Coronation Street

Coronation Street’s focus on older characters is proving why soaps need to hold onto them

Coronation Street has a rich mixing pot of characters; they all need to be utilised (Picture: ITV/REX/Insertions.us)

When it comes to soap fans – or any TV fans for that matter – there is rarely anything that will be unanimously agreed on.

Whenever I correctly declare that the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is the best ever, I get aggressive pushback for some reason.

And yet, something recently united all Coronation Street fans as one; the announcement that Maureen Lipman is staying on as snippy battleaxe Evelyn Plummer has gone down a storm.

I defy you to find one negative comment about this positive turn of events; Corrie fans know what they want and what the show is, and Evelyn is solidly both.

The show’s audience has always been more skewed to an older demographic than others but, it surprises many to know that there is a very big portion of young viewers who stan the heck out of those cobbles.

It’s a very tricky business trying to cater for such a wide array of fans, given that it is consistently the most watched show on live TV, give or take a bit of sport here and there.

Amid award winning and boundary breaking storylines focused around the teenagers and young adults – from hate crime and body image through to eating disorders and sexuality – Corrie has not forgotten its older cast.

It’s a mistake that other soaps make in the chase for ratings and a younger audience (which they assume will carry them on to longer life), to relegate their older cast to the sidelines. Or not even have a significant number of characters over 60 to begin with.

But it’s not just audiences of ‘a certain age’ who like watching older characters at the forefront. We all know an acid tongued busybody like Evelyn.

We all have that aunt or gran who gets chaotically tipsy on sherry a la Audrey Roberts. And we all are proud to know a matriarch with the strength and soul of a lioness, not unlike the survivor that is Yasmeen Nazir.

They’re not just relatable, they are characters who can be aspirational too. If I am not able to put someone in their place with a firm ‘now look here, lady’ when I am Rita Tanner’s age, then I deserve nothing good in life.

But at the root of it all, they’re just great fun to watch.

Coronation Street has hammered the point home over the last year, with many of its most central storylines focused on the older generation.

Our cuddly oldies aren’t just there as a familiar blanket while the youths take all the hard work on.

The saga of Yasmeen’s abuse at the hands of her evil husband Geoff was arguably Coronation Street’s biggest storyline of the last five years.

Shelley King and Ian Bartholomew captured a horrified nation to shine a light on coercive abuse in harrowing but engaging episodes, proving that there is more to Shelley’s talents than Yasmeen setting up the local community centre.

Right now, Sue Nicholls is breaking many a heart with Audrey’s suicide attempt amid her family’s arguments around her will, and newcomer Stu is about to be the beating heart of the summer’s most prominent storyline.

Despite being soap’s longest running character of all time, there is never too long of a rest for Ken Barlow as his ex flame Wendy Crozier has returned to give him more material. And I am also giddy with excitement to see the gorgeous Rula Lenska back as the classy but sarcastic Claudia, another of Ken’s former flames.

These storylines are not at the expense of the other generations in the show; in fact what Coronation Street does so well is blend the character groups together.

Stu was introduced as a homeless man who helped a down on her luck Kelly and the pair have been BFFs since, bringing out sides to one another that have made them both layered.

And every character that Roy Cropper, played by the legend that is David Neilson, is paired with flourishes as a result.

Most notably, his touching and powerful support of niece Nina during the hate crime ordeal, has been lauded by viewers and critics alike, with awards flying in all over the shop.

Other soaps might feel like they are being savvy by placing the focus on the younger groups, but the stalwarts are the ones who have kept the show alive until now; the bread and butter of the genre.

Stu’s intriguing secret will be the central storyline of the summer (Picture: ITV)

By giving sublime actors wide ranging material from comedy to tragedy and everything in between, Coronation Street manages to hold onto long termers more than any other soap.

Emmerdale and EastEnders are lacking any real representation for older age groups. We have lost a lot of stalwarts over recent years – characters like Edna Birch and Betty Eagleton propping up the Woolpack bar for a gossip and a snipe really added that community depth to the Dales.

There is no coincidence that their most popular newcomer is late seventies, no nonsense Mary, the mum of Rhona.

With award nominations already at her door after mere months, EastEnders and Doctor Who icon Louise Jamieson is proving that there is an absolute appetite for all soap viewers to see every generation have meaty screentime.

EastEnders continues to struggle with the major gaps of lost matriarchs Peggy and Pat, and the departure of quintessentially EastEnders character Dot Cotton hit the show hard.

Characters like this are irreplaceable but the age range is not.

Evelyn in Corrie is key to this; the initial expectation that she will be the next Blanche Hunt was jarring as there is only ever going to be one Blanche.

But now that she is a character of her own, she carries off that necessary and familiar role in the Street while being different enough not be a rip off.

Coronation Street is getting it so right at the moment; Audrey, Stu, Yasmeen, Ken, Wendy and Evelyn being the key players while the show continues to dominate above its rivals proves what we all know.

Without the older generation, a soap is not complete. They bring the history and the familiarity that sets soap aside from any other programme.

Having such a vast array of characters to work with is no easy task; but Corrie is doing itself and its audience a huge favour by ensuring the older generation is an equal part of that mixing pot, rather being relegated to side parts.