'Coronation Street's' Fiz and John to appear at Holy Heart June 10
There are two TV shows CBC may not ever be able to cancel without suffering the wrath of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians: one is "Republic of Doyle," the other is "Coronation Street."
Broadcast on CBC for more than 30 years, first as a daytime program, now during prime-time, the British soap opera has millions of fans in the U.K., and a legion of devotees on this side of the pond.
It could be because of ties to Britain, the fact that the characters seem easy to relate to, or maybe we're better than most at picking up the northern English accent, but there's a particular fascination with the show in this province.
While other soaps seem to have a largely female following, "Corrie" fans are split down the middle, men and women alike getting up early on Sunday mornings to watch the omnibus recap of the week's episodes.
Shanneyganock musician Mark Hiscock and his fiancée, Kelly (Breen), are among them.
"I was one of those kids who'd be home sick from school and would hear the theme song and see the granite come on TV and be like, 'Oh God, not that again,'" Hiscock said, chuckling. It was about eight years ago that Kelly, a die-hard fan, got him hooked on "Corrie." He's been watching faithfully ever since.
"It's a soap that could be here in Newfoundland. The Rovers could be The Duke," Hiscock said of the fictional "Coronation Street" pub. It's the venue for wedding receptions, darts games, hen parties and everything in between, and the place that seems to make any kind of bad day alright again, whether you've just learned your dying neighbour's baby belongs to your husband, had a hard day's work in the factory, or you've found your long-lost mother.
Unlike other soap operas, the characters on "Corrie" aren't rich and aren't particularly set on getting rich- for the most part they're typical people who live in row houses not unlike ours, inside and out, who are just trying to get by.
"Yes, on the show social services might knock on the door to inquire about a child, but you're not sitting there wondering, 'Oh, has Stefano cloned himself this week or has Victor evaded death once again," said Virginia Middleton, a "Corrie" fan in St. John's.
"The storylines can be crazy, but the characters just seem more real, allowing you to feel more of a personal connection with them. I think the cinematography of it seems more realistic as well - there's no Vaseline on the camera to shoot flashbacks, that kind of thing."
Middleton, like Hiscock, grew up rolling her eyes at the first trumpet and clarinet sounds of the show's theme song while her parents watched at the cabin. Over the past 10 years or so, she's gotten so interested, she and her mother often call each other during commercial breaks to discuss or debate goings-on with the characters.
A recent six-week stay in Japan without the soap opera nearly had her suffering withdrawal symptoms, she joked.
"Coronation Street" episodes currently air in Canada about three months behind the U.K., and fans can look ahead at what's going to happen on the show's website. Most local viewers choose to stay far, far away from the spoilers, though. Neither Middleton nor Hiscock knew the show's sensational tram crash was going to happen.
The fiery crash, which saw the set of the show all but destroyed and a number of main characters die after being trapped under the rubble, is said to be the the most traumatic, well-produced event in the 50-year history of the show.
"Corrie" cast members are aware of this province's obsession with the show, said Karl Wells. Wells, a food writer, The Telegram's restaurant reviewer and host of Rogers Television's "One Chef, One Critic," has been watching the show since he was a teenager in his mother's kitchen.
For the past number of years, he's hosted live shows with prominent "Corrie" actors across the country, interviewing them on stage for about an hour before selecting audience members to ask their own questions.
"A friend of mine, Andrew Stuckless of Stroll Promotions, asked me if I'd help him do a live show in Halifax. He needed someone who was a 'Coronation Street' fan and who could do it, and I said yes," Wells explained.
"We got a great turnout and decided to continue it. At first we were bringing one cast member at a time, but now we try and pair them up."
Though the show is always a success, the turnout depends on the character - recent appearances by David Neilson and Julie Hesmondhalgh (Roy and Haley Cropper) and William Roache (Ken Barlow) drew thousands; an audience with Bruce Jones (Les Battersby), drew quite a few less.
At the time, Wells said, there was much controversy over Jones' departure from the show, and his longtime bad-boy character was perhaps just not that likable.
Fans often feel so attached to the characters that they don't mind ripping them to pieces, or asking the actors personal questions.
"Earlier this year we did the tour with William Roache. This was right after he had said in an interview with Piers Morgan that he had slept with 1,000 women - literally, like he gave the interview and hopped on a plane the next day," Wells said.
"When it was time to take questions from the audience, this little old lady stood up and asked, 'Did you really sleep with 2,000 women?' Not only was a little old lady asking him this, but she had doubled the number."
Roache, 80, told the woman the interview had been sensationalized, and the number taken a bit out of context.
Next month, Wells will host "Live and in Conversation" with Graeme Hawley and Jennie McAlpine, a.k.a. John and Fiz Stape, in St. John's.
The two characters have had an eventful past few months. Fiz gave birth prematurely to her baby girl, Hope, in the midst of the tram crash, while John, already having done jail time for kidnapping and gotten away with two murders, bludgeoned his female stalker with a hammer and attempted to make it look like she had been injured in the crash.
John, discovered by police, disappeared, leaving Fiz to take the punishment for his crimes, but he resurfaced during her sentencing and confessed to police on his death bed. He died in hospital after a car accident, in an episode that aired in Canada a couple of months ago.
McAlpine's been to St. John's before for a similar event; it'll be Hawley's first time in Newfoundland. Middleton, who's been to one of the live shows before, plans to go. Hiscock feels it's the same as peeking ahead at show spoilers.
"I guess some people are die-hard fans and I can see why they would want to go to a question and answer session with the actors, but it's not for me," he explained.
"Live and In Conversation" with Graeme Hawley and Jennie McAlpine will take place at Holy Heart Theatre June 10. Tickets are $40 for general admission, $65 to include a VIP meet and greet with the stars, and are available now at the Holy Heart box office, by calling 579-4424, or online at www.holyhearttheatre.com.
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