It’s odd to think that a show running for 55 years has certain thematic constants, but Coronation Street does. It’s a show which does not look kindly on hypocrisy or pomposity. The merest whiff of “getting above your station” is mercilessly mocked or punished. Middle-class professionals who wander through the cast, like teachers, are pathetic figures of fun (Ken Barlow, Brian Packham) or, if they’re lucky, pathetic harbingers of evil (John Stape). People who aspire to detached houses and city jobs are looked at askance. This approach is a practical as well as ideological one: the show is called Coronation STREET, not Various People From All Walks Of Life In Manchester At Large. The characters must therefore stay in their tiny houses and do local jobs.
That’s not to say, however, that things don’t change on the cobbles. The episodes I’m currently watching have given me a few “not in Kansas any more” moments. Plonker Ernest Bishop has washed up at Len Fairclough’s house, and is given the world’s worst advice when Len frustratedly suggests he go and “beat the living daylights” out of Emily rather than keep whining about his plight. Ena, meanwhile, is over at Emily’s attempting to get her to take Ernest back. Emily says some fantastically women’s-lib-influenced things which made me cheer inwardly, but it’s clear the show thinks all this feminist nonsense is a bit ridiculous. I’m trying to imagine a situation in which current characters on the Street would, even as a joke, suggest domestic violence as a problem-solver or give short shrift to a woman’s quest for self-actualisation. With apologies to Dr King, the arc of Coronation Street’s moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. Eventually.
And speaking of men of God, Plonker Ernest is in danger of losing his job at the Christian mission as a lay preacher thanks to his stripper escapades. Ena suggests he use the old “I was researching the filth in order to stamp it out” line with his boss, although Emily looks darkly upon this as the last refuge of a lying liarpants. You see, guvnor, he was only trying to understand the permissive society from the inside out. As it were. (I know that Ernest is murdered at some point in the next few years and I must say that I am, small-mindedly, rather relishing the thought.)
In the meantime, poor old Stan Ogden has to cram for the Superbrain inter-pub competition on his new specialist subject the western “dessert” (thanks Hilda) in World War II. Listening in despair as he flubs his answers, Bet says “Has he always been that daft, or has he been taking tablets for it?” Again: don’t get above your station, characters. You may know a lot about United, but there’s no point in reaching for the pub-quiz moon.
Bet takes over from drunken Stan and triumphs with her expertise in true crime magazines, which is clearly a proper working-class interest. Much like “pigeons”.
Retail Wonderment Corner
The corner shop is delighting me with its unfamiliar brands and extraordinary level of service. One does not get the products off the shelves oneself, oh no. One stands and waits to have the products fetched, and woe betide you if, as a shop assistant, you are found wanting. “I don’t care if it sells woolly hats for baldheaded budgies,” snaps Hilda of Gail’s new flash job at Elsie’s fashion boutique – Stan requires bacon and either Gail or Trish is going to have to be the one to fetch it.