Corrie Street 27 Dec. 2020

Hens’ Revenge

The stars of the 60th anniversary episodes for me were Yasmeen’s hens. Especially the overhead shot of them pecking around Geoff laying splat out on the ground. They were alive and he was not: proper hens’ revenge for everything he had done to them and Yasmeen, and threatened to do.

I was horrified to hear Yasmeen testify that Geoff had cooked her favourite hen and served her up for dinner. Lock him up! Back on the street after she had been released from prison, he taunted Yasmeen by threatening the life of hen Emily. He’d barbecue her, he said. Lock him up!

Geoff gave Yasmeen one hour to go to her house and collect her stuff. When there, she went to the back yard to say hello to the chickens. But when she left them, she didn’t latch their coop door properly.

Yes, the whole time that she was in the house was dramatic. The power went out so she was in the dark, alone with no one knowing where she was. Would she manage to get her photos and whatever and get back out safely? Would Geoff sneak in and hurt her. But mainly, for me, would the hens stray and get hurt?

But they didn’t. Emily came into the house. Yasmeen saw her. She must have twigged that was odd, and therefore the coop must be open. But I guess she was distracted by the imminent danger posed by Geoff. By her not immediately going out and putting Emily back in and latching the coop, the chickens had freedom to go around the back yard. And witness Geoff’s demise.

Character or Plot

Plot-driven or character-driven? Chickens would simply stay on their roost and sleep after dark, open coop door or not. So plot-driven. But an upset in their routine, like someone opening the coop after they’ve gone to bed, can cause them to get up and see what’s going on. So it’s in character that they might wander out to look around. Or get up to check out the situation when someone thumps down on the ground right beside them.

Last mention of the hens was Sally saying she’d see to them. Sally? Wow, she and Yasmeen must have patched up their differences!

A visit home

It’s been two and a half years since I watched an entire week of Coronation Street. It was nice to see familiar faces and places. See new people, see changes made in living quarters. Catching up on stories, many of which hit their dramatic high point. Yasmeen and the story of Geoff’s abuse, of course. But also others involving individuals and the street itself.

The bulldozer threatening the buildings and the people in front of it. Ken’s Tiananmen moment, stopping the bulldozer by talking about his 81 years on the street and all the history in those cobbles. Abi, in a style reminiscent of Becky, taking over a digger and smashing everything it could reach (hence the power outage). Mary bringing her vuvuzela to the protest! Roy’s research abilities finding legal room to manoeuvre by getting the old brewery listed as a historic property. Rita giving developer Ray Crosby a dressing down about the Kabin and her years behind its counter – long before him and long after as well, laddie.

Yes, nice to see old friends and visit familiar places. And I looked for my own high point – my scene of the week – in their dramatic moments. But, at the end, I had to go back to what had made me catch my breath and think ‘oh-no’. And that was the Nazir hens. Maybe I’ll come back sometime to check on them. When, I don’t know.

Corrie Origin Story

Sixty years ago today, on December 9, 1960, the first episode of Coronation Street aired. Since then, its origin story has been told many times, many ways.

Granada_Studios_Manchester_geograph.org_.uk_GaryReggae-2005-wikicommonsHere is the story as told to me by the two people who had the idea for a home-grown serial for Northern England television.

In 1960, Harry Elton was a producer at Granada Studios. I talked to him by telephone in 1991. He was at his home in Ottawa, Ontario. Tony Warren was a young writer for Granada in 1960. I met him in Manchester in 1992. Although several months and thousands of kilometres apart, their stories meshed as if they were in the same room finishing each other’s sentences. So I wove the two together.

How it began

Elton: Granada was trying to develop local programming in accordance with government regulations about local content on the new private, commercial networks. I remembered the soap operas I had seen when growing up in Canada and later in Detroit. I knew that they were extremely popular, and that production costs were lower because the same sets could be used over and over and actors could be signed on long contracts.

There was this kid writing for Granada, Captain Biggles and other series. He had a way of hearing Manchester, Salford talk. I asked him to write a pilot and outline for a thirteen-week season, about life in the north. He went away, and came back with the first episode of Coronation Street.

Warren: I invented it out of sheer desperation… I was adapting [Biggles] novels of Captain W. E. Johns, which I found fascist and incomprehensible. I said to Harry Elton, let me write what I know about – show business. He said that’s the kiss of death for television… I said I know about the north of England. And more to humour me than anything else he said go away and come back in twenty-four hours with a show that’ll take the world by the ears.

Elton: I remember after the pilot was shown… they sat down to pronounce. The first man, who was an American variety person, said, That’s a soap opera! You don’t put that crap on at seven o’clock at night, you put that on in the daytime.

Corrie-St-1960-youtube.comCecil Bernstein [Granada co-founder] said, Harry, you’ve made a horrible mistake, and we can’t blame you because you’re a Canadian… North Country accents are the language of George Formby and Old Mother Riley. And whenever people hear it, they laugh. They’ll never take it seriously.

The general manager, who had been working with Korda in film, said, There’s not a single thing I like about that programme. I don’t like the characters, I don’t like the sets, and I don’t like the stories. Surely people watch television to be taken out of their dreary lives, not to have their noses rubbed into reality!

Warren: Harry Elton refused to be defeated… He set up monitors all round the studio. And he sent out memos to everybody from the chairman down to the cleaners and said, today at one o’clock, we will be showing two episodes of a home-grown serial that we believe in. We would like you to watch it and fill in questionnaires.

tv-times-16-dec-1960-ep-3-coronationstreet.fandom.comThe reactions in these questionnaires were exactly the same as the reactions have always been ever since to Coronation Street. The people either loved it or they loathed it, but they didn’t feel indifferently about it. The ones who loved it far outweighed the ones who loathed it. And so it was the people who got the show onto the air, not the powers that be! The people and a Canadian!

Elton: Just as all my distinguished colleagues felt that the show wouldn’t work, the critics, all of them I think… knocked the show. Television was important enough, and there were only the two channels, so that everybody wrote on it. It was in The Times, The Observer, The Guardian.

There was a young Canadian who was writing television criticism for one of the distinguished weeklies… He said, This is pap! This is what Lenin was talking about when he talked about religion – it was the opium of the people. Granada are now putting out this crap to make the working classes, who are the victims of British society, feel contented in their miserable lot. That Canadian’s name was Mordecai Richler.

Jump borders

corriepedia-on-twitter Corrie Origin StoryTony Warren wrote only those first thirteen episodes. But in those, he set the standard for the show. It was what he had written in a memo to the bosses at the very beginning: “A fascinating freemasonry, a volume of unwritten rules. These are the driving forces behind life in a working-class street in the north of England… The purpose… is to entertain by examining a community of this kind and initiating the viewer into the ways of the people who live there.”

He allowed for that examination because he was so adept at reproducing that world. Harry Elton said of Tony Warren: “His ability was to reflect the way people really talked, but with a sharp edge… Everywhere he went on buses he would have a pencil and a piece of paper and he would listen to people talk, and write down what they said… So he set the style… It was real people talking to each other about real problems… When you have that kind of reality, it has a universality about it that lets it jump over borders.”

Tony Warren said: “I couldn’t turn to the court pages of a newspaper without reading ‘She came from a Coronation Street-type background’. I remember a morning sitting on a bus, overhearing two women ‘Did you see it last night?’ I thought, I’ll never escape this thing!”

Harry Elton returned to Canada in 1963, where he worked in radio and television, including the CBC, and for the Canadian Museum of Civilization. His wife, Marguerite tony-warren-harry-elton-1995-corriepediaMcDonald, was the original host of CBC Radio’s political programme The House. Mr. Elton died in 2004 at the age of 74.

Tony Warren became a novelist, writing about the North of England and show business. He also was a consultant for Coronation Street, “the only person who is paid to watch it” as he delightedly told me. He died in 2016 at the age of 79.

Coronation Street 60 Screen_Shot_2020 itvThe 2010 movie The Road to Coronation Street is a beautiful telling of the show’s origins . If you haven’t watched it, do (see below). The story told above is from Other Worlds, my book about British and American soaps . The week of 60th anniversary special episodes starts in Canada on CBC on Friday, December 18th.