Lifelong Corrie fan Sarah Powell talks the tradition, strong women and northern humour of her favourite TV show.
When I was seven years old, the warm trumpet of the ‘Corrie’ theme music meant one thing: another half hour of staying up. We knew if we could just push it until half past seven on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, the whole house would stop as my mother, June, watched Coronation Street.
I grew up in a time before online catch-up and TV that you could pause. If you thought you were in danger of missing something you had to find a blank videotape, get on your knees and punch a set of numbers into a VHS recorder. This was fraught with complications, so usually it was a case of hoping for the best.
June has never missed an episode of ‘The Street’ since she started watching it. If she’s been away and caught up on the most recent episode, she’ll go back and watch the others leading up to it.
By the time I was nine, I was a fully-fledged Corrie fan. I loved Dez Barnes having bantz with Derek over the fence and every single thing Raquel did or said.
I have now watched Coronation Street for 23 years. I’ve seen it through three title sequence changes, all three show sponsors, the introduction of product placement and more backcombed Ritas than I could account for.
“Coronation Street is hilarious. Nowhere else on TV would you get characters like Roy and Norris or plotlines such as Emily Bishop taking part in a tree-top protest.”
I was outraged when they tried to move it from a Wednesday evening to a Thursday and delighted when Friday and Monday both became double Corrie night. There was also the time it was on a Sunday night for a bit, though nothing of any great consequence ever happened so they binned it.
When I left home for the first time to go to university in Wales, Corrie became a little postcard from home. Everything about it reminded me of being on the sofa with June and my sister watching Ken Barlow walking Eccles to the Red Rec and Gail Platt marrying yet another murderer. I didn’t grow up in a terraced house with a pub on the corner but I did grow up around northern accents and, more importantly, northern humour.
Coronation Street is hilarious. Its hilarity is what marks it out from every other soap. Nowhere else on TV would you get characters like Roy and Norris or plotlines such as Emily Bishop taking part in a tree-top protest. My brothers still do impressions of Fred Elliott, the nation’s favourite butcher and there are wonderful compilations of the late Maggie Jones as Blanche who had lines like, “You’re chipper… trod on a snail?”
Then of course, there is Mary Taylor. June and I have always said what a gas the scriptwriters must have with Mary. Patti Clare who plays her quite rightly won Best Comedy Performance at the 2013 British Soap Awards and every single week she says something that makes me laugh out loud. I love how successfully they have created her mother, who we never see, with lines like “Mummy wouldn’t go out after dark because of her fear of owls.”
Of course it can’t always be all a laugh a minute or high drama like Carla’s flat catching fire. There are times when it’s too far-fetched or clumsy or a bit dull. There was a storyline last year based around Kevin Webster’s new sofa.
We don’t like to talk about the recent Sarah Harding controversy or last year’s Christmas episode but weathering the storm is part of being a soap fan. It’s like supporting your football team; you have to keep going through the bad times because you know how good it can be. You stick with it because you love it.
I have to confess, aside from my seeing his name at the end of every episode, I knew very little about the show’s creator Tony Warren, who passed away last month at the age of 79. In fact, all of my knowledge came from the BBC drama The Road to Coronation Street, which told the story of getting Corrie on air. I was staggered to discover Warren was just 23 when he created Coronation Street and that there was a battle to get it on telly.
In 1960, Granada commissioned Tony to write his script about “a street out there.” Originally titled Florizel Street, it was changed after Agnes the tea lady said it sounded like a disinfectant. There is a lovely moment in the drama when a bemused costume designer doesn’t know how to dress the characters and Tony advises her to just go to the market and buy it all from there. I imagine this was fabricated for the BBC but I do love the idea that nothing quite so real had ever been done before.
The Road to Coronation Street also proves it was always about the girls. Jessie Wallace plays Pat Phoenix playing Elsie Tanner, there’s Lynda Baron as Ena Sharples and Celia Imrie is excellent as Annie Walker. One obituary has quoted Tony saying he “grew up in a matriarchal society; all the men were at war and I was surrounded by strong women.”
Corrie women have had a big impact on me. I watched Liz McDonald and Raquel dressing exactly how they liked. I saw Rita running her own business, Deirdre laying down the law to Mike Baldwin, and Vera Duckworth at full throttle. On the street now you’ve got Audrey and Rita who still run their own businesses and would baulk at the idea of retirement. Tracy and Carla are also their own bosses, Liz runs the pub and Leanne takes no prisoners in the Bistro.
Coronation Street became Tony Warren’s life’s work. He stayed close to it, to the cast and crew, and the tributes that have come in are testament to how supportive and creative he was. One news report described that “when receiving an award in Salford in November last year, Warren joked that he had been ‘haunted’ by his Coronation Street characters for 50 years.” I hope to be haunted by them for the next 50.3479 Views
Having worked in radio for more than a decade, Sarah Powell hosts a weekday drivetime show on Heat Radio and describes it as "where Bet Lynch meets Beyoncé".