Watching Coronation Street of late, for me, has felt like sitting alone in a room peering at a dear, old friend through the window. I’m certain it’s my friend, as I can recognise them, but something about them has changed, and I’m left feeling rather puzzled and uneasy.
My heart hopes that my kindred spirits share the same concerns and fears for our mutual friend as I do, but as we look on collectively, we do so as individuals in an unusual relative silence, so I cannot be sure. My deflation and fatigue sees me go inward to reflect, and I’m uninspired to pen my concerns.
This is in part because negativity tends to breed negativity, and I am already feeling enough of that. In truth, when our friend is at their best, my words flow like Newton and Ridleys at a Rovers showdown; at its worst, they’re as abundant as the solitary Hobnob languishing at the bottom of the Streetcars biscuit jar.
Another motivation for hovering in the wings is loyalty. No friend worth their salt finds it easy to abandon another, or renounce them utterly to the world, and so we keep the faith as we look and hope for the best. But sometimes that’s not easy. What keeps us going, is that we’ve stuck together through thick and thin, and we know how good our friend can be.
Anyone who reads my reviews and opinion pieces knows I’m not afraid to be critical where it’s warranted, and while I have continued to do so, of late, it felt as if a relative hush had descended about how we truly feel about Corrie at the moment. While we tweeted, blogged and commented about our friend and their current shortcomings, and voiced our despair at the news that ahead lay domestic abuse, drug addiction and assault (yet again), most of us appeared to stop short of verbalising any deep seated concerns. Perhaps, I thought, I’m the only one feeling this way; as above, I couldn’t be sure.
On Tuesday of this week, something changed. Our blogger Graeme wrote his brilliant piece, My Corrie Quandary, in which he provided a very astute account of both the positives and the negatives of contemporary Coronation Street. It felt as if the canal gates were permitted to be opened, and many readers sailed forth to say how they were feeling. I found it to be therapeutic and cathartic, and his second blog concerning Toxic Tracy, had the same effect. I felt liberated by everyone’s words, and assured that I wasn’t alone.
For me, it is absolutely essential that any criticism is balanced and respectful, and so it was a joy to read both of these blogs, and the comments that appeared beneath them. Us Coronation Street fans can be very proud. We are an articulate, intelligent, loyal and perceptive bunch, and it is for these very reasons that lapses in the quality of what we are seeing can be so disappointing and frustrating.
In her 1991 study of prime time soaps, Christine Geraghty observed, “‘Soap’ was a term of derision, an expression which implied an over-dramatic, under-rehearsed presentation of trivial dramas blown up out of all proportion to their importance.” Soap’s well deserved reputation as something worthy, of cultural and critical value, has been hard won, and Coronation Street has played a huge part in achieving this. The fact that it attracts people such as ourselves as loyal viewers is a testament to its quality. I personally can’t bear the thought of soap adopting the very lowest common denominator traits it was so unfairly criticised for in the past.
We will always have drama, and we will always need to suspend our disbelief, but the realism and quality derives from the subtle nuances of performance, authenticity of dialogue, faithful adherence to history and characterisation, and believability in the day to day from which the spectacular arises.
While storylines naturally move with the times, Coronation Street should never worry that it needs to change the characteristics and values that lie at its core, the very reasons we love it, in order to attract new fans. It turned 55 in December and continues to draw in excess of 7 million viewers per episode; a phenomenal feat considering the choices 21st century audiences have with regard to what they can watch and the means by which they can view it. Indeed, altering to adapt to a perceived ‘new audience’ could prove damaging and, to my mind, is wholly unnecessary; is it not Corrie’s unique qualities that have seen it appeal to and survive through generations to be the longest running soap opera in the world?
So, with my loyalty and faith intact, my final wish for our mutual friend is this: stay true to who you are, and all we know you can be. This is, after all, why you hold such an important place in our hearts, and those of the generations of viewers before us.
Originally published on the Coronation Street Blog on Friday, 19 February 2016.