Coronation Street – March 1978

Having had a bit of a break, I’ve recently picked up my Coronation Street rewatchathon from January 1978 (at the rate of two episodes per evening).

The trial of Ernie Bishop’s killers, from mid March 1978, has been an interesting storyline. This was partly because it allowed the topic of capital punishment an airing (most of the residents were in favour although there were some voices raised against). One naysayer was Emily, who reacted with characteristic quiet dignity when Ivy blithely shoved a petition under her nose.

We never actually saw the trial (the viewers got no further than the corridor outside the courtroom). It’s hard to image a soap opera today not milking this scenario for all it was worth, but there’s several possible reasons why the 1977 Street decided to be more discrete.  I’ve a feeling that it may just have been budget related – a one-off courtroom set might have been too expensive to build (ditto filming on location).

The audience doesn’t lose too much by having the events reported second hand though. Indeed, the endless sitting about and waiting for something to happen is nicely captured. When Betty caustically wonders if Hilda would be taking her knitting, it deftly creates the image that she was attending purely out of ghoulish curiosity (although since Hilda was quite happy to sit and keep Emily company maybe we shouldn’t judge her too harshly).

The mother of one of the accused – Mrs. Lester (Penny Leatherbarrow) – is also at court, and her close encounter with Emily is another fascinating moment. The pair are briefly in the same space but don’t talk to each other (which might seem like a missed opportunity, but I think things play out better this way).

Emily slowly realises that even the successful conviction doesn’t offer her any closure (with good behavour, the pair might be released in ten years time). Long-time viewers would be rewarded though, as Ernie’s killer returned in 2005 and 2006, now a changed man and seeking forgiveness from Emily. Nearly thirty years is an incredibly long time to wait for a storyline pay-off, but it was appreciated by this viewer.

The Main Chance – The Walls of Jericho (12th October 1970)

Abdul Naji (Aly Ben Ayed) alleges that his brother was murdered and a precious artifact – one of the Dead Sea Scrolls – was stolen from him. David Main is sympathetic, but doesn’t believe Naji has much of a case – unless he can force a libel action (by penning a thinly disguised novel about these events). The book is swiftly published and a libel action is forthcoming, but not in the way Main was expecting ….

The first of two Main Chance scripts by Louis Marks, The Walls of Jericho features an increased role for Anna Palk (as Sarah Courtney), who has a little more to do for once than just take messages and look at Main in a worried and/or affectionate way (Sarah’s the one who befriends Naji and brings his case to Main’s attention). As per usual, Main begins by telling her (and later him) that there’s absolutely nothing to be done. But since that would make for a rather dull fifty minutes, by now the attentive viewer will be well aware that he’s bound to have a trick or two up his sleeve.

There’s a similar trick to be pulled in the episode’s ‘b’ plot (Main’s car is severely damaged when a lorry sheds its load of oil drums right onto it).  The company who owns the lorry aren’t admitting liability and both Margaret and Henry Castleton are convinced there’s nothing to be done, but wily old David Main pulls something out of the bag.

It’s something of a story contrivance that the scroll is put up for auction at exactly the same time Naji’s book is published. The name of the auction house – Christaby’s – rather tickles me (an obvious amalgamation of Christie’s and Sotherby’s).

The seller of the scroll – Professor Ian Allardyce (Freddie Jones) – isn’t the man Naji alleges murdered his brother (Allardyce bought the scroll off this apparent murderer). But the problem for Main is that, as the current owner of the scroll, Allardyce is the one who’s been libeled and he’s been convinced to sue.

As you’d expect, Jones gives his usual polished performance. Allardyce might be the walking cliché of an academic (hard-working, distracted) but Jones manages to tease out some decent moments from this fairly stock character. Jones’ best scene occurs when Naji confronts Allardyce. It’s also good for Aly Ben Ayed, who elsewhere tends to overact a little.

Allardyce maintains that he bought the scroll in good faith, although it’s left hanging about whether or not he’s telling the truth. What isn’t in doubt is his belief that the scroll belongs in expert hands (otherwise it risks damage or destruction). That’s laudable enough, although it’s odd that he’s selling it now for a large profit (why not donate it to a museum?)

Although Main appears to have won the day, there’s a late twist in the tail regarding the scroll’s ownership. This isn’t really a surprise though – indeed, it’s odd that no-one mentioned the possibility earlier.

The Walls of Jericho  isn’t top tier MC, but it clips along very nicely. Cynthia Grenville (as Allardyce’s wife, Mary) and Peter Cellier (as Braintree, a man who crosses swords with Main and fails badly) both catch the eye with small, but well-played roles.

The Main Chance – A Little Black and White Lie (5th October 1970)

A Brazilian diplomat, Manuel Patino (Clifton Jones), and his wife, Carlo (Valerie Murray), are desperate to adopt a baby. The only problem is that they’re black and their intended adoptee is white ….

This is the second of David Weir’s three Main Chance scripts, so you should once again expect a few slightly jarring scene transitions (although this episode flows better than his previous effort).

The colour problem was a topic tackled in numerous British drama and comedy series during this period (often well-meaning, sometimes controversially). A Little Black and White Lie falls into the well-meaning category, although the first half of the story does display something of a sledgehammer subtlety.

The baby’s natural mother, Eileen Donnell (Margaret Brady), remains pretty passive until the last few minutes of the episode, which means that her mother, Mrs Donnell (Elizabeth Begley), makes all the early running. What can you say about Elizabeth Begley’s performance? Hmm. It’s certainly memorable, although maybe director John Frankau should have asked her to tone it down several notches.

Mrs Donnell is very, very Irish (swigging pints of Guinness like they’re going out of fashion). She launches a tirade of racial abuse against the Patinos which is fairly shocking, although if she’d been less of an Irish caricature this scene might have had even more of an impact.

Convinced that Margaret Castleton has become emotionally involved, Main takes over the case and proceeds in his own fashion (bad-tempered as usual). Indeed, Main’s apoplexy reaches new heights today although thankfully things quieten down for a scene which is easily the highlight of the episode.

Similar to Bernard Kay a few episodes back, it was initially a surprise to see Douglas Wilmer tackling the role of Dr. Lowton. The doctor responsible for arranging the adoption, to begin with it looked like a pretty minor role.

But when they meet, Main is able to dispassionately chip away at Lowton’s seemingly honest façade to reveal an unrepentant racist underneath. Lowton knew trouble would erupt when news filtered out that a black couple intended to take a white baby out of the country (indeed, he did all he could to stoke things up). This scene is far more chilling than Mrs Donnell’s tirade, thanks to Wilmer’s underplaying.

It’s Lowton’s calm denial that he’s done anything wrong which really has an impact (so maybe we had to suffer the rantings of Mrs Donnell first in order to appreciate this contrast).

Apart from Wilmer, there’s another familiar face guesting – Jack May. He has a fairly unexciting part though (a newspaperman called Harry Turner who doesn’t – as expected – look to dish the dirt).

Things are left open ended. Eileen visits Mr and Mrs Patino and – seeing how much they love the child – elects not to contest the adoption. But as Main says, that still only means that there’s an even chance it will be approved.

A Little Black and White Lie is rather heavy-handed in places, but it does generate some food for thought.

Upstairs Downstairs – Married Love (4th November 1972)

Relations between Elizabeth and Lawrence are worsening due to his inability to consummate their marriage. Shuddering at the thought of such gross physical activity, he turns to his publisher and mentor – Sir Edwin Partridge (Charles Gray) – who may be able to assist ….

The opening of this episode feels a bit abrupt (the UpDown website confirms that the first few lines are inexplicably missing from all copies currently in circulation). Thomas’ incredulity that bootlaces and newspapers need to be ironed raises a smile (as does his suggestion that he could do the same to the bacon). The truculent cook, Mrs. Fellowes, also helps to create an air of sour comic relief – it’s all to do with her leg you know.

Laughs are thin on the ground when we move upstairs to Elizabeth and Lawrence’s bedroom. His total disinterest in that side of their relationship (as a poet he apparently finds it too ghastly to contemplate) is made plain – which launches Elizabeth into the realms of deepest despair. Matters get no better over the breakfast table and they part – he to visit Sir Edwin – on the worst of terms.

Elizabeth has very few role models to turn to. It would be impossible to speak to her mother about such a delicate subject, so instead she sounds out Rose. This is a gloriously uncomfortable scene – the pure and innocent Rose is just about the last person to advise anyone on sexual matters (all she can do is pass on second hand information about her aunt and uncle’s strained relationship and how all working men are only after one thing).

Given that the first half of the episode is claustrophobic and rather unhappy, it’s a jarring (but not unpleasant) change of pace when the action switches to Thomas and Elizabeth taking a drive. The wily Thomas has persuaded the Kirkbridges that buying a car would be a wise move – he, of course, will be more than happy to act as chauffeur.  Although the OB VT makes things look a little cheap, it still must have been quite an expensive scene to mount as there’s a fair number of extras dotted about the park.

Whilst Elizabeth is getting the colour back in her cheeks, Lawrence is unburdening his soul to Sir Edwin. Charles Gray is on typically mesmerising form throughout – purring like a particularly well-fed cat as Sir Edwin elects (with Lawrence’s blessing) to try and lift Elizabeth’s spirits by any means necessary.

By seducing her? During a party held by Lawrence to celebrate the publication of his new book, Sir Edwin and a rather tiddly Elizabeth do visit her bedroom, but it’s not specified in this episode exactly what they get up to.  Sir Edwin does look satisfied when he later bids Lawrence farewell, but then that seems to be his default setting.

Elizabeth and Sir Edwin’s conversation during the party is fascinating. Although he toys with her, Elizabeth does possess some intellectual tools of her own (even though, as events during previous episodes have proved, she still has a strong streak of naivety).

The champagne flows freely at the party, which is just as well as the sample we have of Lawrence’s poetry (all doom laden stuff) would no doubt sound a little better after a few stiff drinks.

In some ways Married Love serves as a prologue to the drama of the next episode, but John Harrison’s script (the second of his two UpDown efforts) is still a strong vehicle for Elizabeth. Since Harrison’s previous effort was The Path of Duty (Elizabeth’s debut in the series) it’s possibly not surprising he was chosen to move her character on to the next stage.

The Main Chance – First, You Eat – Later We Ruin You (28th September 1970)

Kenneth Manmer (Peter Jeffrey) enters into a lucrative property deal with David Main. Main’s 7.5% holding promises to make him a rich man – although it isn’t long before he starts to wonder exactly where the seemingly affluent Manmer’s money is coming from ….

The first of three Main Chance scripts by David Weir (and not a killer cat in sight) there’s something a little off-kilter about First, You Eat – Later We Ruin You. Partly this may be down to Weir’s unfamiliarity with the series and characters (it’s very jarring to see a happy Main singing arias at the top of his voice whilst cleaning his teeth!) but there’s also some bafflingly quick scene transitions, which are unusual to see.

Most notably this occurs at 14:10 into the episode. We go from a scene with Margaret, then to Sarah, then to Main, then to Sarah again (wearing different clothes, so obviously time has passed) and back to Margaret. It’s a bewildering series of jumps which in total lasts no more than twenty seconds.

Remaining in niggle mode, you have to say that it was very unwise for Main to so readily agree to jump into bed (business wise) with Manmer. The attentive viewer would have expected there to be a sting in the tail (after all, Peter Jeffrey’s stock in trade was playing shifty types). Any time the audience is ahead of Main, it doesn’t make him look good.

It’s a very entertaining guest turn by Jeffrey though, who plays the affluent lord of the manor (chomping cigars and shooting pheasants) very well. And everything is given a little extra spice when we meet Manmer’s rather frightening wife, Meriel (Valerie Sarruf), and begin to learn that his devoted assistant, Doran (Tom Kempinski), is possibly the one pulling the strings.

Main makes a totally pointless trip to Switzerland in order to question Manmer’s banker. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that Swiss bankers don’t divulge any secrets, but it was nice to see Vladek Sheybal.

Even though Peter Jeffrey has the most screen time of any of the guest stars, my favourite performance came from Bernard Hepton as Bridges (the man from the Inland Revenue). Hepton always seemed incapable of giving a poor performance and he’s very much on song today. Bridges is a softly-spoken, seemingly innocuous sort of man, but it’s plain that he possesses considerable tenacity. This character type was very much Hepton’s stock in trade.

Oddest performance comes courtesy of David Hutchenson as the crusty old banker, Sir George More-Litton. Hutchenson struggles with his lines at times, particularly in a key scene towards the end of the episode.

Everything is wrapped up a little too neatly. Just before the second ad break a jubilant Manmer tells Main that he can’t walk away from the deal (Manmer’s been paying funds into a Swiss bank account in Main’s name just to make him look even more guilty). But over the remaining twenty minutes Main is calmly able to extract himself whilst Manmer is never seen again (the inference is that he’s been chopped up into tiny pieces by his Mafia associates).

Although there’s not a lot of time for pleasure in this episode, Main does hook up with Edie Semple (Georgina Ward), a fellow divorcee who seems to have always carried a torch for him. She appears in the next episode (also written by Wier) although I found Edie to be a little distracting today, mainly due to her wig.

First, You Eat – Later We Ruin You is a decent watch, thanks to Jeffrey and Hepton. It’s just a shame that Main comes over as a little foolish.

Public Eye – A Mug Named Frank (7th July 1971)

A Mug Named Frank, the first episode of series five, in some ways feels like an addendum to series four. There’s the Brighton setting, the black and white visuals (albeit only due to the colour strike) and the reassuring presence of Mrs Mortimer (Pauline Delaney). And yet …

Series four of Public Eye was very much an authored piece. Roger Marshall wrote all seven episodes, which helped to give them a serial-like feel, but for the remainder of PE’s run his input would be drastically reduced. Producer Michael Chapman penned this installment, which concerns itself with uprooting Frank from Brighton and settling him down in Windsor.

Marshall would later cast a slightly withering eye over the direction of the Windsor series, labelling it as rather cosy (this interview is a fascinating read). Although it’s worth noting that it was Marshall who created Mrs Mortimer and established a “will they, won’t they” vibe between her and Frank.

How Marshall would have developed their relationship is unknown but it seems unlikely he would have gone in the direction of Chapman’s story – which not only abruptly wrenches them apart, but also rather off-handedly negates most of Frank’s Brighton experience. And this is why I find this episode a rather curious watch – rather like The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin’s departure, A Mug Named Frank feels inauthentic (Chapman attempting, but not really succeeding, to mimic Marshall’s voice).

The main plot is quite simple. Frank befriends an old lady, Mrs. Stuart (Nora Nicholson), who he spots in the supermarket popping a tin into her shopping bag, presumably with the intention of stealing it. He manages to diffuse the situation, but this plot-thread isn’t really developed. Was it an absent-minded slip, a cry for help or a theft borne out of necessity? We never find out, so it appears to have been little more than a clumsy way of bringing Frank and her together.

She lives in a rather threadbare couple of rooms with only one object of value – a silver box – which was given to her by her son, Gerald (Barry Foster), shortly after the war. He’s a clearly something of a shifty type (I think it’s the moustache) and is keen to “borrow” the box in order to raise some money for his failing business.

Frank knows him of old – they were fellow jailbirds for a brief while – and their clash towards the end of the episode is a definite highlight. As is André Morell’s cameo as Gerald’s rich uncle, who mockingly declines to bail him out. The scene adds little to the story overall, but I’ll never turn down a few minutes of Morell.

Travelling to Windsor in search of the silver box, Frank meets Inspector Percy Firbank (Ray Smith) and Nell Holdsworth (Brenda Cavendish), two characters who will loom large in the episodes to come. Although I take Marshall’s “cosy” point, the series quickly establishes itself in Windsor – shaking off the last vestiges of the Brighton era with a crop of strong scripts from a pool of first-rate writers.

Upstairs Downstairs – A Pair of Exiles (28th October 1972)

UpDown was rarely the sort of series to indulge itself with showy directorial flourishes, but the opening shot of this episode – we see a worried Lady Marjorie through a rain-soaked window – is quite nice.

She’s concerned about a bill that’s been forwarded onto her from a jewellers – James has run up quite a debt with them. Lady Marjorie – always keen to think the best of her son – worries that he’s fallen into bad company, gambling with his brother officers (who can easily afford to shrug off substantial losses as matters of no consequence).

But Richard points out that these aren’t gambling debts – jewels suggest a young woman. Richard goes on to surmise that he’s fallen into the clutches of an unprincipled female who intends to take him for every penny that he’s got.

Just to hammer this point home, the action then cuts to Sarah (wearing a hat that certainly catches the eye). She fits the bill of a gold-digger, but it’s interesting how the episode is quick to turn this idea on its head. James has got large gambling debts and he obtained the jewels in order to pawn them (thereby raising a little money). Sarah is doing her best to help him, but it’s plain that he’s in a desperate situation.

James’ commanding officer, Colonel Winter (Moray Watson), pays a visit to 165 Eaton Place. Watson could play this sort of role in his sleep, but he’s still very watchable – Winter makes polite smalltalk with Lady Marjorie and Richard for a few minutes before breaking the bad news. James is drinking far too much and running up debts at a rate of knots.

That would be enough to generate a decent episode’s worth of drama by itself, but everything then moves up several notches after Sarah tells James that she’s pregnant (“there’s a little captain on the way” as she puts it). Thankfully, this bombshell means that Sarah stops acting in a manic manner (when Pauline Collins is in full flight it’s a little difficult to take).

Rose has arrived to take tea in the servants hall and has a letter waiting for her from Sarah. Mr Hudson and Mrs Bridges are incensed that she has the nerve to write (following the scene she made at Miss Elizabeth’s wedding) but the younger servants, like Edward, are much more indulgent.

Rose later visits Sarah and she shares her news. After a moment of shock, Rose decides that James has to do the right thing by her. Despite Rose’s obvious affection for Mr James, all of her sympathy lies with Sarah (who begins to wail in a rather over the top manner).

James meets with his parents and comes clean. As you might expect, Lady Marjorie doesn’t react kindly to the news that James has fathered a child with their former parlour maid. She’s too far well bred to make a scene though – instead her features simply set into immobility.

Mrs Bridges isn’t surprised to learn about James’ gambling debts. She mutters darkly about James’ Uncle Bertie, which helps to fill in another chink of the Southwold family tree (they seem to be mainly comprised of dissolute spendthrifts, at least according to her occasional reminiscences).

The arrival of Sarah sets the servants’ tongues a wagging – especially when she’s invited upstairs. If there’s a problem to be fixed, then Sir Geoffrey Dillon (Raymond Huntley) is your man. He’s got it all worked out – Sarah moves down to Southwold and eventually – after the child is born – will be found a suitable job, in the laundry maybe.  Sarah doesn’t react very well to this ….

James comes over as rather spineless in this scene. Whilst Sir Geoffrey intones, James says very little – unable to meet Sarah’s eye or respond to her pleas. Eventually he does speak a few words to her (“I’ll write to you”). This comment is greeted with a faint smile and a nod of the head. For all that Pauline Collins can go over the top at the drop of a hat, this is a subtle moment.

James is banished to India – which writes out Simon Williams until the final episode of series two.  That’s a shame, but by the time he finally returns he does become more of a central character.

The final line of the episode (Sarah’s “Rose, I’m frightened”) manages to strip away all of Sarah’s brittle bravado to reveal a more vulnerable woman underneath. Mind you, I’ve a feeling that she’ll bounce back ….

The Main Chance – It Could Happen To You (21st September 1970)

David Main continues to seethe over the fact that Patrick Bell (Bernard Kay) is now responsible for the upkeep and moral guidance of his children. He remains intensely keen to win back custody …

We’ve seen Main angry before, but at the start of this episode he reaches levels of hysteria which are quite new. The reasons why are obvious – but it takes Henry Castleton some time before he can talk Main down and remind him that emotion won’t help to win the day. But the law very well might.

What’s really interesting about this episode is what we don’t see. With Kate O’Mara no longer a member of the cast, Julia’s increasing desperation at the prospect of losing her children has to be discussed through third parties. It’s surprising that O’Mara didn’t return for these first few episodes, as the tug of war custody battle would have given her a hatful of dramatic scenes (something sorely lacking for her character during the first series).

After Main wins custody, his uneasy fumbling relationship with his children (who, due to the pressures of his work, are like strangers to him) is reported second hand rather than shown. It seems strange to skip such an obviously dramatic scene, but this plotline hasn’t been about Main and his children (who remain shadowy indistinct figures, only briefly glimpsed on film). It’s much more concerned about the clash between Main and Bell.

Bell crumbles in the witness box once some of his darker secrets (a fondness for using the cane) have been unearthed. Sidney Bulmer proved his worth by digging up the dirt, although if the positions had been reversed and Bell had been Main’s client, no doubt the tone would have been somewhat different.

Two scenes late on in the episode are both standouts. The first – Main talks to his ex-wife on the phone – required a lot from John Stride. His monologue is convincing enough to suggest he was actually speaking to someone.  The way the camera slowly closes in on his face helps to ratchet up the tension.

Main had earlier confided to Bell that Julia, deprived of the children, would be in a mental institution within six months. Given this harsh statement it’s fairly easy to guess how the story will be resolved – Main retains custody but allows the children to go back to Julia and Bell, provided they accept Main’s choice of schools and Bell moves to a slightly better neighbourhood. Once again, Stride and Kay both command the screen. Bell’s initial reluctance to betray his principles is bitterly mocked by Main (who processes to be sickened by the inflexibility of his rival).

The episode’s secondary plot – an antiques dealer called Mrs. Clifford (Diana Coupland) is seeking financial restitution from two young thugs who blinded her – ticks along nicely as well.

It Could Happen to You might be a little predictable in places, but the drama still plays out effectively – especially in the last few minutes when Main fights a two-pronged battle. Not only seeing off Bell but also tackling the smooth defender – Mark Freedler (John Barcroft) – who dared to deprive Mrs Clifford of her money.

Upstairs Downstairs – The New Man (21st October 1972)

Elizabeth and Lawrence are back from their honeymoon. Already there’s a air of brittleness between them – it’s noticeable that when they pay a visit to Lady Marjorie the pair don’t sit together. Elizabeth sits closest to Lady Marjorie whilst Lawrence lurks in the background, only able to see Elizabeth’s back. Presumably this was an intentional script or directorial touch, as it suggests – despite their brave chatter – they’ve already become isolated from each other.

Ruby makes her debut (a little over five minutes in, Mrs Bridges utters her first “oh Ruby” – the first of many).  Mrs Bridges is on especially fine form at the start of the episode, uttering meaningless comments such as “handsome is as handsome does” whilst Mr Hudson continues to wonder about Lawrence’s character.

Despite the fact that Hudson always tells the others not to gossip, today he can’t help himself. He concedes that Lawrence is a very charming young man, but only Hudson could make this sound like a deadly insult. It’s plain that he’s still not taken with him – which is in sharp contrast to Rose, who’s been won over by his superficial charm and his not so superficial good looks.

Shortly after, there’s a lovely scene when Elizabeth goes downstairs to give the servants a present (a musical box). She waltzes around the kitchen, almost bumping into Hudson (both are slightly discomforted by this). As Elizabeth departs with Rose for her new home in Greenwich, Hudson explains to Ruby that Miss Elizabeth’s behaviour can be explained away by the fact that she grew up in Eaton Place. Mrs Bridges tenderly responds that in some ways Miss Elizabeth will never grow up.

John Alderton makes his debut as Thomas Watkins (boyo). I’m not sure why they couldn’t have found a Welsh actor to play a Welshman, but there you go. Thomas – interviewed by Elizabeth for the position of Lawrence’s manservant – manages to talk himself into the job. He certainly doesn’t have Hudson’s deference – Thomas favours a brooding, enigmatic style.

His initial meeting with Rose isn’t very favourable, but it’s not soon before she seems to be somewhat smitten. Hearing her singing whilst she works, Lawrence acidly wonders if “the desires of Rose, the virginal nymph, are aroused by the dark masculinity of the Welsh bull?” Thomas begins to win Rose round after he cleans her boots (she’s still wearing them at the time, which gives the scene a mild erotic charge). He then expounds his theory that life is for living and enjoying – something which I don’t think Rose has ever considered before.

Thomas is curious about 165 Eaton Place. Working there, as opposed to being out of the way in Greenwich, would be a step up the ladder. When he calls round for Elizabeth’s trunk, it’s fascinating to see the way he manipulates Mrs Bridges (lavishing praise on her cherry-cake). Mr Hudson reluctantly shakes his hand, but he’s not won over by Thomas’ easy charm.

Elizabeth and Lawrence aren’t exactly settling into domestic bliss. They have arguments over the dinner table (much to Rose’s discomfort). And then there’s the sleeping arrangements – Lawrence doesn’t seem terribly keen to share his wife’s bed.

A slight spot of hanky panky in the pantry between Thomas and Rose irritates Elizabeth no end (she gives them both a week’s notice). She doesn’t mean it of course – it’s only a spasm of annoyance at the fact others are enjoying themselves whilst she has found herself trapped in a frozen marriage. Nicola Pagett then launches into some strange paroxysms of sobbing which closes the episode.

A pity the series didn’t have a more sombre closing theme to use when the stories were sad, as the jolly music crashing in rather spoils the moment.

The Main Chance – A Time to Love, a Time to Die (14th September 1970)

It’s the first episode of the second series, which means we’ve moved into colour with a similar – but reshot – title sequence. After the scene-setting opening – Alec Grafton (Robin Hawdon) accuses his father, Dr. John Grafton (Patrick Barr), of murdering his mother – there’s a fair bit of info-dumping to be done at Main’s London office.

David Main’s wife, Julia, is now his ex-wife. Her divorce, successful custody battle and remarriage all seem to have gone through without a hitch. Main is outwardly sanguine about it, although inwardly you can tell he’s seething. A brief visit by Julia’s new husband, Patrick Bell (Bernard Kay), strikes a slightly discordant note, but their encounter seems fairly inconsequential. However, it’s reasonable to note that you don’t cast as good an actor as Kay in a nothing role, so it seems plain he’ll return later.

Dr Grafton is a respected man about town, and therefore a great deal of sympathy comes his way. Because his wife was terminally ill and in a great deal of pain, there’s an unspoken suggestion that even if he did do something, it was in her best interests. Indeed, Det. Chief Insp. Guthrie (David Lodge) is quite happy to speak it aloud – in his eyes, Dr Grafton (even if he had a hand in her death) should be held blameless.

Alec Grafton is a less respected man about town – this seems to mainly be due to his youthfully arrogant and bumptious nature. Hawdon’s performance is a little odd and overplayed, although he does calm down by the time Alec Grafton meets with Main (who eventually agrees to take on his case). Alec Grafton might be a plain-speaker but – like his father – he’s a notable local citizen (running a factory – set up by his mother – which presumably employs a fair few people).

As with the final episode of series one, there’s a suggestion of closed minds amongst the Leeds elite. Henry Castleton won’t even listen to Alec Grafton’s claims about his father – he doesn’t need to, as he’s known and respected John Grafton for many years. It takes an outsider like Main to break through this wall of polite silence.

There are a handful of stand-out scenes in this episode. Sarah’s clash with Peter Findon over the best time to tell Main that his children have been uprooted from their public school and placed into a rough comprehensive, is one. Sarah and Main are still enjoying a playful platonic relationship whilst Peter – now a full solicitor – begins to show his ruthless side. This a plot-thread that will run and run.

Patrick Bell is called back to the office, which is the sign for John Stride to hit the roof. Main is incensed that Bell has the temerity to have decided what’s best for his children. You get the sense that Main is on very shaky ground here as it’s obvious why Julia and Bell have had to move from Chelsea (as a humble schoolteacher he couldn’t afford to live there).

Bell’s argument that Main’s children should receive a decent public education like everyone else would no doubt have struck a chord with many. The arguments and counter-arguments between Main and Bell are excellently played by both Stride and Kay.

The moment when Main pauses, stricken, after Bell strikes home with the comment that all his money couldn’t buy his children “love, affection, companionship” is especially noteworthy. David Main might always have prided himself on providing his wife and children with material benefits, but it’s plain that he rarely gave them his time or attention. 

Still simmering nicely, Main takes this anger into court where Alec Grafton has brought a private prosecution of murder against his father. Richard Hurndall sits in judgement as the Stipendiary Magistrate – he doesn’t have a great deal to do, but Hurndall was always the sort of actor who could wring the maximum from a mere handful of lines. Main’s speech for the prosecution is a set-piece scene for John Stride. Since this was the opening episode of a new series it’s easy to understand why he was given such a showy moment.

Yet another strong MC episode from Edmund Ward.

Upstairs Downstairs – For Love of Love (5th March 1972)

There’s an odd chronology at work here – the caption tells us that some six months have passed since the previous episode (when Miss Elizabeth stormed out of 165 Eaton Place) and yet all the other evidence (Rose bringing Elizabeth a case of clothes, for example) suggests that only a few days could have elapsed.

Elizabeth continues to rail against the conventions of the society she was brought up in – desperate to help the poor on the one hand and break free from the stifling embrace of her parents on the other – although Rosemary Anne Sisson’s script manages to lob a few well-aimed barbs her way. One minute Elizabeth tells Rose that she’s her friend and the next she’s passed over all her dirty washing (brushing away Rose’s complaint that she’ll never be able to get it past Mr Hudson as a matter of no consequence).

Rose, by keeping secrets from the rest of the staff and her employers, incurs the cold wrath of Mr Hudson. He, of course, knows his place and brings Rose back into line. Elizabeth, by disavowing the conventions of respectable society, is positioned as a disruptive element – breaking the harmony that exists between master and servant. This is a theme that’s been touched upon before and will again in the years to come.

Speaking of disruptive elements, Sarah (yet again) returns – this time as a bawdy music hall star (the toast of Camden Town). A pity that the budget didn’t run to filming in a real music hall, but Sarah’s big number (set to the UpDown theme music) is certainly a talking point. Sarah’s relationship with James picks up steam here, although the real pay off won’t occur until series two.

Introduced in the previous episode, the effete poet Lawrence Kirbridge (Ian Ogilvy) continues to loll about, dispensing bon mots in the style of a cut-price Oscar Wilde. A little of Lawrence tends to go a long way, but there is one small moment when his public image wavers and we get to see the real man beneath (a much less confident and far more real person).

Plot-threads in this first series tend to be rather disjointed. In the last episode Elizabeth was infatuated with Lawrence but he only viewed her with indulgent indifference. Now the pair seem to be in love and marriage may be on the cards.

Except that Elizabeth is insistent that there’s no way she’d submit to such an old-fashioned concept as marriage. That is, until after the second ad break when we see her sorting through her wedding presents. Hmm.

Having spent most of the episode reacting with horror at Elizabeth’s actions, Richard and Lady Marjorie are later gifted a few nice comic moments. Slowly warming to the possibility of welcoming Lawrence into the family, Richard can’t help but critique Lawrence’s latest poem whilst the pair visibly cheer up once they realise that he comes of good Tory stock.

There’s plenty of other good character touches scattered throughout the script – Rose’s reminisces of how she sat with her dying mother all night (and how Lady Marjorie also kept vigil with her) or the way Rose gives the cheeky young Edward a hard slap, for example.  A favourite of mine is the arrival of Sarah at the wedding, loudly mixing with the nobs downstairs whilst the servants (kept well out of the way in the upper balcony) look on with a mixture of amazement and horror. Hudson, of course, is horrified ….

Coronation Street (26th May 1976)

Written by Leslie Duxbury

Sunday morning. The church bells are ringing and an ebullient Fred, waiting at the door of the Rovers, greets Betty and Bet. Mrs Walker is away and Fred appears to have decided to take charge (which is slightly odd as Betty, given her length of service, is senior to him). His latest wheeze is lunchtime sandwiches. He’s convinced they’ll go a bomb with the punters but Betty and Bet aren’t so sure (especially since they’ve been lumbered with making them – well that sort of thing is women’s work after all).

There then follows another tense Ken/Wendy scene. Unlike most of the residents of Coronation Street, who like to indulge in plain speaking, Ken and Wendy spend their time skirting around the issues. This means it pays to be aware of what hasn’t been said (in this case, Wendy has yet to mention that she knows about Ken’s committee fracas, although she still manages to drop discomforting little hints).

Bet is convinced that Fred Gee Gee is empire building – so whilst Mrs Walker is away, his plan for world (or at least Rovers Return) domination begins with a selection of sandwiches. Quite why both Betty and Bet allow him to take charge is a slight mystery, especially since Bet’s never reluctant to slap down anyone who takes liberties. One (rather cruel) possibility is that they know the sandwiches won’t sell and so they’ve given him enough rope to hang himself ….

Gail, Tricia and Elsie are musing over the important topics of life (sex, for example) at the breakfast table. When Elsie moves back to her own house, Gail follows her as a lodger whilst Tricia departs for pastures new. There’s some good Elsie/Gail scenes to come in the months ahead (especially when Gail begins a disastrous affair, much to Elsie’s dismay) but we’ll have to wait until early 1977, and the arrival of Suzie, before they become a triumvirate again. This is when the comic potential in their characters gets ramped up.

Poor, poor Emily. Her faux paus in the previous episode (telling Wendy that Ken was in trouble with the committee) is compounded today when she confides to Ken that she’s glad he isn’t angry with her for spilling the beans. Of course Ken, like Wendy, is totally in the dark (she hasn’t come clean either). The fury of Barlow is a terrible thing to see.

But at least Emily, in her well-meaning way, has finally got the pair to confront their problems. Left to their own devices, who knows how long it would have taken. Ken remains confident that they have a future (or at least that’s what he tells her). But I’m not so sure about Wendy.

Every time we cross back to the Rovers, the camera lingers on the pile of unsold sandwiches. They’re not exactly going like hot cakes (or indeed hot sandwiches). Mavis does buy one, but there are few other takers (Ena is especially disdainful). At closing time, Betty wonders what they’re going to do with them all – most will have to thrown out, but Bet, Betty and crafty old Ena aren’t averse to sampling a few for free.

Wendy’s friend, Diana, turns up unexpectedly. She’s brought a pile of mail, including Wendy’s car insurance (which has been paid by her estranged husband, Roger).  Wendy’s touched by this, which is a sure sign that the flame between them still burns.

The final scene reinforces the gulf between Wendy and Ken. Whilst she remains inside, he’s out in the street with the others, who are all pitching in to get things ready for the party.  This is simply another reminder of Wendy’s uneasy status as an outsider.

Coronation Street (24th May 1976)

Written by Paula Milne

The episode opens in a somewhat bleak fashion – Tricia, a devotee of phone in programmes, remembers one caller who lived alone and when she went to bed each night started to believe that she didn’t exist (as there was no-one there to enquire after her). This sort of melancholy fits her recent character, but no fear, Mavis pops into the shop to cheer her and Gail up. Well sort of ….

Mavis mentions there will be a Bank Holiday street party organised by Ken, in aid of the deprived. She’s selling raffle tickets and lists some of the attractions. Such as jugglers (or as she’s forced to admit, maybe one juggler!). It doesn’t seem quite the girls’ thing, but maybe it’ll cheer them up a little.

1970’s problems – Ken, typing a letter, has put the carbon paper in the wrong way, thereby ensuring that he won’t have a copy of this precious document. Ken then has a heart to heart with Wendy over the washing up (she’s doing the work, naturally).  Wendy seems to have clicked into the role of the devoted housewife very easily, but – as touched upon before – there’s something mechanical about her actions, as if she’s simply playing this role on a temporary basis.

Ken continues to be blithely confident that any little problems they have – such as Uncle Albert’s cold-shouldering them – will be overcome in time, but as we’ll see, the forces of opposition are beginning to be ranged against them.

I don’t recall Elsie playing darts too often before, but there she is – throwing the arrows in the Rovers like a good ‘un. There is a pretext though, as she’s attempting to get chummy with Terry in order to find out what Renee’s plans for that shop are. She’s wasting her time – he knows nothing (and is far more interested in his prowess at the dart board).

But it’s not long before we learn what’s happening. Renee plans to buy the shop and flat, but requires vacant possession (which means that Tricia, Gail and Elsie will all be homeless).  It’ll be a little while before Gail and Tricia learn the news, as Renee isn’t keen to tell them, insisting that it’s Betty’s job to do so. And because kind-hearted Betty can’t bring herself to do it, the agony of their situation will be prolonged for an episode or two.

What will Elsie do? Her first thought is to move in with Len, but he’s not interested. “Old habits die hard” he tells her, leaving her to mildly enquire if that’s all she is, nothing  but an old habit. He’s partly motivated by image (as a councilor he couldn’t afford the scandal of living with a married woman) but there’s also a feeling that he doesn’t want to risk rekindling their old relationship.

It would have been interesting (and I’m sure audience pleasing) to get these two back together, but possibly even this early on there was some thought given to coupling Len and Rita on a permanent basis.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that another public figure of sorts, Ken, has already fallen into the trap (living with a married woman) which Len is so keen to avoid. The stakes for Ken are raised higher in this episode’s key scene – a stormy committee meeting in which both Alderman Chapman (Frank Crompton) and Mrs Rankin (Julia Long) tell Ken that it isn’t acceptable for a man in his position to be living in sin.

It’s a cracking little scene, given a little extra spice by the fact that two of his friends and fellow committee members – Alf, Ernie – remain silent throughout Ken’s angry response. No surprises to see that Ken reacts in his usual way – an obstinate refusal to even consider anybody else’s point of view.

Key scene number two occurs after the commercial break, when a still seething Ken confronts the hapless Ernie. Ken’s annoyed that Ernie didn’t tip him off and then goes on to label him a hypocrite – Ernie admits that he’s keen that Ken should set a good example (but seems to have forgotten about his own indecisions – and later flagrant fibbing – down at the Gatsby club).

The episode is capped by the well-meaning Emily’s doomed attempts to make things better. She runs into Wendy and tells her that Chapman doesn’t speak for the residents of Coronation Street. The only problem with this is that Ken hasn’t told her anything about the meeting. Oops ….

Coronation Street (19th May 1976)

Written by Leslie Duxbury

It’s all peace and love at the Kabin. “You haven’t done a stroke this morning, not a solitary stroke” wails Mavis, more than a little ticked off that Rita’s not pulling her weight. But then why should she, when the rather pliable Mavis will do everything for her?

Crumbs. Looks like Fred might have a chance with Rita after all. We never got to see it, but apparently they danced the night away at the Gatsby (which, as has been observed before, is clearly Weatherfield’s only nightspot). Fred, in high spirits, pops into the Kabin to tell Rita how much he enjoyed the evening. “Keep blooming” he tells her.

Tricia continues to mope. Mind you, she has good reason for a bit of a mope as Renee can’t keep her on at the shop as there simply isn’t enough work for two. There’s a sliver of good news though – she doesn’t have to move out of her room in the shop, although Elsie will have to vacate her flat (Renee has earmarked it for herself, which is quite reasonable).

We then drop in to see Ken and Wendy in their jim jams. “You’re quite good looking aren’t you?” says Wendy. Ken agrees (I can’t decide whether he’s being serious or if it’s just mock humility). He’s not perfect though (Wendy decides that his nose is rather big).

This inconsequential chatter simply serves to mask Wendy’s continuing concern that the pair of them are a foreign body in the bloodstream of Coronation Street. The scene is played out in a single take as an unchanging two-shot, which was an interesting choice. Possibly intentional, or possibly there was one eye on the studio clock and this was the quickest way to get it done.

Alf’s moaning about his job yet again. First he was planning to resign, now he decides not to. As touched upon previously, this isn’t really a storyline that goes anywhere, due to the fact we never see his place of work. But it fills up a few minutes of the episode.

Emily and Ernie have a difference of opinion. She favours a luxury Italian holiday, he’s set on going camping. Judging by her face it’s going to be a hard struggle for him to convince her. He does have a good reason though – it’s all they can afford. Indeed, as the year wears on we’ll see that money becomes increasingly tight at the Bishops.

Bet continues to amuse herself. Now that Fred’s had a minor success with Rita, Ms Lynch delights in telling Rita that he’ll now be very difficult to shake off. Rita’s unleased a monster ….

Elsie pops round to Number 11. Partly for a chat with Wendy since Ken’s out, partly to lay the ground to get her house back (although she denies this). Wendy asks Elsie if she thinks her relationship with Ken will work out. Elsie – who’s been round the block a fair few times – doesn’t have many words of comfort. “If you can’t make it work with one fella, then you usually can’t make it work with another”. Elsie’s parting shot – Ken, like her, is a loser – is especially harsh (although it’s not said unpleasantly, instead it’s more of a weary statement of fact).

Fred’s back in the Kabin, to Rita’s ever decreasing enthusiasm. He has a present for her – a single red rose.

We close at the Rovers. Ken maintains that he’s going to marry Wendy. He seems to have no doubts at all (although maybe he’s just not expressing them). Wendy is clearly not such a good dissembler as she continues to be rather anxious and uncertain. A little spice about their relationship is added when it’s revealed (by Alf to Bet and Elsie) that Ken risks losing his job due to the fact he’s living “over the brush” with a married woman. This sows the seeds for the confrontations that will follow in the next few episodes.

Coronation Street (17th May 1976)

Written by H.V. Kershaw

We open in the corner shop where Renee and Elsie are discussing Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature, much to the general bafflement of Tricia (this is a quick way of establishing that Renee and Tricia live in very different worlds and so are unlikely ever to become bosom friends).

Ding! goes the door. And there stands the imposing, unsmiling Ena Sharples. First she raises an eyebrow at the tardy Elsie (who should already have been at work) before making her way over to Renee.  It’s hard not to be reminded of that iconic scene in the first episode, which saw Ena ruthlessly interrogate the then new shop owner, Florrie Lindley.  This scene doesn’t have the same impact, but as with Florrie you get the sense that Ena is putting Renee under strict probation.

Like the previous episode, this is another scene where Tricia is placed in the centre of the frame, unspeaking, whilst the others (in this case Ena and Renee) do all the running. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it reinforces the notion that Tricia seems to be rather powerless and remains dependent on the actions of others.

Tongues continue to wag, re the fact that Ken is living in sin with a married woman. Mrs Walker – never backwards in coming forwards – makes her royal proclamation. She’s quite fair though – telling Ken that whilst she doesn’t approve, she also sees that matters are difficult (in the period when Wendy is waiting for her divorce). Ken wisely doesn’t stop to debate the ins and outs.

Fred’s in the Kabin, looking rather smart. Why’s that? Well, he’s once again trying his luck with Rita. She casually turns down his invitation to go to the cinema (seemingly more interested in her fingernails than him, which should have been a danger sign). He won’t give up though, and bravely hopes that she’ll join him in the Rovers later for a drink. Poor Fred, he seems fated to always be unlucky in love. Or indeed, so unlucky that he never even gets a sniff at the chance of love ….

Emily is the latest to learn about Ken and Wendy. “That’s nice” she says, partly embarrassed and maybe slightly shocked. Although once the news sinks in, Emily’s not one of those – like Albert and Ena – who disapproves. Wendy, tiring of this piecemeal reveal, tells Ken that they might as well go to the Rovers and get it over with.

An extra with a bushy moustache is the first in the Rovers to react. He’s slap bang in the centre of the frame, behind Ken and Wendy, so you can’t help but look at him for a brief moment. Things go off pretty well – Ernie and Elsie are welcoming, although Mavis does confide to Alf that the lovers are being rather bold. Man of the world Alf counters that it’s the only way to be (“it’s like being a lion tamer, never let them know you’re frightened around here, they’ll tear you to pieces”).

Ena’s not happy with the arrangement, but for now she doesn’t confront Ken – instead she simply makes her displeasure plain to Mrs Walker.

Back home, Wendy’s knocking up a nice salad for Ken. It’s certainly different fare from the egg and chips that Stan no doubt would be eating – another obvious signifier that Wendy’s a fish out of water.

Fred’s dressed up once again, which impresses Bet (or so she says). Fred – ever the innocent – asks her about Rita’s current relationship status and Bet advises him to go for it (“fill yer boots”). You’d have thought that Fred would have known Bet long enough to be aware that she has a very malicious streak. Bet is well aware that Fred doesn’t stand a chance, but no doubt will enjoy watching him fail miserably ….

Coronation Street (12th May 1976)

Written by John Stevenson

Whenever Gail and Tricia are teamed up they’re rather shrill. Having already sampled the more agreeable Suzie/Gail partnership from 1977, I have to admit they work much better (possibly because Suzie was cast in the dominant comic role whilst Gail was content to play her slightly dimwitted sidekick). Whereas Gail and Tricia are just too similar, meaning that they tend to cancel each other out.

They do have some comic appeal though – witness the early scene in the shop where both conspire by vague indifference to frustrate Len’s attempt to buy a packet of razorblades.  This scene serves as a reminder that the shop is rather going to the dogs (and is ripe for someone like Renee to take it over) but it’s fair to note that frustrated customers, kept waiting due to inconsequential gossip, is something that regularly happens in the corner shop. If a joke works then you may as well keep on repeating it.

At least the pair are no longer working together, as Gail still has her plum job at Sylvia’s Separates. But she’s fretting at the moment – as Elsie has handed in her notice. Mind you, with a spot of Machiavellian cunning on her part (telling both Mrs Matthews and Elsie some of the truth in order to get them back together and reconciled) Elsie’s soon back in harness. Hurrah!

Although whether this was because Gail missed her, felt guilty about her departure or simply didn’t fancy running things on her own is open to debate ….

Fred’s continuing to sniff around Rita. His fruitless attempts to arrange a date are played for laughs although Rita’s inability to warn him off can be taken either as kind-heartedness (not wanting to hurt his feelings) or playful spite (she enjoys stringing him along). Given the way Rita can be rather horrible to Mavis I wouldn’t say the latter possibility would be totally out of character for her.

Back to the corner shop, I like the shot of Renee and Betty facing each other (debating the possibility of Renee buying the shop) whilst an out of focus Tricia is centered in the middle of the frame. Renee’s decision will impact Tricia in more ways than one, but she’s totally powerless to intervene or affect the course of events – her position here as a passive and blurred observer makes that plain.

In this era of the programme it’s remarkable how quickly the plots move. Renee arrived for the first time last episode and today she’s setting off to the bank to obtain a loan in order to buy the shop. Speedy! Maybe this has something to do with the fact there were only two episodes a week – spread out the stories over too long a period and you run the risk of the audience losing track of their ins and outs.

This episode has two setpiece confrontations – the first is between Elsie and Hilda, two characters who have a great deal is history. Elsie’s still fuming about the way Hilda bad-mouthed her and is looking for satisfaction (at this point in the story she’s yet to get her job back). For maximum entertainment value they have their row in the Rovers, much to Mrs Walker’s distress.

Annie Walker: I’m well aware dear, Mrs Ogden would try the patience of Job himself, but I would have expected Mrs Howard to show a little more restraint. A woman of breeding does not bend to insults. She can make her point quite effectively without ever raising her voice. My Jack knew that.

Betty Turpin: I bet he did!

Wendy’s moving into Ken’s with some more of her things. The eagle-eyed Hilda spots this and judging by the faint smirk on her face you just know that it won’t be long before the news is disseminated far and wide.

Confrontation scene two closes the episode and occurs between Ken and Albert.  Albert’s not happy to hear the news that Ken’s cohabiting with a married woman, although Ken did hope that he’d at least be slightly flexible. But Uncle Albert’s never been known for his flexibility and – rather like a pocket sized avenging angel dressed in a flat cap – tells Ken that “as long as you stick wi’yer, you’ll not be seeing me. I’ve finished wi’yer”.

Cue closing credits ….

Coronation Street (10th May 1976)

Written by Leslie Duxbury

Uncle Albert’s not happy with Ken – carrying on with a married woman is beyond the pale as far as he’s concerned. And as we’ll see, he’s not alone in thinking that ….

As the Ken Barlow/Wendy Nightingale storyline begins to pick up steam again it’ll be interesting to note the reactions of the Coronation Street residents. Such a situation would hardly register a comment today, but the fact that it was hot news in 1976 suggests that times were very different back then.  But whilst Coronation Street might have reflected current trends and attitudes, there’s a danger in treating the programme as an accurate social document of the times.

Renee Bradshaw (Madge Hindle) debuts. Making a few purchases at the corner shop, she finds it impossible not to quiz the apathetic Tricia about her stock-keeping and shelf-stacking policies. Tricia’s not terribly helpful (“I’m just the dog what they keep to bark”) but it’s plain that Renee’s already got her eye on the shop.

Brought into the series by Bill Podmore, Hindle would enjoy a decent run on the programme before her character was killed off in 1980. Distinct Nostalgia have released a number of podcast interviews with Coronation Street luminaries, all are worth your time, especially the one with Madge Hindle.

Renee is a character that instantly clicks. Her relationship with younger brother Terry is especially entertaining – she’s incredibly bossy (but not in an unfriendly way) whereas he’s content to simply drift along, taking life as it comes.

It’s been a few weeks since Wendy breezed out of Ken’s life. He clearly can’t take it anymore, so rings her up. But first, he has to get past her self-appointed gate-keeper, namely one Diana Kenton (Gwyneth Powell). Yes, Mrs McClusky herself makes the first of three appearances as Diana during May 1976. Trivia fans may like to know that Powell also appeared in the untransmitted Corrie spin-off Rest Assured in 1972. Given that it still exists, it would be nice to see it surface – if only to see whether the concept of a Ray Langton/Jerry Booth sitcom actually had legs.

Back to Ken and Wendy, he manages to arrange a meeting with her (at Diana’s house, where she’s currently living) but the atmosphere between Ken and Diana remains distinctly frosty (she offers him lunch and promises not to doctor it with cyanide!). Their three-way conversation helps to tease out the dynamic of the Ken/Wendy relationship a little more – Ken is convinced (or has he convinced himself?) that Wendy’s marriage was over. Wendy agrees with this, but does so in such a way that we’re left in some doubt about whether she actually means it.

So it’s plain that any continuation of their affair will be on rocky ground right from the start. But she elects to try and moves into Number 11 with him. The last shot of the episode – a pensive Wendy left alone in the house – is another pointer that this isn’t a relationship built to last.

Coronation Street (5th May 1976)

Written by Julian Roach

The episode opens with a typical picture of domestic contentment chez Ogden. Hilda’s ironing her unwanted smock whilst Stan’s pushing a poker down his shoe (don’t ask).  Stan – engrossed in his work – asks Hilda to give him a rest. Uh, oh, he shouldn’t have said that.

“Give you a? Give you a rest? Look, it were hardly coming up to twelve when you come in for yer dinner and now it’s nearly gone three. Mind you, I do understand your difficulty. I mean what with your dinner breaks and your cups of tea and your flitting in and out of the Rovers and putting your bets on and filling your bucket everywhere, you’re hard pushed to fit in a rest aren’t yer?”

This monologue does serve a plot purpose as well as simply providing the viewer with some entertainment. Hilda – distracted by having to harangue Stan for the umpteenth time – doesn’t notice that the iron’s been left on the smock (burning something of a hole in it). How will she be able to return it now and convince an unfriendly Elsie that it’s never been worn?

She tries her best, but Elsie’s having none of it. Indeed, she relishes humiliating Hilda, who goes away chuntering as always. Once again, I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Hilda – if it hadn’t been for Gail’s distracted recommendation then Hilda probably wouldn’t have bought the top in the first place.

Hilda returns later, but Mrs Matthews is also steadfast in refusing a refund. So Hilda does what Hilda does best – when cornered she comes out fighting (and in an especially vindictive manner). She tells Mrs Matthews that one of her employees was had up for shoplifting. Long term viewers will know that she’s referring to Elsie (and also that Hilda can never resist sticking the knife into Ms Howard) but Mrs Matthews is less clued up on Coronation Street history – and so looks askance at the innocent Gail ….

This not only upsets Gail, but also infuriates Elsie, who’s more than a little annoyed that this piece of ancient history is dragged up again (even though she was cleared of any wrongdoing). Mind you, if she hadn’t been so uppity with Hilda then none of this would have happened, so the blame has to be shared a little.

Terry’s sister – Renee – is mentioned. Although we don’t see her today, she sounds like a formidable dragon (Terry tells Ray that she’d eat him on a cream cracker!). Cripes, I wonder what she’s like?

It’s the semi-final of the Superbrain competition. Bet – although she’s come dressed to impress – fails to reach the final.  There’s some consolation for her though, as the quizmaster, Philip Lightfoot (the very recognisable Geoffrey Bateman) offers to take her out ….

Coronation Street (3rd May 1976)

Written by Adele Rose

Hilda’s first words in this episode (“jam or dripping?”) are suitably mundane, but Stan – for once – is in a philosophical mood. He tells Hilda that he had a dream in the night – he was a bird, who flapped his wings and flew up into the trees. “A big fat owl?” asks an unsympathetic Hilda. And so another day at Number 13 begins ….

The reason for Hilda’s extreme ire soon becomes clear. Had Stan won the Superbrain contest then he would have walked away with the star prize (a weekend for two in one of Newton & Ridley’s pubs on the Isle of Man). That Hilda is upset to have lost the chance of a fairly mundane prize speaks absolute volumes about her – how she sets her sights so low when considering what constitutes a dream holiday.

Although this opening scene zings with the usual sort of humour that characterised the relationship between Stan and Hilda, on another level there’s something very sad about the way Hilda’s dreams are constantly shattered.  Indeed, the events of today’s episode are a good case in point.

Terry Bradshsaw (Bob Mason) reappears for the first time since February. From now until the end of December he’ll be a regular character, never driving any storylines himself but always a dependable chap in a crisis.  Mason would have a second life with the series (he penned 36 episodes during the eighties). A number of actors had also turned writer over the years, but Mason was the only one who played a regular character to do so.

Alf’s still moaning about his job (he’s doing this an awful lot at the moment).

There’s a sale on at Sylvia’s Separates, which brings in the punters from far and wide. Hilda is one of them and she purchases a top that nobody has the heart to tell her is totally unsuitable for her. At least, not until Tricia pipes up that she looks like mutton dressed as lamb …

It’s a cruel blow which wisely isn’t played for laughs. Hilda is often the instigator of comic storylines but there are also times – as here – when she’s held up to ridicule. Sometimes (when she’s been acid tonged and inquisitive) her humiliation might be justified, but that’s not the case today. But either way, Jean Alexander always knew how to tug at the heartstrings.

It’s a shame that neither Gail or Elsie tried to dissuade Hilda from making the purchase (Gail must shoulder a modicum of blame – after all, she did say that she looked fine, even though Gail wasn’t even looking at her). As for Stan, he was diplomacy personified, making positive noises to Hilda’s face whilst later telling the Rovers regulars that the top made her look like Widow Twankey!

Hilda’s soon back in fighting mood though – returning to Sylvia’s and demanding a full refund (or “full retribution” as she calls it). Gail isn’t budging, so Hilda plans to return when Elsie is present …

Coronation Street (28th April 1976)

Written by Barry Hill

Hilda’s getting no satisfaction at the corner shop. Gail might be behind the counter but since she no longer works there, the girl is disinclined to ruin her nail polish by serving Hilda with half a pound of bacon. “That were why I give all this up. Fat under fingernails. Reeking of strong chedder every time you go out.”

Mrs Ogden’s day gets no better after Elsie makes an appearance. Although the Elsie/Ena relationship has now settled down into a convivial mutual appreciation, there’s no such thawing of the Elsie/Hilda relationship (which remains arctic).

Before Mrs Howard enters, Hilda opines that if Elsie’s “doing her face, then she’s not a sixteen year old any longer is she? A touch of this and a flick of that might have worked wonders at one time but sandblasting does take a bit longer”. Ouch! Elsie’s rejoinder – that some like to make the most of what they’ve got whilst others gave up the ghost a long time ago – is equally cutting.

Ena, continuing to act as an unofficial marriage councillor to the Bishops, now turns her attention to Ernie. He’s dismayed at the prospect of having to explain to the Mission circuit superintendent why he was cavorting with strippers at the Gatsby Club. Ena’s advice is straightforward – all he has to do is pretend he was there to investigate immorality. After all, you can’t fight the evils of the flesh without knowing about them, can you?

This is a surprising move from Mrs Sharples as she’s never been backward in coming forward to denounce anyone whose moral character is a little suspect. Maybe it’s a sign of increasing age and increasing wisdom though – the seventies Ena does tend to be a more genial character and one who’s more tolerant of people’s flaws.

The slowly spreading grin on Ernie’s face shows that he’s keen on the idea. He has no compunction about lying to save his skin (whilst he might believe in God, presumably he’s decided that His vengeance will be mild for such a piddling transgression). Emily, as you might expect, is appalled at this state of affairs. She shows her disapproval by hoovering in a very loud way. Good old Emily.

David Williams has a nice comic turn as a customer at Sylvia’s (he’s come to buy a nightie). Given his eagerness it doesn’t look like it’s a present for his wife. This was one of Williams’ nine roles (between 1973 and 2013).

Frank Mills would later return to the Street during 1995 to 1997 as Billy Williams. Today he’s a one shot character – Ivor Mortlake – the Mission bigwig who Ernie has to lie to. His scenes are wonderfully entertaining – whilst Ernie warms to his task of painting himself as an upright moral crusader (like Lord Longford), Emily stands in the background with a face like thunder.

Ivor seems convinced by Ernie’s story and ends up by wistfully wondering exactly what iniquities go on at these terrible places! That’s a nice little character touch, which allows us to see that some upright moral crusaders would be happy to stray off the path every so often, given half the chance.

Alf has a little something more to do today than just propping up the bar at the Rovers. He’s depressed about the prospect of looming redundancies at the Post Office (which is where he’s currently employed). Many episodes of the Street, like this one, now function as social history time capsules – allowing us a snapshot about how the economy was faring. As we’ll hear time and again during these years, its usually not good news.

Moving onto lighter matters, it’s decided that Stan won’t do the Rovers any favours if he’s their Superbrain representative, so they decide to nobble him. This involves plying him with drinks (it’s like all Stan’s Christmases have come at once!) and sending the beffudled chap off in a taxi to the wrong pub. Meanwhile, Bet heads to the right pub where the next round is being held, and she wins through to the semi finals.

Hilda is incensed to hear this, not least because she doesn’t have a very high regard for Bet’s intellectual capacities. “What does she know about anything? Except throwing herself at fellas”. Hilda gives poor Stan an earbashing, which continues as the credits roll ….