Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Wednesday 20 March 1963

I don't know about you but I'm pretty excited that Britain's most popular TV show makes its first TV Minus 50 appearance today (give or take a couple of header images I couldn't help putting up). Coronation Street had been on air since the end of 1960, and of course was broadcast all year round, though the only episodes I have access to are the ones Network have released on DVD.  Which means the show's appearances here will be sporadic, but just think of it as a constant unseen presence for the rest of the time.

As Dennis Tanner might ask his mother, "Where's me t?"
Compared to the crash-bang-wallopism of soaps in 2013, the gentler pace and at times absurdly mundane storylines of early Corrie are almost a breath of fresh air.  I'm not sure how intentional it was on the part of writer Adele Rose (and the show's storyline creators), but this episode consists of three main strands, each centred on a different generation, plus another involving a romance (of sorts) between generations.  I'll take you through these in turn, but obviously they're all intertwined and intercut.

1: The older generation
Gamma Garments manager Leonard Swindley (Arthur Lowe) and his employee and fervent admirer Emily Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire) have arranged a party at the mission hall for the over-60s (50 years on, with Emily established for so many years as the wise woman of the Street, it's downright odd seeing her in her original incarnation as a comically lovelorn spinster eternally waiting for her pompous boss to notice her womanly charms).

"Ooh, Mr Swindley, can I tempt you... to a salmon paste finger?"
Luckily for Swindley (if not for the rest of us) his archenemy Ena Sharples is visiting her poorly sister and so can't come along to cast her beady eye over proceedings.  Her cronies Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant) and Martha Longhurst (Lynne Carol) are present, though.  The centrepiece of the evening is a game of bingo which the adorably clueless Minnie eventually realises she's won (she didn't want to shout out and spoil the flow of the caller, her beloved lodger Jed "Sunny Jim" Stone).  Her prize: a wooden tea tray beautifully made by Len Fairclough.

Much dancing follows.  My favourite of the elderly extras is the dark haired lady in the snazzy dress.  Clearly a goer.  As is Martha, who pulls a large-nosed gentleman whose name we never learn (maybe she doesn't either, the harlot).

2: In the middle

Elsie Tanner (Patricia Phoenix) needs some work doing around the house.  Len Fairclough's gormless apprentice Jerry Booth (Graham Haberfield) takes a look, but decides to get his boss to see to it in an attempt to matchmake between the pair.  Little does he know that Len is the number one suspect in Elsie's investigation to find out who wrote to her landlord to inform him she's taken Christine Hardman in as a lodger.  Len and Elsie are one of soap's great will-they-won't-they pairs, and their eventual confrontation, where Len scornfully protests his innocence, fairly simmers with sexual tension.  There's clearly a great deal of chemistry between the pair: they even synchronise their facial expressions.

3: The younger generation
Well, they're meant to be young at least, but with today's eyes they all look pretty advanced in years.   This episode showcases two of my favourite long-forgotten Corrie characters, Sheila Birtles and Doreen Lostock (Eileen Mayer and Angela Crow).  I especially love Doreen, assistant at Gamma Garments, with her wonky beehive and perpetually startled expression.

Sheila and Doreen, along with their casual dates Jerry Booth and Jed Stone (Kenneth Cope) try to decide what to do with their evening.  Doreen's up for going to exotic new coffee bar The Sphinx, but Jerry's not keen: "Well, if you're gonna sit in one of those black holes all night all choked up with smoke and drinking that frothy muck they call coffee you can count me out".  It's a wonderful pen portrait of youth culture past.  Jed tries to enthuse the gang during their stop at Jackson's chippy.

"A bit of the old twist and twirl to the old cha-cha!"
They end up having an impromptu record hop at the mission hall after the over 60s do, and the episode ends in wonderfully undramatic fashion with grumpy chip shop owner Fred Jackson threatening to report them to the church authorities and then giving us a lovely view of his net curtains.

4: Between generations
As well as causing Elsie Tanner trouble as her lodger, Christine Hardman (Christine Hargreaves) has set tongues wagging in her own right by getting engaged to her old schoolfriend Ken Barlow's dad Frank (Frank Pemberton).  Christine's thoroughly unenthusiastic attitude towards her fiancĂ© suggests this may not be a true love match, however.  Christine throws Frank into turmoil when she casually mentions that she'd rather not live in Coronation Street after their married. She's already on her way out of the Street, moving in with Esther Hayes (Daphne Oxenford), a former Corrie resident and regular visitor, whose hat is almost as remarkable as Elsie's top.

Perhaps the most delightfully quotidian bit of the episode is an involved conversation between Christine and Concepta Hewitt (Doreen Keogh) about the best bus route to take to get to Esther's house.

Well, I enjoyed that very much and now I'm off for a lie down with a salmon paste finger.  Toodle-oo.

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