Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The 1960s: Those Were The Days!

Annie Walker feels sorry for Elsie Tanner, whose son, Dennis, is just out of prison in 1960: "Ooh, some mother's do 'ave 'em!" she tells young Kenneth Barlow.

Personally, I love the 1960s Coronation Street era best of all. This was the decade which saw the show make its screen debut, shoot to the top of the ratings, and introduced us to legends like Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner, Annie Walker, Len Fairclough and Albert Tatlock.

It was a decade of frantic change - with the hippie-trippy "flower power" era of the second half of the decade looking somewhat incongruous beside the first half - which contained, amongst many other goodies, the Beatles and their pudding basin haircuts.

The decade brought us the Magic Roundabout, trim phones, the lava lamp, mini skirts, maxi skirts, afghan coats, the start of the Women's Lib movement, the first moon landing, space hoppers, Monty Python, Dr Who, the Stylophone and flared trousers.

And, of course, Coronation Street, which made its screen debut on 9 December 1960 - in glorious black and white.

There are some people who claim The Street "lost something" with the advent of colour on ITV in 1969 - some of its gritty realism. I agree - perhaps that was best portrayed in black and white.

For many of us, however, black and white Corrie continued for years beyond 1969! My family had a black and white telly until 1978, then rented a colour set. But we couldn't afford the rental payments, so back it went after only a few weeks - and it was 1983 before colour was seen in our house again!

But, colour or not, The Street was definitely at its grittiest in the 1960s.

And, in my humble opinion, at its most consistently excellent.

The Street in the early-to-mid 1970s took a tumble in the ratings. There were, I believe, some wonderful high points in that era, but my most vivid memories of it are of lots of moaning, Ken Barlow romancing the headmaster's daughter in a retro cravat, and liberal lashings of social comment and disaster. The Street's sense of humour was reduced tremendously.

Then came Bill Podmore, who took over as producer in 1976, and another golden era began - social comment, yes, unemployed youngsters robbing Baldwin's factory was one of them, but also brilliant humour - who could forget the Ogden's "muriel"?

The early 1980s - with Eddie's CB radio craze and "Vince St Clair" were also brilliant. But The Street suffered terribly from the disappearance of old faithfuls like Ena Sharples, Albert Tatlock, Stan Ogden and Annie Walker. In Ena's case, the character last appeared in 1980, and it took a year or two for her loss to be felt as she had been absent for lengthy periods several times during the 1970s. When she disappeared in 1980, it was hoped that her absence would again be temporary.

But in 1983, we really began to feel the cold winds of change. Pat Phoenix announced she was leaving, Geoffrey Hughes left, Doris Speed became ill and never appeared in the show again, Peter Adamson was sacked and Peter Dudley died - as did Violet Carson. It was only at this point that I realised Ena was gone forever. Vi had been hoping to make further appearances in The Street, and I recall an article in a tabloid newspaper some time before her death, entitled: I'LL BE BACK.

But in December 1983 Ena was no more.

Even with the Duckworths taking up residence at Number 9 that year, the loss of so many of the "old school" cast in such a short space of time adversely affected the atmosphere within the show.

And 1984 brought fresh blows as Jack Howarth and Bernard Youens died, and Fred Feast left the show. It took some years for Corrie to fully recover, although it continued to rate well.

But there were no such problems in the '60s - with Elsie and Len either making eyes at each other or having flamin' great rows, Elsie and Ena almost coming to blows, Mr Swindley prattling away to Miss Nugent at Gamma Garments, Annie keeping poor Jack in his place at the Rovers, and the Ogdens arriving at Number 13.

Yep, the 1960s shine brightest of all The Street decades for me.

Gritty, dramatic, funny, fiery and raw - in a nutshell, The Street in those days was pure black and white magic!

"Your bottom's getting bigger," Linda Cheveski tells her mother. Poor Elsie, struggling to get the fire to light, was not best pleased.
"There's some very funny people in this street!" Ena Sharples told Florrie Lindley, the new owner of the Corner Shop in 1960. Not that Ena included herself in that category!

A scene used in the end credits of some of the early episodes. It's easy to believe that Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner and Albert Tatlock were real and actual, living their lives somewhere below those smoking chimneys and wet rooftops! In the distance is St Clement's Church, Ordsall, which stood opposite the corner of Archie Street, the street which provided the original inspiration for the exterior architecture of Corrie's terraced houses.

St Clement's Church in 1928, the year it celebrated its Golden Jubilee. The church still stands today, but Archie Street has long gone. The local council started moving residents out in 1968 and the street was demolished in 1971.

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