17, 19, 24, 26 May 1976 – In which I overthink Ken Barlow eating a salad

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Ken Barlow is a very useful character for the purposes of Coronation Street. It’s fortuitous that William Roache, the actor who has played him since the show began in 1960 (imagine playing the same role since 1960! It’s almost unfathomable) has never found something else he desperately wanted to do. Ken fulfils several functions. As a university graduate, he represents aspiration and “betterment”; but because he never manages to leave the Street for any length of time, he also represents failure, impotence, and hypocrisy. All of his middle-class pursuits are ripe for mocking, but at the same time he is able to mouth political views or approach current events in ways which are in stark contrast to most of the Street’s other characters. The writers can have him both ways: he is often written as smug, vaguely ridiculous and tiresome – but he periodically¬†represents progress and free thought. (I wonder if the Street’s many writers through the years are handed a little portfolio on how to write for Ken. “Make him subtly awful – but occasionally interesting.”)

My thoughts on Ken are particularly relevant this week, as his married lover, Wendy Nightingale, has left her husband and shacked up with him in number 11. Ken’s Uncle Albert describes this, delightfully, as “living over t’brush“, and is most displeased – as are several other street residents. We are treated to Ena Sharples and Annie Walker tut-tutting over a milk stout, while Mavis witters on about “thinking of the children” to Rita. Unsurprisingly, Rita and Elsie are less likely to go full judgeypants; Elsie merely warns Wendy, from her own experience, that if she “can’t make it work with one fella” she probably won’t make it work with another. (Wendy uses this advice as an opportunity to look uncertain about eventually marrying Ken. I don’t really hold out high hopes for this relationship, I don’t mind telling you.)

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Mrs Walker ponders happier, less permissive times, when women couldn’t own property and marital rape was legal.

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I can’t give a good reason for including this screenshot other than my pride in how silly it is.

Elsie has other problems at the moment anyway: a new character, “Reenie” Bradshaw (I assumed this was some derivative of Irene – and it is – but I also discovered that this is also how they pronounced “Renee”. Goodness.) has offered to buy the corner shop from Betty and is planning on moving herself into the back room flat that Elsie inhabits. Renee is not backward about coming forward, and while Elsie reluctantly considers reclaiming her house from Ken and Wendy, Trish glumly fears for her job.

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Renee, clearly a devotee of the Deirdre Barlow school of optical fashion.

In the usual way of “high” and “low” storylines, the angsty love of Ken and Wendy is interspersed with the frankly ludicrous crush gormless barman Fred has on glamorous nightclub singer (and stationer) Rita. In the modern parlance, Fred has practically no game, and Rita doesn’t have the heart to let him know it. Danger, heartbreak dead ahead.

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Rita gazes upon her single rose from gormless Fred with something approaching horror.

As smug and annoying as Ken can be, he really comes into his own after a Weatherfield council meeting in which he is told to either stop living in sin with Wendy or quit his job as Community Development Officer. He rounds on councilman Plonker Ernest Bishop, who clearly had something to do with dropping Ken in it, calling his behaviour hypocrisy in light of the stripper indiscretions of a few weeks ago. You tell him, Ken! (The writers are so great at these callbacks to other storylines.)

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Ken in high dudgeon.

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Plonker Ernest being told where to get off.

Signs and Signifiers Corner

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“And so, Wendy, what is this called? A ‘vegetable’, you say?”

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A salad this pathetic does not deserve a snog, you two.

Here, Ken and Wendy make the world’s most grim-looking salad. It occurred to me that this salad, pathetic and unappetising as it is, is inserted into the proceedings to signify middle-classness. The people of Coronation Street eat boiled things and fried things; they do not eat salad. (As a much wiser man than me once said: you don’t win friends with salad.)

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Plonker Ernest gives us a brief but tantalising view of this poster.

I apologise for the visible pause sign on this screenshot but it only appeared for an instant and took some work to capture. This is in the council offices and I find it delightfully punitive: do some graffiti and lose a leg! Or something.

One thought on “17, 19, 24, 26 May 1976 – In which I overthink Ken Barlow eating a salad

  1. Love the Ena Sharples shot. Her appearances represent a sort of far horizon in my Coronation Street viewing, its about as far back as I can recall, and lacking in clarity, although I do remember being frightened of her. Such was the strength of her character that even after she left the show she was still referred to by other characters, as a kind of yard-stick of times a changing – “what would Ena Sharples ha’ made ‘o ‘at?” Her character was “enduring” both in the sense that she resonated long after, and because she was, hard as nails.
    But, and even as a child this confused me, what is with the hair net? Always the hair net. She has make up, earrings, a brooch and yet never sans hair net. It’s a wonderful combination of being respectably turned-out, but still hard at work. Ready to meet the Queen or scrub some pots, whatever occasion should arise. That grim war-time ethic still marching on into the seventies.
    In a parallel vein, so glad to see not one, but two instances of Hilda (literally) letting her hair down. As a kid it was a strange sight to she her out of rollers. But like getting out the good china, or the Christmas table cloth, it marked a special occasion. Sadly I think those occasions got rarer for Hilda as the years went on.
    anyway, that’s my two pence…keep it coming.

    Like

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