Monday, 6 April 2015

Getting it right when a Rover Returns

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

Ah, the perils of a returning character. It either works or it doesn't. For me at the moment, Coronation Street is all about the return of that legendary ginger minx, Jenny Bradley. 

This is a joy for me as it brings back memories of one of Corrie's best ever sagas from what I still see as a golden era for the show. So far Sally Ann Matthews has been on fine form, performing the difficult task of bringing life to Jenny over twenty years after her last appearance. 

I think it is working a treat. It is stirring up drama for some of the more established, long standing members of the Corrie cast and that can only be a good thing. The return story is plausible and Sally Ann is clearly relishing being back. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Bringing back former characters is a risky business. It's a gamble that can pay off, rewarding long-time viewers with references to the past, although sometimes they can just get it wrong. I think the main principles for bringing an old character back to Corrie are quite simple. Firstly, the character concerned must still be relevant. They must have current, ongoing links and often unfinished business with regular cast members. Secondly, the actor must be returning to play a character that is still recognisable to enough of the regular, loyal Corrie viewers. Finally, the writers must be able to write authentically for the character and understand both them and their motivations.

Sometimes I do sympathise with the powers that be. They can't do right for doing wrong. Either they are bringing in too many new faces which fans think do not gel or are not right for Corrie or they are bringing back too many old hat characters that have long since past their sell by dates.

Some recent returns have been surprisingly good. Jenny aside, I found myself enjoying Cilla's brief visit to Weatherfield last year. I was never much of a fan of Cilla during her original stint, she was always too extreme and too pantomime for my tastes. However the toned down, vulnerable Cilla we saw more recently worked well and felt a lot more believable. One of my favourite returning characters of recent years has to be Wendy flamin' Crozier. Coming from the same period as Jenny Bradley, the Ken-Deirdre-Wendy triangle of the late 1980s was superb. Roberta Kerr just seemed to pick up where she left off and it was great to see her back to upset the Barlow applecart.

Sometimes though, we are left scratching our heads and wondering where it all went wrong. Step forward Julie Goodyear, former queen of the Rovers Return as the iconic Bet Lynch. I loved our Bet - the comedy, the drama, the frocks, she had it all. The ill-advised come back in 2002 left a sour taste in the mouth as both Ms Goodyear and the viewing public quickly realised too much water had flowed down the Irwell since her last appearance in 1995. Some things are best left in the past as glorious, camp memories. 

At least the character of Bet remained true to herself on her much heralded return. The same cannot be said for others. I loved Sunita when she first appeared in 2001. She was sweet, kind and easy to love. Her come back in 2009 proved otherwise. She returned to Dev, they did a crazy, Nazir-like move into the street and the writers morphed her into a vamp, a seductress with the morals of something you'd find up the ginnel late at night. The same can be said of Dev's errant daughter Amber. She was the funny, sharp kid for a while, then left only to return solely to ruin Sawphie's relationship with Sian. It didn't work at all. Of the current cast, we have returnee Todd, another previously mainly decent character who has now inherited the warped mind of the tricyle riding child from The Omen. I think we are finally due an explanation of what the devil has happened to him.

There are always characters I would still love to see make a return to Weatherfield, whether for a special one off appearance or for a longer stint. Everyone has their own wish list of those they'd love to come back, so here is mine:

1. Mavis WIlton. Oh for one final glimpse of our Mave. I want this so badly I was over the moon just to hear her name mentioned recently when Rita went to stay with her. Seeing Barbara Knox and Thelma Barlow reunited for that special documentary at Christmas was an absolute joy. It would be wonderful to see RIta and Emily visit Mavis at her guest house for a special episode. Go on, Corrie, make it happen.

2. Eddie Windass. Why Corrie ever got rid of the fantastic Eddie Windass I'll never know. He was a classic Coronation Street character in the making. He was lazy, work shy and needed a good going over with a damp flannel yet he still managed to turn out beautiful cakes for any occasion. Now that we are seeing the back of Owen, isn't it time Gary went to look for old Eddie, bringing him back to Weatherfield and reuniting him with Anna?

3. Suzie Birchall. One of my all time favourite Corrie women, Suzie epitomised the golden Corrie era of the late 1970s. Indeed, Suzie really brought Corrie into that decade with a bang. I loved the set up of Gail, Suzie and Elsie, it really was cracking stuff. Gail rarely mentions Suzie these days, perhaps not surprising considering she tried to pinch her husband Brian back in 1983. In fact, with hindsight, it might have been better for Gail if she'd succeeded. I understand Cheryl Murray has suffered some ill health in recent years but I think it would be terrific to see Suzie turn up on Gail's doorstep one more time. We've had Gail the overpowering mother from hell and we've had Gail the simpering lovestruck bride to be, so why not have Gail having some fun and turning some heads with her old pal?

4. Janice Battersby. Perhaps a bit of a Marmite choice here, but for me her relationship with Leanne was always much more truthful and believable than anything the writers cooked up with Stella. Janice has all but been wiped from our memories which I think is a shame as Vicky Entwistle brought a lot of verve to the role. She wasn't always nice, but she was fiercely protective of her own. I'd like to see Janice back for a visit.

5. Finally, please powers that be, tempt Suranne Jones back for a stint as the wonderful Karen McDonald. Karen has been the only real match for Steve as far as I'm concerned. I loved their fiery relationship and Suranne is a brilliant actress. There are plenty of reasons for her to make a return with the likes of Steve, Liz and Tracy all still in the show. And I for one would love to see her take on Michelle.

So there we have it, my take on the pros and cons of bringing back classic characters to Corrie. The next cab off the rank has been Gail's darling Sarah Lou. We shall have to wait and see how that one goes. 

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