Friday, June 01, 2007

Coronation Street In The 1970s - Lifestyle Puzzles & Combating The Fear Of Nuclear War...

I loved Coronation Street in the early Bill Podmore era. When I was a very little boy, Coronation Street had seemed an absolute bore, full of moans and groans and Ken Barlow in a retro cravat, but in the mid-'70s two dramatic storylines attracted my attention: one was the murder of a battered wife in Len Fairclough's back room, the other the fire at the warehouse in 1975. The latter event occurred around the time of my tenth birthday. After the repercussions of the fire had been thoroughly explored, the Street seemed to be settling down into "nag, nag, moan, groan, moan" mode, when Bill Podmore arrived as producer and kapow - a wondrous new era of Elsie Tanner, "muriels" at the Ogdens' and lashings of drama and fun was suddenly upon us.

Sometimes, it seemed that the writers of the Street had certain characters living outside of their class and incomes. Coronation Street was situated in a rundown, slummy district and yet the Corner Shop was stocking bramble jelly, lobster bisque soup and olives (our real-life local shopkeeper was often heard to comment on the Corner Shop's at times absurdly up-market stock), Elsie was scoffing prawn salads (not cheap) and Deirdre Langton, in 1978, was trying to get husband Ray to buy her a microwave oven. Microwave ovens had been around since the '60s, but they were terribly expensive for the average pocket in the 1970s (and indeed early 1980s) and Ray's business was just emerging from great difficulties at the time. Deirdre didn't get her microwave oven - she and Ray split up instead, but my mother firmly believed back then that a real working class mother of the era, even one whose husband was in business in a small way, would not have dreamt of such a thing.

Although there was much talk in the programme about the hard times we lived in, my parents often felt that some of the characters were rather more moneyed/middle class than they ought to be. We lived in a pretty slummy district ourselves, although not quite as down-at-heel as Coronation Street, and there wasn't even a mention of microwaves or prawn salads round our way, so my parents felt qualified to judge.

The general consensus of opinion in my family was that the lifestyles of the well-off script writers were sometimes, just sometimes, filtering through and impairing the reality of the Street.

Despite this (and I knew my elders had a point), I thought that the show was GREAT and it did, on one occasion, help me to get over a very bad time.

The 1970s were in the thick of the Cold War years. As a kid, I was terrified that America and Russia would go to war and that would be the end for all of us. I had nightmares about it, sweated about it, cringed at the (I thought) scary-sounding theme tunes of World In Action and News At Ten. I closed my ears as narrators and newscasters on these two programmes began to speak, convinced that the end was nigh.

I wasn't alone. My mate Pete and I often discussed the prospect of nuclear war, and we knew many other kids who shared our worries. An adult neighbour of my mine had stocked up a load of pills, which she showed us. She said she would take them when nuclear war was imminent.

I used to feel sick with fear at times. Then, for me at least, Coronation Street stepped in!

It was August 1978 and Gail Potter (Helen Worth) and Suzie Birchall (Cheryl Murray) were making a salad in the kitchen at No. 11...

Gail: "Do you think there'll be another war?"

Suzie (flatly - in a what is the silly moo wittering about now? tone of voice) "Do I think there'll be another war?"

Gail: "Do yer?"

Suzie: "How should I know?"

Gail: "They're talkin' about it, aren't they?"

Suzie: "Are they? Who?!"

Gail: "The Americans and the Russians."

Suzie: "Is that right?"

Gail: "Don't you even listen when there's News At Ten on?"

Suzie: "Only the interestin' bits..."

Gail: "Sometimes I get quite worried about it, honest I do."

Suzie (continuing her own train of thought): "... a divorce or someone dyin' and leavin' a load of money."

Gail: "Don't you care if there's another war?"

Suzie: "I don't think about it much - it don't bother me."

Gail: "Yeah, but if they do."

Suzie: "Well, if they do they wouldn't ask me anyway, would they?"

Gail: "That's the whole point, innit, they wouldn't bother askin' you, they'd just blow us all up."

Suzie: "Well, if they do ask me, I'll tell them not to bother, all right? I'll say they need their heads bangin', they should kiss an' make up."

Gail: "I think it's quite scary if you think about it."

Suzie: "Then DON'T. Is there any salad cream?"

Gail's fears continued throughout the episode, but cynical Suzie and worldly Elsie Tanner, both more concerned with getting on with living than worrying themselves to a standstill over something that might not happen, and they couldn't stop if it did, had a great effect on me.

For the first time I began to realise that I shouldn't spend time paralysed with fear over the nuclear threat. I was too young to join protest marches, I wanted to do OK in my O' Levels and basically my screwing my life up was not going to help anything.

The other day, I saw the 1978 episode of Coronation Street again and gasped as my feelings from way back then came flooding back. I remembered how terrified I was back in the 1970s, and how this episode of a soap opera helped me to get on with living.

Nowadays, other things are there to worry us and the Cold War ice, which thawed rapidly in the mid-to-late 1980s, is just a memory. But I haven't forgotten the terrible fear I felt, and no matter how daft I find Corrie in the modern day, I still have feelings of gratitude for that one episode back in 1978...

1 comment:

Co Patrick Rogers said...

What a shame that modern Corrie is so far detatched from real life to even do any storylines such as this these days. Although the Cold War obviously ended along time ago they should acknowledge the present conflicts and the danger we may feel about them.

The writers back then obviously were doing something right!