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Coronation Street

Coronation Street is Britain's long-running British soap opera, set in a fictional street in the fictional industrial town of Weatherfield which is based on Salford, near Manchester. "The Street" itself exists at the Granada Television studios in Manchester, and tourists can visit the sets. Originally broadcast live, it is now pre-recorded, usually six weeks to two months 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.

The 'Street' or 'Corrie' as it is affectionately known, is based in a row of working class houses, built according to the storyline in 1902, and named after that year's big national event, the coronation of King Edward VII, hence Coronation Street. Exterior locations were originally shot at Archie Street, Manchester. When this was demolished a set was built inside a studio, with the streetscape reduced in scale. This was awkward for the actors, who had to walk more slowly than normal to appear in scale with the set. Later a modern full size exterior street was built in the Granada backlot; because it was meant to be permanent the houses were constructed from bricks and mortar rather than wood and scaffolding. Interior scenes are still shot in the main studio nearby. An additional number of surrounding streets were added in recent years, while a new 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.) While one side of the street consists of the early twentieth century houses, the other consists of a factory, a shop, a garage and some late 1980s semi-detached houses.

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), a general grocery shop (owned by Dev Alahan), a factory (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. Many of the Street's most famous stories, including its first death, occurred there.

Table of contents

1960s Kitchen Sink Drama

The serial began in 1960 and was not a critical success. It was only expected to run for a few weeks. 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 'Play for Today' 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 interreaction 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 a Methodist 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. 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.

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. Through the rest of the family were killed off or moved, Ken Barlow has remained the constant link throughout forty years of Coronation Street. He has been a teacher, a newspaper editor, a community activist and most bizarrely of all a trolley-pusher at a supermarket, before returning to teaching and writing. He has been married three times, widowed once, divorced twice, and had twenty-seven girlfriends, including a character played by the now famous actress Joanna Lumley. He had four children during the street's existence; a daughter (Susan) killed in an accident, a son (Peter) who has returned to live on the street (and was once played by the actor's own son), a son who lives with Ken's ex-girlfriend, and his adopted daughter, Tracy (again a street returnee, played by a third actress to have the role!), who was his third wife's daughter by her ex-husband, Ray Langton.

Barlow's character embodies the clash of perspectives and cultures played out in the soap opera. For decades his arch-foe was Mike Baldwin, a dodgy cockney (ie, London) 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 money-grubbing 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, Deidre, 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 supposedly had had an abortion. Except that a decade later it turned out that she had not had an abortion but had Baldwin's child. Finally she told her father, who told Deidre, who told Dev Alahan, 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, Balwin and Barlow, having reconciled to their differences, are now close 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 humourous storylines. These included the notoriously prissy, reserved and plain Mavis Riley having not one but two suitors throwing themselves at her, while she in true Mavis-mood could not make us mind up, saying her catchphrase, 'oooh, I don't knooooow'. When she finally decided to picked one, she ended 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 gets offered a company car by his new company, he finds it is a lime green car with the company logo on the side and a large plastic paper clip on top. (The company manufactured stationery.) They fill their garden with kitsch decorations, only to have someone 'kidnap' their garden gnome and send letters demanding payment of a ransom. And then receive photographs of their kidnapped gnome photographed at famous world monuments. Another comic creation, Reg Holdsworth, who is rapidly balding, tries to look more virile by getting an appalling toupeé, which in reality looks like a dead albino hedgehog but which he thinks will 'draw the ladies.'

In 2002, one of the comedy storylines involved an notoriously homophobic loudmouth character, Les Battersby, 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, 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 but erupting into laughter. 'Les. Gay? LES? Les is not gay. Les?' (the homophobic womanising 'Les Battersby' playing at being gay is about as unimaginable as Michael Jackson playing James Bond.)

Another storyline involved efforts by locals to stop Council plans to turn an open space (the 'Red Wreck', the red indicating the amount of blood spilt there during a battle in the English Civil War, according to the storyline) into a housing development. The normally reserved Emily Bishop, spurred on by her enviromentalist nephew, Spider Nugent, 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.

Most Controversial Storylines

The street has covered a number of controversial storylines.

  • In the 1990s, the Street introduced the first transsexual in British soap history. Its handling of the story, and Hayleys ultimate 'marriage' to bookish nerd Roy Cropper, proved immensely popular, and was praised by transgendered groups, not least in how it highlighted transgender issues, such as how she remained registered for tax purposes as a man called 'Harold', leading to redicule from her boss, Mike Baldwin. (Curiously, though launched by an openly gay man who still gets listed on the credits, filmed in a city often described as Britain's gay capital, and with a massive gay following, Coronation Street has yet to feature a gay resident, unlike EastEnders which has had a number, and Emmerdale which has a lesbian vet and a number of other gay characters, both male and female.)
  • In the 1990s, it featured a controversial story on the rape of Toyah Battersby, Les Battersby's teenage step-daughter.
  • In 2001, it featured the death through cancer of Alma Baldwin, the ex-wife of Mike Baldwin.
  • In 2001-2, it featured the pregnancy of fourteen year old "Sarah Louise Platt (daughter of Gail Platt, dealing with issues as community reaction, the reaction of parents and the experience of a fourteen year old girl in having and rearing a baby.

The Serial Killer: Richard Hillman, Murderer

In 2002-03, Coronation Street featured a particularly controversial story of a serial killer, Richard Hillman, who entered the storyline as a relative of the late Alma Baldwin. Initially the character was seen offering financial advice to street residents and buying the house of Emily Bishop, in an arrangement where she would have a right to live in it for her lifetime. He then married twice-divorced Gail Platt. Over the months, questions were raised about his trustworthiness, with suggestions of some irregularities in his dealings with old people elsewhere. Viewers then witnessed his murder of his second wife (and her burial under concrete at a housing development he owned) while hearing of the strange death of his first wife, from both of whom he had become estranged.

In late 2002, viewers saw him subtlely (and with typical Corrie humour) give his wealthy mother-in-law, Audrey Roberts, grounds of questioning whether she was experiencing the onset of dementia, though such things as unlocking doors she had locked, hanging out washing that she (of course) could not remember hanging out, putting on lights she had switched off, leaving a dress in to be dry-cleaned, to her surprise as she could not remember leaving it in. Finally, he tried to kill her in a house fire, made to look like the result of her dementia, with the battery removed from the fire alarm. In 2003, in severe financial trouble (and failing in his attempt to get his hands on Audrey's considerable wealth) they witnessed him try to murder Emily Bishop while all the other Street residents were at a function in the Rovers Return, only to be discovered by the woman she was babysitting for, Maxine Peacock, whom he then brutally murdered, while framing a young man sleeping rough nearby.

The storyline in February 2003 saw a number of normally conspiracy-orientated street residents, urged on by his mother-in-law who survived the fire, suspect him of Maxine's murder, Audrey challenging him at Maxine's funeral. (Audrey realised he had made two slip ups with her; 'knowing' there was no battery in a smoke alarm before the fire brigade had checked it (he had removed it) and leaving in the dress to be cleaned on a day when she had independent witnesses to confirm that she had been with them all day and so could not have brought the dress for dry cleaning! Other largely elderly Street residents had their own suspicions and 'expected' he would do something to Emily (her attack matching their suspicions), while Ken Barlow, having seen the drunken state the 'framed kid' - a former student of his - was, doubted the kid's ability to carry out the crime.) However both Audrey and Ken ended up boycotted by other street regulars, including Richard's wife, Gail (who is estranged from her mother after her mother blamed him for the fire), Maxine's family and Emily (who survived but has no memory of the attack on her) all of whom see him as a perfect husband, neighbour and friend.

However Hillman himself is racked by guilt at his actions, all the more so when it turned out that someone else whose house he owned had died the previous week, meaning that his financial problems were already solved before he tried to murder Emily and murdered Maxine. In a cruel twist of fate, he was only contacted by the daughter of the dead person after he has done his own killing, and is distraught with guilt, all the more so when he is asked out of the blue to do a reading from the bible about judgment day at the funeral service.

One of Coronation Street's most controversial yet widely watched storylines, played out grippingly yet slowly over two years, produced a storyline which received critical and viewer acclaim produced one of British TV's most shocking, horrifying and moving storylines, tinged with typical Corrie black humour; many of Richard's comments (constantly asking Emily about her heath, his 'concern' at Audrey's forgetfulness, etc) having macabre double meanings which the viewer got but which the characters, oblivious to his true nature and plans, don't grasp. Such is the strength of the storyline than the actor playing Hillman has had his contract extended, with the original scheduled date for his exposure (Christmas 2002) being put back February 2003, when his trusting wife, Gail, finally twigged and challenged him, leading to his full and frank admission, he believing that she would stand by him and not reveal his sordid and brutal actions. She however refused to protect him. In the story line he has fled but is being pursued by the police, who have found the remains of his second wife, while his shellshocked wife, stepchildren, their father and his friends struggle to come to terms with their discovery. Ultimately he returned to kidnap his family and try to gas them in the family car, before on being discovered driving off and crashing the car into a canal. The underwater scenes that followed were staged with the help of stunts people who have worked on James Bond films. It saw the death of Hillman in the car, but the survival of the rest of the family. In the aftermath, Hillman's financial dealings saw his wife and family facing the possible loss of their home, as did Emily Bishop, while the Duckworths lost their entire life savings, reducing them once again to the breadline, allowing the reintroduction of the famed 'Corrie' humour with the street's resident comic/tragic couple, Jack and Vera Duckworth.

Long Established Characters

  • Emily Bishop, who joined the cast in the 1960s as young woman, had her husband Ernest Bishop murdered in the 1970s, and is now a seventy-one year old widow, and the Street's only religious believer;
  • Gail Hillman (formerly Gail Tilsley/Platt), thrice-married forty-something who came into the series as a teenage girl in the 1970s and is now married to Richard Hillman, an apparently good husband and father who is the murderer of a street resident and at least one of his ex-wives;
  • Rita Sullivan (formerly Rita Fairclough), 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 their invariously odd-ball co-worker; Mavis, most recently Norris;
  • Norman 'Curly' Watts, a self-educated former binman, supermarket manager and husband of a policewoman, and now a house-husband and local councillor;
  • Kevin and Sally Webster, a garage mechanic and his long-suffering wife, whose repeated marital difficulties have temporarily been pushed into the background, with their recent re-marriage;
  • Audrey Roberts - widow of former Weatherfield mayor Alf Roberts, owner of the local hair salon, mother of Gail and near victim of Richard Hillman;
  • Deirdre Rachid (formerly Deidre Hunt/Langton/Barlow/Rachid) third wife and current live-in lover 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).
  • Vera and Jack Duckworth - the streets most legendary comedy duo, the perennial losers with their conman son who returns to visit and rip them off occasionally. Having inherited a large sum, they now regard themselves as well off, oblivious to the fact that the man they asked to invest the funds, Richard Hillman, has embezzled the money. With his eventual exposure, they (like Gail, Emily and others) risk losing everything, including their homes.

Celebrities on the Street

Celebrities who began or spent part of their career in Coronation Street include:

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 an 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 Prince Charles, heir 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, Queen Elizabeth II 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.)

The 'Street' in the TV Schedules

The programme is now aired four evenings a week on British television, on Mondays (sometimes twice), Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Its main and much younger rival, EastEnders is broadcast three times a week on the BBC (at times that are carefully scheduled to avoid clashing with it). Though no longer as watched as it was in the 1980s (when more people watched 'Ken Barlow' marry 'Deirdre Langton' than watched Prince Charles marry Lady Diana Spencer ie, 24 million +. The decline is due to the proliferation of new terrestrial and satellite channels, which have broken up audiences) it still remains ITV's most watched programme, with audiences in excess of 10 million. Its Christmas day episode remains as central to many viewers' Christmas day celebration as the 'Queen's Speech'. The show is also shown in many countries worldwide, being the centre of the TV schedule of Ireland's independent television station, TV3[?].

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