Coronation Street – 24th December 1969

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Broadcast on the 24th of December 1969, this edition of Coronation Street opens with Annie Walker (Doris Speed) dolefully eyeing two Christmas turkeys.  One of them was ordered by her from the butcher, so the other, bought by her long-suffering husband Jack (Arthur Leslie), is surplus to requirements and Mrs Walker minces no words when telling him that he needs to dispose of it.  The relationship between Annie and Jack was a continual source of comedy throughout the first decade of the series – only coming to an end after Leslie’s sudden death in 1970.

Doris Speed paid tribute to him by saying that “the qualities of sweetness and kindness in Jack Walker came in fact from Arthur Leslie himself.” That certainly seems to come across over the screen – Jack Walker is a thoroughly decent man who loves his wife (no matter how much of a trial she can be at times).  There’s a good example of his desire to act as peacemaker later in the episode.

Hilda (Jean Alexander) and Betty (Betty Turpin) are far from happy.  Both have been accused by Mrs Walker of pinching a necklace lent to her by her friend, Mrs Hepplewhite (Betty England).  Betty pops round to see Hilda and they discuss whether they should work to rule.  It’s interesting that there’s no ducks on Hilda’s wall yet – clearly they didn’t appear until the 1970’s.

The confrontation between Mrs Walker, Hilda and Betty is another classic moment.  Mrs Walker has a face like a granite statue as Betty declares they should have a moratorium until after Christmas (“yes” agrees Hilda, before realising she has no idea what a moratorium is!).  Mrs Walker tells them that she stands by what she said – she has reasonable suspicions.  “Reasonable suspicions, my bunion!” explodes Hilda.  Lovely stuff.

Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) casts a critical eye on the decorations in the Rovers Return.  “Now what have reindeers got to do with Christmas? There were no reindeer in the holy land. Nor Robin Redbreasts I wouldn’t wonder.”  As the decorations go up, they discuss the concert, organised by Emily Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire) and Ernest Bishop (Stephen Hancock), due to be held later on in the select.  The pressures of planning has made Emily even more nervous than usual, as she snaps at Ernest and tells him to shut up!

The concert is another of those moments which engenders a sense of community – one of Coronation Street‘s strengths during the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Highlights included Minnie Caldwell’s (Margot Bryant) recitation of The Owl and the Pussycat, Ken Barlow (William Roche) playing Edelweiss on the trumpet and Irma’s (Sandra Gough) impersonation of Hylda Baker – complete with Bernard (Gordon Kaye) dragged up as Hylda’s sidekick Cynthia.

There’s also the memorable sight of Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth) dressed as Father Christmas and his reappearance later in the Rovers still wearing his beard (the glue he used was too strong and he can’t remove it).  Stan (Bernard Youens) solves the problem by ripping it off, much to his discomfort,

But sans beard he’s able to close the show, reciting The Girl I Kissed on the Stairs, and with the revelation that Mrs Hepplewhite had already taken her necklace back (without Mrs Walker’s knowledge) order is restored.  Jack attempts to pour oil on troubled waters by giving Hilda and Betty a present of a pair of nylons each.  He knows that Annie could never bring herself to apologise to them direct (“being the way she is, a spoken apology would go very hard.  So for my sake, as well as hers, accept them please.”).  This they do, although they can’t help but complain that they’re very poor quality!

This episode is just a joy from start to finish.

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Coronation Street – 24th December 1975

corrie 75

Broadcast on the 24th of December 1975, this episode sees the residents of Coronation Street putting on a pantomime to entertain the children.  The chief pleasure is in seeing familiar faces playing dress-up.  Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear) is the Prince, Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) is Buttons, Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley) and Hilda are the Ugly Sisters whilst Deirdre Langton (Anne Kirkbride) is Dandini.  Tricia Hopkins (Kathy Jones) is Cinderella, although she’s fretting about the black eye which was given to her by Deirdre.

The panto takes up the bulk of the episode but it lacks much of an atmosphere, mainly because the child audience are very quiet – only coming to life on a few occasions.  It doesn’t seem to be because they’re bored (at the end they give the cast a rousing reception) so maybe they weren’t efficiently directed.  There was also plenty of comic potential to be gained from on-stage disasters, so it’s a little surprising they didn’t go down this route.

The closest we come to this is when Bet mimes to Rita’s (Barbara Knox) off-stage singing.  Rita, with a glass of wine and a cigarette in hand, is effortlessly able to belt the tune out and amuses herself by changing the tempo of the song mid way through, much to Bet’s obvious annoyance.   Afterwards, through gritted, smiling teeth, Bet tells Rita that “if you ever do anything like that to me again, darling, I will walk straight off and extract your vocal chords with a blunt knife, darling.”

A few random observations – Len’s wearing rather a lot of makeup as Buttons, Deidre has a fine pair of legs and why was Hilda playing one of the Ugly Sisters?  Couldn’t they find two men in the street prepared to drag up?

The inexorable passage of time is highlighted by Ena’s brief appearance.  She seems to be a shadow of her previous self – there’s no sharp retorts or acid observations, instead she’s restricted to looking after a child from the audience and wishing another of the characters well.  Although Violet Carson would remain with the series until 1980, a stroke in 1974 had kept her off the screen for a while and her later appearances would be fairly sporadic.

Away from the panto, the return of Trevor Ogden (Don Hawkins) is the main news.  It’s sometimes easy to forget that the Ogdens first came to the street with several children (mainly because they seemed to fade away quite quickly).  When the Ogdens moved to Coronation Street in 1964, Trevor was fifteen.  He spent the rest of the year getting into various scrapes before running away to London.  Trevor resurfaced for a couple of episode in 1973 before returning again in 1975 for two episodes (this one and the previous one).

Trevor is married, with a young son, and his wife is expecting again.  Although he’s rarely been in contact with Hilda over the last ten years, the news of another child pleases her, as does the fact he’s come all the way down to Weatherfield to see her.  He does have an ulterior motive though – his wife isn’t well and has to go into hospital for a while, so he wonders if Hilda could come down and look after her grandson.  This request is like a blow to the heart for Hilda, and despite the fact that she’s still dressed as an Ugly Sister you can see the pain on Jean Alexander’s face.

The realisation that Trevor wants her to act as a skivvy rankles, as does the fact that he’s never asked her to visit before – only now, when he needs something from her.  It’s a downbeat moment to end the episode on and the strains of the music from the hall (“happy days are here again”) strikes a a very ironic note.