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Coronation Street is Britain's longest-running television soap opera. It was created by Tony Warren and first broadcast on December 9, 1960. The working title of the show was Florizel Street, but Agnes, a tea lady at Granada Television (where Coronation Street is produced) remarked that "Florizel" sounded too much like a disinfectant.
Coronation Street (nicknamed Corrie, or, less commonly, Coro or Corra) is set in a fictional street in the fictional industrial town of Weatherfield which is based on Salford, now part of Greater Manchester (a Coronation Street does exist in Salford). It is the central television programme on the ITV network. Its principal rival soap opera is ITV1's Emmerdale.
Background to Coronation Street
Originally broadcast live, it is now pre-recorded, usually four to six weeks in advance of broadcast. Whereas rival British soap operas are known either for their gloom (EastEnders) or their sharp one-liners (Emmerdale), Coronation Street is known on occasions for its humour, though it has tackled some controversial storylines. See Most controversial storylines of Coronation Street for details.
The "Street" is based in a row of seven working class houses (for some years, six, with a garden in the place of the seventh) with a public house and corner shop at either end. According to the storyline, the Street was built in 1902, and named after that year's big national event, the coronation of King Edward VII, hence Coronation Street. The Street is located between Rosamund Street and Viaduct Street. The architecture of the Street was based on Archie Street, Salford, which also appeared in the programme's original opening credits. The Street itself was originally a set built inside a studio, with the houses reduced in scale. This was awkward for the actors, who had to walk more slowly than normal to appear in scale with the set.
In 1968, Granada decided to build an outside set. All interactions on the outside street were previously filmed on a soundstage. This new set was built on some old railway sidings near the Granada Studios, and coincided with a storyline of the demolition of Ellison's Raincoat Factory and the Mission Hall and the subsequent building of maisonettes opposite the terrace. To usher in the erection of the new set, a special effects-laden storyline involving a train wreck was filmed; the viewers did not know if Ena Sharples was dead under the rubble. In the early 1970s roofs and back yards were added, but the set was still reduced in scale and quite cramped. Also, the famous cobbles were not parallel to the houses. This site later became the New York Street at the now-closed Granada Studios Tour complex in the late '80s and '90s.
In 1982 a modern full size exterior street was built in the Granada backlot; because it was meant to be permanent the houses were constructed from reclaimed Salford brick, rather than wood and scaffolding. However, the houses had no interior walls — the chimneys had to be made of fibre-glass, since there would otherwise be insufficient support. The majority of interior scenes are still shot in the adjoining purpose-built studio. An additional number of surrounding streets were added in recent years, while the current (introduced 7 January 2002) computer-generated opening credits "locates" Coronation Street in a large urban landscape surrounded by similar small working class streets. (Previously a montage of similar streets shot in several cities had been used; however, an opening sequence in the early 1970s indicates Coronation Street's proximity to a modern high-rise apartment building.) While one side of the street consists of the early 20th century houses, the other consists of a factory, a shop, a garage and some semi-detached houses opened in 1989.
As befitting the soap opera genre, the Street is made up of individual housing units, plus five communal areas; a newsagents (the Kabin), a small eaterie (Roy's Rolls — owned by Roy Cropper), a general grocery shop (owned by Dev Alahan), a factory ("Underworld" — owned by Mike Baldwin) and its permanent feature, a public house called "The Rover's Return", whose landlord or landlady invariably becomes one of Britain's most famous actors (the first manageress, Annie Walker, played by Doris Speed, became a national icon and was employed behind the bar for over two decades). Many of the Street's most famous stories, including the death of Martha Longhurst (played by Lynne Carol from the show's inception until May 1964), and the 1986 fire, occurred there.
1960s kitchen sink drama
The serial began in 1960 and was not a critical success. Initially, Granada only commissioned 12 episodes and many people inside the company doubted the show would last its planned production run. However it caught the imagination of viewers, not least because of its location in the North of England, which was becoming a highly visible centre of 1960s Britain, from the "kitchen-sink" dramas of the BBC's The Wednesday Play to the rise of the Beatles, from nearby Liverpool. Like kitchen-sink dramas, it focused on the plight of "ordinary folk", often making use of Northern English language and dialect. Terms like "eh, chuck", "nowt"' and others became widely heard.
The storylines focused on the experiences of families, their interaction and of relationships between people of different ages, classes and social structures. In some ways Coronation Street has charted the changes in public attitudes towards religion, politics, community, family breakdown, the gentrification of working class areas etc. For example, in the first decade one of the central social points on the street was the Glad Tidings Mission Hall, where religious services were held and social contacts, parties, etc took place. By the start of the twenty-first century, no religious 'set' exists, with the only religious resident on the street being the 70 year old widow, Emily Bishop (Eileen Derbyshire). Religion if it features at all, is mentioned in weddings and funerals, though here too, matching contemporary society, registry office weddings and non-religious funerals are increasingly common.
Early storylines also featured self-appointed moral voice Ena Sharples (Violet Carson), and her friends: timid Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant) and bespectacled Martha Longhurst. When Martha was killed off the programme, Albert Tatlock was allowed to be the unofficial third friend in the group. Ena and Albert had many differences, which they aired regularly, and Albert and Minnie were supposed to be married in the early 1970s. The marriage was eventually called off.
Headstrong Ena frequently clashed with Elsie Tanner (Patricia Phoenix), whom she believed espoused a rather disgusting set of morals. Elsie believed in the right to let each person live life according to how they see fit, and resented Ena's gossip, which, most of the time, didn't have much of a basis in reality.
Most of the stories in the early days (and, to an extent, still today) addressed how working-class people made a caste system in their own mini-society and excommunicated others they don't wish to associate with. In reality, many of the people deemed too common (like Elsie Tanner, Hilda and Stan Ogden, played by Jean Alexander and Bernard Youens) were of the exact same stock as the people who were judging them.
Characters and characterisations
Of the original cast on the show, only one character remains, Ken Barlow, played by William Roache. Barlow entered the storyline as the young radical son of a large family, epitomising the youth of 1960s Britain, where figures like the Beatles, the model Twiggy, the Rolling Stones and the Who were reshaping the concept of youthful rebellion. Though the rest of the family were killed off or moved, Ken Barlow has remained the constant link throughout forty years of Coronation Street. For more details of Ken's storylines, see the article devoted to him.
Barlow's character embodies the clash of perspectives and cultures played out in the soap opera. For decades his arch-foe was Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs), a dodgy cockney businessman, who set up a clothes factory on the street. Baldwin and Barlow epitomised two different types of character. Whereas Barlow was an arts orientated, left of centre community centred man, Baldwin was a cut and thrust, capitalist, right wing businessman, who forever mocked Barlow as a "waster" who could do 'nothing but talk'. Their lives were complicated in typical soap-opera style by personal links. Barlow's third wife, Deirdre (Anne Kirkbride), had an affair with Baldwin, before going back to Barlow. Baldwin then met and married Barlow's daughter, Susan (by an earlier marriage) before they divorced, after she had supposedly had an abortion. A decade later it became apparent that she had not had an abortion, but had borne Baldwin's child. Finally she told her father, who told Deirdre, who told Dev Alahan (Jimmi Harkishin ), who told Mike Baldwin, who tried to get access to his son, Adam. In fleeing from him, Susan was killed in a car-crash, leaving Adam's father, Mike Baldwin, and his grandfather, Ken Barlow, fighting over custody. In one of the great soap-opera reconciliations, Baldwin and Barlow, having reconciled their differences, are now friends (as are the actors who play them in real life), sharing a son/grandson.
Since its launch, Coronation Street has become famous for its humorous storylines. These include the notoriously prissy, reserved and plain Mavis Riley (Thelma Barlow ) having not one but two suitors throwing themselves at her, while she in true Mavis-mood cannot make her mind up between them, saying her catchphrase, "oooh, I don't knooooow". When she finally decides to pick one, she ends up being named as the 'other woman' in a divorce case! When she and Derek finally agree to marry, both fail to turn up at the church, where hundreds of their friends are waiting. When Derek is offered a company car by his new company, which manufactures stationery, he finds it is a lime green car with the company logo on the side and a large plastic paper clip on top. They fill their garden with kitsch decorations, only to have someone "kidnap" their garden gnome and send letters demanding payment of a ransom. They then receive photographs of their kidnapped gnome photographed at famous world monuments.
Another comic creation, Reg Holdsworth (Ken Morley), who is rapidly balding, tries to look more virile by getting an appalling toupée, which he thinks will "draw the ladies".
In 2002, one of the comedy storylines involved a notoriously homophobic loudmouth character, Les Battersby (Bruce Jones ), whose wife has left him, taking in a male lodger, only to be informed by the local council (who owns his house) that in taking in a lodger he has broken his tenancy agreement and must move. To hold on, he and his dimwitted teenage lodger decide to pose as a gay couple, or what they imagine a gay couple's home would be, with hilarious results, all the more so when his estranged wife Janice (Vicky Entwistle ), worried that he might lose his house, returns to pose as his happily married wife. She walks in on a house turned into a shrine to Judy Garland and Liberace, to be asked by the Council official "was it when your husband 'came out' that the marriage broke up?" She blows her husband's totally unconvincing scam by erupting into laughter. "Les. Gay? LES? Les is not gay. Les?"
Another storyline involved efforts by locals to stop Council plans to turn an open space (the "Red Rec", red indicating the amount of blood spilt there during a battle in the English Civil War, according to the storyline) into a housing development and stadium complex. The normally reserved Emily Bishop, spurred on by her environmentalist nephew, Spider Nugent (Martin Hancock ), ends up staging a sit-in up a tree alongside other youthful environmentalists, aided by local "conscience" Ken Barlow and local history expert Roy Cropper (David Neilson ).
In recent years a running gag has developed on the show involving Fred Elliot's tendency to propose marriage to any lady that he gets involved with, usually under the most bizarre circumstances and having disastrous consequences for Fred. This long running gag began in 1996 when Fred proposed to Rita Sullivan, who turned him down. Since then Fred has proposed to:
- Maureen Holdsworth (Former wife of another comic character, Reg) who actually married him only to leave him ten days later for another man.
- Audrey Roberts, whom he proposed to while in France only to have her turn him down.
- Eve Sykes who also married him only to turn out to be a bigamist.
- Doreen Heavey, the mother of Fred's daughter-in-law Maxine, whom Fred proposed to while they were both drunk.
- Penny King, who was having an affair with Fred's best friend Mike Baldwin.
A storyline from May 2004 saw Fred order a bride from Thailand through an acquaintance, only to learn that she was a con artist.
- Ken Barlow (William Roache) is the only character who has been on the Street since the first episode. His family left one by one: his mother died under the wheels of a bus, his father married a younger woman and left town, and his brother died with his young son in a car accident. He has married three times: to Valerie Tatlock (who died when she was electrocuted by her own hairdryer), Janet Reid (who divorced him and later committed suicide when he wouldn't take her back), and Deirdre Hunt Langton (who cheated on him, begged him to reconcile, then divorced him when he cheated on her).
- Emily Bishop ' (formerly Emily Nugent), who joined the cast in the 1960s as a young woman, working at Gamma Garments. She jilted lay preacher Leonard Swindley in 1964, and stayed a virgin until her thirty-seventh year, when she made love with her Hungarian revolutionary boyfriend. She finally married in 1972 to Ernest Bishop, and dealt with his murder in 1978. Emily is now a widow in her seventies, a neighbourhood stalwart respected and liked by all, and the Street's only religious believer. In January 2003, she was badly injured after being hit over the head by Richard Hillman (who minutes later killed Maxine Peacock ) but made a full recovery and returned home.
- Ray Langton (Neville Buswell), first husband of Deirdre Barlow and real father to Tracy Barlow. He first appeared in 1966 and was a Street mainstay in the 1970s until he became a wandering husband who left the Street on 15 November 1978. He reappeared in Viva Las Vegas as a now-gay barman, and then reappeared in the Street itself when he nearly crashed into Tracy and his grand-daughter on 2 March 2005. He died at Deirdre and Ken's wedding reception on 8 April 2005.
- Betty Williams, (formerly Betty Turpin, played by Betty Driver), was a policeman's wife first brought to the Street as convenient help for her sister Maggie Clegg (Irene Sutcliffe ). Since then, she got a job pulling pints at the Rovers and has been a bartender there for over 35 years.
- Rita Sullivan (formerly Rita Littlewood/Fairclough, played by Barbara Knox), one-time nightclub singer, twice-widowed owner of a small newsagent's shop, whose role often is to play the 'straight' part of a comedy double act, the other being the invariably odd-ball co-worker; Mavis, most recently Norris;
- Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs), London-born businessman who ran the Baldwin's Casuals jeanswear factory before selling to a property developer who built the houses in which many characters now live. He then established an underwear business further up the street, called Underworld. Married four times — to Susan Barlow , Jackie Ingram and Alma Sedgewick , all of whom divorced him; and Linda Sykes, from whom he is estranged. Has two sons — Mark Redman (from an affair with florist Maggie Redman in the early 80s) and Adam Baldwin (by first wife Susan, though Mike always believed Susan had aborted the baby).
- Deirdre Barlow (formerly Deirdre Hunt/Langton/Rachid, played by Anne Kirkbride) third and current wife of Ken Barlow. Her first husband Ray Langton left her. Ken Barlow was her second. Her third husband, Samir Rachid, died in mysterious circumstances while on his way to donate a kidney to Deirdre's daughter Tracy (he died, so she got both kidneys). Deirdre and Ken reconciled after being divorced for over a decade, and remarried in 2005.
- Gail Platt (formerly Gail Potter/Tilsley/Hillman, played by Helen Worth), thrice-married, twice-divorced and twice-widowed (she remarried her first husband, who was later killed) forty-something who came into the series as a teenage girl in the 1970s, whose third husband, Richard Hillman, was a serial killer. Her oldest son Nicholas (born 1980) was involved in several major storylines, including a gay kiss with Todd Grimshaw and a marriage at the age of 17 to Leanne Battersby . Gail's second child and only daughter, Sarah (born 1987), became pregnant at the age of 13. Gail's second son and youngest child, David (born 1990), has only been involved in one major storyline - he was abducted and nearly drowned along with three other family members by step-father Richard Hillman in March 2003. Gail, David, Sarah and Bethany were saved but Richard drowned and his body was recovered hours later from the canal where he had driven the family car.
- Audrey Roberts (formerly Audrey Potter, played by Sue Nicholls), widow of former Weatherfield mayor Alf Roberts, owner of the local hair salon, mother of Gail and near victim of Richard Hillman;
- Vera and Jack Duckworth (Liz Dawn and William Tarmey ) — the street's most legendary comedy duo, the perennial losers with their villain son who returns to visit and rip them off occasionally. Having inherited a large sum, they lost it to Richard Hillman. Vera initially appeared without Jack, who was mentioned for two years before appearing onscreen.
- Kevin and Sally Webster (Michael Le Vell and Sally Whittaker), a hard-working garage mechanic and his pushy, ambitious wife, whose repeated marital difficulties have temporarily been pushed into the background, with their recent re-marriage.
- Steve McDonald (Simon Gregson ), the only member of the McDonald family (parents Jim and Liz, twin brother Andy) to have remained constantly on the Street since their arrival, although his mother Liz has now returned. Steve is an ex-rogue, now running a taxi business. First married to heiress Victoria Arden, then the devoted but demanding Karen Phillips (Suranne Jones) whom he threw out at the end of 2004. He has a daughter called Amy by Tracy Barlow , daughter of Deirdre. In September 2000, Steve was badly injured in a fight with Jez Quigley. Jez was later beaten to death by Steve's father Jim who subsequently received an eight-year prison sentence for manslaughter.
- Hayley Cropper, who joined the Street in 1998 as Hayley Patterson. She joined the show as a pre-op transsexual. She is now 'married' to café owner Roy Cropper. Though accepted by most of the characters as a woman, occasionally comments about her past arise - such as when the Rovers Return ladies bowls team got disqualified (though that humorously turned out to be not because she is a transsexual, and the captain of the opposing team turned out to be a transsexual too).
- Bill Podmore was the show's longest serving producer. By the time he stepped down in 1988 he had completed thirteen years at the production "helm". Nicknamed the "godfather" by the tabloid press, he was renowned for his tough, uncompromising style and was feared by both crew and cast alike. He is probably most famous for sacking Peter Adamson, the show's Len Fairclough in 1983.
Celebrities who began or spent part of their career in Coronation Street include:
- Davy Jones of The Monkees
- Ben Kingsley who portrayed Mahatma Gandhi in Richard Attenborough's biographical film, Gandhi.
- Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits
- Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous and The New Avengers
- Arthur Lowe, who starred as Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army
- Linus Roache, son of Bill Roache (Ken Barlow) who played 'Peter Barlow' and went on to star in the film Priest.
- Graham Fellowes, the comedian-pop star who created the fictional personas Jilted John and John Shuttleworth , had a cameo role in one episode and later returned as truck driver Les Charlton, a regular at Gail's cafe.
- Amanda Barrie, who played Alma Baldwin, one time wife of Mike Baldwin, was an early star of the Carry On series of British films.
- The Prince of Wales, who played himself in a walk-on part. (see below)
- Bolton comedian Peter Kay played a shopfitter in 1997 and made a cameo appearance over two episodes in January 2004.
- Ex-Boyzone star Keith Duffy is currently playing Ciaran McCarthy, a Rover's Return barman.
- Bradley Walsh, who has become Danny Baldwin, Mike's nephew.
Laurence Olivier once offered to take part in a scene on the Street. However health problems denied him the chance to act on his favourite TV programme. Michael Crawford and Robbie Williams have both appeared as extras, drinking in the bar of the Rover's.
In 2000, the show celebrated its fortieth year by broadcasting a live thirty-minute show, its first live broadcast in decades. Guest of honour in the show was His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, heir-apparent to the British Throne, who featured in a pre-recorded segment, a 'news bulletin report' of his being welcomed to Weatherfield by then mayor Audrey Roberts, which was being shown on the TV in the Rovers Return at one point on the evening. (His mother, Her Majesty The Queen, has visited the Coronation Street 'set' and met with the cast on a number of occasions, even taking a drink with the cast in the Rovers Return.)
Sir Ian McKellen, a long-time fan of the show, will be playing "dodgy novelist" Mel Hutchwright in May 2005. He will star in ten episodes. "The script is hilarious and well up to the Street's current high standards," he said. "I am nervous but raring to go."
The programme is currently shown in five episodes on four evenings a week on British television: on Mondays at 19.30 and 20.30 (with the current affairs programme Tonight with Trevor MacDonald in between the two episodes), and at 19.30 on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the BBC1 soap EastEnders goes out at 19.30, the "Corrie slot" on ITV is filled by regional programmes . EastEnders is broadcast four times a week on the BBC (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday). When the two programmes were scheduled opposite each other in 1994, Corrie had millions more tuning in as the writers revealed that Emily Bishop's wedding was to be called off. Since then, the BBC has made sure EastEnders does not clash with Corrie anywhere on the schedule.
In 1981, over 24 million people in the United Kingdom watched 'Ken Barlow' marry 'Deirdre Langton' — more than watched His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales marry The Lady Diana Spencer. Though viewing figures have declined (Ken and Deirdre's remarriage in 2005 attracted 13 million viewers , which still beat the nine million who watched Prince Charles marry Camilla Parker-Bowles), partly due to the addition of new terrestrial and satellite channels and thus new rival programming, it still remains ITV's most watched programme with audiences in excess of 10 million. The show's omnibus is shown on ITV2. Classic Corrie episodes are also airing on ITV3.
The special Christmas day episode remains as central to many viewers' Christmas day celebration as the 'Queen's Speech'. The Christmas day episode which aired in 1987 was one of the most-watched episodes of all time; in the episode, Hilda Ogden left the Street to be a char to her doctor in the country. Nearly 27 million viewers tuned in.
Coronation Street is also shown in many countries worldwide, being the centre of the TV schedule of Ireland's independent television station, TV3 (part-owned by Granada), which simulcasts it with ITV.
In Canada it moved from a daytime slot on the CBC to primetime in 2004. Currently, the show is about nine months behind the episodes seen in Britain, but this gap can fluctuate at any time. This gap is comparable to that for the episodes currently showing in New Zealand on Television New Zealand's TV ONE. The 2002 edition of the Guinness Book of Records recognizes the 1,144 episodes sold to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan TV station CBKST by Granada TV on 31 May 1971 to be the largest number of TV shows ever purchased in one transaction.
Coronation Street is, or has been, broadcast in almost every English-speaking country and territory around the world. The lone holdout is the United States. The Trio channel aired a few episodes of the serial as a part of special-interest programming project, but a concerted effort to air Coronation Street in the American market has never materialized. A two-disc DVD compilation was released in America, however, provoking some optimism that a cable channel might be interested in showing the soap, and in the early 1970s some episodes were shown on WGBH Channel 2, the public television station in Boston, Massachusetts.
A handful of American viewers in the northern U.S. can view CBC's Coronation Street telecasts. Comcast cable TV subscribers near Seattle, Washington can view the show on CBC British Columbia affiliate CBUT. Other Americans near the Canadian border can view the program via over-the-air reception from nearby CBC transmitters. Coronation Street has a growing following among those few Yanks who can view it on CBC.
VHS and DVD releases
In 1990, as a celebration for the serial's 30th anniversary, ten video tapes were released, each featuring four episodes from a specific year, introduced by someone who was close to the stories that year. (For example, Betty Turpin's husband Cyril died in 1974, therefore Betty Driver hosted the 1974 tape). These tapes were distributed by Granada Video for viewing in the UK. Also, many VHS tapes were made in the 1990s for the British market, from mail-order company Time-Life Distribution, with each tape consisting of edits for a particular character (for example, edits for Gail, or Rita, or the Duckworths). As they were made in PAL format, they were not distributed in the United States or Canada.
In 2003, a special DVD set called This is Coronation Street was released on Region 1 DVD. On the two-disc set is the 40 Years on Coronation Street one-off special as well as the first five episodes of the programme.
Granada has also produced a number of straight-to-video spin-off productions, which were only screened on television after having been available in shops for some time, as an incentive to buyers. The first "exclusive" tape, released in 1995 featuring a storyline aboard the QEII, caused a legal controversy when it was later broadcast. Subsequent releases have included carefully worded statements concerning future television broadcasting.
Further releases have included a crossover with Emmerdale, and a United States-set special, Viva Las Vegas!, released on VHS in 1999 and screened on ITV the following year. Written by Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk, The Second Coming, Doctor Who), the special featured a guest cameo from actor Neville Buswell, who was then living in America, briefly reprising his role as Ray Langton.
- Coronation Street's most famous fan is Her Majesty the Queen.
- 40 Years on Coronation Street, written by Daran Little (the show's historian)
- Coronation Street: The War Years, a fictional account of the Street during World War II, written by Little and British author Christine Green
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