“I don’t care what they do in St Helens but in Salford, no-one puts soap next to bacon”
Despite being relevant to my interests on a number of levels (David Dawson, I’m northern, and the rest of that cast!), The Road to Coronation Street managed to slip by me when it was first broadcast on BBC4 in 2010. Though a long term fixture on ITV (this drama celebrated the 50th anniversary of the soap opera), it was the BBC that took up the reins of creating this origin story for the show, a journey that partly reflects that of its writer Daran Little, who worked on Coronation Street for many years as an archivist but is now a screenwriter for Eastenders, long its traditional rival. But oddities aside, it was a frenetic, energetic romp that I found highly engaging and found it to be over far too soon with its scant 75 minutes-long running time.
The programme tells the true life story of how Tony Warren, a young screenwriter struggling to make his name in the business at Granada Studios, who hit on the idea of creating a television programme that related directly to its audience by presenting a version of everyday working class life on a terraced street in Manchester. We see the genesis of Warren’s idea, conceived from so many details of his own upbringing; his fight to convince his Canadian-born boss to take a chance on it; their battle to persuade the Bernsteins, the studio owners, to put it on the air; and once agreed, the trials of casting it perfectly so that it met both the exacting standards of Warren’s ideal and the new realities of acting on television.
David Dawson makes a hugely appealing presence at the centre of this show with a brilliantly energetic performance which captures much of the intensity of a man pouring his absolute heart and soul into a project that couldn’t have been any more personal if he tried. His relationships throughout the film keep it motoring along nicely and are always engaging, whether with his faintly batty mother, Phoebe Nicholls in delicious form, Jane Horrocks’ industrious casting director, Christian McKay’s passionate producer or the delightful fag-haggery of Jessie Wallace’s Pat Phoenix.
Celia Imrie is also fun as Doris Speed who took on the role of Annie Walker and Lynda Baron has huge fun chewing the scenery as the much-feared Violet Carson. Having James Roache, son of William Roache who of course has played Ken Barlow since the very first episode, may have had a nice circularity about it but he comes across as a bit too bland of an actor to really make an impact. But this was the only slightly dull spot in what otherwise was one of my favourite things I’ve watched in recent months. I just can’t work out why it was so short.