How Coronation Street prepared me for life in Parliament as soap celebrates 10,000th episode – Tracy Brabin

Tracy Brabin - a former star of Coronation Street - is now the Shadow Culture Secretary.
Tracy Brabin - a former star of Coronation Street - is now the Shadow Culture Secretary.
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I’M so excited Coronation Street has hit its 10,000 episode. It is one of the greatest achievements of my life that I played Tricia Armstrong for three years on the show.

Now, as the MP for my home town of Batley & Spen, and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, I’m a consumer of soap, not a participant.

Tracy Brabin appeared in a famous Coronation Street storyline alongside young actor Joseph Gilgun.

Tracy Brabin appeared in a famous Coronation Street storyline alongside young actor Joseph Gilgun.

But I look back fondly at the trials and tribulations of Tricia and the friends I made in the process – Liz Dawn, Sally Dynevor, Bill Tarmey, Kevin Kennedy, Sarah Lancashire, Angela Griffin and Denise Black to name a handful.

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I can’t overstate the sense of pride I had getting a part on such a well-loved show as Corrie.

For working-class actors and writers, the soaps are our lifeblood. We get to play real people in our own accents and if you’re on a show for a while get amazing opportunities to show off our acting chops to millions of people.

Bill Tarmey and Liz Dawn became Coronation Street legends as Jack and Vera Duckworth.

Bill Tarmey and Liz Dawn became Coronation Street legends as Jack and Vera Duckworth.

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The exposure you get from a soap helps you in the rest of your career, enabling working-class actors to join shows they might not have had the opportunity to be in without the glitter you get from having been in Corrie.

And people remember. Even now, on the doorstep, some constituents recognise me from the show rather than from politics.

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By sheer coincidence, yesterday I raised an Urgent Question in the House of Commons about the Government’s decision to look again at the decriminalisation of the licence fee and it reminded me that, in one wonderful storyline, Tricia Armstrong was arrested and sent to prison for non-payment of her TV licence, leaving naughty young son Jamie to fend for himself.

And for the telly geeks, that young actor – Joseph Gilgun – is now a superstar in Brassic, This Is England and TV shows across the pond. I’d like to say I taught him all he knows but he was an exceptional talent, and it was obvious to everyone even then he was going to be a star.

That storyline caught the public’s imagination and questions were asked in the House of Commons the following day about just how unfair it was that vulnerable women could just be sent to prison for not paying the telly licence.

The storyliners and writers had hit a nerve and it was time for change.

Now, if you don’t pay, you’re offered debt advice, rather than jail, and it’s a good step forwards that only five people were sent to prison for non-payment last year.

Looking back, I had no idea that from Weatherfield I’d end up in Westminster as the Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture Media and Sport.

I think I would’ve been terrified if I’d known. I’m from Howden Clough and folk like us don’t often walk the corridors of power. Coming into Parliament is intimidating and overwhelming but I felt exactly the same on my first day in the ITV Green Room.

Ken Barlow – as I saw him then – making me a cup of tea, Bet Lynch making me laugh with a saucy quip.

Back then, I thought I couldn’t let anyone know that I was star struck. Fast forward 30 years and the same could be said about my job as MP.

Hundreds of famous faces. Lots of powerful, clever people at the top of their game. In the first few months I had to ‘act’ that I knew the ropes. That I knew what a Statutory Instrument was or a Humble Address; that you had to sit when the Speaker was on his feet or turn to face the wall during prayers.

These days, I’m au fait with Parliamentary language and procedure but it was troubling to be improvising in what seemed like another language.

Many say politics must be a bit like acting and, to be honest, there are skills that are transferable – confidence in public speaking, being able to write speeches, having curiosity about people.

And this week’s furore over a bare shoulder at the Despatch Box also shows me there are other similarities with the Daily Mail door-stepping my family, running stories about the cost of the dress I was wearing.

There is no doubt being part of the Coronation Street family has contributed so much to the person I am today.

Tricia Armstrong, unlucky in love, always broke and doing her best as a single mum, isn’t too far away from many of the people I represent.

I knew her inside out and I’d like to say I know my constituents more because of her.

I’m just sad Tricia never thought to go to her MP for support, and I’d encourage others who might be struggling to come to me for help.

Tracy Brabin is Labour MP for Batley & Spen and the Shadow 
Culture Secretary.