Review of the Year: Coronation Street 2011
Isn’t it typical? You wait for ages for a gay character in a soap opera and a positive posse comes along all at once!
To be fair to dear old Corrie, the show has for some long time featured gay knicker-stitcher, part-time barman and surrogate dad, Sean Tully – possibly the most outrageously camp character on the telly since Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served?, and certainly the most irritating. It also embarked on a lesbian storyline between sixteen year-olds, Sophie Webster and Sian Powers, although that ended in a fall – literally, off a church roof – but I digress.
On Easter Sunday, Sean headed for London (“That London” as he refers to it, presumably to avoid any confusion in viewers’ minds between the capital city of the UK and London, Minnesota, USA?). He was on a mission to be reunited with his son, Dylan, whom he had sired some years ago in an impromptu turkey-baster moment with his barmaid colleague, Violet Wilson, which was bound to end in tears. And it did when Violet promptly decamped (I use the word advisedly) to avoid any further contact with the twitteringly obsessive biological father – and who could blame her?
Anyway, who should he find waiting for him when he pitches up on Violet’s doorstep in Clapham, hotfoot from Victoria Coach Station clutching a giant teddy bear for his unsuspecting progeny, but his ex, Marcus Dent. Oo-er, missus!
Meanwhile, back in Weatherfield, the errant Todd Grimshaw has travelled in the opposite direction to visit his mother, Eileen, bringing in tow his posh new boyfriend, Jools (I kid you not!) Creme. Needless to say, a cringe-making class conflict plays itself out over the dinner (or is that lunch?) table – Eileen: “dinner’s ready” Jools: “It’s a bit early for dinner isn’t it?” Todd: “She means lunch” – you get the picture. Eileen has made up a bed in Sean’s room while he’s away for the two lovers but Jools has booked them into a boutique hotel in Manchester (ee, times have changed since I lived in Manchester!) so the offer is politely declined (lovely manners, these Southern Posh Boys).
Of course, no visit to The Street would be complete without the obligatory drink in The Rovers followed by a very public row and, true to form, Todd, embarrassed by Eileen’s nervous drunkenness, storms out, with her stinging accusation that he is a snob ringing in his ears. Jools reads him the riot act: “I’ve seen another side of you, Toddley” – don’t ask! – “and it’s not very attractive”. So Toddley Todd toddles off to patch things up with his heartbroken Mum before being driven off by Jools in his smart car to spend a night of bliss in their Philippe Starck-inspired bed.
In May, Ken Barlow’s gay long-lost grandson, James (played by James Roache – keeping it in the family actually and fictionally) made a reappearance only to turn out to be a thoroughly bad lot. After conning the gullible Sophie out of the money she ‘borrowed’ from her dad for his bogus charity he then tries to rob Ken and Deirdre of their life savings. Ken remonstrates with him and James replies witheringly: “I’d rather be a crook than a doddering old hypocrite like you,” before knocking him unconscious. Yes-s-s, at last someone’s had the courage to say and do what the rest of the nation has been thinking of for years!
All good fun as far as it goes I’m sure but there is a more serious dimension to this amiable tosh. When Corrie was created for Granada Television by Tony Warren in 1960 it tapped into a real north-south divide inspired by the kitchen sink dramas of the late ’50s such as John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
At the time, the gritty, flat-caps-and-whippets image of life in northern industrial towns was not very far from the truth and the dilemma faced by a new breed of poor-but-bright university-educated grammar school boys trying to escape their roots was reflected in Corrie by the character of Ken Barlow, played then as now by Bill Roache..
Fifty years on one is bound to ask how far, if at all, times have changed? Is the scenario of Todd’s bitter-sweet return to his roots, albeit with a modern gay twist, just a lazy cliché or does it reflect a continuing reality of the north-south geographical and sociological divide and an enduring class-consciousness underlying the comfortable myth of our modern classless society.
And more particularly in the context of Polari Magazine, what does all this say about the portrayal of contemporary queer life and relationships?
Sean Tully and Marcus Dent are played by gay actors, Antony Cotton and Charlie Condou so, however annoying Sean’s stereotypical ‘mincing queen’ character and however unlikely his relationship with the steady Marcus, there is at least a readiness on the part of the show’s makers to cast gay actors in leading gay roles.
The teenage angst of Sophie and Sian’s relationship, despite the melodrama (or perhaps because of it) will undoubtedly ring true with many youngsters coming out and coming to terms not just with their homosexuality but society’s varying reactions towards it. Sophie and Sian are about to get hitched but If the straight weddings on The Street are anything to go by it is unlikely to go smoothly, but perhaps it will break the mould in more ways than one. We can but hope.
One thing seems certain from all this, as far as the makers of Corrie are concerned, there really is nowt so queer as folk.