[Oh dear, at the rate I’m blogging these I’ll never get out of 1976! Tell my family not to get the flu next time, would you? Still, onward!]
How overtly a soap opera reflects the times in which it was made can be both deliberate or unwitting. From a distance of nearly forty years, in a country halfway around the globe, certain things are particularly striking, although they may not have seemed oh-so-1970s to the show’s creators at the time. (So brown! So orange! So polyester!) But in other ways, Coronation Street makes deliberate attempts to grapple with current affairs – sometimes more successfully than others. As we saw in the previous post, the record-breaking heat wave and drought in the summer of 1976 went rather to the heads of anyone filming on Albert Tatlock’s allotment. And now, as Plonker Ernest and Emily get to grips with the closure of his photography business and his subsequent interactions with the government-run job centre (what was I saying about brown and orange?), the “real world” in the form of the UK’s 1970s recession encroaches a little upon the Street’s tiny, almost hermetically sealed community.
If I cast my mind back through the episodes I’ve watched so far, little remarks about how tough times are for working people have been sprinkled throughout the dialogue (Alf nearly quit his job at the post office but decided against it; Ena and Albert both watch their pennies and find their pensions hard to live on), but this is the first storyline in which a well-established, adult, employed character comes up against the possibility of hardship to an uncomfortable extent. Ernest misses out on a job as a photographer; he fails to qualify as an “executive” for another job placement programme. Emily realises that the unemployment benefit isn’t enough for them to live on and goes out to search for work outside the home herself, which Ernest, as befits a plonker, finds terribly emasculating.
Hilda is actually rather pleased by these developments, saying that this is what she’d heard on the wireless as “the irreversible flow of wealth to the working class” (note that salad-eating Ernest and Emily are, to Hilda, middle-class, even if they live in the same sort of house she does). “They’ve had it their way long enough,” she says smugly. “It’s time for the rest of us to have a bit of what’s going.” I must say that the “flow of wealth” isn’t really evident in the finances of the rest of the Street’s residents. Hilda later philosophises of Ernie: “He can’t cope with failure, you see, while my Stan’s got certificates for it.” Greater ambitions for those further up the ladder can mean greater disappointment later. Why aspire to anything, if that’s how it all turns out?
So much for the “high” storyline; the “low” storylines involve the unsuitability of married friends/lovers, a subject ripe for amusement and entendres. Albert Tatlock wins a mighty sum on the bingo (speaking of brown, whew, that bingo hall) and, as befits a swinging bachelor, gets glommed onto by a fellow elderly lady hoping to become part of a housie-playing team.
Albert is hugely worried that she’s also interested in becoming a “Baby Let’s Play House” team, if you know what I mean, nudge-nudge-wink-wink-say-no-more. His worries are compounded by the news that she is married and word on the street is that her husband is a bit of a hardarse.
He spends a lot of time hiding from his new pal, until the hubby turns up and gives the bingo partnership his blessing. I also get my first glimpse of Vera Duckworth, who is both married to an offscreen husband AND Fred the barman’s possible boom-chicka-wow-wow paramour.
The only thing standing in the way of Fred’s sexytime is his landlady, one Mrs Annie Walker, who shall henceforth be known as The Distilled Essence of Cockblock. She originally thought Fred’s lady-friend was going to be a possible replacement for his dead wife, so she is horrified by Vera’s marriedness and “common”-ness and makes sure to insert herself into their backroom socialising as a terribly inconvenient chaperone.
And in more The Heat is On scenes, Gail and her visible nipples start seeing the owner of the fashion boutique (who is technically her employer) for boozy lunches, under the baleful eye of Elsie, who Does Not Approve. (Mavis purchases a sexy top under the guidance of Gail and I can’t wait to see her wittering shyly around in it on some future date.)
DISTURBING DIALOGUE THAT WOULDN’T FLY TODAY CORNER
Rita, to Len: “You ARE a fella, aren’t you? Or is it where you’re having your hair cut lately?”
Len, to Rita: “Give us a packet of chewy. And less lip, otherwise I’ll thicken it for you.” URKH.
AND SPEAKING OF UNBUTTONED SHIRTS
The UK’s heatwave seems to have made the men of the Street come over all peculiar-like. First Len, then Fred:
Albert spends some time trying to find out who carved his name into his allotment marrow, first giving Eddie a bit of a going-over. Eddie: “I might look like a villain, but I wouldn’t harm a vegetable to save my life.”
Albert eventually, by process of elimination, works out that Ray was the culprit and bursts into the Rovers shouting “It’s you what vandalised my marrow!” I wish there was some way to use this sentence more often in my everyday life.