Frozen In Time

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Coronation Street not as "real" as it may seem

There are thousands of “Corrie” fans in Newfoundland and Labrador, and I am one of them.

We like the show for the colourful characters, interwoven storylines and realistic feel of life on “the street.”

Yes, there are perhaps more murders and beautiful people on Coronation Street than the national average in the United Kingdom, and conflict situations are forced to unfold constantly to keep the stories interesting. But the wet cobblestones, complex characters and rich accents do have a ring of authenticity.

However, if you think it’s an otherwise realistic portrayal of life in Manchester, you’re a silly cow.

Karen Tiller grew up in Mount Pearl, but spent nearly 25 years in the United Kingdom. She moved there in 1986, after marrying an Englishman. She lived in the West Country, South and North, and spent a lot of time in Warrington in Cheshire (near Manchester).

The Coronation Street neighbourhood we know and love no doubt existed when the show was created in the 1960s. Since then, the fashion and pop culture references in the show have kept in pace with the trends, but most everything else is frozen in time.

For Tiller, the most obvious inaccuracy is the racial imbalance. The vast majority of characters are white and of obvious U.K. origin. Right now, there is a token East Indian couple, two coloured persons (in minor roles) and no Asians at all.

“The neighbourhood of Coronation Street would have been accurate years ago but it has not kept up with the pace of change in modern Britain,” Tiller said. “Putting aside the soap storylines being what they are, I think the first observations are that the demographics are not reflective of the area. It is not only Asian and Black minorities but there are growing numbers of what they refer to as ‘white-other’ (east Europeans including Polish and Serbs/Bosnian/Croat etc.). While I have no factual evidence of this, that has been my experience.”

This is the only inaccuracy on the street that I find troubling. Couldn’t they try a little harder to bring in greater numbers of visible minorities? In fact, plot points could be developed based on some of the conflicts that arise through the co-mingling of cultures and religions. 

The tight social fabric of the street is one of the show’s strongest points, but it is also unrealistic, Tiller said.

“I lived in a number of areas north and south and the idea of everyone knowing each other on the street is a bit far-fetched now. Populations over there are more transient than in Newfoundland and while you might get to know your neighbours after a while, there are rarely those types of networks outside of the small village environments.”

And she does have a point there. The same could be said of neighbourhoods in downtown St. John’s, where you might know a neighbour on one side or the other, but certainly not the entire street. 

Based on her observations, the type of housing on Coronation Street is also not typical of current realities, Tiller said.

“(That) type of housing on Coronation Street would typically be in high density areas (city centres) and attract either low income renters (usually immigrants) or young first time buyers and the occasional older person who has been in the property for years and years. Most middle-aged owners would have moved on to the suburbs. It is not a ‘trendy’ neighbourhood.”

Then there’s the warm and friendly Rovers Pub, where everyone knows everyone, the talk is boisterous and Norris is catching all the gossip. Alas, the Rovers is not typical either. 

“You won’t find many pubs like the Rovers outside of smaller villages which do have those great places,” Tiller said. “Yes, pubs will have groups of regulars who know each other well but not on the scale of Corrie. Young people tend to go to the Brit versions of George Street for a good night out. Most ‘local’ pubs now are as much about the food as the drink and Betty’s hotpot could not be the only thing on the menu… (And) the entire social life revolves around the pub and there seems to me to be a huge absence of real life around the children on the street – school, exams, and extracurricular activities seem fairly absent. In real life people might hit the local pub on the weekend but for those with jobs and/or children there is far more to the week then going for a pint.”

Even the traffic on the street doesn’t ring true, Tiller said.

“Any urban area where there are as many businesses as there are on Coronation Street would have more traffic, and more cars parked. There are not even enough cars to justify Kevin's garage never mind the hairdresser, the corner shop and the factory. And the other absence is that there are few houses with driveways (maybe Gail has one?) yet few cars are parked on the road as there would be in that type of area, where there simply would be no other place to park. It is the same as some of the downtown residential streets here with the same competition for parking spots.”

Fortunately, one of the show’s most appealing elements – the accents and local expressions – is quite authentic. For example, “stupid cow,” an insult commonly hurled at women, is accepted without so much as a raised eyebrow (whereas around here, you’d get the lips smacked off ya for saying such a thing).

“I could have a long chat about what is still politically correct and what is not, in terms of language over there, and it varies between the social classes (which still do exist to some extent) but ‘cow’ is very common,” Tiller said. “The language is, with the absence of the common use of the 'f' word, very true to life for the setting.”

All this is not to turn you off Corrie. I know that’s impossible. It’s really just a small dose of reality for fans of the show who may actually travel to Manchester, expecting to see and experience a neighbourhood exactly like Coronation Street. It just doesn’t exist.

In spite of this additional insight, however, I’m still a big fan. If anything has diminished the show in my eyes, it’s the departure of Becky. Corrie is just not the same without her.

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Recent comments

  • Peter Jackson
    June 11, 2012 - 08:58

    Enjoyed this post. Not that many of us uberfans think it's realistic. As Karen says, I expect it actually was a lot more realistic in its early days, when the population was a little more homogenous and cobblestones were common. There are a lot of implausibles one has to overlook. Without throwing a lot more "extras" into the mix, for example, you cannot imagine how the businesses on that street stay afloat. And in recent years, the plot lines have become totally outrageous. Almost everyone has become either an adulterer or a murderer, or both. My wife and I always try to guess "whodunnit," but it's anyone's guess lately because there's little rhyme or reason. Still gotta love it, though.

  • Chris Noseworthy
    June 08, 2012 - 20:44

    You mean to say that show is making money from portraying an old-timey culture that doesn't really exist anywhere anymore. No wonder we like it so much in Newfoundland.