The lonely notes of a cornet offer an unmistakable sound to much of the world. And then a pan to black-and-white chimney pots in a town somewhere.
And then you are invited to slide into a gritty and grim street of terrace houses in some northern English burg and then you are in the world of rough-hewn Len Fairclough, undeservedly pompous Annie Walker, pretentious pseudo-scholar Ken Barlow, curmudgeonly and holier than everybody Ena Sharples, and charmingly slutty Elsie Tanner.
You have found yourself whisked into a television time-warp called Coronation Street.
Well now, the intro sound is still the same, but the aforementioned pillars of working-class English society in beaten-down and mythological ‘Weatherfield’ have been replaced by rough and crude young yobs and their assorted self-indulgent bimbo molls, with only remnants of the old ‘Corrie’ guard still remaining, including the aforementioned Barlow, who has been there right from the first episode. Unnervingly, he is markedly unchanged. Time and tide still don’t seem to have caught up with our Ken, though assorted wives and mistresses down all his years often have.
The Corrie of yore was a very different England from the one of today. For one thing there was no nod to ethnic differences in the working-class borough of Weatherfield. All its denizens were white folks. White folks struggling to make ends meet in a monochrome postwar world. They toiled at what they toiled, and then popped in for a pint at the Rover’s Return at the end of the day, or maybe snuck down a sidestreet for a soothing snog with Elsie or any other available wanton lass who was either unmarried, or still semi-married. The greater world rarely encroached on the Weatherfield of yore.
Recently Coronation Street marked its golden anniversary. A good innings, as they say, for a vehicle that was forecast to last only a few weeks. It’s the longest running soap opera in the world today and also one of the most widely viewed.
While it has had little impact on US viewership, it finds its broadest base per capita in Canada, where many viewers are genuinely addicted to the happenings in the grotty and essentially alien agglomeration of terrace houses. Why? I cannot answer that. It is what it is.
I first became aware of it when my mother became a fan when I was still in school. She was transfixed by a place she’d never seen. I used to watch it with her periodically and got to know all the players. And I must confess I still check in periodically just to see what is happening in their world. Ken is still there, and Rita and Mavis are still around, I see. The Ogdens have long since gone, and I cannot remember if the Duckworths still inhabit the street.
I did find when I lived in England that Corrie was very much a ritualized thing, and there was more interest in the pending marriage of Ken and Deirdre than there was for Chuck and Di, who got married just two days later in 1981.
Anyway, I’ll raise a tankard of congratulations to the ongoing saga of Weatherfield, though I must confess that I find Dr. Who, which is nearly as old, a little more riveting.