Deirdre, you're just a soap star. Okay?

All is not well on `The Street' - and even the Prime Minister is concerned. Time to get real, says Fran Abrams

OH, DEIRDRE. Couldn't you just pull yourself together and stop weeping for a bit?

Try and look on the bright side, girl. There you are, tucked up all nice and cosy in Strangeways with Margi Clarke for company, while out here the rest of us are having a hell of a time. No point in picking up a paper or turning on the news. Going to the pub has become a trial. And why? Because you're everywhere, Deirdre, that's why.

And look: you've got me doing it now, too. Please can we get one thing straight before we go any further. You Are A Character In A TV Soap Opera. I am, I admit, a huge fan, but unlike almost everyone else in Fleet St I have not yet totally relinquished my grip on reality.

For the sake of those Independent readers who have spent the past 36 years halfway up Ben Nevis, I will recap.

You see, there's this programme, Coronation Street. It started out as gritty, high-quality kitchen sink drama, then later it became brilliantly self-mocking. ("What does that lipstick taste of, Hilda?" Stan Ogden once asked after a rare anniversary peck. "Woman, Stanley," she replied, puffing up her bony breast seductively. "Woman!")

To be fair, Deirdre has always been a sort of tragic foil to the sunnier side of life on The Street. Over the years she has suffered a broken engagement (Billy Walker), two failed marriages (Ray Langton, then Ken Barlow, who testified against her in court), a conscience-stricken extra-marital affair (Mike Baldwin, who is paying her legal costs, much to Ken's chagrin - Mike, by the way, used to be married to Ken's daughter) and a widowing. Her last, a Moroccan waiter called Samir Rachid, was apparently beaten to death by racist thugs just as he was about to donate his kidney to Tracy, Deirdre's daughter. The op still went ahead and the kidney lives on inside the dreadful Tracy, even though she has disappeared from the show. She has gone Down South.

In short, nothing ever goes right for Deirdre. So when she fell head over outsize spectacles for Jon Lindsay, who claimed to be an airline pilot, we devotees all knew no good would come of it. We knew she was going to get let down, if not sent down.

But we never expected this. The nation's press has apparently mislaid its marbles somewhere up the back end of Rosamund Street. There have been half-page articles in the Daily Telegraph. A Labour MP, Fraser Kemp, has been heading up the Sun's Free the Weatherfield One campaign. Even Tony Blair has been dragged in. And I, for one, am feeling just a little put out.

You see, these hacks aren't really taken in at all. They know it isn't real. Which is just fine, of course. But the problem is they think it's their joke. If you don't believe me, try asking one of them. "Ah!" they'll cry. "But hundreds of fans have been phoning in offering cash!"

At this point, I am going to make a revelation. Owen Aaronovitch, aka Jon Lindsay, is actually the brother of The Independent's very own David Aaronovitch. And there is a story going around the office that Mrs Aaronovitch senior has been genuinely upset by her actor son's appalling behaviour on The Street. See what I mean? The myth has even penetrated the intellectual high ground on the 18th floor of the Canary Wharf tower.

So I rang David to check. "Oh, yes," he said. "It's all been tremendous fun. The whole family has been ringing up, saying `Did you see what he did last night?'." Yes, but did any of them actually believe it? Of course not. They aren't daft, these Aaronovitches.

And nor are the rest of us. Not even the tabloid reporters who have been ringing up asking whether Owen has fled the country pursued by irate Deirdre supporters.

The thing is, those of us who never answer the phone between 7.30pm and 8pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays already know it's not real. All those people who rangGranadaswitchboard probably just thought it would be a bit of a hoot. But it's our joke, not theirs. When Street fans sit around for hours talking about what Samantha did to Des with Chris and what Chris did to Kevin with Sally we are doing it ironically. And if anyone wants to make out we've lost our grip on reality or don't have a sense of humour they can come round here and say that. Okay?

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