Coronation Street

There are four or five leading soaps in the UK, and Coronation Street ('Corrie') has been around the longest. It started in 1960 and is the tale of ordinary folk living in the fictional town of Weatherfield, just outside Manchester in the northwest of the UK.

What makes Corrie unique I think is that is manages to reflect what we can readily believe is real life. Of course it is unlikely that this number of dramas could affect one street, but it does not seem to be too much of a stretch. There is lot of humour, which is much more of a rarity in other soaps, and sometimes some fairly mundane storylines.

So, watching it is rather as you might imagine it would be like of you lived on a street like this. Perhaps as it would have been a long time ago with your curtain twitching. Ordinary folk coping with ordinary life and the occasional extraordinary event.

Of course a soap must entertain, and watching it must be an enjoyable experience. That I think is where Corrie wins out over some others. If a programme makes your heart rate rise, or makes you sad, or happy, then it is doing its job. When it immerses you in utter misery that is not entertainment, so the balance must be right. Corrie has managed this very well and brings tough life to our homes without depressing us.

There are some stories that Corrie does very well, and some that it does very badly quite consistently. Thankfully the latter are few and far between. With one exception that I will talk about in a moment, almost anything involving the emergency services is hopeless. I cannot believe how often police, doctors, court officials and others are portrayed so poorly. I cannot understand why they don't just go talk to the people that make hospital or police programmes!

Fortunately these are rare, and the dialogue and acting is utterly believable. After 50+ years of doing this then of course you expect them to be expert and they are.

Sometimes they excel. Sometimes they are just incredible. The storyline covering Hayley's cancer is a perfect example of how well these things can be done. Hayley was born Harold and had a terrible and desperately sad early life - as did her family in all probability - but has finally found happiness with Roy. Roy is the train-spotter boy who had trouble making friends. He is a social inadequate who has spent his life alone. The two are complete misfits, but I think all of us will be able to identify with them at some level.

Hayley was diagnosed with a terminal illness and we watch as they come to terms with the loss that will surely be so hard to bear for them both. Roy has experienced a short, lucid period of real life when he could be truly happy. But that short window is about to close and his awakening will end as he will certainly drift back into loneliness and reclusiveness. At the same time Hayley is tormented by the fear that as her illness progresses she will lose herself and become Harold. It is hard to imagine a sadder prospect. That so much can be taken away by an early death is tragic, but the thought of your life unravelling in its closing days is traumatic.

So, this storyline was entirely consuming. The acting surpassed all expectations and if you think that soap actors can't then think again.

Let's consider the times they get it badly wrong. It's not often that I feel compelled to write to the makers of a TV programme, but I did on this occasion. An episode in which two characters who are warring neighbours decided to have a barbecue on the same day was crinchworthy. Too embarrassing to watch. The idea that neighbours would compete like this, fighting over guests was just plain ridiculous. Fortunately Corrie does not often get it this badly wrong.

There is a very interesting mix of characters on this soap, and I think probably they are reflective of real life. I think we all know a Norris and and a Rita. Steve and Michelle are completely believable as the ordinary couple (he slightly henpecked but deservingly so) and are certainly in line to take the crown previously worn by Jack and Vera.

More than anything else Coronation Street has real humour mixed in with the everyday, and not so everyday problems. Life is not a veil of tears, it's a bitter-sweet roller coaster and Corrie reflects that perfectly.

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