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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Across The Pond and Beyond: Coronation Street

Last week, I talked about soap operas and how in the United States, they seem to be on life-support. With a peak of seventeen soap operas airing during the 1970s, the fact that only five remain on the American airwaves shows that the genre is one that seems to be fading away.

But what about soap operas that air overseas?

It seems as though the soap operas based in countries like Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand seem to be trucking along quite nicely.

I think a part of it has to do with the various charm that each of these shows seem to have. Unlike most American soap operas, which are set in glamourous office buildings, fashionable coffee shops, and luxurious mansions, many of the overseas soap operas are a bit more realistic in nature. Some were set in gritty British neighbourhoods where the local pub was the center of all the action, while others were seaside towns with a surf club and fishing port.

A lot of the current overseas soap operas tend to hold onto their history much better than the American soaps. Whereas a lot of American soaps retcon their writing and their histories for a variety of reasons (bringing someone back from the dead, for example), overseas soaps only use such gimmicks sparingly.

I would also like to think that unlike the youth-obsessed culture that most American soap operas seem to embrace, the overseas soap operas utilize characters of all ages and backgrounds. I mean, yes, certainly there are exceptions on American soap operas. The Young and the Restless has Katherine Chancellor, The Bold and the Beautiful has Stephanie and Eric Forrester, and Days Of Our Lives has Jennifer Aniston's father.

(No, seriously, Jennifer Aniston's father, John, has a role on Days Of Our Lives.)

It's amazing to see how long of a shelf life some of these shows have on television overseas. Certainly, the vast majority of these programs haven't been on the air as long as General Hospital or One Life To Live, but where ratings seem to be eroding for American shows, overseas shows consistently do well over there.

In Australia, for instance, Neighbours (1985) and Home and Away (1988) are still screening, despite cancellation rumours for the first show. Partly because the shows have been marketed to British television networks, and both shows have developed as big a following in the United Kingdom as they have in their home country.

New Zealand's longest running soap opera happens to be Shortland Street, which has kept viewers on the edge of their seats since 1992.

And, of course we can't forget about British soap operas. You have Hollyoaks, which debuted in 1995. EastEnders debuted one decade earlier in 1985. Emmerdale has kept audiences watching day after day since 1972 (though back then it used to be called Emmerdale Farm). Even hospital dramas like Holby City and Casualty do consistently well. There was even a soap opera for teenagers called Grange Hill that wrapped up a thirty year long run in 2008.

There is one show that has surpassed all of those international dramas in terms of longevity, and show history. In fact, with the final episode of As The World Turns airing on September 17, 2010, this show entered the Guinness Book of World Records, for the longest running current soap opera on the air.

When Coronation Street debuted on Grenada Television (later renamed ITV) on December 9, 1960, it was originally going to last just thirteen episodes. Nobody ever expect the show to last over 7,700 episodes as of September 28, 2011. For over fifty years, Coronation Street has seen its share of weddings, affairs, funerals, explosions, murder, crime, and disaster, and for over fifty years, millions of viewers all around the world have watched the trials and tribulations of the thousands who have lived on the street.

In my home country of Canada, for instance, Coronation Street is probably one of CBC's highest rated programs. I can vouch that several of my co-workers tune in every day to catch the latest happenings of the people who lived in the fictional community of Weatherfield.

So in order to do this blog entry on Britain's longest running soap opera justice, I really had to do a lot of research on this program (as I myself have maybe only seen five episodes of the program in total). After watching the 50th anniversary special detailing 50 of the most exciting moments in Coronation Street's history, as well as some further research on various characters in the show, I'm going to give it my best shot. After all, Coronation Street is a very big deal to some people, and I would probably be blacklisted by some people if I didn't have this show as a feature in Across The Pond Wednesday.

So, I figure that I would cherry-pick some of these moments and we'll talk about them a bit.

Let's start off with the most recent happening.


Coronation Street celebrated its 50th anniversary on December 9, 2010. The creator of the show, Tony Warren, as well as the production team knew that they had to make the week of the golden anniversary a memorable one.

So they came up with the decision to destroy a portion of Coronation Street in a tram disaster.

How it came about was like this. A new bar had opened up underneath the viaduct on the street called The Joinery. It was opened up by Nick Tilsley and Leanne Battersby, and at the time of the disaster was packed full of people helping Peter Barlow celebrate his stag party. Peter's soon to be bride, Leanne, was just down the street at the Rover's Return where a party of her own was going on.

Without warning, a gigantic explosion occurs at the Joinery, destroying the tram track overhead, and putting the lives of everybody inside at risk. As if that weren't bad enough, a tram was on its way over the destroyed viaduct, and can see in this clip what exactly happens.

As you saw, the train split into two sections. One half smashes into the corner shop, trapping Molly Dodds and her baby inside. The other half crashes into The Kabin, trapping Rita Sullivan inside. The very next day was when the show filmed a live episode, detailing the aftermath of the disaster. By the end, two people were killed in the wreck and many more injured. The disaster also was used to cover up a murder, and saw both a wedding and a birth happen at the same time. It was quite a memorable week of episodes, and the tram crash of 2010 netted huge ratings.

Of course, this has hardly been the only disaster that the street has faced over the years. The tram crash was actually the second one to happen on the street (the first one happened back in the 1960s). We also saw a truck crash into the Rovers Return in 1979, as well as witnessed the Rovers Return burn down seven years later.

A huge factory known as Underworld was destroyed in early 2010, as part of a special week of episodes known as 'Siege Week', and in 2004, we saw a Weatherfield resident wreak havoc on the residents of Coronation Street in a storyline called...


Maya Sharma wasn't always so crazy, you know. When she first came on the show in 2003, she was a lawyer, who represented Roy and Hayley Cropper in a child custody battle. She immediately attracted the attention of shopkeeper Dev Alahan, and the two start seeing each other.

However, it became clear that not all was well with Maya. It all started off mildly with Maya getting involved with misdemeanors such as stealing vases and dognapping. She also seemed to partake in the act of dining and dashing, and took Dev on a ride where she would not stop speeding unless Dev agreed to marry her. By then, the residents of Coronation Street were starting to see Maya in a new ugly light, and Tyrone Dobbs accused Maya of murdering his dog, comparing her to the 101 Dalmatians villain, Cruella De Vil.

At this time, Dev's former love interest Sunita Parekh has developed a brain tumour, and Dev decides that he wants to be there for her. At first, even Maya has sympathy for Sunita, and acts as a caring friend to her. But when Maya discovers that Dev and Sunita have rekindled their love for each other, Maya becomes mad. She trashes Dev's store and destroys his home. Despite this, Dev and Sunita make plans to remarry each other.

Maya starts to go after Sunita in some vile ways. It was bad enough that she soaked Sunita's dress with urine (of all things), but things really went out of control when Maya stole Sunita's birth certificate and used it to marry illegal immigrants. The police barged into Dev and Sunita's wedding ceremony and arrested both of them for the charge of illegal marriage. Thanks to Dev convincing a taxi driver who helped transport Maya to the illegal wedding ceremonies, Maya is arrested. But she doesn't stay in jail for long because she is released on bail. Afterwards, she jets off around the city of Manchester, England, where she burns down almost every single store Dev owns.

The only store that Maya hadn't torched was the flagship store on Coronation Street. In November 2004 (on a Monday, no less), Maya took Sunita hostage as a way to get Dev's attention. When Dev arrives at his store and sees Sunita tied up, he tries to calm her down, but is knocked out by Maya and is taken hostage himself. Maya then sets the store ablaze with Dev and Sunita still inside. Luckily, thanks to the quick thinking of the residents of the street, Dev and Sunita are safely rescued from the building before it explodes.

What they weren't aware of was that Maya watched the whole thing unfold and was very disgusted that Dev and Sunita survived, so she opted to try and run them down with her car. It didn't work. In fact, if you want, here's the link to the whole episode where Maya truly goes mad.


'You're Norman Bates with a briefcase!'

Famous words uttered from a woman named Gail Platt...married to a man named Richard Hillman. A man who could easily have been named the most dangerous man on Coronation Street ever.

Lying from the start of his tenure in 2001 (he was brought onto the show by crashing the funeral of Alma Baldwin), he secured the attention of Gail Platt, who had recently split with her husband, Martin. The two fell in love, and eventually Gail's children, David and Sarah Louise grew to accept him as part of the family.

Of course, there was some talk of Richard's dodgy dealings right from the start. When reports surfaced that he had stolen money from trusting elderly people, the people of Coronation Street had questioned whether he really was a family member of Alma's, or if he was there to scam even more people out of their life savings.

During 2001 and the early part of 2002, Richard set up a business called Kellett Towers, and went into business with Duggie Ferguson, where they were in the process of building an estate of new homes. Sometime in 2002, Richard and Duggie got into an argument where Richard accused Duggie of shoddy workmanship. Of course, Richard's argument was proven to be sound when in the kerfuffle, Duggie ended up falling over a banister to his death below. Richard was panicked at first and started to dial for help...but in a cold twist, put the phone away and left Duggie to die.

This incident would trigger Richard's rampage. Nobody in Weatherfield was safe as Richard ended up killing people who ended up getting in his way. He murdered his ex-wife Patricia by bashing her head in with a garden spade. When his business started to go under and he learned that Gail's mother Audrey had an insurance policy that would bail him out, he tried to roast her alive in a house fire. Audrey had survived, and she tried to warn Gail about Richard, but Richard had convinced Gail that Audrey was senile, and Gail refused to believe him.

Richard's next victim was supposed to have been Emily Bishop, but before he could finish her off, Maxine Peacock entered the house at the worst possible time, and she ended up becoming the next to die.

Soon after, Richard's crime spree unravelled, and lies that he had told Gail and her family were starting to become unearthed. In 2003, Gail confronted Richard over everything, and in that moment, he confessed everything. He confessed to killing Maxine and Patricia, not calling for help for Duggie, and the attempted murders of Audrey and Emily. Gail pieced together the events, and when she realized that Richard was sterile and couldn't have kids, it became clear to her that he wasn't really in love with her...he was more in love with being a part of a real family. She called the police, and Richard fled.

However, two weeks later, Richard returned, and took his entire family hostage. Initially he was going to kill them by locking them in a garage and turning on the car, letting the carbon monoxide do the work for him, but when Gail's ex-husband, Martin was tipped off to the plan by Audrey, they foiled Richard's plan. Plan B was this.

Although Gail, Sarah Louise, David, and Sarah Louise's daughter Bethany survived the incident, Richard's body was found a short time later, ending the reign of terror he inflicted on Coronation Street.


After talking about three of the most captivating storylines of Coronation Street, it is important to know that it isn't all doom and gloom there. Coronation Street has been at the forefront of many social issues and commentary since it began in 1960. Here are just a few of these social issues that the show has tackled.

The show is the only show to have both an openly gay couple (Karl Foster and Todd Grimshaw) and an openly lesbian couple (Sophie Webster and Sian Powers).

The show made history in 2000 when Sarah Louise Platt (then a thirteen year old girl), gave birth to her daughter, Bethany, and the next few years showed the struggles that a teenage mom had to endure raising a child. Think Teen Mom only scripted.

The show also has one of the first instances of a transsexual character appearing on a soap opera in the form of Hayley Patterson. Played by Julie Hesmondhalgh since 1998, Hayley was born as Harold Patterson, and was in the process of undergoing gender reassignment surgery when she debuted on the show. While the move to incorporate a transsexual character on a soap opera was quite controversial (only the American soap opera The City had introduced a transsexual character at the time, and she only managed to last eight months on the program), Hayley proved to become one of the most popular characters in the history of Coronation Street. She ended up falling in love with loner Roy Cropper, and despite the challenges they have faced over the years, they have managed to become one of Weatherfield's most solid couples.

Of course, they aren't the only ones. Until both of them died, Vera and Jack Duckworth managed to have a long-lasting marriage. Sally and Kevin Webster had a few challenges thrown their way, but they too stood the test of time...well, that is until the tram crash of 2010 and a dying Molly told Sally that she gave birth to Kevin's child...they're still feeling the effects of that storyline as of 2011, but those scenes haven't aired in Canada yet.

Some legacy characters have come and gone over the years. Many people couldn't forget Bet Lynch, the sassy barmaid at the Rovers Return for many, many years. Nor could they forget Mike Baldwin, who oversaw the workers at Underworld until his death in 2006. How could they? With Mike having four wives and 25 girlfriends in his twenty-nine and a half year run, and Bet having run-ins with almost every central character on the street between 1966 and 1995, the storyline possibilities were endless.

It's funny to see just how involved the viewers of Coronation Street get with the program. One of the most interesting moments of this in action took place in the spring of 1998, when Deirdre Rachid went to jail after being set up by con-man Jon Lindsey. A reported 19 million people watched Deirdre wrongfully imprisoned, and soon after, viewers sparked a media campaign by viewers urging the show to 'Free The Weatherfield One'. The media campaign grew so large that even then-Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, couldn't help but comment on the storyline. Deirdre was eventually released from prison three weeks later (which is what the writers and producers of the show had planned for all along), but it was quite interesting to see the amount of attention that storyline ended up getting.

But that was the magic of Coronation Street. It was a show that was so captivating and so relevant with the times that viewers couldn't help but love it. I know that after writing this piece on Coronation Street, I have to admit that I have a whole new respect for the program, and I imagine that it must be a lot of work for everyone involved with the program's past, present, and future for consistently putting out original episodes for nearly fifty-one years.

To conclude this posting, I wanted to end it on a light note, because as I said before, Coronation Street isn't always about doom and gloom. Here's a couple of video clips that showcase the dry humour that can be associated with the show. Ironically enough, these instances of dry humour both involve water...

1 comment:

  1. I am not a fan of soap opera's but this is a very interesting blog, Matthew. I actually want to see Coronation Street, now.