Certain weeknights were a sacrosanct time in our house when I was a lad.
In actual fact, just half an hour on those nights – the time when Coronation Street was on the box.
For me, as a teenager, these were the classic years. And that era, now long gone, was summed up by the moment when Ken Barlow crossed the cobbles to Mike Baldwin’s factory, eased himself through the throng, announced, “I’ve had enough of your poison in my family. More than enough,” and socked Baldwin on the jaw. All very tame by today’s soap opera standards but heady stuff for the 1980s. And, of course the Barlow/Baldwin stand-off simmered on for years, having reached its climax in 1983 when stolid Ken discovered loving wife Deirdre was having an affair with smooth womaniser Mike.
Such memories came flooding back at the news earlier this week of the death of Coronation Street stalwart Anne Kirkbride at the age of 60. A Corrie regular for 42 years, she joined at 17 after accepting a three-line bit part. Then she never left.
I was saddened by news of Kirkbride’s passing but there was a selfish aspect to my feelings. There have been other losses from the Corrie cast in recent years but, somehow, the death of Deirdre with her wide eyes and super specs seems to represent much more than the passing of just another soap character.
I haven’t watched Corrie for years. Nor am I a fan of Emmerdale; I lost interest in that when it morphed from cosy, farm-orientated family drama to full-on scandalfest. It might have been progress but I preferred Annie Sugden and co.
So I watch the goings on in Weatherfield from a distance. I find myself quietly surprised to see some cast members from my era still residing on this most action-packed of streets but I no longer recognise it as the community that bled into my front room all those years ago.
But, then, Coronation Street has been running for almost 55 years. The central cast of the ’60s has long gone to that great Green Room in the sky, all save for William Roache. And over time characters have come and gone, the drama has risen and fallen like a televisual oscilloscope and the Prince of Wales has signed on for a cameo.
It’s a phenomenon, the leader of the pack, the soap that keeps foaming. It might not be the same but, to die-hard fans, it doesn’t matter. Time rolls on and Corrie rolls with it.
Those were the thoughts that went through my mind when I heard that Anne Kirkbride had died. I suffered with her during those troubled times ensnared in the Mike/Ken love triangle. I learned a lot about relationships.
It says much about the quality of the Corrie scriptwriting that we believed in Deirdre’s confusion and her ricocheting emotions. But we also believed in her. Soap actors get a bad rap – that they’re somehow lesser talents. Anne Kirkbride proved that wrong.