The main event in tonight's Corrie is the sorry end to the saga of Christine Hardman and Frank Barlow's engagement. Completely unsuspecting of the shock around the corner for him, Frank returns to the Street from a shopping trip, having bought a suit for the wedding as well as a gift for his bride (not) to be. Calling in at the Rovers he finds Mr Swindley and Miss Nugent in the midst of their attempts to interest the street's residents in Gamma Garments owner Mr Papagopoulos's new "credit drapery" scheme, which involves choosing an item from the Gamma catalogue and getting to try it on in their own home. Annie Walker's quite keen on getting a nice summery two-piece.
Swindley's a bit miffed that Frank's bought his wedding outfit in town rather than choosing from Gamma's exciting menswear range. "One never feels the pinch with Papagopulos's painless payments!" I think the slogan needs work.
On his way to bring Christine her gift, Frank encounters the Street's most fearsome resident, Ena Sharples, who takes a break from exhorting her neighbours to rise up against their grasping landlord Mr Wormold to warn Frank not to get too cocky just because he's got a woman: "You're not King Kong, you know."
Martha Longhurst has her own typically mean-spirited views on Frank: "There's something funny about him - always thinking. He's the sort who suddenly does something awful and gets his name in the papers. Quiet." I'll leave Ena's look to say it all.
Frank arrives at Elsie Tanner's to see Christine shortly after his former paramour, the always rather pathetic shopkeeper Florrie Lindley, has popped in and out on her way to an over 30s club (apparently they have talks about immigration, followed by dancing) to say she's no hard feelings ("you'll be all right with Frank, he's very straight").
Frank gives Christine her present: it's a fluffy poodle for keeping her nightdresses in. I want one! Not that I have any nightdresses, you understand.
I think it's rather nice, but Christine seemingly doesn't agree, as she quickly sends Frank reeling by announcing she can't marry him. This scene is glorious and utterly heartbreaking, wonderfully acted by Christine Hargreaves (resigned, almost as if she's succumbing to fate) and Frank Pemberton (childishly bewildered by the situation). It's shot mostly in a tight close-up of the pair, and Peter Eckersley's dialogue is magnificent:
Christine: I want to be in love on my wedding day.
Frank: You want. You're very good at wanting, aren't you? Don't you think you've left this a bit late?
Christine: Frank, Frank, Frank... I know I've left it late. I know I've led you on and that I'm unbalanced and I want tying up behind a horse and cart for what I do to people. But I've got to stop it now.
Frank: But couldn't we give it a try?
Christine: I'd kill you, Frank! You don't know what I'm like when I'm trapped.
Frank: But I wouldn't trap you.
Christine: You wouldn't have to, love. I'd trap myself. I run into traps. I should stand still. I run on roofs, away from men, towards men - away from myself, mainly.
It's one of the most beautifully characterised scenes I've ever seen in anything, and 60s social realism at its finest. Frank's complete inability to accept what's happening, his insistence that they sit down by the fire with a cup of tea and have a chat to sort it out is perhaps the most tearjerking part of all. Christine, alternately likeable, infuriating and pitiable, is the most complex of the Street's original cast of characters. Destructive bitches are hardly unusual in soaps but it's rare to see any character be so destructive of herself. When Frank finally departs, the camera zooms in on Christine's troublingly blank expression as she whispers to herself, almost as if in a trance,"Why don't people ever hit me for what I do to them? They should hit me more."
Campbell Singer guests as Christine's overbearing uncle, who tells her how she's made a mockery of the sanctity of marriage. He ends up in a tussle with Elsie, who happens to know that he hasn't covered himself in glory with his own romantic history - the question of what his indiscretions were, and how intimate Elsie's knowledge of them is, is left tantalisingly open.
Elsie, with her own chequered past, is the only resident of the Street who takes Christine's side. Their final heart-to-heart before Christine leaves the Street is another example of the kind of dialogue the Street does so well:
Christine: It was just one moment, I don't even know when it was, but everything in me screamed out no.
Elsie: You don't have to tell me, love. I've been through men like a pack of cards. No, you're with 'em and you think , oh this is lovely, I'll have another gin and isn't he marvellous, and then all of a sudden he touches you, or it's something he says, or the way he has his hair cut... and you know it's not him.
Meanwhile, Ken and Val Barlow are on their way back from the chip shop, Val's attempts at making spaghetti bolognese having failed miserably. Her Uncle Albert had warned her against cooking this la-di-dah foreign food ("Ee, you're getting very arrivederci, aren't you?"), but she's not the only one who wants to sample continental sophistication - Lucille Hewitt's off on a school trip "abroad" - "where you have wine and stuff". Val and Ken stop to admire Florrie's impressive window display.
On learning of his dad's broken engagement, Ken's stricken with guilt - he'd spoken to Christine and asked her to break it off. Hopefully Frank won't do anything rash...