Humour in Coronation Street
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Humour has featured strongly in Coronation Street since the programme's inception on 9 December 1960 airing on British Television. Reflecting on Coronation Street's survival for over five decades, former archivist and scriptwriter Daran Little suggests that most observers attribute the show's success to "two aspects: the mixture of comedy and drama, and the strength of the female characters."
While most Coronation Street characters are used in a comedic capacity at some time or other, a number of characters have been used specifically for comedy throughout the show's history.
The notoriously prissy, reserved and plain spinster Mavis Riley (Thelma Barlow) had long-running humorous storylines involving her love life. At one stage, two suitors threw themselves at her, but she could not make up her mind between them. When she finally decided to pick one, she ended up being named as the "other woman" in a divorce case. At her first attempt to marry Derek Wilton, both failed to turn up at the church.
After their marriage, husband Derek proved a comic foil to dithering Mavis. Derek was offered a company car by his new stationery-manufacturing company, but it turned out to be a lime green car with a large plastic paper clip on top.
Mavis and Derek's garden was filled with kitsch decorations, only to have someone "kidnap" their garden gnome and send letters demanding payment of a ransom. They then received photographs of their kidnapped gnome photographed at several famous world monuments.
The character of Mavis has frequently been parodied in popular culture (particularly by comedian Les Dennis) for her catchphrase "Oooh, I don't really know".
Reg Holdsworth was a comic creation who made his Street debut in 1989. The character was rapidly balding and tried to look more virile by getting an appalling toupée, which he thought would "draw the ladies". This backfired when Reg was accused of being a flasher (Reg's toupee made him look suspiciously like the real culprit).
In 2002, one storyline involved the notoriously homophobic loudmouth Les Battersby (Bruce Jones) - whose wife has left him - taking in a male lodger, only to be informed by the local Council that in taking in a lodger he has broken his tenancy agreement and would have to move. To hold on, he and his teenage lodger chose to pose as a gay couple, filling the house with the contents they imagined a gay couple's home might include. His estranged wife Janice (Vicky Entwistle), worried that he might lose his house, returns to pose as his happily married wife. She walks in on a house turned into a shrine to Judy Garland and Liberace, to be asked by the Council official "was it when your husband 'came out' that the marriage broke up?" She blew her husband's totally unconvincing scam by erupting into laughter. "Les. Gay? LES? Les is not gay. Les?"
In recent years a running gag has developed on the show involving Fred Elliott's (John Savident) tendency to propose marriage to any lady that he gets involved with, usually under bizarre circumstances and leading to disastrous consequences. This long-running gag began in 1996 when Fred proposed to Rita Sullivan (Barbara Knox), who turned him down. Since then Fred has proposed to:
- Maureen Holdsworth (former wife of Reg), who married him only to leave him ten days later for Bill Webster
- Audrey Roberts (Sue Nicholls), he proposed marriage to her in France but she rejected him
- Eve Sykes, who also married him, but it later turned out that she was a bigamist and as a result they divorced
- Doreen Heavey, the mother of Fred's daughter-in-law Maxine Peacock; he proposed to her while drunk and she rejected
- Penny King, who was, unbeknownst to Fred, seeing Fred's best friend Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs).
- Beverley Unwin (Susie Blake), mother of bar manager Shelley Unwin, who accepted Fred's proposal on 20 February 2006 when he rescued her after she was unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend in a country lane. Fred collapsed and died in Audrey Roberts's hallway on the day of his wedding to Bev, minutes before the ceremony was due to be carried out.
A storyline beginning in May 2004 saw Fred order a bride from Thailand, Orchid Pattaya, through a golfing acquaintance, only to discover that she was a con artist.
Blanche was renowned in particular for her scathing remarks and as the outspoken mother of Deirdre Barlow (Anne Kirkbride), and mother-in-law of Ken Barlow (William Roache). She was involved in many humorous storylines, including one in which she suspected Ken was a homosexual, insulting almost everyone at Peter Barlow's (Chris Gascoyne) alcoholics anonymous meeting and staging her own wake. Some of her sayings include, to Deirdre " Good looks are a curse, you and Ken should count yourselves lucky" and, about Liz MacDonald (Beverley Callard), "Skirt no bigger than a belt, too much eyeliner, and roots as dark as her soul."
Uptight shop owner Norris Cole (Malcolm Hebden) is also used in the show for particular comic purposes. His nosiness and hunger for gossip are used and often get him into trouble. His friendship with Mary Taylor (Patti Clare) and reluctance to be with her are used to create comedy.
Double-acts and Groups
Pairs and groups of characters have also been used throughout the programme to add comedy to plotlines. 1960s episodes of Coronation Street featured the amusingly awkward business (and possibly romantic) pairing of Leonard Swindley and Emily Nugent. Stan and Hilda Ogden arrived in 1964 and their comic storylines were soon much appreciated. The busybody trio of Ena Sharples, Martha Longhurst and Minnie Caldwell offering comment and gossip on other residents.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Stan and Hilda Ogden were linked to Eddie Yeats, who became their permanent lodger in 1980, providing many humorous moments, along with newsagents shop duo Rita Fairclough and Mavis Riley. Jack and Vera Duckworth moved into No 9 Coronation Street in 1983.
The "Red Rec"
Another storyline involved efforts by locals to stop Council plans to turn an open space (the "Red Rec"), into a housing development and stadium complex. The normally reserved Emily Bishop, spurred on by her environmentalist nephew, Spider Nugent (Martin Hancock), staged a sit-in up a tree alongside more youthful environmentalists, aided by Weatherfield "conscience" Ken Barlow (William Roache) and local history expert Roy Cropper (David Neilson).
The Marriage of Les and Cilla
A storyline in 2005 saw Les Battersby marrying Cilla Brown in a ceremony that included a church break-in, a fake priest, a stolen wedding cake, and Cilla coiffed with curls in the shape 666, over-tanned to a carrot orange. To the couple's chagrin, the real vicar's early return resulted in rushed vows and the wedding party's hurried flight from the scene of the crime.
Coerced into performance in compensation for attacking Les in an earlier appearance, rock band Status Quo played at the reception. But the party was ruined when:
- Status Quo ate the party food.
- The wedding cake stolen from Diggory Compton's bakery turned out to be an iced cardboard display model.
- Les destroyed the wedding presents in a ritual enactment of bad rock band behaviour. (Presents had been the couple's primary reason for marrying).
- Little, Daran (1998). The Women of Coronation Street, Boxtree. ISBN 0-7522-2443-3, p. 6