Soap opera plots thrive on secrets and dissatisfactions, punctuated with rare moments of catharsis or triumph (secret comes out! Dissatisfaction is acted upon! Someone gets a comeuppance!). Coronation Street has months or even years for plots and subplots to simmer, come to a head and loop back around again. In these episodes various threads, both “high drama” and “low comedy”, from the last weeks come together rather wonderfully: Hilda and Stan, feeling ill-used after Stan’s deliberate ousting from Superbrain (Len sent him in a taxi to the wrong pub), mutter darkly over their bread and dripping about everyone looking down on them.
Hilda’s feelings of inadequacy are exacerbated by a series of run-ins about her grooming and fashion sense with local women, particularly Elsie. She purchases a sort of… smock? Peasant top? from Sylvia’s, the fashion boutique at which Gail and Elsie work, in an attempt to change their opinions, but everyone is scornful and big gob Trish says she’s just mutton dressed as lamb
Hilda was initially so pleased with her smock, but the shocked and disapproving looks of the other women soon put paid to that. I must say that although I am a great lover of vintage clothes, I am finding it difficult to put myself into a mindset which would consider this top a) the height of fashion and b) “too young” for anyone.
Gail and Elsie refuse to take the top back, and Hilda, hurt and angry, reports to the owner of Sylvia’s that one of her staff members was once done for shoplifting. (The writers are obviously confident enough in the longterm dedication of their audience to bring back details of this years-old subplot about Elsie.)
The men of the Street, meanwhile, are dealing with fraught interactions of their own. Ken is still on a quest for middle-class, married Wendy; Ray is fighting with Deirdre over whether to buy a card table or a sun bed (I spent quite some time thinking this was a very extravagant purchase, then realised that in the 70s in the UK this merely meant “sun lounger”); and Alf and Len are spending hours over their pints of bitter discussing Len’s increasing business expenses and Alf’s less than stable employment situation. (The Street is quite adept at obliquely referring to current events like economic depressions without getting too specific or dating itself too much. Things are “bad out there” at the moment and that’s all we need to know right now.) Stan realises that he was sent to the wrong pub for the Superbrain quiz on purpose and does a round of shouting and storming out of the Rovers.
Bet Lynch: loser of Superbrain but winner of Copping Off With the Quizmaster Using Her Astounding Cleavage.
I simply can’t let this amazing Dorothy Hamill-esque hairstyle (on one of Wendy’s friends) go unremarked.
Snappy Comebacks Corner
Coronation Street has a reputation among the uninitiated for being dreary, but where dialogue is concerned nothing could be further than the truth. The actors’ line readings are also unfailingly on point when it comes to snaps.
An exhausted Mrs Walker serving a beer to Len: “Try not to drink it with your usual fierce alacrity.” Mrs Walker then justified her own snarkiness to Len: “The hoi polloi don’t mind being insulted, you know. Not by a social superior. At least I AM talking to you.”
Trish to Emily in the shop, clutching a loaf of bread: “Do you want that, love?”
Emily, with some asperity: “No, I’m just giving it a cuddle because I’ve mistaken it for a cat.”
Trish: “Well, give us 17p and we’ll call it Tiddles.”
Gail spent some time in these episodes pondering marriage and her own future, once rather memorably with Deirdre. (Oh Gail, if only you knew!)
Gail: “Men is just born selfish, that’s all.”
Deirdre: “Yeah, they want it all their own way.”
Gail: “So much for liberation.”
Deirdre: “Ha! It’s a farce.”
Gail: “They still get their own road. Walk all over us.”
Deirdre: “And expect us to be grateful!”
Gail: “I’m not getting married! I’m being nobody’s slave!”
(I believe Gail is now on marriage number five.)