Fact and fiction merge on Street
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