Sunday, 29 October 2017

Five things we've learned from Classic Coronation Street this week

(This post was originally posted by Graeme N on the Coronation Street Blog in October 2017, reposted to this blog with permission.)

I was overjoyed when the announcement came that ITV3 would start re-running classic episodes of Coronation Street. To begin with, I was disappointed the network wasn't going to show episodes from earlier on - I believe the mid 1970s to early 80s to be the golden age for the show - however I can now see the benefits in starting in 1986. The episodes broadcast this week are modern enough to feature a vast number of characters viewers today will still be aware of, either because they are still regularly on our screens or because their time has only recently been and gone.

This first week has featured Ken, Rita, Jenny, Audrey, Gail, Sally and Kevin. All characters we still thankfully have with us today. The likes of Deirdre, Emily, Jack and Vera, Betty and Hilda are still very much in our consciousness too. Early '86 also began some long running stories, introducing Sally Seddon to enliven Kevin's life for many years to come and most of all, the start of the three year Alan Bradley saga. 

I have been tasked with cobbling together a blog on five things we've learned from the first week of Classic Coronation Street on ITV3. So here we go...


It was much easier to get rid of Tracy Langton/Barlow in 1986

1985 had seen Coronation Street invest in a second Tracy. Holly Chamarette played Ray and Deirdre's sprog from 1985 until replaced by Dawn Acton in 1988. These were the days when Tracy could disappear upstairs for many months at a time without Digital Spy launching a poll or taking to Twitter to ask the audience where she's gone. This week of episodes focused very heavily on the Barlow family and Ken's attempt to adopt Ray Langton's offspring. What amazed me were the many creative ways the writing team of '86 had of getting rid of young Tracy so Ken and Deirdre could thrash out the drama without the side ponytailed youth getting in the way. Here are my favourites:

"Go and wash your hands Tracy-luv and don't get marmalade on the banister"

"Go and get me a handkerchief from the top drawer of me dresser Tracy-luv"

"Go and scrub the back of your neck Tracy-luv, I don't want to see a tide mark again"

Please note, none of these instructions involved taking ecstasy, one of Samir's kidneys or getting into bed with Roy Cropper.


The Rovers was enduring a major 1978 hangover 

Even though we are more than half way through the 1980s, much of the Coronation Street set seems to be stuck in the late 1970s. Brown predominates, particularly in the Rovers where Bet is now in charge and ruling over Betty, Jack and Gloria Todd with an alarming behive and classic Resting Bet Face. The saloon bar of the Rovers appears to be a slightly less alarming shade of deep turd brown from when Dame Annie Walker ruled the roost and looked heaven-ward each time something common occurred "Frrrred! Frrred! Fetch the Rover!" 

The wallpaper circa 1978 was a horrid, turgid brown wheel of fortune motif with curtains to clash but by the mid-1980s and pre-Rovers fire (poor Bet crawling through her own vomit in a nightie we all hoped was flame proof - a treat still to come) it had been softened to a kind of silky beige print although elements of the seventies still remain. Most notably the creosote brown wooden surround, remarkably good as new despite that lorry load of timber crashing into it in 1979 and those dreadful curtains that clashed with absolutely everything. I jest but they hang there forlornly, as if waiting for Dame Walker to return although we all knew she never would.

Susan Barlow was about as wooden as the saloon doors in Baldwin's kitchen

1985 had seen the return of Ken's daughter Susan, twin of Peter and daughter of the late Val. Having been sent to Scotland following Val's incineration in those weird maisonettes, mainly because Ken couldn't snog Joanna Lumley and look after two whinging kids at the same time (come on, that would be a stretch even for Sir Laurence Olivier), Susan was found living in Newcastle without so much as a Scottish accent. She was soon in cahoots with that Cockney cad Michael Vernon Baldwin, despite her being 21 and him being old enough to have played a gangster in a 1960s Norman Wisdom film. 

We all know how that storyline ends (step forward factory stripper and ambulance chaser Adam Barlow). However what struck me was just how awful 1980s Susan was. On paper the decision to bring back the actress who had last played young Susan in the early 1970s was a sensible one, ensuring continuity. Unfortunately this plan overlooked the fact that in this case anyway, a decent enough child actor had not transformed into a great adult acting star. Watching grown up Susan and her wavering northern accent as she bobbed between No 1 Coronation Street and Baldwin's bachelor pad was excruciating. Even the brief, pointless scenes of her drinking Mellow Birds in a borrowed yellow-brown dressing gown, sat on Mike's manly green leather sofa were painful to behold. In a period which was still chock full of legendary Corrie characters, the predominance of Susan Barlow is something that makes me glad 2017 has brought us a more high-tec remote control.

(As an aside, the focus on the Barlow family in early 1986 made me realise just how old that kitchen was when Pat Phelan ripped it out last year! Ken, Deirdre and co lived with those foul units, pond scum green tiles and willy shaped jelly moulds for nigh on thirty years). 


George Wardle? Anyone?

Early on in the week I spotted a grey, mumbling Don Brennan prototype lurking about in the shadows in the Badwin's Casuals sewing room. He's so grey he's even got a rancid grey pleather blouson on to match his character. Looking at the credits, which fortunately didn't disappear into a quarter of the screen while the continuity person announced what was coming up Saturday week, I found that this character went by the name of George Wardle. No, me neither. Watching more episodes it soon appeared this poor unfortunate had until recently been linked romantically to that edifying representation of black roots, brown food and all encompassing misery, Ivy Tilsley. Apparently George was quite keen on Ivy, despite knowing she was an interfering old fantasist who came as a package deal with foghorn best mate Vera, toothy muscle-bound son Brian and pony-tailed Wailing Wall Gail. 

Following the storyline closely (ahem) it seemed that by January '86 our George was spending a great deal of time in Packing (pre-Kirk) with a delightful new companion called Pauline, much to Ivy's chagrin. Thankfully gob on a stick Ida Clough helped her friend get over the heartbreak by bringing it up every time the camera happened to fall on her delectable features. The only other thing I learned about George was that he couldn't stand onion in a ham roll. Quite right too. Wardle had gone by February having been sacked by Baldwin for crimes against men's fashions. 

The Fruity Sauce story arc ruled

Ah the little things. These days we rely on the likes of Brian and Cathy for delightful, down to earth story arcs. In early 1986 Alf's mini-mart took centre stage to provide comic support to the serious goings on with the Barlow family and with the newly arrived Jenny and Alan Bradley combo from hell at Rita's. She's never had it easy, our Reet. Alf's new wife Audrey spent much of January '86 tarting about the corner shop and moaning about living amongst cardboard boxes full of salt and vinegar in the shop flat. The delights of Grasmere Drive were sadly still a few years off. Audrey's flighty doings led to a calamitous mishap with a pricing gun that the likes of Percy Sugden and Vera Duckworth were only too happy to take advantage of. 

Oh yes, Audrey mistakenly priced up bottles of "fruity sauce" at 14p instead of 41p! The biggest outrage in the shop's history until that tram popped off its tracks in 2010. The cost of things in 1986 shocked me on a couple of occasions this week. I can't imagine buying anything for 41p these days not to mention the fact later that week Alf and Audrey tootled out in Alf's alarmingly sporty soft top MG Midget to view a semi-detached house (with a sun room) on the market for £40 000! 

This week of classic Corrie on ITV3 has been an absolute triumph. It has reminded us of the slower pace Corrie once had - it was more character driven, less aggressive and all about the writing. It was a nostalgia fest and nearly as comforting as wallowing in a roll top tub full of melted Caramac. And I for one can't wait for more.

Classic Coronation Street is broadcast on ITV3 every week day at 14.40 and 15.15, repeated from 6am the next day.

Tvor @tvordlj on Twitter

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