Television’s most famous street 

10 August 2020 tbs.pm/70689

The long-awaited day arrives as yet two more of the regulars in the street tie the marital knot, this couple being Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley) and Renee Bradshaw (Madge Hindle) with Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) as best man.

 

From ‘Television & Radio 1979’, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in December 1978

A newspaper’s TV critic wrote, ‘I find it hard to believe that viewers will want to put up with a continuing slice-of-life, domestic drudgery two evenings a week.’ That was on the morning of Saturday 10th December 1960. He had been watching the first episode of a new drama series, Coronation Street, the night before. And Coronation Street is still here – eighteen years later.

Not all the critics were so condemnatory. One eminently perceptive Sunday paper called it ‘A winner’. A leading arts journal enthused, ‘Coronation Street is consistently wittier, healthier and quite simply better than any of TV’s supposedly respectable series…’

Over the years since 1960 Coronation Street has been enjoyed by millions of viewers all over the world – and acclaimed, chided, dissected and investigated by TV critics, sociologists, politicians, academics. One self-confessed addict, Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, said: ‘Manchester produces what is to me the Pickwick Papers. That is to say, Coronation Street. Mondays and Wednesdays, I live for them. I’m very fond of Hilda Ogden and her ghastly husband, Stan. Thank God, half-past seven tonight and I shall be in Paradise’.

University students doing theses on the mores of working class Britain choose Coronation Street for their researches, and teachers in infant schools build mock-ups of the corner shop to teach their pupils arithmetic.

Newspaper writers have criticised its authenticity at their peril. In the early weeks one character was seen mending his bike in front of the living-room fire. ‘Don’t tell me that happens in Lancashire in the enlightened 1960s’, scoffed a journalist on one Manchester paper. Hundreds of viewers leapt to the scriptwriters’ defence. ‘We always mend our bikes indoors’, they protested. The newspaper had to print a retraction.

Elsie Howard (Patricia Phoenix) is back in fighting form after recovering from the acute depression that was the aftermath of her divorce. The old spirit of Elsie Tanner has returned!

The Coronation Street production team do indeed take elaborate pains to ensure authenticity of setting and action. Birthdays of characters, their anniversaries, their pre-Coronation Street existence, their marital antecedents, where they have holidayed, all are carefully documented and archived for future scriptwriters’ reference by a full-time ‘historian’. ‘If a character mentions that it is his birthday “next Monday’’, says one of the production team, ‘then that date is bound to coincide with thousands of viewers’ own birthdays. The next year, they will be looking out for it. So it has to be right.’

Viewers ask where they can get patterns for sweaters worn by the cast, wallpaper they see on the walls of the houses, ornaments from the mantlepieces, beermats from the bar of the Rovers Return. They offer ideas for the storyline based, they say, on their own personal real-life experiences. They have been known to ask for parts in the series, taking over from characters who have moved out. When anyone is in trouble in the series, viewers write with practical advice. When they get the sack, new jobs are offered to them the next day. The scriptwriting team are wary of taking up such suggestions. But germs of ideas for storylines do come from real life. Many of the writers are either journalists or have a newspaper background, and the papers themselves are a daily source of possible points for scripts.

Government departments and community agencies are helpful with background on social services. The week Britain went decimal, one of the country’s first 50p pieces was passed over the Rovers Bar and into Annie Walker’s till … and into the conversation in the Snug. ‘If it happens in life, it can happen in Coronation Street’ is the yardstick. If the old-age pension goes up, then the pensioners in the street will rejoice about it. If it is the Cup Final next Saturday, that will be a talking-point in the corner shop.

The scriptwriting team – about a dozen at any one time – meet every three weeks for an all-day story conference at which they discuss the plot line for six episodes, three months ahead. Ideas are hammered out around the table and outline synopses for the six episodes drafted. The full-time storyline team then build up the bald outlines into a working format for each episode, crafting the story around the characters who will be available those particular weeks. Any four or five of the regular cast of 23 will have central roles in the action. Others will be on the fringes. The outlines are then handed to the writers who will actually script the dialogue for the studio. Production of two episodes takes a week, with rehearsals starting Monday afternoon and studio recording finishing Friday evening. The two episodes made on the Friday are transmitted three weeks later. Both will figure among the top half-dozen in that week’s audience-ratings chart. And another TV critic will write – as one did in 1962 – ‘Coronation Street keeps it up twice a week, year after year, maintaining a wonderfully creditable standard of entertainment, humour and honesty….’

 

The scene in Studio 6 during the recording of an episode of one of television’s most popular and oldest serials.

 

 

 

Barmaid Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear) and Hilda Ogden (Jean Alexander) exchange the latest gossip of the street over the bar of that friendly ‘local’, the Rovers Return.

 

Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) reigns as barmaid in the Rovers Return.

 


 

❛❛Russ J Graham writes: This fun article manages to make the production team at Granada sound rushed off their feet, producing an hour of television a week. And that was an impressive total for an on-going scripted series in 1979, especially considering that it didn’t take season breaks after 6 or 12 episodes like other scripted series of the time.

Of course, it’s now a phenomenal 6 episodes a week (or will be again as the production finds its feet after a break caused by COVID–19), three whole hours of TV, week in, week out. New techniques help keep the production going – cameras are lighter, the studio sets are now standing and have been optimised, the outdoor set extended to allow multiple scenes to be shot simultaneously – and an expanded cast of characters, up from 23 to 83 (including babies) according to the Coronation Street Wiki, means that it’s easier for the writers to churn out material – imagine writing 3 hours a week for a cast of just 23! – and for the cast to take breaks, fall off the wagon, do panto and live through other distractions from the treadmill.

A thing to note in this article is that nowhere is the term “Corrie” used. The shorthand version for Coronation Street for its first 30-odd years was simply ‘The Street’. Ever on the lookout for a snappier term – and a shorter headline – “Corrie” appears to be a tabloid coinage from the 1990s.

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