TELEVISION plays may come and television plays may go, but Coronation Street (ITV) goes on for ever. It is such an institution that it seems almost impudent to write about it. Like the rocks formed by the Ice Age, the aura of immense antiquity and largerthan lifeness commands respect.
It deserves respect for other reasons too. Some of its scripts are equal to anything being written for more highly-rated prestige spots like Love Story (ITV Tuesday 9.00). The relationships actually seem genuine. Elsie Howard and her wretched husband Alan, struggling to keep their marriage going, are totally convincing. Elsie's refusal to give up even in the face of odds that would drive a lesser woman to a bottle of sleeping pills is not sentimental or false heroic, but as encouraging as life itself. The programme as a whole has a sort of integrity which other soap-operas. notably Crossroads and General Hospital (ITV 2.00 weekdays) miss by a mile.
Why is this? Partly because the occupations and types of the characters are so varied in Coronation Street. Because it was a British pioneer it wasn't so heavily influenced by American formula people and situations. There isn't much that you can do with doctors and nurses that doesn't have heavy overtones of Doctor Kildare and EmergencyWard Ten. The sheer unreality of the hospital setting in which there are always enough nurses who have so much time on their hands that they can talk incessantly about the doctors they are in love with (when they aren't telling their Ward Sisters how the hospital should be run) combined with the obvious robust health of all the patients makes it quite un. believable. It must be escape entertainment then. If so it should entertain.
Crossroads has the same unreality problem as General Hospital plus a melodramatic turn. Car accidents. fraud. deaths, alcoholic wives horrors pile on horrors with briskness and artificial cheerfulness, like a Greek tragedy written by a Ward Sister from General Hospital.
The gulf between a slick superficial treatment of serious subjects and a good play on the same themes was made very clear by Allan Prior's study of a 50-yearold son living with his almost senile mother (Is Nellie Dead? 13BC2 Wednesday). The theme was frustration and loss. The mother in her mental decay revealed with pathetic clarity the absurd preoccupations of her life: money, outliving her sisters, not going to the 'workhouse' not because she didn't want to be in a home, but because of the damage to her pride that it -would entail.
Her son treats her with a consideration that is fraying as his life becomes more and more futile. He can't write and earn money because of her incessant, repetitive questions. 'Is it Thursday?' 'Have I had my pension yet?' Do I get a pension?! 'Is Nellie dead?'
In order to take her in and look after her. he had to break off a homosexual relationship with a young man who has since died. He holds imaginary conversations with the young man.
His mother rambles on about' her relationship with the only man she has loved. It is a bleak view of life, but minutely observed. even to the combination of great cousideration and politeness and love with occasional outbursts of hate which are inevitable in a man looking after his mother in such con ditions.
"I'm going to put her in a home.he says. "But I thought you were so devoted to her.answers his fantasy picture of his dead boyfriend. "Well. I'm not."
But he is devoted to her. That is the problem. She has no affection for him. Clearly, all she ever thought about was herself: her pride, her money, what the neighbours thought. She has destroyed his life by her demands and her inability to love and care for other people. Yet he is devoted to her. He can't escape it.
PROBLEM It was an excellent play, another look at the problem of the old. We take it for granted that the old have a right to demand sacrifices from their children. It is part of the sanctity of family life. But sacrifices in order to be fruitful should be mutual.
Beatrice Lehmann as the mother gave a chillingly accurate performance. It's been a time for the very old and the very young. The only other performance fo approach hers was that of Pheona McLellan's as the sevenyear-old in Guy Cullingford's play Sarah (ITV Sunday). Sarah is a child misunderstood by everyone around her. But as her relationship with a retired Civil Servant develops he begins to realise that this child, friendless, called lazy and backward by her school, is actually exceptionally bright. The play was competent enough, but the child's performance was astonishing. Particularly astonishing considering the general Standard of child actors on television at the moment. War and Peace (BBC2) is plagued by children who stumble over their lines while staring terrified into the camera.
"Daddy I'm glad you're back from the war.said Andrei's fiveyear-old son as if he was reading a rhyme for Heinz baked beans.
Seven and half million people watch This is Your Life ([TV 7.00 Wednesday) and 1 have been trying to work out why. The subjects are usually characters of enormous dullness, their old friends / relations / ballet teachers/football coaches are even duller. and their lives seem to have been one long morass of non-events. Perhaps the viewers are waiting for the moment when the production team finally slips up and produces the one person in the world that the subject hoped he'd never see again.