Saturday, 8 November 2008

1978: Gail Potter And The Nuclear War Threat...

The 1970s were in the thick of the Cold War years. As a kid back then, I was terrified that America and Russia would go to war and that would be the end for all of us. I had nightmares about it, sweated about it, cringed at the (I thought) scary-sounding theme tunes of World In Action and News At Ten. I closed my ears as narrators and newscasters on these two programmes began to speak, convinced that the end was nigh.

I wasn't alone. My mate Pete and I often discussed the prospect of nuclear war, and we knew many other kids who shared our worries. An adult neighbour of my mine had stocked up a load of pills, which she showed us. She said she would take them when nuclear war was imminent.

I used to feel sick with fear at times. Then, for me at least, Coronation Street stepped in!

It was August 1978 and Gail Potter (Helen Worth) and Suzie Birchall (Cheryl Murray) were making a salad in the kitchen at No. 11...

Gail: "Do you think there'll be another war?"

Suzie (flatly - in a what is the silly moo wittering about now? tone of voice) "Do I think there'll be another war?"

Gail: "Do yer?"

Suzie: "How should I know?"

Gail: "They're talkin' about it, aren't they?"

Suzie: "Are they? Who?!"

Gail: "The Americans and the Russians."

Suzie: "Is that right?"

Gail: "Don't you even listen when there's News At Ten on?"

Suzie: "Only the interestin' bits..."

Gail: "Sometimes I get quite worried about it, honest I do."

Suzie (continuing her own train of thought): "... a divorce or someone dyin' and leavin' a load of money."

Gail: "Don't you care if there's another war?"

Suzie: "I don't think about it much - it don't bother me."

Gail: "Yeah, but if they do."

Suzie: "Well, if they do they wouldn't ask me anyway, would they?"

Gail: "That's the whole point, innit, they wouldn't bother askin' you, they'd just blow us all up."

Suzie: "Well, if they do ask me, I'll tell them not to bother, all right? I'll say they need their heads bangin', they should kiss an' make up."

Gail: "I think it's quite scary if you think about it."

Suzie: "Then DON'T. Is there any salad cream?"

Gail's fears continued throughout the episode, but cynical Suzie and worldly Elsie Tanner, both more concerned with getting on with living than worrying themselves to a standstill over something that might not happen, and they couldn't stop if it did, had a great effect on me.

For the first time I began to realise that I shouldn't spend time paralysed with fear over the nuclear threat. I was too young to join protest marches, I wanted to do OK in my O' Levels and basically my screwing my life up was not going to help anything.

The other day, I saw the 1978 episode of Coronation Street again and gasped as my feelings from way back then came flooding back. I remembered how terrified I was back in the 1970s, and how this episode of a soap opera helped me to get on with living.

Nowadays, other things are there to worry us and the Cold War ice, which thawed rapidly in the mid-to-late 1980s, is just a memory. But I haven't forgotten the terrible fear I felt, and no matter how daft I find Corrie in the modern day, I still have feelings of gratitude for that one episode back in 1978...

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