Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Burton/Taylor Effect

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

Richard Burton and Liz Taylor met on the set of Cleopatra in 1962; they were both married to other people.  Soon they were embroiled in a passionate, insane affair that was condemned by the Pope.  They married in 1964 and spent the next nine years screaming at one another, having noisy sex, and lazing around on yachts in glitzy Eurotrash resorts.  She wore turbans and kaftans to cover her decadent curves; he took parts in terrible films so that he could afford to buy her diamonds.  They divorced in 1973, with Burton sending her a truly heartbreaking goodbye.

Sixteen months later they were married again, unable to stay apart; nine months after that they divorced again, unable to stay together.  They were bawling, passionate balls of lust, and even after they separated - even after they married other people, again and again - they always suspected that they'd return to one another.  Burton was rumoured to have written a final letter to Liz before he died; she, in turn, was buried with his letters.

This doesn't seem to have much to do with Coronation Street, I admit - apart from, perhaps, my never-ending quest to see Audrey Roberts in a silk turban.  It's more to do with the power of some relationships that mean the end is never the end.  Characters chop and change their sexual partners with barely a ripple from those around them; it's the way of all soaps.  People are able to swap to a new wife or husband without any effort at all and the Street and its community act as if things have always bee that way.  It's hard, now, to remember that Eva used to go out with Nick, or that Tyrone was engaged to Maria, or that Rita once went to bed with Ken.  It's all stuff that happened in the past.

Sometimes, though, a couple split up and you're just marking time until they get back together.  There's a connection there that means we're eagerly waiting for them to reunite.  The greatest example is, of course, Ken and Deirdre.  After Barlow was evicted from number one for his affair with Wendy Crozier, that should have been it for the couple.  Yet everyone knew, somehow, that Ken and Deirdre belonged together.  Even when she was with Samir, or he was with Denise, we were waiting.  When they were both single at the same time, the audience quietly willed them back together.  When they finally remarried, it completed their characters once again.  Ken and Deirdre.  They came as a pair.

It's not just down to both halves of the couple remaining on the Street.  After Gail and Martin split up, there was never a clamouring for them to reunite; that was it and we all knew it.  It's about a connection.  When Kevin and Sally split up in 1997, again following an affair, there was a feeling of loss and confusion.  From the perspective of 2015, it's odd to think that Kevin was married to someone else before he and Sally reunited in 2002.  They were a couple who seemed to be stuck together.  Even now - and I speak as Tim's number one fan - they seem to have their engines idling, ready to reconnect.  There's chemistry and history and charm there and we're all waiting for them to stop mucking about and marry for a third time.

These aren't the full Burton/Taylor, though.  These are couples who belong together like matching sling backs.  To be a real Liz and Dick there has to be an animalistic, uncurbed passion underneath.  Peter and Carla had this relentless, unable to part lust, coupled with self-destructive instincts that hurt the both of them.  We all know that if Peter had hung around a couple more months, he and Carla would have had a sloppy reunion, probably immediately followed by a noisy separation.  That was just the way they worked.

Similarly, if Karen or Becky returned to the Street, there would be a Steve-shaped hole in the side of the Rovers as he rushed to their side.  What he has with Michelle can't compete.

The real Burton and Taylor of Weatherfield, though, are his mum and dad, Liz and Jim.  For twenty odd years they've crashed into one another all over the cobbles, screaming, violent, lusty.  She left Jim to run a pub; they reunited.  He beat seven bells out of her; they separated.  They grew closer, then divorced, then remarried while he was in prison.  That's a level of insane commitment.  They divorced again, but always, always, we knew that Jim was her true love, even as Liz married Vernon.  He robbed a building society for her, for heaven's sake.

Even when Jim returned a few months ago, and Liz spat disgusted words at him across a formica table, we didn't really believe it.  They're a pair of screaming cats who finish fighting and immediately start doing something else that begins with "f".  Everyone knew it - even Liz's current boyfriend, Tony, viewed her prison visits as tantamount to foreplay.  We're all just waiting for Big Jim to turn up at the Rovers and for the cycle to start all over again.  Liz and Jim, Liz and Dick - never ending passions.

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