Corrie meets Scott-Joplin George Austin thinks that the General Synod could learn a lot from Coronation St
LIKE a primary school classroom, the walls of our medieval churches were covered in paintings, often gory and explicit, of heaven, hell, bible stories, the lives of saints, and so on. Visual aids like this were supplemented from time to time by morality plays and the mysteries –the soap operas of a more illiterate society, often played out in the streets to a wandering audience.
Moralities and Moralism
Today we have television, where the soaps, anxious for a new storyline, can remodel themselves as secular moralities, encouraging viewers into the particular political correctness in vogue at the time. I used to watch Eastenders until I tired of its unending misery. But above all I was irritated by the constant presentation of causes and issues. If I want a sermon, I go to church; if I watch television, I don ’t want to feel, at any rate in a soap, that someone is trying to educate me, not least because that kind of earnestness usually lacks humor and lightness. moral tale.
But I do watch Coronation Street , and no one should telephone the Austin household between 7. 30 and 8 PM on the evenings when it goes out. Not that I am an addict. When Deirdre Rushed was wrongly imprisoned, one senior priest in York begged me to write to the Home Secretary to petition her release. I gently explained to him that it was just a soap, but to no avail. Now, that is addiction. Of course, there are those who look down their noses at soap watchers as proles unable to appreciate the finer things of life –‘not quite one of us. ’Maybe they ’re right. As children, both my parents and my grandmother had lived in terraced houses much less well appointed than those in Coronation Street, and my grandfather was landlord of a pub like a down-market Rovers Return. My father ran a tobacconist shop, and among his fellow shopkeepers I knew many Fred Elliotts.
The continuing success of Coronation Street is that it is exaggerated reality. The storylines are believable, and its mixture of humour, pathos, despair and violence is a mirror of life as it really is. Of course, like Eastenders , Coronation Street does deal with issues, but incidentally rather than as a deliberately The story of Hayley ’s sex-change operation and his/her setting up as a couple with Roy was done with great sensitivity, but with humour too. One of the most memorable comedy lines in soap TV was when Uncle arrived, just after the deed had been done, to beg her, ‘Come home, Harold, give it all up –your room ’s there waiting for you. ’Bathos of pure genius. The current storyline of Toyah ’s rape ordeal, brilliantly acted by Georgia Taylor, expertly portrays the reactions of the victim and the varied responses of her parents, friends and neighbours, yet softened in Corrie ’s own inimitable manner by the hilarious Sherlock Holmes activities of Norris from the newsagents.
Keeping the score
Of course there is sex too. William Roache, who has played Ken Barlow for forty years, took out an action for libel when a journalist described him as boring. In the course of those long years, Ken has slept with (is it?) 27 of the female characters who have lived in the Street. Well, there is boring –and there is boring.
Where Coronation Street especially scores (if I may use that word in these circumstances) is in its portrayal of the consequences of unfaithfulness among spouses. I hinted at this in a previous issue and now, for the benefit of those who avoid all soaps, let me elaborate.
One of the most enduring marriages was that of the Websters, until Kevin had an affair with Natalie, landlady of the Rovers Return. They separated, and the effect on their two children, Sophie and Rosie, was of course devastating. We saw, with great poignancy, the suffering of children torn by conflicting loyalties, even when their parents did try to lessen the effect as much as they could.
Recently, Sally has found happiness with Danny. But again the stupidity of impulsive sexual relationships comes between a loving happy couple. Kevin had married again, but the night before the wedding he slept with Sally. Sally feels she must begin her new married life without secrets so she tells Danny, who simply cannot take the news and walks out. Again, it is the children who suffer, now for the second time, the devastation of losing a father figure whom they adored.
Rifts began for Martin and Gail when Martin had a fling with a nurse in the hospital broom-cupboard, but for the sake of family they stayed together. Gail confronted the nurse who told her not to worry as it didn’t mean anything. ‘Well, it meant something to me ’was Gail ’s reply. But then a more serious affair began with another nurse and Martin decided to leave –just as daughter Sarah-Louise, aged 13, found she was pregnant.
The problems faced by a schoolgirl mother were brilliantly portrayed, lightened as always in Corrie fashion by the antics of David, her impish younger brother. Where do the casting directors find children of such superlative acting ability? But the dormant affair began again and Martin and Gail split up. Again the suffering of the children in a broken relationship was highlighted –not to mention the constantly unhelpful interference of mother-in-law, the wonderfully funny Audrey (I do beg her pardon, Councillor Audrey Roberts).
Perhaps someone could introduce a Private Member ’s Motion at the General Synod to require all who take part in debates, diocesan and deanery, on the Scott-Joplin proposals for remarriage after divorce to watch Coronation Street for a six-month period before voting. They would then see that there is a wider compassion required than merely towards the couple seeking the Church ’s blessing for such a union. If the Church does not wish to see or teach that, then thank goodness for the reality of Coronation Street .
George Austin was formerly Archdeacon of York.