Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Coruscating Corrie

Many fine writers have started their careers on Coronation Street, including the late Jack Rosenthal and, more recently, Paul Abbott who wrote the wonderful Shameless. But recently Corrie reversed the process by signing up an already established writer, Jonathan Harvey. Although best known for Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, he also wrote the play and film Beautiful Thing.
Fans of his work haven't been disappointed by his contributions to Corrie.
On Sunday he gave us a sparkling script. I particularly enjoyed Blanche's nightmare about being chased down Rosamund Street by a giant ball of sage and onion stuffing. One of the problems with soaps and almost-soaps like The Bill is that characters can be one dimensional. Blanche is the battleaxe to end all battleaxes, making us laugh as she sprays bile in all directions but apparently humourless herself. But Harvey had her telling a joke on Sunday and laughing at it and suddenly she became significantly more real.
As you know, it's not unknown for me to make bad jokes, especially where wordplay is involved. But there was one in Harvey's script that didn't work and should have been cut. This was in the dialogue:
"No, I'm fuming!"
Actually, it works better on the page so maybe the problem was the actors' delivery. Stage dramatists have a great advantage in writing comedy compared to prose writers and television writers. If jokes don't work they can take them out at the previews. Alone at the keyboard, other writers have to rely on their own judgement. Success as a writer depends to a great extent on the ability to edit your own work. The problem is that sometimes you like a joke so much that, although the voice in your head is telling you it's terrible, you dig your heels in and leave it there.
Another Corrie writer who is writing brilliant stuff at the moment is Chris Fewtrell. Several people liked one of his lines so much that they sent it to Dame Nancy Banks-Smith at The Guardian (I've just conferred that honour). It was said to Kirk, a tall, skinny youth and was: "I bet you lost a lot of modelling work when that Lowry died." Kirk didn't understand this and neither I suspect did a sizeable chunk of the audience. But Corrie editors never patronise the audience by striking out references that some people might not appreciate. It may surprise people who never watch it to know that in the past two years we've had a discussion of William Blake's poetry, a poem by Philip Larkin and a poem by Wilfred Owen. This is partly because, when you've been going for nearly 50 years, you can be more relaxed about the speed of plot development and give good writers the trust and respect they deserve.
It's this more relaxed approach that led Barbara Ellen in The Observer to describe the current storyline about barmaid Shelley and her boyfriend Charlie as "a work of unparalleled genius". That adjective is a bit strong perhaps but when you think about how any other soap would handle it, you can see why she used it.
On Monday, courtesy of Chris Fewtrell again, we had a truthful and moving dissertation from Audrey about the nature of love and the importance of what the other person sees in you, not just what you see in them. It probably wasn't startlingly original but neither was it cliché-ridden. The teenage recipient of this advice looked puzzled. It's not easy to look beyond looks and lust at that age and some people never manage it. But once again Corrie was saying something truthful about the human condition and that is more than one has a right to expect from something whose primary purpose is to entertain.


Having been sacked from the garage, Lee has got his size eight Rockports well and truly under my kitchen table. If it were just the kitchen table I wouldn't mind so much but he's also laid claim to my favourite chair in the Pink Drawing Room. Yesterday the pages of The Guardian were scattered all over the floor as he made a fruitless search for the horoscope. When I explained there wasn't one, he said it was a shit paper and why didn't I get The Sun. I asked if the wallpaper was to his liking or should I re-decorate but sarcasm is wasted on Swarfega Boy. "It's all right", he said, "they've got the same wallpaper in the Jewel In The Crown."
The television is always tuned to something called MTV, the West Turret rocks to the sound of reggae music late into the night and the kitchen, with its piles of empty lager cans, Pot Noodles and overflowing ashtrays is beginning to look like a Tracy Emin installation at Tate Modern. When Carlo said "Now you have two boys to look after you!" I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Yet yesterday afternoon, when I had reclaimed my armchair and Lee was supine on the chaise longue, he became unusually talkative. I don't know whether this had anything to do with the content of his roll-ups but what he said surprised me and revealed a more vulnerable side to him.
I'd assumed that, when he wasn't with Carlo, he was hanging out with the local teenage cohort, throwing supermarket trolleys into the river, smashing the library window, setting fire to garden sheds and meeting dealers in the Co-op car park. But it seems he has few, if any, friends.
"Everyone hates me in this village", he said, kicking a Chippendale side table. "But Carlo's all right. He's a good laugh. He calms me down."
I wasn't sure how to respond to this. In the past week, Lee had 'borrowed' a BMW from his workplace, mooned at two nuns and blackmailed the Chairman of the Parish Council. Presumably, without Carlo's sedative effect, he would have gunned down half the local constabulary by now.
"You're all right too", he continued. "Our Mum really likes you."
"Really?" I said, amazed. "But I don't think I've had the pleasure."
"I think she'd like the pleasure."
Lee started giggling.
"She said your tweed trousers would look nice hanging over the end of her bed."
Then he winked at me.
Oh sweet Jesus.
Next time: Carlo looks forward to Christmas


At 9:13 PM, Blogger Adam said...

I beg to differ: the primary purpose of soaps is not to entertain, it's to sell washing powder. Or, more accurately, it's to get bums on seats ready for when the ads come on. That's why Eastenders is always going to be a failure in comparison. And it possibly explains their fixation with that bloody laundrette...

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I don't think the two things are mutually exclusive. By being entertaining you get higher viewing figures and sell more advertising. The achievement of Corrie is to do this while maintaining high standards of writing, acting and comedy thus pulling in significant numbers of 'AB1' viewers and people like me who are of no value to the advertisers.
One of the many problems with Eastenders is that there are few if any characters you'd want to spend any time with in real life, so why would you want them in your living room?

At 8:12 AM, Blogger peter said...

Oh dear. Adam is "out-cynicking" even me. Yes, the only purpose of television is to push product, but there are ways and ways. South Bank is one way and GMTV is another.


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