Are people in Weatherfield stockpiling water, tinned food and toilet tissue? They are in real life Britain, according to news reports. People fear shortages, due to goods tied up at customs when Britain leaves the EU. Entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge. You can buy a Brexit Box, a 30 day supply of freeze-dried food. At £295, they are moving briskly.
Since hearing about the Brexit Box, I’ve been imagining Kirk jumping on that bandwagon. What would he see as essentials for survival? But there’s no point in my going back to the Street in hopes of such a storyline. Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders decided in 2016 not to deal with Brexit, according to the Daily Star. Already all over the news, so not something their viewers wanted to see in their soaps as well.
Perhaps saying nothing was the right decision. The Archers, a BBC radio serial on air since 1951, had its farming family talk about Brexit – like they would be. But complaints poured in: enough about Brexit in the news, didn’t want it in their show too.
And yet what a perfect venue for discussion of such a monumental decision. The Archers, Coronation Street and all UK continuing serials. Each is set in a different part of the country, each has characters who would be affected in different ways by staying in the EU or leaving. Fans know the characters well. Like their audiences, leaving the EU would benefit some and hurt others.
The characters’ history and circumstances provide a way to look at the economic, political and societal aspects of Brexit. Maybe it’s Liz popping over to Spain to see her son Andy, Underworld worried about getting materials, or the corner shop facing emptied shelves as the tinned beans are snatched up. What would the McDonalds, or Connors, think about the question of the border between Northern Ireland and the south? Having already been the target of racial abuse, would Alya fear further attacks?
Britons face these questions now, and uncertainty has caused divisiveness. It is a shame, I think, that Coronation Street has not laid out some Brexit scenarios for its characters The long arc storytelling of soaps is ideal for this.
And unlike North American daytime soaps, British serials are part of personal and public discourse. If it happens on Coronation Street, it’s in the news the next day. Looking at Brexit through Dev’s eyes, or Carla’s, can only help get all aspects out there in a real but non-confrontational way.
Spotted Dick and Custard
Coronation Street is often criticized for showing a Britain of the past. For not reflecting the ethnic and socio-political diversity in what is no longer a nation of (white) shopkeepers, at their best during the war. Maybe this would be a time to use that to show that Britons have been through worse, and survived. That there was a UK before the EU. That immigration and diversity have always been part of the British Isles. Conflict too. But they did survive.
Maybe the oldies need to gather the young’uns in the Rovers. Have Rita lead a singsong of The White Cliffs of Dover. Ken can quote Percy Sugden: “When you’ve prepared spotted dick and custard for one hundred and fifty of ’em under heavy artillery fire and not allowed one lump in that custard, you can do anything.”
This week I only watched Monday’s double episode. I decided at the end of it that I’m leaving the Street. Not forever – I hope. But for now, until something changes that makes it enjoyable for me to watch again.
Since the late 1980s, I’ve watched consistently. I have loved it, and I’ve despaired of it. I’ve suffered through executive producers who were hell-bent on remaking it into something else. I have celebrated when it got back on track. Over those decades, I’ve watched it get more like an American soap. Younger and more beautiful actors taking centre stage. More explosive storylines, more action, less nuance of daily life of regular people. And I’ve stuck with it.
But the past few months, I’ve more often found myself looking at the clock, wondering if it will be over soon. Looking at the remote, particularly the fast-forward button. Realizing I’m a couple episodes behind, oh dear, when will I be able to catch up. Thinking ‘get off my screen’ about too many characters.
Adding an episode, to six per week, did it for me. Just that extra half hour made watching, keeping caught up, feel like work.
Make time for small moments as well as big stories. That’s what executive producer Kate Oates said they would do with that extra episode. But that’s not what I’ve seen. Scads of new characters, high drama and PSA teaching storylines instead. I’m tired of it. Not any of those things individually, just all of them all the time.
Soap + Crime thriller + Sitcom
Monday’s second episode bounced between three different genres. Crime thriller with Phelan free and threatening again. Soap opera with Robert leaving Michelle and their wedding in the lurch. “Just talk to her, ya plank!” I said, without enthusiasm. So many soap clichés lately, you can’t even care. A sitcom scenario with Rosie, Gemma and somebody new planning the entrapment of somebody else new. (See today’s Scene of the Week for these three scenes.)
Public Service Announcements
David and male rape – a well done and valuable education story, yes. But we haven’t even dealt fully with the suicide and mental health PSA of Aiden. The spectre of grooming and sexual abuse still hovers over Bethany.
Robert still has ongoing storylines of a) testicular cancer and b) steroid use. (There’s also Michelle’s Lost and Found sons – straight out of How to Write a Soap Opera.) And remember Billy and his pain-induced heroin use? Has he had a miracle cure for both injury and addiction?
Way too many issues to explore in depth and realistically in terms of the characters’ lives. Plus it’s tiring to watch. Particularly now, when watching the news is a full out emotional rollercoaster ride, Coronation Street would be a nice place to go for a bit of respite.
Leaving for a bit of rest
I don’t think it can feel that much different in the UK than in Canada. Here we have Trump and his bully rants about trade tariffs. In the UK, you have that, as well as Brexit. Exhausting just keeping up. So to also need a score card to keep up with Corrie? No. I can’t do anything about real world politics. But I can control entertainment viewing. If Coronation Street has become as frustrating to watch as the news, it’s time to switch it off.
I am not advocating that Corrie opt out of the real world and become a bastion of old-fashioned cozy Britain. Just slow down a bit and return to your roots – in both story and storytelling methods. Coronation Street is not a crime drama, sitcom or American soap. It’s not a pulpit or a classroom. It’s a neighbourhood. When it goes back to that, I will be back with bells on!
When did Corrie become a soap opera? Here I mean that in the derogatory sense of the phrase, denoting melodramatic, formulaic and often illogical storytelling. About four months ago. That’s when Coronation Street went to six episodes per week.
Maybe it’s coincidence. There have been a lot of changes at the Coronation Street production site in the past year or two. The actual site itself moved and expanded. They are working on further expansion of the set. Actors have come and gone. A new producer, Kate Oates, took over in August 2016.
But only that last one, a new producer, is something that can cause changes that are apparent on the screen. With good producers, historically, changes are seamless. Watching the show, you shouldn’t be able to tell right off the bat that a new person is in charge. That seemed to be Kate Oates’ style. She kept the Corrie tradition going while also doing some spectacularly dramatic stories.
Six episodes per week
Then we added the sixth episode. Storylines began to be very gloomy and dark. Some, like Phelan’s move into murder, were spell-binding and truly horrifying. But others were just horrifying in their petty nastiness. A change in volume, even, people yelling at each other seemingly all the time.
Oh, the humour was there. Dropped in like a brick once in a while, apropos of nothing, amid the snarling and weeping. The necessary flow and balance of mood was not there.
Things will sort themselves out, I tried to convince myself. Accept the stories as what they are, and assume there is a good reason that will become clear down the road.
But I started noticing something else: soap clichés. Too many private conversations overheard by someone lurking nearby. Actions that make no sense for a character until you see the result. Aha, they needed to get to B from A and that stupid move provided the most direct route. Characters jumping to conclusions out of nowhere. Oh, we needed a misunderstanding so that x and y could happen. Or we needed something mentioned so that a character could return or be introduced.
Script clunkers, contrived situations. These are not uncommon in soap operas. Also not uncommon in movies, television series and novels. They are more excusable in soaps. American soap opera production people say that they create the equivalent of two movies a week. Five hours of screen time, year around.
Writing and producing this amount of material so quickly also has to take into account real life circumstances of actors. Illness, decisions to quit, being fired, even death – expected and unexpected events crop up and must be dealt with somehow in the story. The show will go on regardless. It is a testament to the skill of actors, writers and production staff that American soaps are as good as they are.
Therefore, the writing and production method is a kind of machine. It’s a system that continues to produce regardless of the specific individuals involved at any one time. That machine keeps the identity of the show, its look and feel, consistent over decades.
The Character of Corrie
Coronation Street is a soap opera in its production and storyline. Multiple episodes per week, year around, with no end foreseen. Stories focussed on personal relationships and emotion.
But Coronation Street has never really looked like a soap, at least not the American kind. That’s due both to its production schedule and its ethos.
In its stories, Coronation Street has more comedy and more characters with whom the average viewer could identity. Less dreams coming true, more chuckling through the bad times.
In production, attention to details. History of the show, its people and places, is remembered. And characterization stays true. Characters don’t have to stay static, but changes in behaviour occur in such a way that makes sense to viewers.
There is the time to take that care. Writers have time to say ‘hmm, maybe there’s a better way to do that.’ More rehearsal time, more time for retakes. Coronation Street‘s air time is half that of American soaps. So there’s that bit of time to reflect, to redo.
Adding another half-hour of air time exponentially increases the preparation time. Maybe there has to be more reliance on the formulaic part of the writing machine. The process must speed up. I haven’t noticed glitches in acting. I assume that’s due to the expertise of the actors and directors and long, long hours of rehearsal and taping. The clumsy bits I’ve seen are in the plotting of stories, that creative imagination where time for reflection and rewrites is so necessary.
Maybe it will get better? Coronation Street has faced this challenge before, and risen to it. They went from two to three, then four, then five episodes a week. Each time, there were complaints and fears. The quality couldn’t be maintained. But it was. If there was a period of not-so-great adjustment, I don’t remember it. And I’ve been with the show since it was two episodes per week. I don’t remember feeling like I do with this change to six.
Time to take a break?
Just fitting that extra episode into my Corrie routine has made watching feel like work. So that plus dissatisfaction with the stories? Maybe time to take a break. Remove Coronation Street from my pvr record settings. That’s a big decision after having lived with a show for so long, gone through highs and lows with it. But when you’re watching and thinking you’d rather be cleaning out a closet?
Since the new year, in Canadian air time, it’s been a bit better. Still some cringe-worthy moments. But I’m not looking at the clock every couple of moments, wondering how much longer I have to endure.
My name’s Liz Dawn. I play Vera Duckworth. I bet all your listeners will recognize this voice!
What’s Vera like?
Well, actually, Jack and Vera, they’re the best – most happily married couple in Coronation Street. Really! Because every time they have an argument, well, it’s a form of endearment! It’s not really like it looks, it’s a caress!
Well, Vera, she’s quite happy. In this day and age, she’s got her job, her husband’s working. I go play bingo with Ivy. Great corner shop, great Rovers Return. I’ve got lots of friends. Really she hasn’t a bad life, don’t you think? Compared to some people. I don’t know what it’s like in Canada, but we’ve got so much unemployment, you know. I’m so happy that Jack’s got this job in the pub. and he don’t really do owt wrong.
He just has these pigeons he loves. I don’t know whether you’ve seen the pigeons. Oh, he loves them. We’ve got them in the yard and every morning he goes out and feeds them. and he listens for them cooing.
Do you know much about pigeons? Well, they’ve got a sound of their own. And they’re filthy! So he’s having to clean the cages out, you know.
She should have an affair
Apart from that, actually, not a lot happens for Vera. I think she should have an affair. With Reg Holdsworth in Bettabuy. Because I worked at this supermarket. He’s a bit manic looking, Reg Holdsworth. But I think Vera could quite feel as if she’s come up in the world, you know, having an affair with a manager. Do you know what I mean – after Jack! She’d think she’d quite done well for herself.
What’s she like really: well, she’s down to earth. She likes a laugh. Some people think she’s nosy but she’s not really. It’s just her way, do you know what I mean?
I don’t think Vera will ever be able to afford to go to Canada. How much is it to go to Canada? [₤300, 400] Oh! I mean, our Jack can’t even get his glasses mended. You know our Jack, he wears Elastoplast around the edge. You see, that is about five pints to Jack, to get them repaired. That’s what he’s like, really, you see. He’d rather spend money for beer than have his glasses repaired.
Vera since 1974
Oh, do you want me to be Liz now? I get mixed up sometimes. I go into an identity crisis. Sometimes I’m Vera and sometimes I’m Liz. Right, well, my name’s Liz Dawn. I’m married, got 4 children. I’ve got 4 grandchildren.
I started off singing in working men’s clubs, you know, to earn a bit of money, extra money. Then I joined Equity to do ‘extra’ work. But when I joined, it was just around the time when we had a lot of Northern directors, and story writers that wanted the real thing. So anyway, I landed on my feet. It just happened the right time. And I had quite a few cameo parts in good plays.
So then I ended up in Coronation Street. And that were 1974 when it was Ken Barlow’s old factory. He managed the factory, and that’s where it all started really. And I’ve been in it ever since.
Next Ena Sharples
I’m hoping to be the next Ena Sharples, you know. I want to be in the snug, with an hairnet, drinking milk stout, with Ivy and a few other old cronies. Wearing big bloomers. Because I just love the programme.
[Did you watch it before you were on the show?] Yeah, I thought it were brilliant: oh, look at this! It’s so different than the programmes that were around at that time. Everybody spoke ‘very nice’, ‘very posh’. Weren’t a bit like real life, not in the North anyway. And that’s how I started.
I think It’s more of an institution now. It’s not a soap really, is it. After thirty-two years, I think it’s part of people’s life. If it came off it’d be like taking the 9 o’clock news off. People have just grown up with it.
The Duckworth Doorknob
We have a tour – Granada Tours – here, and people come round, there’s thousands come round a day, from all over the world. And they keep pinching my stone cladding! I don’t know, it’s a bit of memorabilia or whatever it is.
And one week they took the doorknob. What they thought they were going to do with the Duckworth doorknob I don’t know! They sent us out to do a scene, it was in the old factory. I came out of the factory, walked over the road, and I said to the prop man where’s my doorknob? He said them bloody tours again! I said what do you mean? And he said somebody’s took your doorknob. I said the doorknob! Can you imagine, it’d be stuck on somebody’s mantlepiece. They’re having cups of tea and boiled ham sandwiches and say ‘oh look, did I tell you that’s the Duckworth doorknob?’ Oh dear!
Duckworths visit Canada
I went over with Easter Seals, in Ottawa. Me and Bill. It were hard work. We were only there a week, 6, 5 days, something like that. But we raised a lot of money for charity and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it.
[Why do you think people in Canada and other countries watch?] I think it’s memories isn’t it, well, people that’ve gone over. People who’ve gone over to live there. I think it’s a piece of home, don’t you?
So that’s how it started, yeah. Time flies, doesn’t it. People say to me, did you think you’d be in it so long. Well, it’s just part of my life now. It’s hard work, it’s a fast show, it’s a 3 half hour programme a week. So you haven’t really time to look around. In my head sometimes it’s 1982, you know.
[Do you do any other work, other acting?] No, not acting, because our contract is very binding. You can’t do other things and quite rightly so. Because that’s what makes the characters believable. I mean, they’re a bit unbelievable aren’t they if you see them on other programmes.
And I think Granada has always had the right idea about how things should be. You know, the programme and how it should be run. I think it’s always been looked after, people kept their eye on things. ‘Hang on, you can’t do a pantomime and be in this.’ Well, you can’t anyway, it’s too – you couldn’t do a lot of things in this programme. It’s too time-consuming, you know.
Well, I’ve got to go. Because my husband’s waiting for me. But I’ve enjoyed talking to you and I’d like to wish your listeners all the best. When you go home, just say Liz Dawn, or say Vera says, look after yourselves.
In March 1992 I was lucky enough to meet actor Liz Dawn in her dressing room in the Granada Coronation Street studios. This is a slightly condensed transcript of our conversation. There is a lot of laughter in the actual tape. A lovely woman who made you feel right at home. Thank you, Liz – and Vera. (Meeting Jack Duckworth has more on my interviews with Liz and Bill Tarmey, our Jack.)
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.
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.
Teaching TV Soaps - Louise Alexander and Alison Cousens, 2008 British Film Institute. "Combining challenging theory with accessible and practical teaching ideas."
Coronation 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.)
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.
Libel - by William Roache, Mambi Games Ltd, Boardgame. "The game of Libel was devised by William Roache after he sued the SUN newspaper for printing a defamatory article about his portrayal of Ken Barlow" (gameboardgeek.com). Sounds like fun!
Coronation 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.
I 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. Then I 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.
I 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.
Near 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.
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.
There 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 ingrained in its identity and existence.
You can strike up a conversation with anyone in Manchester 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.
In 1992 I went to Manchester to research Coronation Street for a CBC Radio Ideas documentary on British and American soaps.
At 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 going 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.
I 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.
Liz Dawn was wonderful – not Vera, yet Vera. She took off Vera’s makeup and put on her own. Then Vera’s hair was gone and she brushed out her own. She looked different. 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 removing Jack and becoming Bill. When he finished, 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.
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 bluff” 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!
Bill, and Jack, on Amazon
See my Corrie Scene Sept. 4/11 for Bill’s final episode. Click 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.
In April, ABC announced the cancellation of All My Children and One Life 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 fans. 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. Sadly, they 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.
Leaving the soaps
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’…”
Ok, I know John Stape is a lying weasel who spends way too much time feeling sorry for himself and plotting nasty 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’s not 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’s not pompous in his knowledge or interests, nor too well-read. He is 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.
On 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.
The 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.
But 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 born 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 hisplace 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.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.