian returns with a holdall - "I'm off. I can't live here no longer" - and the episode ends on a close up of Ivy Tilsley's face.
Episode broadcast 11th July
There's more storming when Elsie goes round to confront Ivy for what her meddling has done. They have an argument in the Tilsley's front room, where Ivy calls Elsie a bad mother and the magnificent Ms Tanner threatens to do something unpleasant to Ivy's tonsils. Ivy concludes by shouting "No lad of mine is paying full price for shop soiled goods!", which is kind of a brilliant description of Gail Platt whichever way you look at it.
In the Kabin, Mavis is trying to flog a copy of Kate Bush's The Kick Inside to an unwilling punter. I'd forgotten they sold records there as well. Albert Tatlock comes in looking to buy something from t'top 20 for t'twins. Mavis tries to establish which record he wants, but he's no idea, so they agree to let him listen to some records on the shop's "gramophone" so he can decide which one he wants. The actual number one that week was "Are Friends Electric?" by the Tubeway Army, and the idea of Albert Tatlock listening to Gary Numan fills me with an unaccountable glee.
Susie is reading the paper, and conspicuously not checking for jobs, much to Elsie's annoyance. She explodes at her, pointing out that she's late with her rent as well, and threatening to chuck her out. Finally Elsie storms out (told you!) for a pie at the Rovers. People also seem to do a lot of eating in these episodes. In the pub, Steve and Mike are discussing how successful the factory is at the moment and how they'll have to take on some new staff. I WONDER WHERE THIS COULD POSSIBLY BE LEADING. Mike tells Betty that the only place that makes any money is the Rovers, and "if I had any spare cash I'd put it in this place." FORESHADOWING! Incidentally, despite banging out of her house at a fair old clip, Elsie never turns up in the pub. Maybe she got lost.
Ivy is doing Bert's dinner for him, and he reveals that he found Brian; he'd kipped on a mate's sofa the night before. At the Tanner household, Brian arrives to surprise Gail. He's spent all night figuring out what he wants - apropos of nothing, I note that "Brian" is a mangled version of "Brain" - and he's decided he wants Gail. ADVERTS.
In the cafe, Emily gives Steve some egg on toast, as prepared by Rose West in the kitchen. Two extras, meanwhile, wander out of the cafe by going behind the camera - isn't there meant to be a wall there? Mike Baldwin comes in and is horrified that (a) Steve is eating egg on toast and (b) that he's employed Susie Birchall. "Over my dead body!" he shouts. In the Kabin, Elsie buys some cheap tights off Rita. Isn't it meant to be a newsagent? Records, tights - I wouldn't have been surprised if Ken Barlow nipped in to buy a couple of steaks and some turpentine. Albert Tatlock returns to listen to the second half of "that military band record" he was listening to earlier - I thought he was looking for something for the twins? I didn't have Peter Barlow as a fan of the Band of the Grenadier Guards. Elsie tells him not to bother buying a record, because you can hire them for 15p from the library.
From the perspective of a 21st century viewer, it was recognisably Corrie, but there was plenty that was alien as well. The extensive hand wringing over Gail's SECRET PAST, for example, with everyone talking about her affair as though she was Liz Taylor having it away with Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra. The extensive brown of all the sets - had no-one told the designers that it was colour telly? - got me down after a while, as did the nasty looking meals people were picking through. Ivy Tilsley served up about forty eight different courses and not one of them looked palatable.
It was surprisingly clunky in places too, with quite a few cast members tripping over their lines (especially Pat Phoenix). Gail Potter is recognisably the Gail of today, just at 35 years remove, though I was surprised to find out that she used to be close to Emily Bishop, as they barely have two words to say to each other these days. It's astonishing how many of the characters are genuinely iconic; pretty much every character is still a household name today, with the exception of Steve from the factory, who is utterly forgettable. And Brian Tilsley is easily the most vacant, brawn over brains character ever to inhabit the Street; he makes Jason Grimshaw look like a finalist on Only Connect.
I do wish there was a channel somewhere that showed all these episodes still. It's a handy compare and contrast. Still, there's always YouTube...
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