*This review is for the series between 1960 and 2000
Based very much on the style of the kitchen sink drama seen on Armchair Theatre, Coronation Street was first broadcast live at 7.00pm on 9 December 1960. 40 years on, and with an average viewing audience of 18 million, "Corrie" is the most successful and longest running drama series in the world.
Originally to be called Florizel Street until a tea lady at Granada, where it was being developed, pointed out that Florizel sounded like a lavatory cleaner, Coronation Street was the brain-child of former child actor and adaptor of Biggles stories, Tony Warren. Set in the fictional Manchester district of Weatherfield, the series was intended to be a gritty, down-to-earth, warts an' all drama that reflected the lives of working class Northeners. (For added realism Warren even went as far as visiting local graveyards where he copied down the names on the headstones, which he then used for the names of the streets inhabitants). Supposedly representing a typical northern back-street, its row of terraced houses were sandwiched between the local pub (The Rovers Return) and the corner shop, from where the opening scene was transmitted on the day that Florrie Lindley took over the business from Elsie Lappin.
One of 'The Street's' strengths has always been in its use of strong female characters, represented in the early days by hair-netted harridan Ena Sharples, landlady Annie Walker and street siren and lady of questionable reputation, Elsie Tanner. Although the series was greeted by one critic as having no future, being "laden with doom and gloom", it was an instant hit with the viewing public and was transmitted twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays (switching to Mondays and Wednesdays in 1961). Another character from that first episode was a young student by the name of Ken Barlow, still resident in the street today, being the only surviving member of the original cast. Over the years actors have come and gone but only two of them ever took their character to spin-off series'. This distinction fell first to Arthur Lowe, whose character of Leonard Swindley, (proprietor of Gamma Garments boutique), left after being jilted at the alter by Emily Nugent, and took employment in a large department store, in a comedy series entitled 'Pardon My Expression'. The second was more of an experiment, when a week-long series of episodes starring Julie Goodyear as former landlady Bet Lynch, appeared on our screens in 1999. However, the option for a full series was not taken up.
As the series progressed so it mellowed in its outlook on British life and wandered at times into the realms of comedy, at one time to such an extent that creator Warren disowned it. But it was not without its moments of high drama, and through the years viewers have watched as Martha Longhurst dropped dead in the "Snug" of the Rovers, a viaduct collapsed burying several street residents, a car fell on Harry Hewitt as he tried to change a flat tyre, crushing him to death, and when street baddy Alan Bradley was run over by a tram in Blackpool whilst trying to attack Rita Fairclough, 'The Street's' viewing figures reached an all time high of 27 million. There have also been moments of heart wrenching poignancy as adulteress Deirdre Barlow contemplated running off with Mike Baldwin, and, in one of the series most memorable moments, Hilda Ogden's grief was shared by the nation as she broke down following the death of husband Stan.
Since 1989 the show has gone out three times a week, and although it retains its underlying sense of humour it appears to be changing with the times yet again. In order to keep up with the sensational elements in newer soaps such as 'EastEnders' and 'Brookside', 'Coronation Street' has opted for storylines that include drug abuse, kidnapping and murder. A hit around the world except perhaps in the USA (although it does retain a strong following) where the format was utilised in 'Peyton Place', the show has attracted some notable writers including Vince Powell, Harry Driver, John Finch, Jack Rosenthal and Geoffrey Lancashire (father of Sarah who played lovable dumb blond Raquel Watts, nee Wolstenhulme). In its forty years a whole host of young hopefuls have simply passed through on the way to fame or fortune, and they include Peter Noone (lead singer of Herman's Hermits) Davy Jones (of The Monkees), Mollie Sugden, Joanna Lumley, Prunella Scales, Martin Shaw, Ray Brooks, Michael Elphick, Michael Ball, Richard Beckinsale, Max Wall, Paula Wilcox, Ben Kingsley and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer.
Growing and adapting to reflect both the social and moral changes of the society which was in no small part a fundamental reason for its genesis, 'Coronation Street' has risen far beyond the province of mere television drama, to insinuate itself in a wholly unique way into the everyday fabric and character of the nation which it has entertained consistently and continuously for four decades. In its massive shadow, entire armadas of lesser pretenders to the throne have arisen over the years, with varying degrees of success to challenge 'The Street's' towering reputation. But ultimately, when all is said and done, these rivals are merely just another crop of, albeit, well produced television shows. Coronation Street, on the other hand, to all intents of purposes, is the living embodiment of life in Britain to a staggeringly large amount of the nation's viewing population.
Published on December 5th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus & SRH for Television Heaven.