Friday, 17 September 2010

The Road to Coronation Street a BBC film

Squee..... Yes it was that good . As a massive Corrie fan and writer who one day hopes to have his work acted out on screen, Daran Little's play was a symphony of story telling that covered multiple layers of human aspiration and the beginnings of one of the greatest television programmes ever made.

Review of 50th Anniversary week here

The cast was brilliant, I could not have picked them better. It was nice to see John Thomson back on Corrie after having been so badly wasted by Kim Crowther. Must have felt like  poetic justice. The casting of William Roaches son was pure genius. While I may not have seen the first ep as wasn't yet born for another three months, the photo montage credits at the end was spooky in it's similarity to the people we had just seen on screen. As a bit of fun, see if you can spot bubbles off Ab Fab. Elsie Tanner and Ena Sharples were stand out performances from a vast cast that individually and collectively contributed to a great story.

As a story of a ground breaking programme being conceived pitched, written, and sold to the network bosses, it was an object lesson in my other motto...."Never Surrender", it goes along with my golden rule that it doesn't hurt to have friends in high places that believe in you. The Tony Warren I saw on screen was the ambitious, conflicted, driven man who believed in what he was selling so much , he could not help but infect those around him. That he was right only served to make his quest that much more an un-stoppable juggernaut. And yet it could have all stopped dead in it's track if his boss hadn't also had a vision of bringing quality innovative telly to the people of Northern England....Granada land. Harry Elton, we are told pulled out all the stops to sway the hard as nails money driven Bernsteins and even pushed for regional actors.  The scenes played out so well I felt I was the fly on the wall getting all excited about being part of the next great thing  on telly.

The reality of  how a programme was brought to us in stark detail when we went through the casting, costume and set design stage. And before that we even had the notion of an audio version to just hear the script to prove you could speak the lines and have them make sense and be entertaining. I cannot tell you the thrill my wife and I had as we witnessed every step and misstep taken by Tony Warren in his fight to make Coronation Street real. Entire meeting and script writing sessions flashed through our heads, we became Tony Warren. Even the first run through for the pilot was so real we couldn't help but feel the excitement and tension of the room.

Tony Warren and Harry Elton did what PT Barnum espoused, entertainment should be great and memorable. Not even the Bernstiens could guess that the boring bits in between would be great telly if they were acted well in Manc. The foundations of Coronation Street were reality, both in setting and situations, the addition of speaking Northern was nothing short of revolutionary. England was not just Royal Shakespeare or the BBC News. For the first time on television, regional accents and dialects were heard as well as reflecting back the real lives of those watching. As a Corrie fan It can see how until about two years ago that ethos was well and truly drilled into the production of Coronation Street. That even now as I praise this teleplay about it's creation, I cannot watch the current run , shows how far Corrie has strayed from it's roots. Corrie is not about spectacular explosions or homicidal maniacs, it's not about spending EVERY waking moment shouting at your neighbours and coming to blows. There is supposed to be a sense of humour about the place, a feeling of community that keeps it all from going out of control that is now sadly lacking. It wouldn't hurt the current production team of Phil Collison et all to watch a few old eps and this film to remember the spirit that created Coronation Street.

The Road to Coronation Street serves as a double jointed creature.On the one hand it is a present to the fans from the people who so carefully nurtured the project from simple spark in a pitch meeting to a full blown real 50 year old institution. That line about finally seeing the place that had until then only existed in his head, was incredibly powerful. I  had the shivers when they showed us the finished Number 3.  There was real love in that film tonight and it was for a programme and legendary group of humans who came together  to make our tea times inseparable from Coronation Street. Even now, entire families still make time to watch together. Oh we drift away from time to time, but never for long. If you are the average person who just watches telly, you need to have this on DVD.  It's a keeper you'll want to watch more than once.

Now if you are like me, a writer and aspiring television producer, this story is so much more. It is every one who ever dreamt of putting on a show and just how hard and unbelievable the process is. You watch this and learn a few simple rules.

1- Never give up
2- Make sure you have at least one friend upstairs
3- Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself
4- Take chances
5- Never loose sight of the prize
5- Don't be petty, you never know who you'll meet on the way down.

Every incredibly hard step you take from first idea to pitching, creating the characters, creating the setting, putting words in their mouths, pilot,  casting, getting a commission to getting the thing done, keeping it on the air, is a struggle and a rush of adrenalin that keeps you going to the next step. Never get complacent or forget why it works in the first place. I would be lying if I said I watched this with the detached interest of a curious by standard viewing a historical special on the steam engine (also invented by a Northerner and a bit of a nutter). This story is as close to non sugar coated warts and all telling of the inside of the television game. I know from experience that some things have not changed a bit in all those years, but it also says that despite it all great television still gets made and if you have a brilliant idea, you shouldn't give up at the first hurdle. While most of you who watch this will just see a creation story, I will always see an inspired example of how and why we should continue to aspire to great art and great story telling.

The Road to Coronation Street is worth re watching, recording and owning when it comes out on DVD. Why the BBC did it and not ITV is a mystery to me, but I'm chuffed it got done by the right people judging from the results. For the full cast list and to watch on the iPlayer click here. Read Daran Little's piece in the Telegraph.


Blighty's Tuck Store said...

>>Corrie has strayed from it's roots. Corrie is not about spectacular explosions or homicidal maniacs, it's not about spending EVERY waking moment shouting at your neighbours and coming to blows>>

But the screenplay from the 1960s wouldn't compete in today's highly commercialized and competitive environment - even though it was higher quality theatre.

The real world typical Manchester suburb has changed dramatically since the 1960s. Early Corrie was indeed true to life and that was what made it so appealing. The typical Manchester suburb of the 21st century is a vastly different place. My comment is based on my own observations of the streets of Oldham between 1970, when I first went there, and the present.

A good review; I look forward to watching the movie.

Jessica said...

Albert Tatlock wasn't in it! He was one of the originals, in the first episode, and in 1980, one of the five remaining originals from the first episode. The other four (Annie Walker, Elsie Tanner, Ena Sharples, Ken Barlow) were all in it. Why not him?