Susan Morrison: My issue with reality in soaps

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Once upon a time, our government laboured under the belief that the populace was chronically stupid, and given to doing silly things that could affect themselves and their offspring.

To address these issues, they instructed film makers to produce short dramas warning parents not to bathe their children in water that was too hot (I had nightmares about that one), or to discourage boys from playing near overhead electric cables (I had nightmares about that one, too), or to warn about the dangers of left-overs that had gone off – I didn’t have nightmares about that since the idea of “leftovers” didn’t apply to us. Mum made dinner, we ate dinner. That pretty much was it.

These bizarre little films would pop up on the telly without warning to give you things to worry about and what to do about them.

These were the public information films. Early versions featured terribly posh people, later lampooned by Harry Enfield. Richard Massingham, the actor who made those first films, made the Queen sound like an extra in Eastenders. This gave the impression that the upper classes were in a constant froth about the peasantry running amok with week-old fish fingers.

We don’t seem to have the public information film any more. We don’t really need them. We have soap operas.

They give us things to worry about now.

I don’t even watch Coronation Street, but even I know that poor Hayley, suffering from terminal cancer, decided to take her own life. I know this because everyone is talking about it.

It’s even being reported in the newspapers, as if Hayley is a real person and not a character played by the charming Julia Hesmondhalgh, who is alive and well.

This was an “issue”, so everybody gets in on the act, from the Samaritans to Nadine Dorries, a Tory so loathsome she went into the jungle and nothing bit her.

Poor Hayley would appear to have lead a fairly issue-heavy life, including actually being Harold before changing gender, becoming a foster mum, going on the run with a lad to save him from an abusive father to being the object of a deranged ex- who tied her up and threatened her at gunpoint.

How many issues can one person have? And why must everyone in a soap opera have issues anyway?

Who knew that a single street in Greater Manchester – and a small square in the East End of London – could be awash with drug addicts, serial killers, murderers, runaway teenagers, arsonists, blackmailers and people buried under patios?

Early Corrie had its saucy scenes

IT wasn’t always like this, though. I remember my granny avidly following Corrie back when it was black-and-white. She was a fan of Violet Carson, alias the formidable Ena Sharples, with whom she felt she had much in common, although she was baffled by Mrs Sharples’ penchant for milk stout, consumed in the snug of the Rovers Return. We used to watch it together. For years I was under the impression that Annie Walker, landlady of the Rovers, was the Queen.

There were no issues, as I recall. There was drama, of course, particularly when Ena clashed with that strumpet hussy Elsie Tanner, but it was drama fashioned out of the details of lives lived like ours.

They screened the very first episode of Coronation Street a few years back. The issue? One young buck of the street had returned from university and was horrified – probably needed a therapist – because his mum and dad were having their dinner with the sauce bottle on the table.

No-one put up a helpline number while a comforting voice assured viewers that “if you or anyone you know has been affected by your family exhibiting unwanted working class behaviour, advice and help are

available . . .”

Of dark and looney water

Mind you, by the 70s the production values of the public information films were seriously beefed up to make entire mini-movies, including a seriously terrifying one involving a black-clad spectre hovering around lakes and rivers, waiting to drag silly boys (boys again) to horrible deaths under the water.

It was voiced by no less an actor than everyone’s favourite villain, Donald Pleasance. And it scared just about everyone who saw it half to death.

To this day, I get nervous passing a particularly deep puddle.

Treasure could give you a turn

WHAT else is lurking in the attic of the National Gallery, I wonder? Perhaps, in a box next to the hiding place of the lost Rembrandt drawing, they may find the original hairnet sported by the mighty Ena Sharples?

An expert says the tiny pen-and-ink drawing could be worth a fortune, which could be just enough to cover a family of four getting wee hurl on the Big Wheel at the next Christmas market – if the fare goes down.