Great Moments In Pop – The 90s Part 2.

This one is interesting because it features a unlikely combination that seems rather odd even now. One notable thing about pop music over the years is just how many careers have been launched by soap stars, with varying levels of success. For a while, people who had appeared in Australian soaps such as Neighbours including Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, did much better than any of the British ones.

By the mid-90s, there had been barely any hit singles released by cast members of Coronation Street. Although after some of the major changes in 1997, there were many more younger cast members, and some of them had a go. These included Tracy Shaw (who played hairdresser Maxine), who released a cover of Lonnie Gordon’s “Happenin’ All Over Again” in 1998 that didn’t make the Top 40, Adam Rickitt, (who played Nick), who had a Top Ten hit in 1999 and also appeared on the cover of Smash Hits, and this one.

In July 1998 Matthew Marsden (who was described by one pop music magazine as “Matthew Marsbar”) who played hunky mechanic Chris Collins (which coincidentally is the real name of Frank Skinner, who did have a chart-topping single in 1998 with “Three Lions ’98”), released his first single “The Heart’s Lone Desire”, which just missed the Top Ten, but it’s the next one that has the most interesting story.

In November 1998 his second and final single, a cover of “She’s Gone”, was released, that was first made famous by Hall And Oates in the 70s. This was a duet with Destiny’s Child, who at this point were still on their original line-up of a quartet, they’d only had one Top Ten hit in the UK, and this was credited to “Matthew Marsden Featuring Destiny’s Child”. About a year or two after this, they would be transformed into high-profile chart-topping superstars. dc

But it is very odd looking back to think that as far as pop music goes, for about five minutes, some bloke off Coronation Street was more famous than Beyoncé. “She’s Gone” reached only no. 24, and not long after this, Matthew was dropped by his label, which was a real shock, although probably only if you read Inside Soap. I’m not entirely sure that his album was ever released. He has gone on to appear in some films though. And the video doesn’t seem to be online at the moment either, what’s that about?

More TV Memories – 60 Years Of Coronation Street.

As this month is the 60th anniversary of the launch of Coronation Street there has been a lot of celebration and reminiscing, so I thought that I would take a look back at another episode. The one I have chosen was recently repeated on ITV3, and although it didn’t seem like it at the time, this was actually a rather significant episode in the history of the long-running soap as things would never be the same again.

1996 wasn’t really a great year for Coronation Street. This was a time when although the cast were rather popular, they were beginning to age somewhat, and there wasn’t really much happening. I remember commenting at the time that the episodes weren’t exactly packed with excitement. Ratings were still good but they were much lower than about a decade earlier. In November, a fourth weekly episode was added, which didn’t exactly come at a useful time. You didn’t need to be a TV Quick critic to know that this entertainment had become moribund. vlcsnap-00074

In 1997 there was a rather crucial moment in the show’s development when Brian Park became the new producer, who would go on to cause a stir by making several big changes. There were a few indications of what was to come before this when a stuntwoman… er, I mean Judy’s mum Joyce was rather randomly fatally run over by Tony, and there was also what was modestly described by Jim as “your man with the shooter”, when the McDonald family were held hostage in their own home by some gun-waving gangster, before Jim saved the day. Well we’ve all been there. vlcsnap-00079

I have decided to review the episode that was shown on ITV on 14 March 1997, as this was the last one before Park was credited as producer and tried to move with the times. Looking back, it can now be classed as the end of an era, arguably the final “old-school” episode of the show. As far as this episode goes, some ongoing stories that weren’t incredibly exciting were rather abruptly ended, as if to say “that’s boring, stop it now”. vlcsnap-00076

Firstly, Ken was dating the headmistress at his school, Mrs Jeffers. In a meeting he is told that she has resigned and “she’s already gone, and she won’t be coming back”, so that developed no further. And Claire and her daughter Becky who were living with Des suddenly pack their bags too. Becky even says “so it ends? Just like that?”, which was an seemingly unintentional comment on the situation unfolding behind the scenes. Des did that parachute jump all for nothing. vlcsnap-00080

The changes after this reminded me a little of what Matthew Bannister did to BBC Radio 1 in the mid-90s, making the decisions to remove several long-serving and popular hosts because of a much-needed modernisation, even though it was going to be difficult. A sign of Park’s ruthlessness was to quickly get rid of the character of Derek Wilton. Although he and his wife Mavis were a popular double-act with viewers, their stories of the past year or two had consisted of little more than silliness about wellies, gnomes, and budgies. vlcsnap-00078

By the end of 1997, there had been several other cast departures, and younger characters were introduced, with more “hunks” including the recasting of Nicky, and the dysfunctional Battersby family moving in. Other changes included divorces and affairs between cast members that seemed to have been determined by picking names out of a hat at random, and there’s only so many times you can drop an exploding tram on the Rovers Return. vlcsnap-00081

Park definitely did change the show, even it did begin a slow detachment from reality, which led to some people calling the following era “the serial killer years”. If The Weatherfield Recorder (which was at the centre of one of the dullest ongoing stories of the mid-80s, as it mostly consisted of Ken sat at a typewriter and fiddling with his glasses trying to think of stories) was still going, they definitely wouldn’t have any trouble filling their pages now! vlcsnap-00075

Having completed his upheaval, in 1999 Park then went off to become the producer of Channel 5’s soap Family Affairs. Although the ratings were stable, they weren’t huge, and the show was attracting little media attention. So guess what, he decided to blow up the Hart family, the centrepoint of the show since that launch a couple of years earlier, and make a fresh start. But this time it made practically no difference to the show’s fortunes. Oh dear.

More TV Memories – Coronation Street.

Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-present)

I have been thinking for a while about whether to review this show or not, because it is not exactly one that people won’t remember, and its story is well known, indeed it’s one of the most successful shows in the history of British television. So I have decided to do something a little different, and pick an episode from YouTube to review, along with the adverts featured, and some of my memories. Having already reviewed some less successful soaps including Family Affairs and Night And Day, I thought that I might as well now review one of the big ones.

Although I have watched Coronation Street a lot over the years, I suppose that I am more fond of BBC1’s rival soap EastEnders, partly because it is set in practically the part of London where I live (so proud about that), and I might review that show one day too. Coronation Street (a Granada Production for ITV) has been going for almost 60 years now, and so many famous characters have come and gone throughout the years. The episode that will be reviewed was shown on ITV on 31 July 1985 (episode 2,539, fact fans). This is a little before my time as they say, but I’m sure that as ever there’s plenty of action happening on those cobbles in Weatherfield.

This episode was recorded in the Yorkshire region, and firstly there’s a trail for ITV’s other long-running soap (since 1972) Emmerdale Farm (although I have never been a regular viewer of that one, so I don’t plan to review that). There are also trails for sitcom Duty Free at 8pm, followed by sketch show The Funny Side (including Derek Griffiths having a trousers mishap) at 8:30pm, so the comedy begins later on YTV at 8:30pm (boom-boom). vlcsnap-00293

YTV teases the episode by telling us that tonight Terry gets a mixed reception when he makes Andrea an offer. YTV never had in-vision continuity during this time, and their announcers were the poshest-sounding outside of the BBC. I’m fairly sure that the announcer introducing the episode is the rather unenthusiastic-sounding Paul Lally (who in his career as an actor also appeared in a few episodes, maybe he was disappointed that this wasn’t one of them). vlcsnap-00292

I know that people get annoyed when when people say things like “if they did this story nowadays they’d blow up half the street and someone would be killed off”, let’s just see what’ll happen as we meet the characters (this was back in the days when there were only two episodes a week and the cast was much smaller). Was this a golden era for the show? After the opening sequence, the first scene is with Kevin and Hilda. We also see Ken and Deirdre, maybe they are debating whether they will get married or divorced for about the 17th time, and wondering who is playing Tracy this week. vlcsnap-00525

This was also in the days when scenes on location were still on film, so we go to the Duckworths where Jack is taking a look at his pigeons. They’ve gone off their food, and Vera thinks that Jack’s gone deaf. We also have one of the final appearances of the little-remembered Clayton family, who came and went in barely six months and made little impact with viewers. I thought that one of them was looking into the camera at one point, maybe it was just bad acting. vlcsnap-00526

We also visit Alf’s corner shop, where you are welcome to buy a box of Corn Flakes at any hour of the day. Leather jacket-wearing Mike meets Hilda, and we also visit The Rovers Return which looks rather different to how it does now. Bet and Betty are behind the bar and customers include Vera and Mavis (insert Les Dennis reference here), going on about flamingos hopping about on one leg. Emily takes Tracy ice-skating, but not before Ken reveals some big news, and that’s the end of part one. vlcsnap-00527

The adverts include Persil, Pizza Hut, and Sodastream featuring a young Tony Slattery (who eventually appeared in five episodes of Coronation Street himself), and it’s rather funny, definitely as good as Just A Gigolo. We also have an great example of a type of advert you don’t see much of nowadays, and I didn’t expect it to turn up in this primetime slot – the low-budget local advert. It’s for the car magazine Yorkshire Motor Trader, only 20p. Now it’s time for part two. vlcsnap-00530

And Alf’s got nothing concrete to go on. Jack is now in the Rovers dreaming about mattresses. Tracy has come back from the ice-skating and she didn’t fall over, so she is given an ice-lolly as a treat. Maybe Deirdre will get her those flippin’ ice-skates one day. Emily has to leave quickly as Norman wants his supper. The cliffhanger is Alf insisting that he won’t go over £14,000 for Hilda’s house, cue the credits and the famous theme music. vlcsnap-00537

After this, there are some more adverts including Charlie Brown’s (a tennis tournament), Rowntree’s wobbly jelly, Granada (as in the TV shop), and Persil. I remember I used to watch Coronation Street when it went three episodes a week, then four episodes a week, but I began to lose track around the time it went five episodes a week (along with the increasingly over-hyped stories), and I’m not too familiar with the current cast. vlcsnap-00528

I also remember watching the repeat runs of Coronation Street on satellite channel Granada Plus in the late-90s (beginning at 1976 and ending at 1994) which helped me to learn a lot about the older days, and another repeat run (this time starting at 1986) recently began on ITV3. There have been plenty of episodes released on VHS and DVD, and there is also a comprehensive website with lots of information and trivia. I know that viewers have always felt this it has more warmth and charm than any other soap, and I’m sure that it’ll remain a TV institution for many years to come.