On first glance this may look like an ordinary street stretching out before you but is actually a large photograph of an ordinary street stretching out before you. I was visiting the set of legendary UK TV soap Coronation Street which is why nothing seems real. The thing is, I don’t even think it looks real on TV. Even in the show it looks exactly what it is; fake. And, these days the whole programme is pretty fake.
Coronation Street has been on TV since 1960 and, in its day, was brilliant, ground-breaking drama but has, in recent years, followed the rest of the soaps into the realm of increasingly ridiculous storylines, melodramatic plotting and sensationalism in the desperate effort to stop its dwindling ratings disappearing completely. And the exterior set symbolises the whole sad process.
It is obviously a set when you visit it and obviously a set on screen. For a start… cobbles. No real streets have cobbles any more apart the Shambles. Also, there is never a single car parked on this street in spite of the fact that there are no double yellow lines. Every real street in Britain is crammed with cars parked bumper to bumper. Furthermore, there’s a pub, a cafe, a shop, a medical centre, a butchers shop, a cash converter shop thing, a chip shop, a hairdressers, a kebab shop, a garage, a Bistro (I mean I ask you! Seriously! A Bistro!!) and (get this!) a knicker factory… all crammed into one tiny street. This is so that every inhabitant of the street can work in the street and thereby have no use for a car (this is the only street in Britain where no-one owns a car). All of these places have been introduced in desperation in order to try to breathe fresh life into the long dead format. It was a long time ago that the lives of these characters last had any resemblance to the lives of real people.
They’ve got it so badly wrong. Viewers are turning, more and more, to so-called reality TV because the dramas have all turned into laughable pantomimes that bear no relation to reality. Some of the most popular programmes on British TV recently have been shows which are far more rooted in reality. The Royle Family is a show where nothing ever happens except a family sits around watching TV; hugely popular with viewers because it is honest and real. Gogglebox has been a hit for Channel Four; again no murders, no jilting at the alter, no affairs, no punch-ups, just honest conversations between recognisable archetypes. That is what soap operas used to do; hold a mirror up to the audience. They used to reflect real life. Now they are just pathetic melodramas.
Anyway, it was still interesting to take a look at the set as it’s pretty iconic after all these years. Production moved to a new Salford Quays site in December so the whole place is deserted in terms of cast and crew. Of course it’s far from deserted in terms of tourists in fact it’s crawling with them… but only until October this year when the tours end. After that, the future of the site is uncertain.