Last Night's TV: Coronation Street ITV1, Shrink Rap More4, Placebo BBC3
The Street's still a Lancashire hot spot
One of the immutable laws of soaps is that in episodes screened on bank holidays, at least eight characters will casually allude to it being a bank holiday. Soap episodes are recorded more than a month in advance, which places regulars at the Rovers Return, like their counterparts at the Queen Vic, at a serious disadvantage when it comes to discussing the latest developments in news and current affairs, such as Manchester United reaching the European Cup final or Boris Johnson becoming mayor of London.
That's why everyone in Coronation Street last night kept telling everyone else that it was a bank holiday, reinforcing the illusion that their universe is perfectly parallel to ours. Despite the fact that it was a bank holiday, Ashley "Ah know it's a bank 'oliday" Peacock opened his butcher's shop. His biological father, the late, lamented Fred Elliott, would have been proud of 'im. I say, he would have been proud of 'im. Fred had a verbal quirk inspired by the Looney Tunes character Foghorn Leghorn. He used to repeat, loudly, almost everything he said. "Be 'appy, I say be 'appy." Those were his last words.
Fred was a colourful character of the type that used to abound in Coronation Street but is now becoming scarce, like the red squirrel. One of the few remaining is the marvellously prissy Norris Cole, and yesterday he was on fine form in Ashley's shop, where at 10am he was the first customer, on account of it being a bank holiday. His mother, he told Ashley, had been a paragon of household economy. "She used to save all the nub ends of toilet soap and squash them down into a new bar of perfectly good soap." A wistful pause. "Bit on the slimey side, colours got merged." Then a proud smile. "Ooh, she knew about thrift, my mother. Discarded underpants... first a duster, then a dishcloth, then a floor cloth." Ashley had listened politely, but couldn't resist teasing. "Don't tell me, then you ate 'em?" he said. "Ooh, get away," said Norris.
Never mind the abortions, the arson and the adultery, it is dialogue like this that has set Coronation Street apart since the days of Ena Sharples and Minnie Caldwell. Incidentally, I was once dispatched by a magazine to interview Sir Cliff Richard for the first of a series of features to be called Out to Lunch. Unfortunately, Sir Cliff's people then sent word that Sir Cliff, worried that he might get hassled in a restaurant, would rather have lunch at home. So I went to his house in Weybridge and the inaugural Out to Lunch was turned into "In for Lunch", which would have been bad enough, except that no sooner had I arrived than Sir Cliff's manager informed me that Sir Cliff never actually eats lunch, so the inaugural Out to Lunch ended up as "In for Coffee and Jammie Dodgers", and he didn't even have a Jammie Dodger. You might be wondering what this has to do with Coronation Street. Well, Sir Cliff told me that he gave up eating lunch on the day in 1964 that Minnie Caldwell referred to "that chubby Cliff Richard". There's the power of soap, longer lasting than even Norris Cole's mother managed to contrive.
Speaking of long-lasting, let me add homage to Betty Williams, the former Betty Turpin, played by Betty Driver. She was pulling pints behind the bar of the Rovers last night, looking exactly as she did in 1994, 1983 and 1975. Afterwards I looked her up on the internet. She'll be 88 this month, the very definition of an old trouper.
Another octogenarian actor popped up on Shrink Rap, being interviewed by the clinical psychologist Pamela Connolly. This was Tony Curtis, who was ageing as well as Betty Driver until he had pneumonia last year and fell briefly into a coma. Now he looks terrible, like the young Tony Curtis made up with prosthetics to look 150. For those of us who grew up watching him punch thin air in fights with international jewel thieves in The Persuaders, let alone those who saw him first time round in The Defiant Ones and Some Like It Hot, it was a sad spectacle. But it was an affecting interview. One day, 12-year-old Bernie Schwartz, growing up in the Bronx, told his younger brother Julius not to hang around with him. Julius followed a marching band instead, was hit by a truck and killed. Bernie was sent by his parents to identify the body. Later, Bernie became Tony Curtis, but in his heart, more and more, he's just Julius Schwartz's big brother.
Placebo was a comedy pilot set in a hospital, where a drug to ease anxiety is being tested on male volunteers. It was Only When I Laugh with lots of swearing, and jokes about acne, urine, erections, Ann Widdecombe and penis seepage (one man wanted to know whether penis seepage means that your penis seeps, or that you seep penises). A series will almost certainly follow.
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