Coronation Street (9th September 1964)

The discovery of an unexploded bomb in Albert’s back garden forces the residents to take shelter in the Mission Hall cellar. This rekindles memories of their wartime experiences in the very same room ….

The fourth of six Tony Warren penned episodes from 1964 (it would be 1967 before he’d next return to the series) this is simply glorious. It’s a pity that it wasn’t included on Network’s 1964 DVD, but with only eight episodes to play with each year it’s possibly not surprising that so many worthy possibilities failed to miss the cut.

Amongst the highlights is a wonderful scene between Jack and Mrs Walker in which she declines to leave the Rovers without seemingly taking half the contents of the building (Jack, as ever, is the very definition of long suffering). Whilst Ena, complete with her ARP tin hat and gasmask, effortlessly slips back into the dominant role she enjoyed twenty years earlier.

There’s a wistful longing from her for a return to the good old days of the war, where the community spirit was strong. “When there’s a war we get a lot of new songs, everybody’s nice to everybody else, nobody bothers about dressing up. It’s funny what war does for folk”.

The way that Stan and Hilda force the depressed and dejected Florrie to join them in the cellar is one example of how the wartime spirit has been temporarily reactivated. On her own Florrie seemed to be almost suicidal, but once she begins to mingle with the others (who are gearing up for a nice sing-song) her spirits began to lift.

It’s easy to argue that this is all a tad unrealistic, but then Coronation Street was never (at least in its earliest decades) designed to be a hard-hitting drama. Instead, at its core was a nostalgia for an earlier (and obviously idealised) past where neighbours looked out for each other and came together in times of stress and strife.

Even by 1960, with the rise of high-rise flats, the community pictured in Coronation Street was something of an anachronism – but then treating the series as a document of social history is something that’s rife with problems (although it’s true that the series could, at tImes, reflect current trends quite deftly).

As the old-un’s begin to sing wartime songs and reminisce about their radio favourites (Minnie stops Albert from mimicking Lord Haw-Haw in an underplayed moment that nevertheless is nicely handled by Margot Bryant) the young-ones (Irma and Dennis) can only shake their heads at this baffling display of jollity.

Whilst this is going on, Captain Platt (John Quayle) and Corporal Dixon (Duncan Livingstone) have the tricky job of dismantling the bomb. Quayle is especially good value in their scenes together – as both Platt and Dixon are given their own opportunity to reminisce about their wartime experiences as children (a good reminder that even those in their thirties at this time would have had some memories of WW2).

Even if Coronation Street isn’t a programme that’s often on your radar, you’d do worse than setting aside half an hour to watch this episode. It’s a heart-warming and amusing effort from the Street‘s creator.

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