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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Coronation Street at 50

It may seem strange for a twenty three year-old to say that the era of Corrie she identifies as her favourite is the one during the decade before she was born.

Thanks to the wonder of now-defunct channel, Granada Plus, I spent most of my childhood caught up in the lives of Elsie Tanner, Ena Sharples, Rita Fairclough and company. The world of the contemporary Corrie was the period before the axeman, Brian Park, took hold. It was slightly boring and nothing at all like the episodes I idolised.

As Coronation Street celebrates fifty years on television there are a lot of people reminiscing. Indeed, ITV have Victoria Wood narrating a 'Top 50' moments as part of the celebrations. I was one of the many who voted in this and I wonder if I was the only person annoyed by the prescription of the exercise. After all, a drop-down box with a list of events that we had to pick ten of required somebody to narrow down what they thought were 'noteworthy' storylines. The number of modern ones included obviously pandered to the modern audience. We'll get a couple of classics in the top ten, I'm sure, but I would've liked a system of choosing half from the prescribed list then selecting some of their own. I'm sure some would've cropped up often enough to be included in the list.

No one denies that times have changed in the television world. The Barlow family sitting around the table throwing dismayed looks over the sauce bottle won't cut it in a world that wants action, action, action and non-stop emotional drama. Hence why a tram just crashed into the Corner Shop and dropped its rear end on Rita Sullivan's head. To be fair on Corrie, it doesn't indulge in enormous events as often as Eastenders and Emmerdale do. Of course, you get the disproportionate number of murders, fires and affairs, but very rarely is a huge slice of the population put in danger.

One of the reasons I stopped watching Coronation Street regularly about five years ago was the swelling size of the cast and the introduction of characters I couldn't be bothered to care about. I think that's still a problem. If I went in tomorrow as another Brian Park style axeman I would take out a number of characters without hesitation. John, Kirk, Cheryl, Russ, Chris, Lloyd, Steve, Janice, Dev, Sunita, the Windass family and Julie are some of the characters immediately on my hit list (this disregards any deaths from the tram crash as I'm avoiding spoilers like the plague for this one). My favourite current characters are some stalwarts and some new legends: Eileen, Rita, Emily, Peter, Carla and Sophie. It's no coincidence that five of them are women. Strong female characters are what Corrie has always done best.

However, if you look at the names on the cobbles now and compare them with the Seventies, for instance, there's no comparison. How do Elsie, Annie, Hilda and Ena stack up against Gail, Eileen, Becky and Leanne? The former wipe with the floor with the latter any day of the week. In another fifty years I don't know how many of the modern crop will be remembered but Elsie Tanner won't be a name easily forgotten.

It was while watching the first episode on Monday that I realised how good it once was. Pat Phoenix lit up the screen, Violet Carson made you smirk, Doris Speed made you feel faintly uncomfortable. I don't know if you can ever recapture that success; I don't even know if a modern audience would want to try.

There's a lot of talk that Corrie could continue for another half-century. Unfortunately, I don't think the appetite for good television will last that long. Coronation Street has already changed beyond recognition and you have to wonder how much further the soap can bend.

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