Coronation Street airs first on-screen references to coronavirus – but does it feel right?

Johnathon Hughes on how COVID-19 came to the cobbles, with a dash of Corrie humour.

coronation street brian packham gary windass week 30

The mission statement of Coronation Street has always been to reflect everyday life in Britain, so it was inevitable the world’s longest-running soap opera would eventually acknowledge the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

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As of Friday 24th July, COVID-19 is officially part of life on the cobbles as the show aired the first on-screen references to the global crisis. Scripts written while filming was paused between March’s lockdown and the phased return in early June are now being broadcast, so viewers can see how the characters are managing in these unprecedented, uncertain times.

Thankfully, bar the odd clunky line (Gary Windass noting: “Feels like the whole world’s changed,” and Tim exclaiming “Yasmeen might have got that coronavirus!” after her collapse was far from subtle), it was all done true to Corrie’s spirit, through the humour and characterful dialogue the show is famous for.

It felt odd at first, with the references coming thick and fast in the first scene, but quickly became comforting to see our beloved the locals coping with the same strange rules we’ve all been grappling with. Here are six ways Coronation Street became Corona-Nation Street to navigate the new normal – and how effective it was.

Wildlife takes over Weatherfield

coronation street gary windass week 30

We’ve all noticed the increase of wildlife in urban areas since humans retreated in lockdown, and it’s been no different in the fictional Salford suburb. A running gag throughout the episode had several characters commenting on spotting various animals on their travels: Gary Windass saw a sly fox, Adam Barlow a cute, hairy otter, Ryan Connor a load of directionless ducks… Did writers pick species that somehow suited the character?

Moments of contemplation

“Maybe it’s all a chance for us to do better, to look after people better…” mused Gary as he waited for his takeaway order at Roy’s Rolls. Many of us have found ourselves taking a long, hard look at ourselves and our life choices in lockdown – even the local murderer. Bit late for a remorseful epiphany with one of his victims buried in the woods, but it’s an admirable notion.

New retail rules

coronation street brian packham gary windass week 30

Brian Packham keenly enforced the one-way system and social distancing rules in the Kabin with the familiar stickers and tape everywhere (no sign of Rita Tanner, keep an ear out for how the absence of older actors such as Barbara Knox will be explained). He even sprayed the coins Gary left for his newspaper with anti-bac cleaner. You can’t be too careful.

Deep clean regime

Uptight landlady Jenny Connor is clearly taking cleanliness very seriously, as she planned a full-scale deep disinfecting of the Rovers Return bar, and frantically had to find an alternative window cleaner when her regular cried off to care for a virus-stricken relative. Evidence of cleaning products and increased sanitisation was evident in most scenes, particularly the ever-present anti-bac in either gel or spray form. Maybe it will be nominated for Best Newcomer at next year’s British Soap Awards?

Keeping your distance

coronation street adam barlow gary windass week 30

Adam was grateful for the one metre-plus rule as he ordered nemesis Gary to keep away from him, and not just because he hates his guts, but as well as social distancing being part of day-to-day life it was hard not to spot where it had been employed by inventive directors trying to keep actors safely apart. Alya Nazir frantically shouted over to Ryan from the other side of the street to break the news of Yasmeen’s collapse, rather than actually crossing the road to tell him, while Brian’s car was used an effective barrier between him and Bernie Winter while they had a conversation about hunting for treasure in the woods (recapping unseen events off-screen that were clearly meant to have been filmed on location rather than in the safer environment of the exterior set).

Pandemic humour

You can always rely on Corrie to find the humour in any situation, and some wry pandemic-based gags and observations stayed the right side of appropriate. Tim Metcalfe tried to make polite conversation with irked wife Sally, and was met with the frosty response: “What do you want to talk about? Weather? Football? Social distancing in the workplace?” While goth waitress Nina Tucker told customer Gary when asked if she couldn’t wait for things to get back to normal that she’d “Never been a big fan of ‘normal’…” Trust Coronation Street to make sense of an ever-changing world with a sprinkling of wit and wisdom – just like it always does.

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