Monday, 29 April 2013

Monday 29 April 1963

The great achievement of Coronation Street is that when it's at its very best it manages to be both the best drama and the best sitcom on television.  Tonight's episode is a spectacular example of the show at its funniest thanks to a sparkling script from Alec Travis, creative direction from Gerald Dynevor, and four top-notch comic performances from Street regulars Angela Crow, Eileen Derbyshire, Philip Lowrie and Pat Phoenix.

Tonight's Corrie grabs our interest from the outset with an arresting image following straight after the opening titles:

Whose legs could these be but Elsie Tanner's? She's in the midst of her morning routine, hampered by Len Fairclough, who's let himself in for breakfast, and her son Dennis, who's unexpectedly returned from an extended visit to London.

Dennis is full of compliments about his mother's appearance, but the honeymoon atmosphere doesn't last long: Elsie's determined to know the reason her son's turned up on her doorstep, unconvinced by his protestations that he just wanted to see her.  Here, for anyone who might like it, is a glimpse of Dennis's chest.

Elsie comes closer to enlightenment about what's going on when pretty but none-too-bright Londoner Mavis Fox turns up on her doorstep.  Rita's smitten with Dennis, who was staying with her and her mother in London.  She's under the impression that 11 Coronation Street is in fact the home of Dennis's bedridden gran, his fabulously wealthy parents residing in a luxurious mansion named Whispering Pines.  Even in the bewildered state this throws her into Elsie's cunning doesn't desert her, and she assumes the role of a helpful neighbour ("I just pop in to do the taidying up from taime to taime").  She's informed that Dennis's father is a retired mill owner - "Oh, I'd always wondered" she replies, meaningfully.

There's worse to come: "It's a pity about his mother, though".  It turns out that Mrs Tanner suffers from frequent nervous breakdowns.

Elsie reacts to her diagnosis
Pat Phoenix's performance in this scene is painfully funny, and a fantastic showcase for her versatility as an actress.

When Dennis returns Elsie is predictably unimpressed, and demands he tell the hapless Mavis the truth about his origins.

In tonight's other main story, ace reporter Lucille Hewitt hastens to Gamma Garments to get a scoop for the Bessie Street School Magazine.  In Mr Swindley's absence there's been a robbery, but Miss Nugent and Doreen Lostock are unwilling to provide a blow-by-blow account, and send Lucille away.

Miss Nugent's utterly distraught that the stock's been stolen on her watch, and Doreen tries to take her mind off it by asking her what she's got in her sandwiches.  "Cheese and mint.  But for all the appetite I've got they might as well be carbolic soap".  Cheese and mint! Banal yet bizarre details like this are precisely the reason I find old TV so appealing.

Inevitably, conversation turns to the raiders, as the pair reflect on how they were fooled by a pair of charmers:
Miss Nugent: They were such friendly young men.  Such an air of camaraderie.
Doreen: Specially Fred.
Miss Nugent: I would never have thought it of Fred.
Doreen: The way that he - I mean, that he -
Miss Nugent: And his manner...

"I would never have thought it of Fred"
They decide that Fred must have been led astray by his less dreamy friend Alf, who they describe to the police in forensic detail while pretending to have completely forgotten what Fred looked like.  The absence of Arthur Lowe as Swindley means Eileen Derbyshire and Angela Crow get to shine as a double-act (we do, however, learn that Swindley thinks that v-necked sequined sweaters are "wantonly provocative").  Derbyshire's such a consummate comic actress that the subsequent, rather dull, development of her character seems a huge waste.

Ena Sharples makes a brief cameo appearance, spreading a little sunshine as usual by assuring the shop staff that the thieves will return, before pouring cold water on Minnie Caldwell's impulsive decision to switch to nylon stockings.

And there's an unexpected happy ending when Gamma Garments boss Mr Papagopoulos calls to say he doesn't care about the stolen stock as it was insured, and he'd wanted to get rid of it anyway.  "He just pooh-poohed" says a stunned Miss Nugent.  "You what?" "Pooh-poohed".

The other key storyline this week features Frank Barlow raising eyebrows around the Street with some rather furtive behaviour.  Martha Longhurst's gossip detector's twitching: "Happen it were something he didn't want their Kenneth and Valerie to know about".

It turns out Frank's decided to pack in his job at the post office and open a hardware store.  Earth-shattering stuff.

The episode's final scene begins with a fantastic bit of (mis)direction from Gerald Dynevor, as it opens with a huge, disorienting close-up of an old man's sleeping face.

The camera pans out to reveal that far from being a key character in the scene, he's an extra in the art gallery Dennis has brought Mavis to in order to break his news.

Mavis is convinced Dennis thinks she's not good enough for his fancy family, and breaks his nerve with her tears - he decide to take her to dinner instead of telling her the truth.  As they stroll off, the camera returns to the snoozing gent and the credits roll.  It's quite the cliffhanger.

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