Tag Archives: soap operas

Coronation Street Library

Coronation Street Library - Amazon for Coronation Street Colouring Book
Click for Amazon link

Seeing that a Coronation Street adult colouring book will soon be released made me think about how big the Coronation Street library is. Reams of paper about the fictional town of Weatherfield and its residents. Histories of the show, fictional backstories of the Street, socio-cultural analysis, and more.

It is not just paper. There is merch galore. Documentaries about the show and spin-off movies. Collectibles, from t-shirts to Lilliput house miniatures. Games and quiz books. Everything you could want to back up your fandom is available.

Coronation Street Library - CS video game 2008 wikicommons
Coronation Street video game – a collector’s Holy Grail

The old Granada Studios had a Coronation Street gift shop. Arrayed in front of you was everything Corrie. Books and cards. Tea towels featuring Ena Sharples. Hilda Ogden’s plaster ducks. Rovers Return teapots. Dinnerware sets with a small Rovers Return on the rims. It was heaven.

Now almost everything can be found online. I could not find the dinner sets, though, despite searching high and low. Here’s some of what is available. My list is not exhaustive: over 60 years has produced a huge Coronation Street library. To see everything Corrie on Amazon.ca, click Coronation Street Merch or use my links below for specific items. I will also add items as I find them. All links are to Amazon Canada unless otherwise noted.

Books

Amazon link Teaching TV SoapsTeaching TV Soaps - Louise Alexander and Alison Cousens, 2008 British Film Institute. "Combining challenging theory with accessible and practical teaching ideas."
Other-Worlds_WEB (not a link)Other Worlds: Society seen through soap opera - Dorothy Anger, 1999 Broadview. To my knowledge, the only comparative study of US and UK soaps and their audiences. (U of T Press).
Coronation Street Cookbook - Graeme Carlisle, 1992 Random House UK. "Traditional Lancashire pies and puddings to Jim McDonald's Irish stew and Mike Baldwin's bubble and squeak."
Amazon link Unofficial Coronation Street Quiz BookThe Ultimate Unofficial Coronation Street Quiz Book - Ed Cobham, 2010 Summersdale, Kindle or paperback eds.
Amazon Coronation Street Coloring BookCoronation Street, The Official Colouring Book: Colour classic scenes from the show's history -
45 scenes to colour, $14.99, ITV 2016
Coronation Street - Richard Dyer (ed.) 1981
British Film Institute. An essential collection of analyses for students of popular culture.
Amazon 50 years of Coronation Street Unofficial50 Years of Coronation Street: The (Very) Unofficial Story - Sean Egan, 2010 Aurum Press. The show's history, the British soap industry it spawned, its reflection of real life, audiences, and actors.
Amazon Coronation Street: The complete sagaCoronation Street: The complete saga
- Katherine Hardy, 2004 Granada Media. The epic novel of over 40 years of life on the Street. (She has written other tv novelizations and also writes as Catrin Collier.)
Amazon Soap OperaSoap Opera - Dorothy Hobson, 2003 Polity. An essential for understanding British soaps: history, analysis of genre and audience studies.
Amazon Elsie Tanner Fights BackElsie Tanner Fights Back - H. V. Kershaw, 1977 Mayflower. (Text link goes to this and other books by the early writer and producer: The Street Where I Live, Early Days, Trouble at the Rovers.)
Amazon Coronation Street around the housesCoronation Street: Around the houses - Daran Little, 1998 Boxtree (Former archivist and writer at Coronation Street). Backstories of occupants of houses and businesses.
Amazon Weatherfield LifeWeatherfield Life: A portrait of Coronation Street - Daran Little and Bill Hill, 1994 Index/Granada. Life on the Street from 1902, when it was "built" to 1960 when the show began.

Daran Little has written many books on the history of Coronation Street and Weather. Click to see his other books about the Street available on Amazon Canada.

The Women of Coronation Street - Daran Little, 1998 Boxtree. The lives of Corrie's women and how their characters and stories fit into the show's structure.
Amazon Street TalkStreet Talk: The language of Coronation Street - Jeffrey Miller, 1986 CBC Enterprises. A collectible, and useful, guide to the slang of the North of England.
Amazon Television Horace NewcombEncyclopedia of Television - Horace Newcomb (ed.) 1997 Routledge.  Analyses of television, including Corrie, collected for Chicago's Museum of Broadcast Communication.
Amazon Coronation Street PodmoreCoronation Street: The inside story - Bill Podmore, 1990 MacDonald. Mr. Podmore was a director on the show in the 1960s, producer in the 1970s and executive producer in the 1980s.
Amazon 50 Years of Coronation StreetFifty Years of Coronation Street - Tim Randall, 2010 Headline. Foreword by Tony Warren. Profiles of characters, interviews with actors, history of show, etc.
Amazon The Rovers ReturnThe Rovers Return: The official Coronation Street Companion - Tim Randall, 2013. Hardcover. History of pub, staff and patrons.
Christmas on Coronation Street Amazon linkChristmas on Coronation Street - Maggie Sullivan (Hardcover & Kindle). 2018 HarperCollins. Story of Elsie Grimshaw Tanner, before and during WWII. Pre-order for Jan. 2/18 release.
Coronation Street: A fully-illustrated record of television's most popular series - Jack Tinker, 1987 Littlehampton. Great collectible, by long-time Daily Mail theatre critic.
Amazon Lights of ManchesterThe Lights of Manchester - Tony Warren (Kindle). 1992 Random House. The first novel by Coronation Street's creator. Different characters, same city, same clever writing.
Amazon link for The Great Northern CookbookThe Great Northern Cookbook - Sean Wilson, 2013 Hodder & Stoughton. By the owner of the Saddleworth Cheese Co., formerly Martin Platt on Corrie.
Amazon Little Book of Carla ConnorThe Little Book of Carla Connor - Glenda Young (Kindle) 2016. "A decade in the life of a soap queen: An unofficial Coronation Street companion book."

Click for Glenda Young’s other Coronation Street books and show updates (Deirdre; A Perfect Duet; Norman Bates with a Suitcase).

DVDs

Coronation Street Album Amazon linkThe Coronation Street Album - "A musical journey down the world's best loved street" Cliff Richards & Denise Black, Amanda Barrie, Sherrie Hewson, Bill Tarmey, et al.
Amazon Funk Fit DVDCoronation Street: Funk Fit - "Dance your way to a FITTER, SHAPLIER YOU" with Tina O'Brien (Sarah Platt), Nikki Sanderson (Candice Stowe) and LucyJo Hudson (Katy Harris). Yesss!
Amazon A Knight's Tale DVDA Knight's Tale - Mary and Norris have a medieval-themed weekend away. They are joined by former Street residents Richard Hillman, Reg Holdsworth and Curly Watts.
Amazon Out of Africa DVDOut of Africa - 2009, the Battersby-Browns and Kirk go to South Africa on holiday. Spoiler: South Africa survives.
Amazon Road to Coronation Street DVDRoad to Coronation Street - "Delightful dramatization of how Coronation Street came into being." Sunday Telegraph. Very true, very good.
Amazon Romanian Holiday DVDRomanian Holiday - 2010, Roy and Hayley go to Romania for a friend's wedding. Becky joins them. Romania survives.

Click for more Coronation Street DVDs.

Collectibles

The Corner Shop, Coronation Street- Lilliput Lane. It's expensive, but it's a Lilliput Miniature. They are all lovely and this series is of buildings we know well.
The Duckworths, Coronation Street- Lilliput Lane. Maybe appropriate that Jack and Vera's is the first house they chose to reproduce. Vera would be so chuffed!

Keith Duffy Life-Size Cutout - Celebrity Cutouts

What more could a Ciaran or Boyzone fan want? If you don't have the space or $75 for a full-size Keith, he is also available in miniature - 2 ft. high for $26.99 Cdn.
Mike Baldwin Figure- A Mini-Mike! Corgi Icon Figure, in box. 1:32 scale, 3" or 7.5 cm high.
Steve McDonald/Simon Gregson Mask
You can be Steve if you wish. Or Deirdre, Ken, Kevin - even the previous Nick, Adam Rickett, with Scribz UK's celebrity card masks.
T-shirt - Coronation Street Logo
100% cotton, S-4XL, $22-25, by CafePress

Other Coronation Street tees available include “Keep Calm, Put Corrie On”, Barlow family, and many Michelle Keegan (Tina) photo shirts.

Games

Coronation Street Mobile Phone Game
by Tactic Games UK,
A quiz game on your phone for multiple players.
Coronation Street Ringtone
Not a game, but perhaps an essential for your phone? The Corrie theme for your ringtone and alerts.

 Coronation Street Trivia Board Game
DVD, over 700 questions in 6 categories, goes up to about 2010 in storyline.
Life at the Rovers
1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Also "Double Acts" jigsaw. Both by Falcon de Luxe.

Tales from The Street

The big Corrie bus has rolled into Canada:  McDonald father and son and the Peacocks.  Poster for Tales from The StreetCharles Lawson (Jim McDonald), Nicholas Cochrane (Andy McDonald), Stephen Arnold (Ashley Peacock) and Julia Howarth (Claire Peacock) started a tour of Ontario and Alberta last weekend.  They come to my area – Southwestern Ontario – at the end of March.  Yippee!

While none of the four are on the show now, Stephen is the only one for whom the door is closed with Ashley having died in the tram crash.  So we can hope we’ll see the others on the cobbles again.

I had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas Cochrane years ago when I was researching Other Worlds.  His character, Andy, was still a student and we talked at the school then used as Weatherfield Comp.  Nicholas got the part of Andy right out of school and had no training other than high school drama class.  Working on Coronation Street McDonald family Coronation Street 1989every day with actors who had a wide range of experience, he said, provided a great education.

Nicholas worked closely with Charles Lawson.  Jim McDonald is maybe my favourite Corrie character and that is due to his portrayal by Charles Lawson.  When you look at the parts of Jim, there really isn’t much to like.  He isn’t a great father, you can hardly call him a good husband, he probably was a good soldier but he never found success or happiness in any other endeavour.  He’s quick-tempered, even violent.  But.  He’s also witty, warm-hearted, generous with his time and love, and a guy you’d like as a friend.  Charles Lawson plays the whole man, in all his complexity.  Jim is kind of a Janus, so he is, and you see his good face and his bad face, sometimes at the same time.

Jim hauling Liz out of car 1996The Jim and Liz story I have never forgotten is when she told him about a long-ago affair she had with his Army buddy.  He exploded, hauled her out of the car, hit her and left her on the pavement.  It was shocking, as was the aftermath when she and he continued to deal with it.  The violence was delved into, with his sons confronting him and also examining their own relationship with him, pre- and post-beating.  It also showed Jim’s examination of himself and his relationship with his family.

Liz on ground after Jim drives awayI had those episodes on tape.  I showed scenes to my Popular Culture class to illustrate how a “social issue” story can be presented effectively.  I contrasted it to a wife abuse story on the soap The Young and The RestlessY&R’s involved a character, back after many years away, and her husband and daughter who hadn’t been seen before.  It said the right things and gave information about what a woman should do in a situation of domestic violence.  But, while you were horrified, it didn’t really connect.  These weren’t people you knew.  And then they disappeared so you didn’t have to think about them, or the issue, again.  With the McDonalds, all aspects of family violence were looked at without preaching, through the vehicle of a family you knew well and continued to see.  You couldn’t help but care.

Canada AM with Corrie stars CTVAnd the Peacocks – I look forward to seeing them.  I’m so sorry that Ashley will never grow old on the show and become the next Fred Elliot, I say, the next Fred Elliot.

The book below is not about Coronation Street, but the people it talks about could well live on the Street.

Coronation Street 50th

Ena Sharples and Alf Roberts displays at museum Coronation Street 50thCoronation Street began due to a government mandate for home-grown television programming. A Canadian producer at Granada, the late Harry Elton, knew the popularity and longevity of American soaps and their production cost-effectiveness. He met a young writer at Granada, Tony Warren, who knew the stories and people of the North. Neither of them imagined their show would become part of the very fabric of the country. But it has.

The biggest thrill in my 20 something years of fanship was going to Coronation Street to research British serials for a radio documentary (later a book) Other Worlds: Society Seen Through Soap Opera. I went to Manchester with an appointment with the Coronation Street publicist and nothing else. He showed me around the indoor sets and production facilities in the dedicated studio. He also took me on the Street itself for the taping of a scene with Mavis and Derek Wilton in their back garden.taping Coronation Street scene with Derek and Mavis WiltonI interviewed Carolyn Reynolds, then executive producer, writer Tom Eliot and Daran Little, then archivist of the show. I talked with actors Bill Tarmey and Elizabeth Dawn, and went to a location shoot at the high school that acted as the school attended by the McDonald twins at the time. In a trailer, I met Nicholas Cochrane who plays Andy McDonald and Judy Brooke, then Andy’s girlfriend Paula Maxwell. I talked to school kids who were thrilled to be extras in the scenes. Teachers and staff were proud of their involvement in Weatherfield history.

Manchester Tour

Coronation Street back door, old housesI also met the father of Coronation Street, Tony Warren. A half hour, maybe an hour I figured I’d have for our interview at Granada. But it turned into an entire, wonderful day with him, wandering the streets of Salford and into Manchester. We talked about the show and then about pretty much everything. His work as a novelist, the history and changes of Salford and Manchester, Newfoundland (where I lived) and Canada.

He took me to a pub in Manchester where there’s a beautiful stained glass window in the men’s room depicting a Grand Banks fisherman. He guarded the door so I could go in and look. We walked and talked until it was evening. He suggested a Chinese restaurant for dinner and phoned his partner to meet us there.

The restaurant was one that has been used in location shoots for Coronation Street and is a long-time favourite for many of the show’s actors. There are signed photos of Julie Goodyear and others on the walls and counter by the till. The meal was great and the conversation far-reaching and fun. It was a lovely day.

Street set tour, people in front of Rovers ReturnNear the end of my time in Manchester, I realized I’d yet to find an analyst – an outside ‘talking head’ to inform on the cultural and social significance of Coronation Street. I’d thought I could just go to Manchester University and throw a stick and hit at least one. With only a day to find someone, I phoned the social sciences main number and asked if there was anyone anywhere available to talk about Coronation Street. The secretary thought about it as I plugged change into the payphone to keep the connection.

Political Science

She transferred me to Political Science, saying “maybe Professor Philip Crookes can help.” I explained my situation to him. He said “I’m not a sociologist, but I can talk.” So another lovely few hours with a very intelligent, funny man and discussion which started with Coronation Street and extended to British and Canadian politics and the socio-economic life of the North of England.

Replica Rovers Return working pub at Granada tourThere is a Manchester and Salford apart from Coronation Street. There is a history and economy outside it. But the production studios at Granada are a major part of the economy and Coronation Street is engrained in its identity and existence. You can strike up a conversation with anyone and get a thoughtful opinion on the show. Whether they watch or not, it is a part of life. For those of us elsewhere, we feel a kinship with the cities even if we’ve never been there. We know its characters and places so well.

Meeting Jack Duckworth

In 1992 I went to Manchester to research Coronation Street for a CBC Radio Ideas documentary on British and American soaps.

Vera and Jack Duckworth in RoversAt Granada, I watched the taping of a scene on the street and interviewed writers, production people and cast members.  When I was told the names of two actors I was about to meet, I was struck dumb with awe and terror – Bill Tarmey and Elizabeth Dawn aka Jack and Vera Duckworth.  Like pretty much everyone who has watched during the past 30 odd years, for me, Jack and Vera were Coronation Street.

Vera DuckworthI went first into Elizabeth Dawn’s dressing room.  She and Bill had just finished their scenes for the day and she had to leave soon for a family function.  She was sitting in front of the mirror taking off her makeup when I kind of stumbled my way in the door.  “Sit down, dear, and don’t mind me.  We can talk while I do this.”  Instantly, I felt at home, felt like I was with someone I’d known a long time.  And I was in a way.  She was wonderful – not Vera, yet Vera.  She took off Vera’s makeup and put on her own.  She brushed out Vera’s hair into her own.  She looked Elizabeth Dawn in real lifedifferent.  We talked a long time, then she said she had to run.  She told me where Bill’s dressing room was and just to go on there when I was ready, then with a ‘ta-ra’ she was out the door.  Before I got everything picked up, she was back in laughing.  “I’ve got Vera’s coat on.”  She shucked off the familiar looking black cloth coat, grabbed another more stylish one, laughed, waved and was gone again.

Then to meet Jack.  My nerves came back.  Hand shaking, I knocked on his door and a familiar gruff voice told me to come in.  He too was Bill Tarmey 2010removing Jack and becoming Bill.  He leaned back in his chair and just talked.  He asked me a lot of questions, where I lived, what I did, about my family.  He told me about his family, pointing out who was who in the photographs around his dressing room.  It was nice.  He was an easy man to talk to.  So much so I would forget why I was there – to get him on tape talking about being Jack.

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey cd Incurably Romantic
Click for Amazon link

So he told me about Jack and him – how he came to be on the show, first as a short-term bad guy, then brought back as Jack when the writers created the Duckworths.  He told me about his career as an actor and primarily as a singer.  He said when the writers had Jack sing once – badly – he, Bill, found his singing gigs drop off and even bookings cancelled.  If that’s how Bill Tarmey sings, he laughed, they didn’t want him performing.

He wasn’t likely telling me anything he hadn’t told hundreds of interviewers before, but he made it seem personal.  Just him and me talking about stuff.  It wasn’t slick, like a performance piece, just good conversation.  He talked straightforwardly and was engaged in the discussion, talking and listening.

He reminded me of my father, as Jack Duckworth always has.  “Rough, tough and hard to Bill Tarmey, outside Rovers, upon retirementbluff” as my dad would say about himself.  That’s what Jack is like, with a lovely soft heart.  That too is what Bill Tarmey is like.  And my dad.  I can think of no higher compliment to any one of them than being compared to each other.  Bill, if you are reading this, you and Jack will be greatly missed.  I hope you have a wonderful retirement.  Cheers!

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey book on Jack DuckworthClick the image to left for an Amazon link to Bill Tarmey’s book on being Jack and the ‘Incurably Romantic’ image above for link to his music.

 

The Death of Soaps

In April, ABC announced the cancellation of All My Children and One soaps AMC and OLTL title cards x'd outLife to Live.  They will be replaced by a cooking show and a health and beauty show.  Wow, we need more of those.  Maybe they can get Dr. Gupta.  We don’t see him on tv enough.  Maybe they could roll all the talk, reality, health and cooking shows into one and have Sharon Osborne and Jamie Oliver judging people while they sing and cook and Dr. Gupta can measure cholesterol levels.  Any of the gazillion talk show hosts could narrate.  They could just run it straight for 4 hours every afternoon.  Low production costs, so it would work for American network daytime executives.

Why are American soap operas dropping like flies?  President of ABC Daytime Brian Frons says people want different types of daytime viewing.  He says the ratings for soaps are low and the costs are high.  The strong soaps will survive, he says.  I hope he realizes that before too long, only the strong food/health/beauty/talk/reality shows will survive too.  He’s adding two newbies to an already overcrowded screen.  Meanwhile, over 40 years of viewing and production loyalty has been chucked down the drain.

Soap fans do not want to watch beauty makeovers or cooking tips.  Maybe they do, in addition to their stories but not instead of.  The whole point of soaps is that they continue and build.  You follow people’s life and get to know them.  Soap viewers want continuity, not cheap tricks.  We know the denizens of Pine Valley and Llanview – what they’re like, what they’re likely to do and not do.  Inexplicable changes in character, too rapid an introduction of new characters and scenarios don’t go over well with long-time Susan Lucci starfans.  We want to see the full range of characters, those who’ve been around a long time as well as the new ones.  These are points of soap creation that used to be the guiding light, so to speak, for soap writers and producers, and seem to have been forgotten in the past 20 years or so.

‘Monkey see, monkey do’ became the new mantra – if a plot works on one show, copy it whether it fits well or not.  If ratings drop, bring in somebody, anybody to make a splashy entrance, whether they fit in the ongoing stories or not.  Bring in a new headwriter or executive producer with a new ‘vision’, whether it fits this soap or not.  Such knee-jerk reaction to soaps creation hasn’t worked.  Soap fans did leave.  I know – I’m one.

From the early 1980s until about 2 years ago, I watched the soaps.  Several of them, with General Hospital and The Young and the Restless being my mainstays.  I taped, I watched in real time – whatever worked.  Then I gradually stopped.  It wasn’t that I was gone or didn’t have time.  It was that I realized that I just wasn’t interested anymore.  I would watch at the kitchen table and play solitaire in the commercial breaks.  When I realized that I was no longer stopping my game when the show came back on, I knew there was a problem.

General Hospital was the first to go.  I just got tired of the mob stuff.  I loved The Sopranos, then airing on network prime-time, but I didn’t want to see The Sopranos on my soap.  Later I stopped watching Y&R, don’t know why really.  I guess it’s like falling out of love; once you start getting disenchanted, it’s hard to stop.

I haven’t replaced my soaps with cooking or health shows.  The tv is now just off during the day.  Until Coronation Street, the UK soap, comes on.  No sign of it being cancelled, 50 years after starting.  Why?  If I knew the answer to that, I hope I’d be getting the big bucks American daytime executives are.  But I’ve got some theories.  “Tune in next time for ‘as the soaps die’…”

eBay forand

Coronation Street: A defence of John Stape

Ok, I know John Stape is a lying weasel who spends way too much time feeling sorry for himself and plotting John Stape close upnasty schemes.  But, at heart, he is a high school teacher who loves to teach.  He likes to read and likes to talk about literature and teaching.  He isn’t pining to write the great English novel.  He isn’t wishing he were teaching at university level or at some fancy school.  He loves teaching English to ordinary kids in ordinary schools.    He isn’t pompous in his knowledge or interests, and he isn’t too well-read.  He’s an ordinary guy with a BA in English who got a teaching degree.

There aren’t that many of them on soaps, you know – people with arts degrees, teachers, people who enjoy being well-read.  On Coronation Street, Ken is all those things.  But for years, he’s also been whining about it – he wants to do more!!!  And Deirdre – well, you’d think reading the Guardian or whatever paper it is Ken prefers is the weirdest thing on the planet.  She’s constantly moaning about Ken having his nose buried in “his” papers or watching nature programming.  Maybe she ought to put her nose in his paper once in a while.  Knowledge and awareness of the world isn’t a bad thing for you, Deirdre.

At least Fiz appreciates John’s love of teaching.  Maybe, as Deirdre recently suggested, it would wear off over the years (assuming, for the moment, that John didn’t continue doing stupid things).  But leaving out his stupid actions and their consequences, even if Fiz doesn’t share his intellectual curiousity, she respects him for having it.

No one else on the street really cares about much outside their own little world.  Yes, there are a lot of people like that in the real world but that doesn’t make it the apex of human accomplishment.

Carl Hutchins, played by Charles KeatingOn American soaps, there occasionally have been characters interested in the arts and literature.  I think of Carl Hutchins, from years ago on Another World.  Cultured, refined and erudite (and also English) – he’d have made Audrey swoon!  He also was a millionaire, lived in a mansion full of artwork, and had connections with the big-scale criminal world.  Not, by any stretch, your average English teacher.

And that’s what John Stape is.  Take away the propensity to fall for overly-developed students like Rosie Webster and an apparent lack of understanding of the common English word “no” and you’ve got a regular guy who likes to read and also enjoys transmitting his knowledge and passion for literature to others.  That’s admirable, and rare in Coronation Street and all the other serials.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Jan. 23/11)

Peacocks & Allahans look at listing for house Dev likesA scene I liked in a storyline that’s not up to par.  First, the scene (a two-parter):  Sunita and Dev in the Rovers talking to Ashley and Claire about living on the side of the street that has, as Dev says, “outdoor loos”.  (Sunita had learned from Kirk that Maria is planning to put her house up for sale.)  Claire and Ashley have lived on both sides of the street, and know whereof they speak.  Claire defends her house, that it’s not “pokey”. Ashley takes the middle of the road – yes it is “a bit” but it’s all right.

I was touched when Dev came around to the idea of living on the street by Sunita’s argument that the moneyDev agrees to call Maria about her house saved could help put the twins through university.  You could see the Dream on his face; his kids doing what perhaps he wished he had.  Now, I just remembered he’s already got one kid, Amber, who has recently started university in London.  Still, I guess you have dreams for all of them and, at times, those dreams can seem impossible and enticing.  And with these kids, he hopes, he’ll see what he didn’t see with Amber:  the childhood before university.

But the storyline:  it’s a plot-driven clunker.  Throughout it, I’ve been embarrassed for Sunita.  She is bright and level-headed, yet nothing that has come out of her mouth about this mania to move has made a lick of sense.  Since the beginning, you could see the writers’ planning meetings behind it and you should not be able to see that.  With Sunita back, they want to put her and Dev more in the centre of things, and that means physically closer to the Street.  Ok, they’ve got some mileage out of the unsuitability of Dev’s flat.  Although I don’t remember it ever being described as small before.  It’s a luxury apartment, not a pokey little flat.   Even as that, it may well not be suitable for kids.

Sunita arguing for saving moneyBut Sunita’s arguments that the twins need stability, that their present house means nothing to them.  It’s the only house they’ve known!  What would have no meaning for them whatsoever is Coronation Street!  They were infants when they moved into that house.  And she and Dev moved into it, so it wasn’t too far from the shop before.  Plus, Dev has seven shops.  Why should he be closer to one than the others?

You could pick holes in Sunita’s arguments forever, but the point clearly – too clearly – has been the need to have Sunita and Dev back in the Street.  Ok, but please write it in a way that keeps Sunita’s brain evident.  It’s been bad enough to watch Dev, formerly Mr. Cool and Suave, turn into a buffoon, but now Sunita?

Having, in the same episode, Jason fall and suffer amnesia so that he doesn’t remember that Tina has broken up with him?  Everybody has to tippy-toe around to not upset him.  Perhaps it was just an unfortunate coincidence of writing ideas.  But Sunita’s storyline already had me thinking too much about Days of our Lives’ writing.  Please, character-driven, not plot-driven!  There are other ways, more true to character, to get Dev and Sunita to buy Maria’s house.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Dec. 26/10)

Loss

Becky leaving Rovers' bathroom stall after miscarriageThe biggie of the week was Monday’s three-scene telling of Becky’s miscarriage.  The look on her face when she leaves the bathroom, the surreptitious tippling of vodka, the screaming out “I had a miscarriage”.  Dramatic, suspenseful and, ultimately, heart-breaking.

Liz tells Becky about Katie's Christmas angelBut my pick comes on Thursday, when Liz sits down for a heart-to-heart with Becky.  She tells her she knows how she feels, and she tells her about Katie.

Katie was the baby girl that Liz lost.  She was a day old when she died.  Liz puts a spin on it that’s consoling for Becky and that is really nice of her.  She says, “at least I did get to hold her.” She doesn’t mention the emotional devastation of carrying a baby for that many more months, see it bornBecky sees Liz's pain about Katie and then lose it.  But the look on Becky’s face suggests that she sees that, sees the pain for Liz.

Then, a lovely gift of our delay in airtime, Liz mentions the tattered old angel she puts on her Christmas tree every year.  It’s her memorial to little Katie.  Watching this on the eve of Christmas Eve, I felt my eyes fill up.  Becky and Liz hug, and my tears spill over.

Liz mentions Katie from time to time, but not often.  And when she does, the pain is evident on her face.  It’s not surprising that Liz has never told Becky before.  And Steve?  Maybe he felt it wasn’t hisclose up of Becky & Liz hugging each other after miscarriageplace to mention Katie.  I don’t know.  She was his sister, and he and Andy would have been old enough to know what was going on.

So often we see only Liz’s exasperation with Becky.  Often it’s completely understandable but sometimes, well, she can be very hard on her I think.  But, with this pregnancy, there have been some lovely moments from Liz with Becky and with Steve.  It’s nice to see the compassionate and understanding side of Liz.

Days of our Lives and Chex Mix

product placement on DOOL with Sammi opening Chex Mix bagHaving fallen off on my American soap viewing, I didn’t know about the new product placement on soaps until I saw the spoof of it on the Colbert Report.  I thought he had to be photoshopping the tape somehow to have Sammi extolling the virtues of Chex Mix while in a cozy little scene with some guy.  But, I thought, no, Stephen Colbert doesn’t artificially enhance the insanity of something in our society – at least not the original Stephen Colbert saved by Cheerios & evil twin Pavros holding productsinsanity.  He may add to it, as he did here with being confronted by his evil twin Pavros (looking more like Stephen Nichols’ “Patch” DOOL character than the evil Stavros of General Hospital).  So he, consciously I think, mixes his soaps up to great comedic effect for all of them – especially when he’s shot and protected by his courageous Cheerios box.

So I Goodsearched* for DOOL product placement.  It’s true and it’s appallingly awful.  And they’re all doing it or going to be doing it, apparently.  Even Coronation Street will be engaging officially in product placement as of January 2011.

Norris in front of cigarette display in KabinCoronation Street long has, but perhaps unofficially and unpaid for, on its store shelves.  Look at the stock in Dev’s corner shop and you see recognizable food packages.  Look at the cigarettes behind the counter in Dev’s and the Kabin.  I recognize Silk Cuts among other brands I’ve seen in England.  When someone is pouring tomato sauce over their food, you recognize the shape of the bottle even if the hand is over the label.  When Peter was swigging from his bottle outside George’s house, it certainly looked like Ballentine’s Scotch to me.

I’ve never minded that: it’s not shoving the product in your face and it makes it look more realistic.  I’ve not known if the show was paid for this or not.  It seemed to me they ought to be since it is showcasing a particular brand instead of another.

Coleman talking to Brooklyn at bar, General HospitalSometimes I’ve wished to see product placement in American soaps just to make it seem more realistic.  Someone says to the bartender “give me a beer” and the bartender walks away and comes back with a beer.  The very few times I’ve seen the bartender ask “what kind?” the answer is something like “whatever you’ve got.”  You’ve probably got 20 or 40 different kinds at least.  If you don’t want to do unpaid product placement, just make up some names. That’s what Coronation Street did with the brewery Newton and Ridley.

American radio serials started with ‘ads’ for soap manufacturer products incorporated into the storyline.  Then the ads moved to separate commercial breaks, leaving the storyline to unfold on its own.  The division between advertiser and production became clearer as networks or independent production companies, instead of “soap” companies like P&G, increasingly owned soaps.  Now with the new product placement on soaps, they are getting back to their roots.  And, if this is the only way to keep soaps on the air, well, so be it.  But surely it could be done with a bit more finesse than DOOL is showing!

However, DOOL is a lifeforce of its own I often think.  For twenty years or so, since the days of James Reilly, DOOL has been over the top in its stories and acting.  It’s driven viewers away but it’s also drawn viewers in just to see how bad it can get.  So it’s totally fitting that, if product placement is to be done, it’s done on DOOL in the absolute cheesiest fashion possible.


This is my contribution to product placement. It’s for the search engine Goodsearch which donates a penny per search to a charity of your choice.  My search pennies go to Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm. Near Lexington Kentucky, It is a retirement home for thoroughbred racehorses, including stallions.

Lifeboys: Reality tv before “Reality TV”

In the spring of 1992, I heard an interview with Pat O’Rourke, of Liverpool, on CBC Radio’s As it Happens. It was about Lifeboys, a television show that he was making, based on the real lives of real people. O’Rourke and his wife owned and ran the Shipperies, a long established Lifeboys Shipperies Pub, Durning Road, Liverpoolpub in Wavertree, part of Liverpool in the north of England. In it, they were making Lifeboys, based on their pub and its patrons.

I went to visit the O’Rourkes at the Shipperies when I was in England soon after, while researching Coronation Street for a radio documentary. I liked what they were doing: making art out of their reality, or portraying reality through the art of being Liverpudlian, “Scousers.” Either way, it was blurring the lines between reality and entertainment.  It was neither documentary nor fiction. Now we would call it reality tv; then it was comparable only to continuing serials like Coronation Street and East Enders.

I wish O’Rourke had met another producer in England who, at that time, was also thinking of how to change the stories told on television. Charlie Parsons had an idea for a different kind of show based on reality. He wanted to put ordinary people into extraordinary, and stressful, situations and tape what happened. His idea eventually came to fruition on Swedish television in 1997 as Expedition Robinson. It enjoyed some success there and was produced by broadcasters elsewhere. The idea exploded when Mark Burnett sold it in 2000 to American audiences as Survivor.

Competition or “Real Life”

Since then, there has been every kind of reality show imaginable. Some are competition of stress and manipulation, like Survivor. Some are talent shows.  Others are daily lives of regular people doing whatever it is they do, like a television diary. Some have huge prizes for the winners. Some have only the prize of having your life documented and aired.

UnStable website (CMT) horse and womenI started thinking about the “record of life” type of reality show when I watched one called UnStable. Being interested in horses, I’ll watch anything with the word stable in it. I still can’t figure the show out, other than it seems like a “reality” version of CBC’s Alberta-set horsey drama Heartland. I thought to myself, somebody in Alberta must have watched Heartland and said, “this isn’t what our lives are really like, I bet I could tell better stories about what it means to be a rancher in Alberta.” And, with a proliferation of cable stations looking for cheap programming, they indeed found a buyer in CMT (Country Music Television). They’ve got a nice website and presumably lots of fans who want to see “real” families running “real” horse ranches instead of, or as well as, the fictional ones on Heartland.

So that’s what made me think of Pat O’Rourke and what he had put his heart into. But he was thinking of it in terms of continuing serials like Coronation Street and Liverpool’s Brookside. A couple years later, when reality television began flooding the airwaves, I think his eavesdropping on a Liverpool local would have been a hit.

Lifeboys and Wrinklies

What O’Rourke wanted to do was produce a tv show about his pub patrons by his patrons for his patrons. He had worked in television and film and was an actors’ agent. He borrowed and bought equipment and set up the upstairs of the pub as a production studio. There he and writer Paul McKane wrote and produced scripts based on the stories and lives of the people in his neighbourhood, the people who frequented his bar.

The bar is divided into two – a large public room on one side, bar in the middle, and a smaller parlour on the other. The younger people tended to congregate in the larger bar where the music was loud, the older people in the smaller room. The ones in the large room, at least the men, were known as “Lifeboys”. The people in the smaller room were generally known as “Wrinklies”.

The stories O’Rourke wanted to tell were those from both sides of the bar, but the name he liked for the whole was “Lifeboys”. So the real lifeboys and wrinklies told their stories, and Pat videotaped and took notes. He then edited the tape into short episodes and aired them in the big room for the patrons. Everybody loved it.

Watching at The Shipperies

Evenings when episodes were shown began drawing capacity crowds from the neighbourhood. Lifeboys began getting a lot of media attention too. UK, European, even Canadian tv, radio and newspapers wanted to know about the “pub soap”. O’Rourke and McKane had hopes to get Lifeboys picked up by a network for national broadcast. They thought their product told the real stories of Liverpool. They thought they could go up against Brookside, Emmerdale and, yes, even Coronation Street.

It didn’t happen.  I don’t know why. O’Rourke, McKane and all the actors wanted to make a good product that entertained and reflected their reality, and did. I spent a wonderful three days at the Shipperies, with the real lifeboys and wrinklies, and with the actors and production crew.

Lifeboys didn’t make it into my radio documentary on soaps. But it did inform my look at Coronation Street and the other British network serials. Little things like how local are the actors, are the accents authentic for the characters, are the stories believable for these characters in this place? These are questions that also concern Coronation Street and the other UK serials. But opinions vary on how well they succeed in recreating a realistic picture of their environment. Lifeboys is a section of the book on soaps I later wrote. There I could explore the questions of authenticity of voice that O’Rourke had raised as well as issues of reality and story narrative, accuracy and entertainment.

Authenticity of Story

Historic Fire Station and Shipperies Pub LiverpoolPat O’Rourke cared about seeing Liverpool accurately presented, and Manchester and Yorkshire (homes of the other Northern serials). But his concern went further than that. His question was why create fictional people and situations when such richness of character and lifestories is all around you. The real stories are just as entertaining and moving, and to the greatest extent possible, the best people to tell them are the real people themselves.

He found it’s hard to actually do, with time and budget constraints. Especially if you are aiming at well-oiled machines like Coronation Street as your competition. Also the networks had their continuing serial roster pretty well filled up. With home-grown major products, smaller regional soaps in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and Australian imports giving a shot of sunshine and skin, there wasn’t much room for another one. But there might well have been room for a real-life look inside a Liverpool pub and the lives of its patrons in a couple years. By then, pretty much anything that could be made into a reality show was, and was being bought and aired.

Reality TV

In the years since the original Survivor, there have been every kind of reality show imaginable, and then some. In contest form or storytelling, all (except celebrity ones) are “ordinary” people acting in “real” ways.

Perhaps the genre that Lifeboys should have been a part of is the “reality tv” one, not continuing serials. Yes, the latter are a representation of daily life but are clearly fictional. Like a good novel, they reflect reality but don’t intend, or pretend, to replicate it. Pat O’Rourke wanted to document reality and present it as entertanment. In that he had more in common in Charlie Parsons and Mark Burnett. From what I saw of Lifeboys compared to what I’ve seen of reality shows, I much prefer Pat O’Rourke’s vision.

I still don’t know what I think of UnStable. I watched a couple episodes but haven’t felt moved to watch again. The stories didn’t grab me. But that’s pretty much how I feel about Heartland too. I Heartland website mastheaddon’t care about the people that much, and they always seem so clean even after mucking out stalls. I like the horses, though, on both shows and wish they had bigger roles.

flickr photos of the Shipperies by Caroline & Phil Bunford, top, and Jim Malone, bottom. UnStable and Heartland photos are from their websites.