Written by Rachel Fairburn

In The News

A TV pioneer for women and the working classes

Rachel Fairburn celebrates the legacy left by Coronation Street creator Tony Warren, who died yesterday.

Coronation Street's Ena Sharples, played by Violet Carson: one of Tony Warren's timeless creations. Photo: ITV.

Coronation Street‘s Ena Sharples, played by Violet Carson: one of Tony Warren’s timeless creations. Photo: ITV.

In my lifetime, Coronation Street, or ‘Corrie’ to those who know her well, has always been there. I’d watch it with my grandparents when I was little, rush home to catch the latest episode when I started my first job as teenager and, last week, I watched the omnibus episode on a weekend while nursing a hangover (too much gin).

Yesterday’s news that Tony Warren, the show’s creator, had died, gave me a twinge of sadness. I admire what he did in his career. He was a working-class Salford lad, an openly gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal, a writer and actor who, despite all the social and class barriers put in front of him, managed to create something groundbreaking that went on to be loved by millions.

When Coronation Street started on 9 December 1960, it was a very different show to the one it’s evolved into. It was a gritty, realistic kitchen-sink drama, a perfect antidote to the stilted dramas and clipped RP accents which had populated early television. It was a snapshot of working-class northern life and Warren made women the central focus of the show, a hallmark that continues today.

“Warren succeeded in bringing female characters we encountered in real life to the screen. They can run into stereotypes on occasion – the bitch, the tart with a heart, the dizzy blonde – but it’s impossible to imagine the show without them.”

Elsie Tanner, Hilda Ogden, Vera Duckworth, Bet Lynch, Liz McDonald, Deirdre Barlow. Even if you’ve never seen The Street (it’s got more monikers than a group of lads on a stag do), you’ll recognise the names. They don’t suffer fools, dress to kill and have had more heartache than Ken Barlow’s had Betty’s Hot Pots.

They are all, of course, just a few of the strong, matriarchal characters that have made Coronation Street a national institution and the world’s longest running soap opera.

Warren succeeded in bringing female characters we encountered in real life to the screen. They can, and still do, run into stereotypes on occasion; the bitch, the tart with a heart, the dizzy blonde, but they are pivotal to the show’s appeal and it’s impossible to imagine Corrie Orrie (see there’s another) without them.

But for every stereotype on the cobbles, there’s a flipside. In 1998 the show brought Hayley Cropper, brilliantly played by Julie Hesmondhalgh. Hayley was the first permanent transgender character in a British soap. A bold move from the producers, but one that paid off. Her gender was soon irrelevant and she became one of the most loved women in the show’s history.

Hayley’s exit from the show in 2014 saw her commit suicide rather than die from pancreatic cancer, an episode that was watched by an audience of more than nine million. A fitting exit for such a radical character.

Warren brought us women with sharp tongues, regional accents, great stories and most importantly, humour. In a world of unimaginative representations of women and the working classes, that’s a lot to be admired.

@RachelFairburn

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Written by Rachel Fairburn

Rachel Fairburn is a stand-up comic, co-host of the All Killa No Filla podcast and lover of leopard print.

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