Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Don't forget the older generation, Corrie
This blog stems from a conversation I had with the actress Rita May a few weeks back. I interviewed Rita about her time playing Connie Rathbone in Coronation Street a few years ago as well as finding out more about her first novel. You can read that interview here.
Anyway, Rita is a fine actress with many impressive credits to her name. After we spoke she was rushing off for filming on a new Channel 4 series, so she's still in demand as she reaches her mid-70s. And why should she not be, with all her talent and natural gift for screen acting. Rita wasn't bitter about not being kept on in Corrie once Bill Tarmey's character Jack Duckworth had been written out, she just saw it as a missed opportunity. Rita enjoyed working on Coronation Street, liked the company of the cast and crew and would happily have stayed on in the role. Unlike many of the other former Corrie actors I've spoken to recently, Rita would still consider reviving her role as Connie as she believed there were many stories still untold.
This brought up the bigger issue of whether Coronation Street truly represents a community or the audience it hopes to attract. Rita May agreed with me that it was hard for a show like Corrie to remain relevant and chase the ratings in this multi-channel world. However we both also agreed that it's a shame Corrie has moved so far away from its roots. There was a time in the late 1990s when Coronation Street made a noticeable body swerve. It's true that by 1996 things were looking rather stale with slow-moving stories and a fair few characters which were to the beige side of interesting. The arrival of Brian Park in 1997 saw many changes, some quite obviously for the better. The Street became a much more youthful place with a range of more modern, younger characters taking up residence to spice things up.
I don't remember having a problem with that at the time as Corrie desperately needed pulling into the 21st Century if it was to survive. There are many younger actors in Corrie that I admire. Jack P Shepherd can do no wrong and as David Platt, he's grown and matured on screen, both as an actor and a character. Lucy Fallon has also been consistently impressive as the new, grown up Bethany, handling some challenging scenes of late. I love Mikey North as Gary, Qasim Akhtar as Zeedan, Elle Mulvaney as Amy and Rob Mallard as Daniel. They are all vital components of my current Corrie viewing.
The issue of diversity has long dogged Coronation Street. It's still a problem in 2017. We didn't have a regular gay character until 2003/04 and it was more recently than that that we got a lesbian character in Sophie Webster. It's true Corrie led the way with Julie Hesmondhalgh's wonderful portrayal of Hayley Cropper but the soap still struggles to realistically portray ethnic groups. Weatherfield is still too white. However another area of diversity which Corrie struggles with these days is representing what it used to excel at - older people. Even when Brian Park started to introduce younger characters in the late 1990s we still had a balanced core cast of characters which included many of the older generation. Sadly by the new century we started to lose some of the actors who'd been so loyal to the Street for many years with the deaths of Betty Driver, Maggie Jones and Bill Tarmey as well as exits for Liz Dawn, Amanda Barrie and Johnny Briggs.These departures cannot be helped but what the show has failed to do is rebuild a community of realistic older characters.
I know we still have Bill Roache heading up the show as elder statesman Ken Barlow. However with Anne Kirkbride so sadly no longer with us and Eileen Derbyshire showing no signs of a return, his presence is looking somewhat isolated these days. Barbara Knox and Sue Nicholls still appear but not as regularly or in substantial storylines of their own. We still have Malcolm Hebden's gloriously bitchy Norris Cole and i'm glad of that. I was pleased when Derek Griffiths joined as Freddie Smith but his Coronation Street journey is nearly at an end already. And sadly that's about it.
The Street needs older characters to broaden the storytelling out, add different dimensions and perspectives and appeal to more than just a younger audience who mostly don't watch television in the traditional way these days anyway. Coronation Street has a large and loyal audience, many of whom still remember the early days of black and white, of Ena, Minnie and Martha in the snug, of Annie Walker, imperious behind the bar and Elsie Tanner picking up the milk from the front step in something deliciously unsuitable.
I'm not saying we should return to the days when the cast had an average age of 72. I just think in times which see a growing, vibrant older population in this country, people who still live, love and have problems only they can explain, Coronation Street needs to represent them. If they do it will add a depth to the Weatherfield story that sometimes nowadays we are sadly missing.
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