Why Corrie is streets ahead...
Millions of fans tuned in this week to watch Tracy go down for murder. IAN O'DOHERTY reports on the enduring charm of Coronation Street
It started with a kiss... and ended with Charlie's brains on the carpet and Tracy doing 15-to-life for his murder.
In typical soap fashion, the Tracy/Charlie scenario needed an extra bit of spice. Step forward confused teenager David Platt.
David was prepared to perjure himself on Tracy's behalf and give her an alibi if she consented to sleep with him. Alas, it all ended in tears: David was embarrassed on the stand and Tracy never slept with him.
This week's conclusion to Coronation Street's long-running murder trial may have come as a welcome relief to soap fans who thought that the Barlow- Stubbs murder thread had run its course. But with 11.5 million viewers tuning in on Monday night for the verdict, the show proved once more that it is still the king of British soap operas.
First airing in December 1960 for what was only ever intended to be a short run, Coronation Street - which was originally called Florizel Street, but had its working title changed when a tea lady in the Granada studios remarked that 'Florizel' sounded like a type of disinfectant - has become something of an institution both here and in Britain.
But it hasn't always been plain sailing for the show.
When Brookside and Eastenders were at their peak in the late 1980s and early '90s, the residents of Weatherfield began to look very tired indeed. Where Brookside was premiering lesbian kisses and burying people under the patio, and Eastenders was treating us with the Den and Angie love saga, Corrie seemed as grey and dated as the Salford streets it replicates.
Makers Granada were under fire for letting the programme go so flat, and there were even rumours of its demise in an increasingly competitive, multi-channel market. But it withstood the tests - Brookside eventually became a parody of itself and expired with a Scouse whimper, while these days Eastenders seems to consist mainly of short, bald men shouting at each other until their faces become even redder than normal.
Corrie, on the other hand - and despite the somewhat gruesome nature of its recent headline-grabbing storyline - is much gentler. It is also supremely well written.
Perhaps the reason for its longevity and consistently high standard is that, unlike so many of its competitors, it doesn't take itself too seriously. In last Sunday's episode, for instance, a tearful Tracy and her mother, Deirdre (or "sexy specs" as Tracey derisively referred to her), dug into a bottle of wine and tried to find some sort of common ground before Deirdre was to give evidence.
Tracy claimed she was a victim in this case as she was in everything else that had gone wrong in her life - to which her mother replied: "You date raped Roy Cropper, you sold your daughter - and remember that time you took Ecstasy and ended up on a life support machine?"
It's this sense of level of playful self-awareness which elevates the show to levels which Eastenders could never hope to attain.
And while the Tracy/ Charlie story contained aspects of soap life which are depressing - bullying, domestic violence, attempted drowning, etc - producers and writers were careful to leaven it with humour.
And so, in the midst of the tensions of the trial, Ken and Deirdre still find time to bicker remorselessly about her increasingly hysterical cigarette-smoking habits, while Deirdre's mother Blanch continues to do her Madame Defarge impression, scowling at the jury from the public gallery in between munching on bites of her homemade sandwiches.
More so than any other soap, Coronation Street has invested heavily in memorable characters, which gives them an advantage over other soaps which are more plot-driven and constantly amping up the controversy levels.
That doesn't mean the show has been without its own share of media fury, of course. Under a new producer from 1999 to 2001, it began to lose all connection with its traditions. Humour became rare, and the programme descended into an issues-driven mess."
Toyah Batterbsy was raped, Sarah Platt was kidnapped by a stalker she met in an internet chat room and the programme began to resemble a bad episode of Eastenders with the Cockernee accents replaced by broader Manc tones.
The producer responsible was swiftly removed and his replacement ordered to increase the humour quotient. That didn't stop storylines involving people like the crowbar killer Richard Hillman, played with camp relish by Brian Capron. Hillman murdered numerous people, drove his new family mad and then tried to drown them all in a murder/suicide pact.
And yet, remarkably, he seemed to be enjoying the whole experience so much that the only thing he was short of doing was donning a black cape and top hat and delivering a soliloquy to the camera at the end of every scene.
Viewers who prefer their soaps to be a bit more cuddly than Corrie has recently been will be glad that the trial of Tracey Barlow is now over - actress Kate Ford rather gave the game away when she recently announced that she was leaving the programme anyway - and fans can get back to enjoying the genuine comedic skill of characters like Steve, Roy and Blanch.
Although Claire Peacock does seem to have become friendly with a potentially sinister Samaritans caller...
HILDA'S DEPARTURE - With her trademark curlers and pinny, Hilda Ogden was the classic hard-working class Northern woman. With a voice like breaking glass and a temper to match, she nevertheless became one of the soap's most loved characters. When she first left the show in 1987, 27 million people tuned in.
FREE DEIRDRE - Proving that Corrie is not just the most-loved soap, but that it is also loved by a lot of mad people, a genuine campaign began to secure Deirdre Barlow's release from prison after being falsely accused of fraud.
A tabloid newspaper orchestrated the campaign and questions were even asked in the House of Commons.
SEVERE GALE WARNING - They say you get the face you deserve by the time you're 40. If that's true then Gale Platt is guilty of some terrible things.
Perennially attracted to losers and madmen, she got to run the full gamut of her emotions (worried and furious) when her boyfriend tried to kill her and her family. Sadly, he failed.
THE LOVE TRIANGLE - While it seems hard to fathom, Deirdre was the object of a love triangle when crafty Mike Baldwin sought to win her from Ken Barlow's weedy clutches.
As one website succinctly put it about the three of them: "Barlow's third wife, Deirdre had an affair with Baldwin before going back to Barlow. Baldwin then met and married Barlow's daughter, Susan (by an earlier marriage), but broke up with her after she had supposedly had an abortion.
"A decade later it became apparent that she had not had an abortion, but had borne Baldwin's child. Finally she told her father, who told Deirdre, who told Dev Alahan, who told Mike Baldwin, who tried to get access to his son, Adam.
"In fleeing from him, Susan was killed in a car-crash, leaving Adam's father (Mike Baldwin) and his grandfather (Ken Barlow) fighting over custody."
See? Simple really.