Brian Sewell – Daily Mail July 6, 2011
For fully half a century, Coronation Street has formed the nation’s view of Lancashire. Life is gritty; men are tough; in their devious ways women have achieved equality — if not downright dominance — and society is sterlingly working-class.
And perhaps life was like this in Oldham, Rochdale or Manchester, the metropolis of the north, when houses were back-to-back, the bathroom was the kitchen sink and the lavatory was a lean-to outhouse in the yard. It seemed realistic to me.
Today, however, the soap that was once pure Salford, that took the paintings of L. S. Lowry and brought them to life on TV, that fortified the great divide between the noble North and the soft and silly South of England, has departed from reality. Squalor, grime and poverty have been replaced by shoddy, tinsel-edged glamour.
Today, all the characters are showered, prinked and perfumed — particularly the men. Every hair is in place, every eyelash twice normal length, the cosmetics thick as plaster masks (only the ginger boy has spots) and the clothes are straight from Primark, Next and Topshop.
This Coronation Street is not good old grubby Lancashire, but just a turning away from Footballers’ Wives — a fantasy world of a working class with money to burn. Is this really the Lancashire of now, the new truth about the sturdy North? Are these well-washed denizens of the Street really the ordinary people there, leading their ordinary lives?
Is it true that the lives of heterosexual Mancunians are haplessly intertwined with transvestites, transsexuals, teenage lesbians and a horde of homosexuals across the age range? Is Manchester now the Sodom of the North?
Coronation Street has a gay scriptwriter, Damon Rochefort. Fine. Nothing wrong with that. Indeed, its very first writer, its inventor in 1959, Tony Warren, was gay and open about it when homosexuality was still illegal and the penalties dire — and had a tough time with homophobia.
But the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, and where once we had no gaiety at all, we now, perhaps, have rather too much.
Among the main cast, we have lesbian teenagers Sophie Webster and her girlfriend Sian Powers — whose relationship was revealed when they were caught in flagrante by Sophie’s mum Sally.
There’s also homosexual Sean Tully, the part-time barman in the Rovers Return, who is set to tie the knot with boyfriend Marcus Dent later this year in what will be the show’s first civil partnership.
And middle-aged cross-dresser Marc Selby, who was involved in a love triangle with hairdresser Audrey Roberts and her glamorous friend Claudia Colby. And factory worker Hayley Cropper, who became the first transsexual in a British soap when she appeared on screens in 1998.
There are also countless peripheral gay characters. Ted Paige, the father of long-suffering Gail Platt, revealed he was gay, while Ken Barlow’s long-lost grandson James, who appeared in the show last year, also turned out to be homosexual — much to the distress of James’s homophobic father Lawrence.
Clean-cut Todd Grimshaw, who cheated on his pregnant girlfriend Sarah Platt with a man in one of the soap’s most watched storylines, also pops up from time to time.
When confronted with this, the sane man may feel his nose is being rubbed in it.
There’s too much, not only of gay men — who are estimated to make up just 6 per cent of the population, but who dominate the storylines in the soap — but also of lesbians, bisexuals, the trans-gender community, cross-dressers and everyone else with some sexual quirk or fetish.
It is not just Coronation Street — EastEnders is at it, too, with, last month, boys in bed together, apparently naked.
The dear old egalitarian BBC protested that its policy is to portray gay and hetero- sexual relationships in exactly the same way, both equally suitable for pre-watershed viewing. But are they equally suitable?
Are soaps, watched by pre-pubescent children — who may still have some tattered remnant of innocence that we should cherish — really a proper platform for sexual propaganda and special pleading?
TV’s most notorious exposure of gay life at its most promiscuous was Queer As Folk in 1999 — a show that shocked viewers with its depictions of gay life in Manchester, including graphic sex scenes — but which was an unashamedly genuine assault on prejudice and ignorance.
Its title told parents loud and clear what it was about and properly it was broadcast after the watershed. Properly, it informed. Properly, it caused serious argument.
But the cause for reform might, as with Coronation Street, have been better served by intellectual debate.
So is there some connection between the nature of the new characters in Coronation Street and Damon Rochefort’s open homosexuality?
A new book, Primetime Propaganda by Benjamin Shapiro, argues that in California an exclusively liberal TV establishment shapes taste, style, politics and family life and attitudes, complaining that gay writers, directors and actors admit to promoting their own gay rights agendas.
It is what people do when they have position, power and patronage — they favour their own prejudices, be these of minority, race or sexual direction.
There are mafias in every field of activity — commercial, aesthetic and intellectual.
Scots favour Scots, Irishmen favour the Irish, Armenians exiled in the Twenties were notorious for assisting other Armenians, Jews once considered favouring Jews a duty to their race, and homosexuals have always favoured other homosexuals.
It’s how minorities — who are often, but not always, persecuted — gain strength and influence. The compulsion to favour is all but irresistible.
W e have constructed a society that surrenders to the will of minorities that shout. We see it among ethnic minorities and sexual minorities, in the disabled lobby and in the funding, patronage and promotion of the arts.
And giving these minorities a huge voice is fundamental to the philosophy of those in charge of TV. As a result, TV is far too politically correct. It fosters all minorities and gives them a disproportionate amount of airtime.
In every kind of programme — be it drama, news, debate or for children — in this land of equal opportunities, minorities are given the opportunity to punch above their weight.
This is precisely what has happened in Coronation Street — and the result is a minority preaching to us from some supposed moral high ground.
Long before the series was a glint in Tony Warren’s eye, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality was founded in Manchester by Allan Horsfall — a dear old duck — and it might reasonably be claimed it was he who established the city as a centre of homosexual unrest.
Coronation Street’s writer Damon Rochefort is continuing the tradition, widening its parameters to embrace the fringe interests of the transvestite and transsexual — but in doing this he upsets the balance of the Street and abandons the homely, traditional values that have attracted millions of viewers.
Some would argue this is the duty of the dramatist.
Coronation Street is not a real back street in Salford, and all its characters are as fictional as James Bond and Mary Poppins, if not quite so convincing.
Why shouldn’t Rochefort introduce disruptive characters and issues?
Why not bring in not just cross-dressers, but those who subscribe to leather fetishism, bondage and flagellation? They exist. But if this is to be the case, then we must address the issue of the watershed.
It is simple. If, in Coronation Street, the audience prefers an urban version of The Archers — agreeable, benign and mostly heterosexual — then the Street must revert to the past, abandon this campaigning and continue to be broadcast before the watershed.
If the audience responds to the proselytising and is happy for the street to swarm with gloomy lesbians and happy homosexuals engaged in relationships ranging from intensely monogamous to brief, shallow and promiscuous, then it must be broadcast after the watershed. ITV must make up its mind.
Alternatively, the audience, fearful of a descent into moral turpitude, must press a button and turn off the programme.