Long-suffering Fiz Stape is soon to hear the clank of the prison door as it closes behind her when, in a rather implausible development, she’s jailed for crimes she didn’t commit. This Monday’s episode will find luckless Fiz taking the rap for the misdeeds of her husband, John, the bungling killer who wouldn’t be able to reach down to tie his own shoelaces without knocking someone into the path of an oncoming car.
But Fiz isn’t the first innocent resident of the Street to be banged up. Last year, Gail was left looking like a caged fieldmouse after Joe’s plans to fake his own death went as wrong as they could possibly go (he died), while Deirdre was incarcerated back in 1998 for a fraud perpetrated by her then-boyfriend Jon Lindsay.
The Deirdre affair was, of course, the high watermark when it comes to miscarriages of justice. Viewers wore “Free the Weatherfield One” T-shirts and then-prime minister Tony Blair, acting like a deluded fan that sends money to ITV for Jack Duckworth to fix his broken glasses, got involved by calling for his home secretary, Jack Straw, to investigate this judicial failure.
As was always the intention, Deirdre was freed after a couple of weeks and Jon was punished for his nefarious activities. After all, the universe of the soap opera is a very moral one – innocence eventually gets recognised and the guilty either get their comeuppance or are destined to live out the rest of their lives in a state of perpetual misery.
But despite viewers recognising this truism (how many truly thought there’d be a Prisoner Cell Block H-style spin-off featuring Queen Bee Deirdre being persecuted by Weatherfield’s answer to Vinegar Tits?), it hasn’t stopped false-imprisonment storylines from being rehashed, each time with a wearying increase in sensationalism. During this process, characters have unfortunately been manipulated by scriptwriters in order to service the heightened drama.
Back when Deirdre was under lock and key, the charge was tied up with identity theft. Fast-forward to Gail’s case and it was a more headline-grabbing tale of accidental drowning mistaken for homicide thanks to dodgy evidence given by the unscrupulous Tracy Barlow. Now, we have Fiz standing accused of mass murder and being forced to hand her baby over to the Croppers for safekeeping.
What’s the betting that when her case reaches trial, John Stape will make a last-minute entrance in the courtroom, beard down to the ground, confessing that it was all his fault and screaming, “All I ever wanted to do was teach”? Fiz will be reunited with little Hope and make a tear-stained return to her sewing machine at the factory, where Sally will grumble in the corner that she should still be behind bars for marrying a pervert in the first place.
But where will this increasing hysteria end? With Norris falsely accused of lacing his rhubarb-and-custards with ricin? With Gary Windass extradited to the Hague? The makers of Coronation Street need to realise that we don’t need overcooked cliffhangers involving large-scale slaughter for our interest to be held. It isn’t necessary for the tension to be continually ratcheted up at the expense of the wry humour that made the programme so special in the first place. After all, plotlines are ten-a-penny but characterisation is priceless.