Coronation Street celebrates 60 years with high drama, warm wit and impressive ambition

Johnathon Hughes gives his view on the street's big birthday.

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Ken Barlow, shopping bags in hand, stood in the path of a digger to stop the demolition of Coronation Street by Ray Crosby and his cronies, his defiant stance symbolic of the character’s place as narrative guardian in the 60 year-history of the world’s longest-running soap opera.

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His sciatica flare-up prevented him from camping out overnight with his fellow protestors, but that was the only sign of ageing on display as Corrie celebrated its diamond anniversary in a cracking episode that was vibrant, vital, and not just reliant on nostalgia.

Not to say there wasn’t the familiar sense of reminiscence and warmth which runs through the veins of the show. Placing Ken as the every man railing against the establishment goes right back to the early days of the 1960s, when the young Mr Barlow was arrested in an anti-Vietnam war protest. Ken’s known for sticking it to the man and has always displayed strong morals – remember when he bemoaned the presence of a sauce bottle on the dinner table in episode one as a working class trope? Bit snobby, but at least it showed he had principles.

The hour-long anniversary episode’s central storyline, which saw menacing Geoff Metcalfe meet his maker as punishment for his coercive abuse of wife Yasmeen, also had echoes of the show’s past.

Corrie has been defined by the struggle of strong women like Yasmeen, and the abhorrent behaviour of manipulative men positioned to provide the female characters with the adversity which they will always overcome.

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Rita Fairclough narrowly avoided a speeding tram to escape Alan Bradley in 1989, Gail Platt survived being driven into a canal in a people carrier by Richard Hillman in 2003 – tonight brave Yas clung to the roof tiles of No.6 as her heinous hubby plummeted to his death, landing on his wife’s chicken coop below. This was poetic justice for the poultry, as he’d slaughtered one of the innocent animals as part of his marital mind games.

The collapse of Geoff and Yasmeen’s toxic marriage has been unsettling to watch, and resonated with the public in a way only a handful of soap storylines can hope to do. Giving it top billing in the anniversary makes it instantly memorable, and will surely elevate the plot to the iconic heights of Hillman’s watery grave, Alan’s tram slam and the Ken, Deirdre and Mike love triangle – nicely referenced in the Peter, Carla and Adam lusty triptych exposed in tonight’s instalment. Why can’t Barlow men hold down a relationship? We may never know.

What we do know is Coronation Street has lost none of its famous humour, even in the darkest times (quite literally, as a power cut caused by Abi’s digger debacle meant most of the episode was dimly lit).

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Geoff suddenly appearing with a bunch of flowers and a maniacal grin as he terrorised Yasmeen outside the flat, Rita and Audrey’s Rovers bants, Evelyn being in control of a loudhailer and Brian showing off his dancing as the diggers descended all raised a smile while the rooftop showdown raged on.

The stunt itself was a satisfying conclusion to the Metcalfe saga, and was even more impressive when you consider the COVID-induced constraints Corrie is currently under, as are all continuing dramas which have kept calm and carried on during the current crisis.

Production restrictions necessitated by a global pandemic haven’t got in the way of Corrie’s ambition and commitment to storytelling. Hats off to crew and cast for overcoming the logistics to even attempt such an exciting set piece. 2020 was always going to be an important year for Coronation Street as it headed towards its 60th, but no one could’ve foreseen the obstacles in the run-up.

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Despite what it’s faced, the show is on peak form. Introducing coronavirus to Weatherfield makes the fictional community appear more real than ever to its loyal audience, and taking advantage of the new protocols has seen a renewed concentration on character and dialogue, allowing the show to deliver a satisfying diamond celebration of six glorious decades.

Managing to pull that off in its most challenging year yet proves just how indestructible the street really is. Did you hear that, Ray Crosby?

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Visit our dedicated Coronation Street page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers. If you’re looking for more to watch check out our TV guide.