Fact and fic­tion merge on Street

The Guardian Weekly - - Reply -

Six­teen mil­lion view­ers are per­ma­nently hooked on Coro­na­tion Street. To many of them, it was Len Fair­clough, the Street’s beer-swill­ing builder, more than the ac­tor Pe­ter Adam­son who was cleared of in­de­cent as­sault charges at Burn­ley Crown Court this week. Were it not so, the case would have rated no more than a few para­graphs in the lo­cal pa­per.

The court has con­cluded its busi­ness but the story con­tin­ues. Will Len ever ap­pear in the Street again? Would he re­ally have taken his life had the ver­dict gone against him?

Dur­ing its 22-year run, the twice­weekly soap – de­scribed by Sir John Bet­je­man as “the Pick­wick Pa­pers of tele­vi­sion” – has prob­a­bly filled more news­pa­per col­umns than any other pro­gramme with sto­ries in which fact and fic­tion are in­dis­tin­guish­able.

The pri­vate lives of the ac­tors – of­ten more dra­matic than any­thing the scriptwrit­ers could dream up – are sel­dom out of the Sun­day pa­pers. Their mar­riages and deaths be­come front-page news. Pri­vate rows be­come pub­lic quar­rels as per­son­al­i­ties crack un­der the strain of los­ing pri­vacy for about £600 a week. “We live our lives in a gold­fish bowl,” com­plained Pat Phoenix, who plays the volup­tuous Elsie Tan­ner and has had more than her fair share of head­lines and per­sonal tribu­la­tions.

Granada in­sists that the ac­tors’ pri­vate lives are their own af­fair, but can hardly avoid get­ting in­volved when the me­dia de­cide oth­er­wise. Nor can it pre­tend that Coro­na­tion Street is just like any other show when the set has be­come a tourist at­trac­tion wor­thy of vis­its by such as the Queen, the Poet Lau­re­ate, and Dustin Hoff­man.

The names of the cast may have been taken at ran­dom from tomb­stones in a Sal­ford ceme­tery, but their do­ings on screen are more real than real. This was never more ev­i­dent than dur­ing the Ken-DeirdreMike saga when Deirdre Barlow con­tem­plated leav­ing her hus­band for Mike Bald­win.

News­pa­pers con­sulted psy­chi­a­trists, mar­riage coun­sel­lors, com­put­ers and agony aunts. Even the par­son on the To­day pro­gramme seemed to won­der if Ken and Deirdre were real peo­ple. In the end, Deirdre took the hon­ourable course and chose to re­main with stodgy Ken. Be­cause, as Granada says, “Coro­na­tion Street is the top TV show partly be­cause it shuns sex and vi­o­lence. We tread war­ily.” James Lewis

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