Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Wednesday 22 July 1964

It's the day Emily Nugent's been waiting for all her life, as the residents of Coronation Street gather to celebrate her marriage to her Prince Charming, Leonard Swindley (though through less biased eyes than hers he looks rather more like Baron Hardup).  Minnie Caldwell and Hilda Ogden are helping to get the mission hall ready, and in doing so reminisce about their own weddings.  Hilda was crippled by the wedge heels she ill-advisedly wore, but fortunately Stan got too drunk to make many demands of her (note that at this early stage in proceedings Hilda's hair sports only a couple of rollers).  But Ena Sharples is supervising their activity, so any sentimental reminiscences are swiftly curtailed.

At the Rovers, the men of the Street (including Minnie's new lodger, comedian Charlie Moffitt, played by Gordon Rollings) are all suffering the after-effects of Swindley's stag do.  Albert Tatlock in particular is worried that he might have done something he could be arrested for.  Poor Jack Walker's got the worst of it, having been called in at the last minute to give Miss Nugent away since both her father and her brother have been unable to make it (we're told very little about the Nugent family, but their clear indifference to Emily's nuptials speaks volumes): "You're chuffed to little mint balls and don't pretend you're not," scolds Ena, barging in purely to get everyone moving.  But for Jack the worst thing is the extra pressure to dress up.  "But I don't want a clean vest and pants," he whines uncomprehendingly to a disgusted Annie, "I only changed last Thursday!"

Having initially been suffused with inexpressible regret over proposing to Miss Nugent, Mr Swindley now seems to have calmly accepted his fate.

The ladies of the wedding party are getting ready at the Barlows' house.  As she's buttoned up by maid of honour Val, flowergirl Lucille, unimpressed by the traditional wedding regalia, plans out her own future bridal outfit: "A black leather two-piece and white boots".

There's calamity at the mission hall, as Minnie's failed to put out all the hymn books: "You and your left-handed mind," sighs Ena.  Stuart Hodges (Vernon Joyner), Swindley's relief preacher, looks on in befuddlement.  Even more befuddling for him is the attempt of young Trevor Ogden (Jonathan Collins) to sell him some bags of rice: "You know - rice! Like confetti, only it's rice."

All is just about set for the bride to make her way down the aisle - yet suddenly she seems reluctant: "Cheer up," encourages Val, "You've got to be radiant!" She prescribes hot, sweet tea and a couple of aspirins to sort out whatever's ailing Miss Nugent.  By this time, Jack's arrived to escort her.  "Would you like a fag with your tea and aspirins?" he offers.  I believe this is what we nowadays call a lethal cocktail of drink and drugs.

At the mission hall, as the congregation enjoy the second-hand wedding bells ringing at St Chad's (Annie and Concepta gossip about how that particular wedding had to be quickly moved forward a few months), people are beginning to wonder where the bride is.  Swindley wonders if it would be bad form to go to the door and wait for her.  Best man Len Fairclough insists that it would: "You've got to sit here and suffer.  That's the idea of weddings."

At the Barlow residence, Jack's utterly flabbergasted by Miss Nugent's announcement that she won't be going to the church.  It's a stroke of genius using Jack, to whom the emotions of women have always been such an insoluble mystery, as the supposed-to-be bride's confidant in this scene.  The episode's from the pen of Coronation Street's very greatest writer, the incomparable Jack Rosenthal, and the dialogue he gives Emily as she explains what's going through her mind is a priceless gift to Eileen Derbyshire, who seems to change from comedy spinster to tragic heroine right before our eyes.

"It's funny, isn't it, how the mind does things? How you pretend something, and you know it's pretending, deep down.  You just take no notice.  But you've got to in the end, haven't you? Because it's wicked if you don't... and you pretend more and more as time goes on.  It's like being mad, in a way.  Honestly.  And you let things happen because you want them to, and all the time you know.  It's me that's not the right one... And I feel so calm.  I feel very calm.  I always wanted Mr Swindley.  I used to look at him in the shop and imagine doing things for him.  Laughing about who should have the broken egg at breakfast.  When you break the yolk sometimes putting them in.  Shouting at him.  Only joking, sort of, about forgetting to take his library books back.  Things like that."  This kind of beautiful observation of the mundane details of everyday life has always been the hallmark of Coronation Street at its very best.

Miss Nugent's finally come to terms with the fact that Swindley doesn't want to marry her (the obvious thought about them as a couple is "What does she see in him?" and it's rather wonderful that the obvious is avoided and, rather than realising she could do better, she remains hopelessly in love with this pompous, priggish little man): "They say there's always a comical side.  Some people laugh, you know, when they hear someone's died.  It's not out of nastiness, it's a sort of reaction.  I suppose it looks funny putting on a wedding dress just to take it off again... I knew, you know.  All those years I wanted to marry him, I knew I never would."

Jack takes the message to the groom (facing the exquisite embarrassment of standing alone at the church door as the wedding march strikes up).  Mr Swindley's reaction is, of course, one of acute relief.  Our hearts are finally smashed to pieces as Emily picks a loose piece of cotton from Swindley's lapel: one final would-be wifely gesture.  Swindley, of course, fails to understand her torment, for him it's back to "business as usual" between the two of them now all this nonsense is over.

As Len reminds Swindley, there's the honeymoon to take care of.  Phoning the hotel in North Wales to cancel the booking, he suddenly changes his mind - and decides to go by himself.  Well, there's a room booked, and it'd be a shame to waste it...

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