Keith Newbery: Coronation Street is not just a soap opera

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Somebody once said there was no point in chasing fashion. If you stood still long for enough, fashion would eventually catch up with you.

It has taken the best part of 50 years, but I’m now convinced this is true.

In 1960, just before Christmas, I watched a new television series called Coronation Street.

Even as a 12-year-old, there was something about the programme – from the first mournful chords of its theme tune to the intricacies of the warm but waspish script - which exerted an unexpected fascination that was to last for the rest of my life.

I then had to endure about 40 years of eye-rolling derision from family and friends as I tried patiently to convince them of Corrie’s extraordinary qualities.

I attempted (unsuccessfully in most cases) to make it clear that Coronation Street is not just a soap opera. It is THE soap opera.

Not only do EastEnders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and the trashy imports from Australia not deserve to be on the same planet as Corrie, they do not even belong in the same galaxy.

I’ve enjoyed many a quiet smile upon hearing people bemoan the absence of top-quality family humour on British television in the past 30 or 40 years.

During all that time it has been right there under their noses, because at its very core Coronation Street has essentially been a series of inspired comedy double acts linked by a smattering of melodrama.

It has been sustained over the past half-century by a succession of script-writers who have been encouraged to develop the programme’s characters to such an artful degree that one raised eyebrow is all that’s required to get a laugh from the faithful millions.

Such rare gifts for an actor did not escape the attention of Sir Ian McKellen, who announced his intention to fulfil a career-long ambition by appearing in the show for ten episodes in 2005.

There then ensued a self-conscious burble of interest from the great, the grand, the luvvies, the lefties and all the rest of the self-styled cultural elite in this country.

Perhaps this little Manchester programme had something going for it after all darling.

But by then it was too late. They had missed out on 45 years of exquisite pleasure.

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When Radio Four’s World at One wished to interview MP, Mike Crockart, they rang the wrong number and the man they spoke to pretended to be the Lib Dem member.

He promptly announced his intention to resign over tuition fees.

It reminded me of a piece written by Britain’s finest-ever columnist – Cassandra of the Daily Mirror.

He kept being disturbed in the depths of the night by a misdialling clerk at a nearby railway station, who demanded to know where certain items should be sent.

Instead of complaining, he spent many happy years despatching goods to wrong locations all over the country.