Secrets and lies aren’t just for Mike Leigh films. If a soap opera doesn’t contain a regular heaping helping of fibs, hidden shames, and misunderstandings, it isn’t a success. The thing is, there doesn’t have to be something life-shattering like a love child or a serial killer to express drama: Coronation Street has a history of finding significance in the quotidian. In its characters’ small-scale interactions there are often big-picture themes. (In this way it really owes more to the kitchen sink drama movement than it does to soap opera or melodrama. At its best it’s like a funnier, serialised, more woman-focussed Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.)
In this group of episodes we have a few secrets lurking: why is Ken’s uncle Albert moping about the canal, biting the heads off errant fishing schoolboys? (Incidentally, I dread to think what kinds of fish lurk beneath the surface of the murky waters of the Weatherfield canal.)
Which of her neighbours shopped Renee to the Town Hall for illegally trading on a Sunday? Renee has so many people she’s offended it’s hard to narrow it down to just one suspect. And why can’t Mavis just jump Derek’s bones already? As Bet says: “if he were too stoned to drive back home, why didn’t you get him in a ‘alf-Nelson and drag him in t’back bedroom?”
Some questions are destined never to be answered, especially when it comes to Mavis and Derek, but it turns out that poor old Albert has run out of money for his electricity bill and the Town Hall has threatened to give his allotment to someone else because he’s too old to keep on top of it and has let it go to seed. (If there’s a broader lesson to be gained from these episodes, it’s that you can’t fight city hall.)
This (of course) puts the kybosh on the returning Ken’s Grand Dramatic Plan to resign and leave the street for good, and he moves in with Albert to help him with the bills and gets the neighbours to rally round and help with the allotment (for, as Hilda insists, some share of the grown vegetables).
Renee flails around ineffectually, accusing everyone and their dog of revenge-reporting her – and it’s certainly true that she’s been a bit of a trial to a number of people – but we finally find out via a letter to Gail that the culprit was sulky Trish. Renee looks a bit sombre about having alienated so many people around the place and is comforted by Emily despite Renee having previously accused Emily of dobbing her in. I find the underlying themes in these Town Hall storylines quite interesting – it’s clear that the show, essentially small-c conservative, wants to stress that centralised government bodies don’t really care about individual circumstances and that it’s your local community who’ll eventually come to your rescue. It’s almost like a debate between political parties in soap opera form.
Eddie Yeats makes a doofy return (from the big house?) in these episodes, along with his friend Monkey.
They have nowhere to stay and Ray Langton as good as tells them to break into Elsie’s house because Ken is away, knowing full well that Elsie (and Gail, finally kicked out of the corner shop flat) are living in it.
This gives rise to lots of what we might call hijinks: Eddie and Monkey are kicked out of Elsie’s bed but break back in and sleep on the sofa; Elsie nearly calls the police on them but is soft-hearted enough to give them a reprieve, although she’s offended enough to track down Ray and, after some particularly sexist dickheadery, beat him about the head and shoulders with a big ashtray stuffed into her handbag!
Mrs Walker then gives Elsie a telling-off while wearing the most glorious outfit I’ve ever seen.
All in all the entire thing was most satisfying, and also contained a cute little writerly in-joke about which I have waxed lyrical on social media: the actor who plays Eddie Yeats also plays Paul McCartney’s voice in the Yellow Submarine movie, and during this storyline the writers made him call Elsie “Lady Madonna”. I want to travel back in time forty years and high-five those writers. “I see what you did there!”
The dodgy Ray is also keeping a secret: he’s paying 50 pounds of hard-earned savings to throw wife Deirdre a first anniversary/21st combination party at the Rovers. (I’m such a product of my demographic cohort that I can’t imagine having already been married a year at the time of your 21st birthday! Terrifying.)
At the climax of the 30 June episode Deirdre discovers this and is deeply unimpressed, but I have a feeling we’re going to end up having a party anyway as Mrs Walker has already got half the money as a deposit. Stay tuned.
FOODSTUFFS CORNER: CONTAINS EFFING SALAD
This is actually getting beyond a joke now. Albert presents Ken with a wee lettuce from his allotment and they have it for lunch. “That was very tasty and very healthy. There’s nothing quite like a salad, is there?” No Ken, you’re absolutely right.
This milkman with magnificent facial hair has the line of the month in his discussion with Hilda about her missing milk money: “But if I ‘ad a pound for everybody who said they’d ‘ad their milk money pinched, I’d be chasing Shirley Bassey round the ‘anging gardens of Babylon and she’d let me catch ‘er.”
TABLE TENNIS CORNER