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 (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 (7th April 1976)

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Written by Leslie Duxbury

The return of Elsie was an event (it ensured that this episode was the most-watched edition of Corrie that year, and indeed the highest rating episode since 18/2/70). Middle-age sparks are still flying between Len and Elsie, as the pair circle each other warily. Len’s on-off relationship with Rita is touched upon – which will set us up for several years worth of Elsie/Rita conflict over the glittering prize of Mr Len Fairclough ….

Elsie’s in a reminiscing mood. “Funny thing. Just as I came round the corner from the corner shop, the feeling that I’d never been away. It felt just like coming home”. I wonder whether this mirrored Pat Phoenix’s feelings? By all accounts, Phoenix wasn’t the easiest actor to accommodate (something which didn’t endear her to the writing or production staff) but she remained an audience favourite.

The inquest into Ray and Deirdre’s cadging of free drinks (on account of her non-existent pregnancy) continues. Mrs Walker is not best pleased about being deceived.  Later, the pair take a stroll along the Weatherfield canal where Deirdre drops the bombshell that she’d like a chequebook. This conversation could easily have taken place at the Rovers, but it was nice to have a chance of scene and get onto film for a minute.

Minnie’s last hurrah is a very brief scene in the Kabin. Margot Bryant’s memory was so bad by this point that she was forced to refer to her script several times (which was nestling on the counter). It’s a very sad and low-key way for such a long-running character to exit the series. We’d learn later in the year that Minnie was happy though, having settled down with Handel Gartside in Whaley Bridge.

Elsie remains holed up with Len in No 9 for most of the episode. Visitors come and go – first Bet and then Rita. Bet’s visit is reasonably convivial, Rita’s less so (as you might expect).  You could have cut the atmosphere with a cricket stump – both swap icy greetings before Rita harshly wonders if Elsie’s making “a flying visit or ….”

Eventually Elsie ventures out to the Rovers, which was probably just as well since tongues had been wagging there at maximum velocity for some time.  Some – like Ken – are welcoming (although they’ll soon clash over a certain house) whilst others – like Rita – remain stony faced.  And Rita’s dour disposition doesn’t improve after she learns that Elsie’s looking for a job in the area ….

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Coronation Street (5th April 1976)

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Written by Leslie Duxbury

For the dedicated Coronation Street aficionado, enjoying the series as broadcast during 1960 to 1975 can only be something of an intermittent pleasure. Having recently catalogued the episodes I hold from this period (well it keeps me off the streets) I’ve established that I have a grand total of 211 (which is a fairly small sample, considering that over 1,500 episodes were broadcast).

But from April 1976 onwards we’re on much firmer ground as that was where Granada Plus started their repeat run from. Between 1996 and 2004 (when the channel was unceremoniously yanked off the air) they managed to go from April 1976 to early February 1994.  And since these episodes are circulating in various corners of the internet, with a little bit of effort it’s possible to enjoy a lengthy consecutive run of the series.

Personally, I probably won’t go too far beyond 1984, but when I get there maybe I’ll have the desire to press on a bit further. I won’t have to worry about that for a while though.

Although April 1976 seems like a rather arbitrary start point (you might have expected Granada Plus to rewind back to the start of the colour era) there looks to have been some method in their madness.  Bill Podmore had taken over as producer in early 1976 and he’d begun to refashion the series in his own image (for example, injecting more humour – which he felt had all but evaporated).

I do wonder just how dour and humourless the series had actually been before this, but until more examples of 1974 and 1975 Corrie turn up, it’s hard to know for sure.

Today’s episode – marking the return of Elsie Howard (nee Tanner) for the first time since October 1973 – is a pretty decent jumping on point. There’s a few unfamiliar characters dotted about, but many of the regulars would have been like old friends to the 1990’s audience.

The episode opens with a one-shot character, Mrs Conroy (Christine Buckley), bitterly complaining to Mavis in the Kabin about the state of her dentures. “You would think wouldn’t you, if they could build Concorde, they could make a pair of dentures that fit”. There’s no answer to that.

Good grief, Rita looks rough. Really rough. Is she feeling delicate after a night of carousing with Len? Mavis thinks so, but Rita is having none of it. We then drop in to see Ray and Deirdre getting dressed. The sight of Ray Langton with no trousers on is something that will haunt me for some time. I’m just grateful that his shirt managed to hide his underpants.

Len receives a mystery call. Who is it? Ah, you’ll have to wait until the end of the episode to find out. But if anyone can discover who it might be before then it’ll be our Hilda. She’s in full snooping mode today (her curiosity working overtime after Len asks her to clean his house). Jean Alexander is wonderful. This is something I know I’ll be repeating again and again and again ….

This era of Coronation Street has many reasons to recommend it – not least the way it’s now become a fascinating social document. Characters will often stop to bemoan the state of the country (some things never change then). Mrs Walker’s monologue today is a case in point. “I don’t trust the government. Industry is either a playground or a battleground according to the whim of the week”.

Minnie’s relaxing in the snug. Make the most of her as she’s soon to vanish, never to return.

Unlike some incoming producers, Bill Podmore didn’t swing the axe too much. But one character he did decide to write out was Tricia Hopkins (Kathy Jones). I’m not quite sure why though – after all, the Street was hardly awash with younger characters at this time and she had formed a decent partnership with Gail.  Her departure is especially odd when you look ahead to January 1977, whuch saw the introduction of Suzie Birchall – a character not too dissimilar to Tricia.

Everyone’s treating Ray and Deirdre to drinks at the Rovers because they believe Deirdre’s pregnant. Except she’s not. There then follows an embarrassed silence when the truth comes out, although I’m not sure how they were going to get away with it (would Deirdre have stuck a pillow up her jumper in a few month’s time?)

Len’s mystery visitor is …. Elsie. And although we don’t see her today, Ena’s curtains are already twitching in anticipation ….

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