Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The end of a Corrie era?

(This post was originally posted by Graeme N on the Coronation Street Blog in February 2015.)

Coronation Street and everyone connected with it has suffered a particularly traumatic start to the new year. Issues surrounding the casting of (Whoops, Canada spoiler removed), but far more importantly, the incredibly sad death of actress Anne Kirkbride has dismayed us all.

I didn't want to write about Anne passing away at the time and a week on from the news being made public, I still don't in any great detail. There have been plenty of superb tributes both on this blog and elsewhere across all forms of media. However, for some reason it has made me realise how fragile Corrie is. It's always seen as a powerful machine, trundling onwards as an unstoppable feature of contemporary British drama. It has an enviable history behind it and it shows no signs of slowing its pace, but I wonder if the central core of what makes Corrie "Corrie" is slowing being chipped away.

The exit of a pivotal cast member doesn't mean the end of Corrie. We have witnessed that on countless occasions in the past. Many household names have come and gone and each time it happens, headlines ask us if the soap can carry on. And of course it does, focussing on different angles and new characters. The beauty of a programme like Corrie is that it can regenerate as the need arises. The format is flexible enough to allow change while still providing the continuity regular viewers rely on. 

However it is not often that a character or actor departs who has entered the consciousness of the nation, not just avid Coronation Street viewers. The departures of characters like Annie Walker, Elsie Tanner and Hilda Ogden spring to mind, and more recently those of Betty, Blanche and the Duckworths. Each time it happens it is a huge wrench for all concerned, particularly if there is real life loss behind the on screen exit.

As a Corrie traditionalist, the fact that legendary characters are becoming an endangered species makes me sad. We don't often hear mentions of past glories and past characters these days and while it is important Coronation Street continues to move forward, while we do still see characters like Ken, Gail and Audrey, it would be brilliant if they name dropped Uncle Albert, Suzie Birchall and Alf Roberts a bit more often. It provides much needed continuity with the past and also makes proceedings feel more realistic. Families in the real world often reflect and reminisce about departed loved ones and while the current powers that be put a focus on family, it seems like a natural thing to expect. 

I worry that many people making television today put far too much effort into attracting young viewers. Talking about this recently with friends, we discussed how watching television has changed beyond recognition. Programmes like Coronation Street are watched most regularly by older people. The younger demographic do tune in, but perhaps not as loyally and definitely not as often through the traditional way. I think the majority of older Corrie viewers have watched for many years, just like my gran. 

They do remember the older characters and love hearing about them still. I'm not suggesting Corrie goes on a desperate mission to bring back past characters. Too often this move promises an awful lot and leaves a bitter taste. Too much had changed when Julie Goodyear returned as Bet and Philip Lowrie, while a welcome addition as Dennis Tanner, was woefully underused. The writers of today simply did not know what to do with him.

I think a renewed focus on more mature characters is very much needed in the Weatherfield of 2015. They are the ones who foster a sense of community and provide a stable backdrop for the high drama. Yes we still have Ken, Rita, Norris and Audrey but their appearances are increasingly fleeting. I loved Stephanie Cole's stint as Roy's mum Sylvia but as yet there has been nobody nearly as good to fill that gap. I hope Roy's new storyline with the widowed lady at the allotments is a good one but I think we need more. Like the wonderful Deirdre, they often provide the small yet memorable moments that stay with us long after the high drama and ratings grabbing stunts have faded away.

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