Monday, 26 August 2013

Monday 26 August 1963

The main focus in Coronation Street has always been on its female characters: they're the heroes who carry the drama, while their menfolk are usually dullards, comic buffoons or outright villains.  This instalment, from the pen of one of TV's greatest ever writers, Jack Rosenthal, thrusts the men of the street, en masse, into the limelight.

It's the day of the Rovers darts club's annual outing to New Brighton - which is, of course, an excuse for a major piss-up for all the men of the street.  An exception is Harry Hewitt, who'll be driving the coach.  It's his last coach driving assignment - he's shortly to take up a job as a chauffeur.  Harry's wife Concepta's increasingly anxious about his new position - she's not keen on the idea of being left on her own at nights.  Concepta's stepdaughter Lucille does a deft bit of shit-stirring, planting the idea in her stepmother's head that Harry could be out with other women.  Mention needs to be made here of the remarkable stuffed dog that sits atop the Hewitt's TV set.  The tragedy of the rise of flatscreen TVs is that people are unable to perch glorious tat like this on them.

Prominently displayed in the various scenes at the Hewitt residence, this dog's one of this episode's two breakout stars.  The other is a jolly, knobbly-faced elderly extra in a hat who joins the speaking characters on their trip.  He genuinely looks like he's having the time of his life, and dominates the screen every time he pops up.  You just don't see faces like that on telly any more.

Ken Barlow, characteristically, brings a book along to read on the trip, earning the jeers of his fellow passengers.  Alf Roberts (at this point just a friend of Len Fairclough's who makes occasional appearances in the show) jests that the book is "I Was a Communist Diplomat". Jack Walker sternly informs him that Annie could be within earshot, letting our imaginations run riot over just what the very mention of Communism would do to her.  Her poisonous glare when Jack informs her the coach has broken down, won't get to New Brighton in time for lunch and he needs her to provide sandwiches for the masses is quite terrifying enough.

One person especially disapproving of the trip is, of course, Ena Sharples.  After all, it's a decent Sunday and all decent people should be just coming home from holy worship rather than making plans to fill themselves with beer.  Minnie Caldwell defends the men, who are just having a good time. Martha Longhurst  (in some especially bizarre headgear) points out that Minnie was complaining about the noise earlier on: "Oh, it wasn't their noise," Minnie clarifies, "It was Ena at the harmonium."

Brian Epstein wannabe Dennis Tanner (who memorably leaves his mother a note beginning "Dear Grumbling Gertie...") is aboard the coach with his latest proteg√©, would-be singing sensation Walter Potter (he's from Liverpool, so that's something at least).  The older darts club members prove resistant to his beat stylings but later on, when everybody's well-lubricated, they all have a singalong to "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate".  The old man in the hat especially gets into the spirit of things.  By this point the group have given up their plans of getting to New Brighton, decamping to the pub nearest to the latest spot the coach has broken down.

It's the oldest members of the party who prove the rowdiest, with Jack Walker and Albert Tatlock especially aggressive toward the beleaguered landlord.  Jack in particular shows a complete lack of empathy with his fellow publican: "If you can't keep an orderly house you don't deserve a licence!"  Albert, meanwhile, resorts to violence.

It's 2 AM, and the men haven't returned home.  Annie, Concepta and Val Barlow are worried about what could've happened to their men.  Elsie Tanner (who earlier was rushing around trying and failing to get a mysterious message to Len), is as cynical as ever.  When Val starts musing of her husband, "I wonder where I'd be now if I hadn't met him," the older woman advises her, "Don't start thinking like that or you'll hit him on the head as soon as he comes in."  Annie drifts off into a reverie over the sparkling career she'd've had in musical comedy if she hadn't met Jack and got holed up in a backstreet boozer.  It's a gorgeously written scene, tenderly exploring the minor frustrations married women just put up with.  Elsie's observation that the other women might be better off single meets with only half-hearted defences.  "You marry them because you think it'll make everything different and exciting," sighs Val.  "At the same time you know it won't be.  Never will be, either."  Annie's pragmatic: "You get used to it, love.  After all, there's not much time for dreams when you've got three meals a day to think of."

The episode climaxes with the police approaching the rowdy coach party as they wait for Harry to fix the vehicle.  Their arrival's met by mass whistling of the Z Cars theme.  As the credits roll, a seriously worse for wear Alf and Albert find themselves under arrest for their belligerent attitude toward the forces of law and order...

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