Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Canonisation of Hayley Cropper

(This post was originally posted by Clinkers (David) on the Coronation Street Blog in January 2013.)

Gawd bless the Corrie scriptwriters. Last week I jotted a few bits down about Hayley's 'canonisation' and hey presto, the lady mentioned the very same word in that evening's episode. I spent half an hour glaring at my notes followed by some manic folding and unfolding of my arms. Well, it seems to work for Michelle . . .

We - and indeed Hayley - are now entering the final furlong of our 'journey' together. Of course, this is not real life. Hayley exists merely to entertain us and we thank, wave farewell to and cheer on her way the rather wonderful Julie Hesmondhalgh. Bless her - she's given us sixteen years of Hayley-shaped fun on t'cobbles but all good things come to an end.

The demise of Mrs Cropper will no doubt provide the opportunity for a little moist-eyed remembrance though. Not perhaps in the Princess Diana hysteria mode. Visions of Elton John banging out some mawkish ballad in the Rovers, accompanied by Liz and Michelle's snorts of derision, are unlikely. A weeping Fiz laying a bouquet outside Underworld to the People's Panty Stitcher is not a scene we will not see. Yet Britain's telly viewers will grieve for Hayley. Shed a tear, brave Albion.

As followers of continuing drama, this is probably not such a surprising reaction. We invest time in following the fictional stories drifting past our eyes and therefore the characters therein. Hayley more than most has struck a chord with viewers and yet at the very beginning, the whole idea of a transgender resident of Coronation Street seemed bizarre. Well, that's how Hayley had been trail-blazed in many of the UK newspapers. Coming as it did in the Brian Park era, the Hayley storyline had everyone thinking that it would unfold as some hilarious 'man in a frock' pastiche. Things didn't quite unfold that way.

Rather than a badly drawn caricature, Hayley was presented as someone who could be sympathised with. The decision to initially pair her up with Alma Baldwin was genius. A caring character loved by many was seen as championing a misunderstood young woman. Alma extended Hayley's social circle and helped defend her against the unpleasantness dished out by the likes of Les Battersby and initially, Mike Baldwin. By portraying these men as boorish and ill-informed, we sided with Hayley and cheered every small victory she chalked up.

Is Hayley worthy of soap 'canonisation'? Is anyone? Hayley has not always been the perfect Streetmate. Her obstinate streak has often flared as well as periodic bursts of jealousy - although it's hard to feel much sympathy for Mad Mary on that score! What really shone about Hayley though was her ability to be anyone's friend. If you needed her, she was there, able to listen, advise and comfort. Maybe that's what we loved about her. Hayley was the one person we all secretly wanted to sit down with and have a chat with during the coffee break.

Perhaps more importantly, the scriptwriters, storyliners and Julie herself, with the help of trans members of the LGBT community, helped to redefine the public perception of what it meant to be a transsexual. It wasn't a subject for titillation or light relief. Through Hayley's eyes, viewers were able to gain some understanding of the prejudice and ignorance faced by the trans community. Any fears that Hayley would be portrayed unsympathetically soon disappeared. The battle goes on but there is no denying that Hayley Patterson Cropper's existence on a soap opera street has enriched the debate. Saint Hayley of Weatherfield? Probably not but for so many reasons, she is a creation to be celebrated. Here's to you, Hayley Cropper!

See also: Exclusive! Celebrity Corrie Blogger - Julie Hesmondhalgh

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