rather than one that tries to ‘tackle the issues‘. Script conferences do not decide to ‘do‘ AIDS or racism, in the clumsy way those shows do (and if Frank Butcher doesn’t hurry up and shoot his old mother I’ll do it for him). That's not to say the Street is divorced from reality. merely that the issues come out of the characters‘ lives rather than one-dimensional people being created purely to illustrate social concerns. Humour is the central ingredient of many episodes. and tragedy. when it happens, is treated sensitively rather than melodramatically. When the legendary Stan Ogden died, his wife Hilda kept a stiff upper lip throughout the funeral. only breaking down when she found Stan’s battered old spectacles. It was a performance that won Jean Alexander an award for best TV actress of the year.
‘But it’s so unrealistic. it‘s out of a bygone age‘ scream the critics asserting that such cosy communities no longer exist. Admittedly. the Street can occasionally go off on a tangent. getting over-involved with Mavis's lost budgie. or Phyllis’s geriatric nymphomania. but in the next scene you are jerked back to reality and Martin Platt coming to terms with impending fatherhood, or Bet Lynch’s painful memories of her lost son. Similarly. the Street‘s history can sometimes be a millstone. when you recall Ken Barlow’s catalogue of disasters (‘A one—man Greek tragedy,’ admits the actor William Roache) or Emily Bishop‘s equally bad record with marriages (one last—minute cancellation. one victim of armed gunmen. one bigamist who committed suicide). Far-fetched. well. yes occasionally (although to be fair there have been only nine on-screen deaths in 30 years). but as the producers point out. this is still fiction.
Characters like Annie Walker. Elsie Tanner. Ken Barlow, Albert Tatlock. Len Fairclough. Hilda Ogden, Ena Sharples and countless others have been absorbed into the national consciousness. to the extent that Granada regularly receive letters from fans asking for Hilda’s new address, challenging the Rovers Return to a darts match, or making offers for one ofthe new flats in the Street. Russell Harty. Laurence Olivier. Willis Hall. Michael Parkinson and John Betjeman founded the ‘British L :ague For Hilda Ogden‘ to celebrate one oftelevisi .m’s most enduring characters. and Harold Wilson would regularlry curtail Monday and Wednesday Cabinet meetings in order to catch his favourite show. Ken and Deirdre Barlow‘s ill-fated marriage in 1981 attracted more TV viewers than Prince Charles' rival nuptials in the same week. Two years later. when Deirdre was wondering whether to leave Ken for Mike Baldwin. the crucial episode attracted 2‘) million viewers. the highest audience figures for any TV drama programme (and second only to this summer‘s England v West Germany game in the all-time list). ,
The Street is something you grow up with.
These are people you can‘t get to know in the course ofone or two episodes. It can take years. ‘It is,‘ says Roy Hattersley. 'a story about ordinary people who live extraordinary lives. But it is not only about them. it is about life.‘ Hattersley tells a story ofcampaigning in a by~election when he came up against Ken Barlow in the form of William Roache canvassing for the Tories. The message Roache was getting on the doorsteps was 'What are you doing here'.’ (iet back to Deirdre.‘ Stories like that show that the Street is above such transient things as party politics. And it‘s still bloody good.
WE SHALL NEVER SEE THEIR LIKE AGAIN
Famous Street characters. now sadly departed from the cobbled streets of Weathertleld. I Hilda Ogden Rovers' charlady. Street gossip and cultural icon played impeccably by Jean Alexander. Nosey. ignorant. but eternally warm-hearted. Hilda was plagued constantly by her beloved husband. the majestic Stan. I Stan Ogden la-sttmesof hard-drinking. chip-eating unemployed window cleaner with his own seat and his own slate at the Rovers. When Stan went to the great Rovers‘ Snug in the sky. the nation wept a collective tear. I Eddie Yeats Stan's scally sidekick. of almost equal girth to the great man with a shared fondness for Newton and Ridley's finest. Iiddie was a lovcable villain and a great respecter of Mrs(). ()ne of Weatherfield‘s best. I Annie Walker Snooty landlady of the Rovers Return and an obvious influence on our former I’M (ironic really. as actress Doris Speed was a lifelong socialist). I Ena Sharples Battleaxc. and regular adversary of Ileie Tanner. lina resembled a 'l’amworth pig in a hairnet. with much the same temperament. She and her cronies dominated the Rovers Snug until her departure coincided with a sudden decrease in stout sales. I Sharon Gaskell Obscure l‘oster-daughterof Len and Rita Fairelough. and harbinger of the Street's trendy period. Sharon mentioned Joy Division regularly. I Alan Bradley Boo hiss. ’I'horoughly bad sort who took up with Rita Fairclough and tried to swindle her. That having failed. he attempted to strangle the poor woman. but eventually received his come-uppance in the form of a Blackpool tram. Squish.
IAlbertTatloclr ly'ncle Albert. the grumpy old git with a fixation about
trench warfare. A
fondness for navy rum occasionally led him into Ills of Joviality. but usually I he could be relied on to i make c\ cryonc else‘s life i a misery. Izsery soap needsone.
The Listu7 — 20 December 199013