Coronation Street is 60 years old
Coronation Street has just been celebrating this milestone in its history. By TV standards it’s been around a long time, but how does Chaucer get in on the act? When was he writing? From the middle to late fourteenth century. Did his works include anything set in Manchester? No. What can he have had to do with our most popular soap opera? To answer that, let’s think about the beginnings of Corrie.
Coronations Street was groundbreaking
When it started, it was different from almost everything on TV because it was about ordinary people – northerners at that. They were people many of us could identify with. No superheroes. Elsie Tanner. played by Pat Phoenix, showed that a working-class woman could be glamorous and sexy, not just the unreal Hollywood screen goddesses. (I apologise to any of those who consider themselves real and ordinary. I hope they get my point.) The stories were about everyday things. The characters were more important than the plots. It showed that all our lives are interesting in their way, not only the great and the good.
How was Coronation Street like The Canterbury Tales?
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales sometime in the 1380’s. They were about a variety of characters on a pilgrimage to… yes, Canterbury! A monk, a knight, a miller, a (middle-class) wife. Each told a story to entertain the others on the journey. They were ordinary people and they told tales of everyday life. Before then, almost all literature had been about warriors, magic, miracles, dragons, heroic deeds Think about the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Chaucer showed that ordinary people and everyday stories could be interesting. He also produced a good deal of humour, much of it earthy.
What about the language of Coronation Street?
Before the advent of The Street, it was the received wisdom (or do I mean received foolishness?) in the BBC and ITV that regional accents were only acceptable in comedy, if that. TV executives though most of us would be unable to understand the speech of a region other than our own. How did they think we coped when we travelled? Obviously, you need to ensure clear diction and to avoid extreme accents, but how parochial did they think we were? By the way, they broadcast lots of westerns at that time, and we all understood American accents.
Did Chaucer write in local dialects?
Chaucer wrote mainly in the language of the Home Counties. In his day that did not mean ‘posh’ any more than you would consider a person from Kent or Essex to be posh today. The upper classes do not seem to have developed their own accent by the 1390’s. However, he did give some of his characters local accents, but I don’t think that included any Mancunians.
What was really groundbreaking about Chaucer is that he wrote in English! He was not really the first, but he was the first writer to become popular and acclaimed in English. In the Middle Ages most poets and serious writers wrote in Latin or French. That was the equivalent of posh English. English was for shopping lists or instructions to those of your servants who could read. Geoffrey was making it respectable to use your native tongue.
Who wrote Coronation Street?
There have been many writers over the years, but Tony Warren created it. It was not Geoffrey Chaucer, but I wonder if he had read him to get his inspiration. I find it sad that the British Establishment lost sight of all Chaucer demonstrated and reverted to ignoring or rejection the ordinary and the regions. I knew someone who studied English at Bristol University and went on to do a further degree at Cambridge. She had done a lot of drama at Bristol and tried to join a Cambridge dramatic society. She was told she could not hope to do Shakespeare because of her northern accent! That was in the 1960’s, about the time Tony Warren was battling to break through.
What about me?
I hope you find my writing readable and enjoyable, as I try to make it seem authentic for the period I am writing about, without making it too hard to read. I try to make my characters realistic. My stories vary: some are more mundane than others, but the most unusual are generally taken from the pages of history. To get a taste, try my collection of short stories, Geoffrey’s Historical Shorts. I said a little about them in a previous post and I hope they inspire you to try one of my novels. Or all of them!