One of Phil’s earliest memories is of being very upset, knocking on the bathroom door and shouting, “Mum, Martha Longhurst* is dead.”
Yes, Coronation Street has been going for 50 years; Phil has been watching for most of those; Jonathan Harvey has been working on it for six years; and he must have spent an entire afternoon writing this “affectionate romp through 50 years”: Corrie!
Still, the “clip” genre is a forgiving one and it has to be said that the Whingers didn’t feel that their trip all the way to the Manchester and back had been at allwasted.
Indeed the day passed swiftly and happily with much whinging to be done about (inter alia): the architectural horror of Euston station, the fact that small children are permitted in the Quiet Coach on a Virgin Train; that parents don’t think twice about seating their small children in the Quiet Coach on a Virgin Train; the lack of air-conditioning and in-seat lighting on Virgin Trains, the ludicrously labyrinthine ticket pricing structure requiring minutes of tortuous explanation over the PA (even in the Quiet Carriage) from what used to be called the Guard and the lack – despite its canal side setting – of a decent walking route from Manchester to The Lowry.
Arriving a little early the Whingers decided to make the most of what will probably be their only visit to Manchester in what’s left of their lives and take in the sights. There is some kind of giant Big Wheel and so a pleasant enough 15 minutes was spent admiring the views of the air-conditioning units on the top of Selfridges and the walls of Strangeways Prison before walking past the derelict warehouses of the A5066 to Salford Quays, detouring only to take in the Granada Studios (where Coronation Street is filmed) themselves.
Corrie! turns out – wisely – to mostly be a collection of classic – iconic even – moments from Coronation Street in which all the characters are played by just five people (Leanne Best, Josie Walker, Simon Chadwick, Katherine Dow Blyton and Matthew Wait) in a variety wigs. This patchwork of Coronation Street history is clunkily stitched together with that hoary old device: the narrator. It is, of course, a terrific idea to differentiate the narrator by casting a Street alumnus but Phil was horrified to find out that they had managed to secure the services of an actor who played possibly the only character Phil has been unable to stomach in all his decades of watching it – Jim McDonald (Charles Lawson). And it turns out to be as much an obstacle to progress as walking across cobbles in five inch heels (we imagine), not least because the leaden Mister Lawson is actually reading his lines from the prop book; seemingly for the first time.
Anyhoo, there turns out to be real magic in the classic scenes (SPOILER ALERT) affectionately replayed here: the unveiling of Hilda Ogden‘s “murial”, Elsie Tanner‘s fight with Ena Sharples, Annie Walker‘s monogrammed carpet, Raquel’s French lesson with Ken, Alan Bradley‘s* death by Blackpool tram and, of course, the best line ever in any TV soap ever: “Woman, Stanley. Woman”.
Not surprisingly some of the characterisations are more successful than others but everyone in the cast delivers highlights: Katherine Dow Blyton’s Deirdre steals the show complete with requisite saucer eyes and neck muscles more defined than a tropical trees’s buttressed roots. Simon Chadwick’s Ken is terrific, his Jack Duckworth voice is spot-on and even transmutes into a reasonably convincing Roy Cropper. Josie Walker’s Carmel, Raquel and Annie Walker are delightful and she manages to sound like Anne Reid‘s Valerie Barlow in her brief death-by-hairdryer moment. Matthew Wait delivers a cracking Bet Lynch. She is one of only a handful of Corrie’s endless back-catalogue of strong women to be represented here by a man but it’s a nice touch – Bet was barely a leopard skin legging away from being a drag queen anyway. Mister Wiat also hilarious delivers a blast from the past in the form of an instantly recognisable Terry Duckworth.
The recent Tony Gordon storyline rendered as a ballet is a nice idea but doesn’t quite work. Why is Leanne Best dressed as Blanche rather than Carla? But there’s a slew of nice touches. The costuming is excellent, none more so than the iconic Elsie Tanner’s outfit. The set (designer Liz Ascroft) incorporates all the necessary detail from The Kabin to the ginnel and a couple of Jack’s pigeons. Richard “Norman Bates with a briefcase” Hilllman‘s drive into the canal is neatly accomplished in a Hillman car, of course, complete with 666 numberplate.
Phil, being such a connoisseur of the programme, has to admit that Harvey (who writes the funniest episodes of Coronation Street) has selected his highlights wisely and envies him ploughing through the vast back catalogue of clips, but not the ruthless editing he was forced to employ. Sadly he wrote it too early to include the previous night’s classic moment: Deirdre captured on CCTV snogging Nigel Havers‘ male escort Lewis in the bookies.
Accepting that no-one but the original actors could ever do justice to such characters it’s a delight to find that that the cast exceed expectations so much, and it’s that recognition which provides the pleasure. Without a pretty forensic knowledge of the show you would be completely lost. Strictly for fans of Coronation Street.
* Martha Longhurst died of a heart attack in the Rover’s Return’s snug the night before she was due to take a holiday in Spain. It really is one of Phi’s earliest memories, though Andrew believes Phil must have some from much earlier, like the sinking of the Lusitania or perhaps the sudden influx of Huguenots from France and the huge brouhaha over whether they should be banned from wearing their striped jerseys and berets.
Here’s the real thing: Annie Walker and Hilda Ogden, a characteristic altercation, which is re-enacted in the stage version: