The quiet announcement of Deirdre’s unremarkable death by Bev Unwin was Corrie drama at its kitchen sink best. As was the awkward passing of her glasses, the bitter crying in the back alley and the dazed pub announcement. The ghostly wind blowing open the doors of the rovers only cemented Deirdre’s role as a constant discerning presence on the street, and I don’t think there could be many viewers left unmoved.
Growing up, I got a good deal of my ideas about what adulthood would entail from watching Coronation Street. I understood the various plotlines that could unfold within a relationship which could include anything from fraudulent identities to attempted murder. I knew how to spot a wrong ‘un or a bad egg. I felt that if push came to shove then I could most definitely pour a pint over someone’s head. To this day whenever I envision a strong woman, my mind doesn’t instantly go towards CEO power women, but to the archetypal Corrie Landlady who wields the power to bar unruly patrons from the Rovers and to delve out pearls of world weary advice to barmaids.
My life has, unsurprisingly, turned out to be much quieter than the tangled plotlines of Coronation Street. Moreover, men have turned out to be much less dastardly to me than soapland warnings led me to suspect. However, I believe that years of watching Corrie has irreparably invaded my psyche, my philosophy, the manner in which I enjoy various “boiling pots” being left to simmer in a film or a novel. Coronation Street exists in a world where loose ends eventually come together only to be inevitably undone all over again. A semi nostalgic world where despite bitterness and grief and disappointment the central, loved characters remain resolutely unbreakable.
It is the personal world in which Corrie exists and is therefore more or less run by iron strong female characters who get the funniest lines, the filthiest slanging matches and ultimately carry much of the emotional weight of the drama. Indeed, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to describe Corrie as a goldmine for those interested in discussing working class feminism. Corrie, and especially Corrie women, embodies so much homespun Mancunian wisdom and warm hearted northern wit. We watched Deirdre’s whole life unfold on a grimy backstreet terrace in cramped living rooms and pub booths. In half an hour slots, we saw her fall in and out of love She was a mouthy teenager, a young single mother and later a stuffed marrow making Grandmother. She wasn’t glamorous or rich, and neither was she polished. She wasn’t defined by a career or high status which is the modern marker of identity. She smoked like a chimney, made terrible pottery and could easily be charmed and led astray. She could have been your auntie or the chatty one at work, and that was why she was so wonderful.
The 1983 wedding of Ken and Deirdre gained more viewers on ITV than did the more royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Fans cheered when the announcement that Ken and Deirdre reunited after Deirdre’s affair with Mike Baldwin was broadcast on the scoring board: Ken 1: Mike 0. Coronation Street was considered much more radical during its early years for its frank depiction of ordinary working class life. However, it is sad to note that, in many ways, things haven’t changed too much. Our society doesn’t celebrates the lives opinions of real northern class women like Deirdre Barlow. How many working class women do we see depicted in television drama in a non patronizing way? How many become as an iconic as Deirdre? For this she should be remembered, celebrated and discussed.