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Coronation Street EXCLUSIVE: Interview with producer Stuart Blackburn

soaps-coronation-street-producer-stuart-blackburnIt’s a big year ahead for Coronation Street and I was lucky enough to get a massive insight into what’s afoot when I was invited to a press screening of upcoming storylines as well as a chance to meet some of the up and coming as well as established Corrie stars.

As well as chatting to the various cast members about what is to come for their alter egos, I was also able to have an extended conversation with the man behind it all, Stuart Blackburn and, judging by what he says, 2015 could well be Corrie’s year. Be warned, there are SPOILERS aplenty.

Await no further, here’s a full transcript of what he had to say:

Tell us about the bus crash…
2014 was an action packed year for Corrie and early 2015 is focused on a spectacular crash. It isn’t just a stunt for stunt’s sake, let’s get that out of the way, it’s a turning point for a lot of characters. Everyone involved in filming these dramatic episodes is very proud of the end results.

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Coronation Street: All about Steve

17_11_coro_steve_steph_michelle_01I’ve been where Steve McDonald is right now; and it is, without a doubt, the worst thing that I have ever felt. Even though it is estimated that a massive 1 in every 3 of us will experience first hand some form of mental health issue, there is still an alarming amount of education and awareness required on the matter of depression and anxiety.

That is why I couldn’t be more proud of Britain’s top soap, Coronation Street, for tackling this issue head on with the sensitivity, honesty and realism that it is currently expressing. Those millions of you who read my soap musings both here and on social media will know that I have been fairly critical of Coronation Street over the last few months. But where it has been lacking in other areas, it has more than redeemed itself in this particular storyline.

For quite some time, and very subtly, we have seen Steve struggle with his moods to the point where he currently finds himself at; thoroughly sapped of the joy and energy that the character is famous for. Simon Gregson is playing a blinder of a performance with this story he’s been given; it is a huge challenge to portray accurately but I embargo-18-nov-coronation-street-steve-2recognise so much in Steve. From the blocking out of important everyday worries to the emptiness in his eyes and the lost expression on his face, Steve is a broken man. And yet, the regular comments and tweets I am seeing from people saying ‘What is even wrong with Steve?’ and ‘Steve needs to man up and pull himself together’ proves that many people still don’t really understand the horrendous effects depression can have on the sufferer and on the people around them.

The people tweeting ‘Carla has been through much worse and you don’t see her going on like Steve.’ are not being malicious or tactless; it’s just that there is still a genuine stigma around metal health that perceives people who are overcome by depression as being weak. As Corrie is setting out to prove, that is far from the case. Steve isn’t just being miserable or feeling sorry for himself; he is ill. And that illness is preventing him from feeling any pleasure or hope in life. He is being swallowed by a darkness that really cannot be described in words and it is heart-rending to watch.

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Coronation Street: Sally reads too much into this one…

Coronation_Street_spoilers__Sally_to_accuse_Tim_and_Anna_of_having_an_affair__reveals_Sally_DynevorThank heavens for small mercies: some Corrie episodes that I actually enjoyed! This is becoming a rare treat these days but last night’s double was an entertaining hour of soap.

Anything that focuses on the brilliant Sally Webster, played by Sally Dynevor, is automatically half way there. I make no secret of the fact that I adore Sally; she is classic Corrie and always delivers, whether it’s in her eager to please factory scenes, her outrageous snobbery moments or her down to earth kitchen sink drama, she is undoubtedly one of the show’s strongest characters.

Pairing her with Tim was a stroke of wonder; the pair are fantastic together and I love the added layer of making Kevin and Tim mates. Corrie could have easily gone down the cliche path of making Kevin and Tim sworn rivals but the fact that Kevin is a somewhat awkward gooseberry in the relationship is inspired. Even though the rushed explanation into how Tim was able to message Faye wasn’t really satisfactory, the story of his inability to read is a strong one, even if it did crop up out of nowhere.

I am glad that the signs are showing that it was not a mere plot device to get Sal to make a fool of herself and I hope that Corrie see this one through properly and with the attention and sensitivity it warrants. Tim has become an endearing character and the viewers root for him so this development, if done right, can only be a positive one.

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Our Man’s Soap Roundup: What I’ve loved and loathed

1413115878831_wps_6_FROM_ITV_n_nSTRICT_EMBARGIt’s been an eventful few weeks in soapland of late; with the return of gobby Cilla to Coronation Street, the return of slimeball Robert Sugden to Emmerdale, the return of sinister panto-villain Nick Cotton to Walford and the return of the grumpy Dylan to Casualty but nobody can say that the soaps rely on old faces to bring in the viewers. Oh, no, there has been much, much more going on besides. Unfortunately not all of it has been good. Here’s my every-so-often roundup of what’s hot and what’s not in the world of soaps…

What I’ve LOVED

More screentime for Gaynor Faye AKA Megan Macey (Emmerdale)
soaps-emmerdale-6978-2If there ever was a soap actress who was criminally underrated then it is the Dales’ Gaynor. She has proven over the last few weeks that, when given the material, she can consistently deliver some of soap’s strongest performances. Megan’s anguish in the wake of Robbie’s demise, her bitterness against Leyla upon discovering her business partner’s trysts with Jai and her viper-sharp cattiness towards Charity have all been sublime to watch. Megan is a character whose layers are only truly starting to be noticed and, the more I discover about her, the more I enjoy watching her. The tough exterior has long hidden a likeable vulnerability and I hope Gaynor and Megan both stick around for a long time to come. She’s the only one who can keep the Macey name alive!

Steve McDonald’s depression story (Coronation Street)

coronation-street-steve-mcdonald-402468Could there have been a better candidate for such an important story than Steve McDonald, played by the fantastically versatile Simon Gregson? Taking a character who is often perceived as a joke and who has a tendency to mess around and be light hearted and show that they, as much as anyone else, can be susceptible to the demons of depression has been a worthwhile writing decision. The story is honest and non-sensational; it shows a man reaching his midlife crisis in a very difficult way; finally succumbing to the stress he is constantly under. It accurately captures the mistakes and misconceptions those around someone with depression can make and Simon himself is making a heartbreakingly perfect job of portraying a man at the end of his tether. While it’s sad to see Steve in this way, it’s providing incredible drama and it is important for viewers to go along on this journey with such an established character as, at some time in our lives, almost all of us will have brushes with depression in some way. Well played on this one, Corrie.

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UK Soaps: A year where being a beautiful young woman meant death

EmmerdaleAnyone who is anyone in the UK British soap magazine world knows that today, the results of the Inside Soap Awards 2014 are revealed, about half a year since they were launched. I call them the Inside Soap Awards 2014, but I prefer to know them as ‘The ‘Which Soap has the most dedicated multi-voting fans awards 2014.’

Either way, it’s got me thinking (dangerous stuff, I know) about the last year in the world of soap. Here, I reflect on a year of underwater escapades, murders of beautiful young women, collapsing attic floors, rooftop death dramas, dramatic house fires and Steve McDonald.

I know, given the fact that I write here about all soaps, that I should display some degree of impartiality, but I’ll openly declare that I have mostly voted Emmerdale this year. So, that’s as good a place to start as any. It’s been a blockbuster year in Britain’s most eventful village and not a leek show in sight. Instead of village fetes and sheep shearing, we’ve seen armed sieges, rooftop plunges and Charity Macey getting slapped about the chops with her husband’s meat tenderiser.   Continue reading

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Coronation Street: Where are you sticking that banana?

medium_i8mWYB5FgnmANF-9Im0Mqn_WHv1-PpR2yrr5tconb8MLast night’s Corrie double had it all didn’t it? Ongoing feuds exploding across the Street, veiled threats of prison violence, dodgy ex husbands threatening suicide whilst preparing a reunion dinner, exhaust pipes being stuffed with fruit, dog-napping by a child assisted by lesbian teens, pill popping mothers lying to GPs and, of course Gerogia May Foote dressed to the nines in a lovely blue number for the standard Weatherfield Monday night out.

The main story of the night was Todd inserting his banana into an exhaust pipe (please, do grow up) in order to cause a distraction that would allow him to sneak into the garage and steal an apple. No, you haven’t wandered into an alternate dimension; this was genuinely the basis of the main storyline from last night’s Corrie. And still, it outrated every other TV show yesterday by over a million viewers.

Let’s delve a little deeper (into the storyline, forget Todd’s banana). Todd is feeling a little put out as he is taking the flack for something which is almost entirely his fault. Wanting to lash out at Tyrone and Foghorn Fiz, he decided to leave a chilling message by nabbing the remainder of Luke’s lunch from under their noses.   Continue reading

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Coronation Street: Becky leaves in style

The traditional ways to leave Weatherfield (apart from being murdered by Tony Gordon or John Stape) are by taxi or Weatherfield Hopper, that curious little bus that only appears when someone needs it and has a driver who is happy to wait as long as you want while you have an argument or tearful goodbye with a loved one.

I doubt whether anyone ever in the history of Coronation Street has uttered their final lines on the show while drinking champagne in the first class section of a flight to Barbados. But that’s exactly the way Becky McDonald (Katherine Kelly) left the show last night, and it was brilliant.

Since her early appearances as a chain smoking, back stabbing petty criminal in 2006, Becky has morphed into one of the most loved characters in the show. I’ve not always been a fan of her tendency to go over the top (eg the drunken hysteria of her wedding to “Stevie” and the way she used to convey passion for the poor lad by applying herself to the front of him like the alien creature sticking itself to John Hurt’s face in Alien), but she’s always been quirky, vulnerable, feisty, loveable and infuriating in equal measure. Her relationship with the Croppers, no strangers to quirkiness themselves, has formed one of the most touching and convincing “families” ever seen on a soap, and I had a huge lump in my throat when she kissed them goodbye in last night’s episode.  Continue reading

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Coronation Street: Daddy was a bank robber, so he was

We’re always being told the police have a difficult job to do, but not if they’re in Weatherfield they don’t. Weatherfield, and more particularly Coronation Street, has the most incompetent criminals a lazy copper could wish for.

Looters who get caught when they try to give the money back; Joe McIntyre who couldn’t even manage to pretend to drown himself without drowning himself; Leanne the world’s worst arsonist; there have been hundreds of them over the years. In fact possibly the most successful has been the one man crimewave known as John Stape, some of whose crimes remain undetected to this day.

But Jim McDonald has to have been the most useless criminal so far, so he has. Needing to raise some cash quick (to finance a double child-napping – but that’s a whole other story), and having exhausted all the usual avenues (the bank and lottery winner Kevin Webster) our Jim calls in a favour from his former cell mate at the Big House, who owes him one. Owes him what? A nice bag full of spending cash? Or the next best thing, a sawn-off shotgun.

Without pausing to acquire either a Proper Plan or a balaclava (“with that face he looks like he has a stocking over his head already,” observed Mr PLA), and obviously never having seen any bank robberies on telly, Jim marches into his local branch, waves his firearm at a cashier and demands a bag full of “just enough cash to buy the Rovers Return, Coronation Street. Off of me son Steven McDonald and his lovely wife Becky.” Okay he didn’t say that, but he might as well have done because that’s exactly how rubbish he was.

And he’d have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t been for that meddlesome have-a-go hero and the pesky cashier and her darned panic button (who knew such things existed? Duh).

A full siege situation swung into action, with Weatherfield’s finest tooled up and assembled outside and a hostage negotiator on the line to Jim. He didn’t want a million pounds in unmarked notes and a plane waiting for him at Manchester Airport, so he didn’t. He wanted a quiet word with Elizabeth. The radiant Elizabeth, whose happiness was worth any amount of risk. Liz and Steve were bundled into a van that was acting as a nerve centre of the operation so they could watch Jim on CCTV (he had twigged that he was on CCTV, and uncannily knew exactly which camera they were using to look at him, so he could speak straight into it). The hostages all released, would he turn the gun on himself, or rush out of the front door of the bank to go down in a hail of bullets?

Or give himself up, resigned to his next holiday being quite a long one in Strangeways. Meanwhile, poor Liz, who’d started the day thinking she was set for a future as queen of Weatherfield’s premier back-street boozer, was left to contemplate the fact that maybe she’d have been better off sticking with Vernon.

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Coronation Street: The old home town looks the same. Apart from…

Liz McDonald has been away in Spain for ages. Since well before Christmas. She arrived back in the Street this week with a particularly unpleasant hairdo, but otherwise looking all perky and refreshed, and looking forward to catching up with all her friends and relatives, as you do.

Rather than the happy homecoming she expected, it’s been more like stumbling into The Stepford Wives or Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Things in Weatherfield are most definitely not how they used to be.

The most obvious thing to most people would be that a tram has crashed into the street, necessitating a total rebuild of those Weatherfield institutions, The Corner Shop and The Kabin. Liz, however, is a family woman first and foremost, and is most keen to see her granddaughter, Our Amy, and ply her with straw donkeys and inflammable Spanish leisurewear. Shock number one: Our Amy has moved! Not very far, mind. She’s only the other side of the wall at the Barlows, with (shock number two!) her mum, Tracy. That’s Tracy Barlow, convicted murderer but released on a technicality (the technicality being that Weatherfield was short of a villain, with Tony Gordon gone. There’s only so much evil that Owen the Builder can manage in a half-hour episode).

Shock number three is that Tracy is working behind the bar at the Rovers. “My two favourite women behind the same bar!” beamed Deirdre, oblivious to the fact that Liz hates Tracy and the feeling is bound to be mutual because Tracy hates almost everybody.

The fourth shock is that Steve and Becky seem quite relaxed about this state of affairs. This is because of something which Liz doesn’t know yet, which will come as the biggest shock of all – Steve and Becky can’t defy Tracy, because if they do, Tracy will tell the authorities that Steve and Becky bought Becky’s nephew Our Little Maxie from Becky’s sister with cold, hard cash. Frankly this was a complete waste of money anyway because they hardly ever see him, what with him being stored in some secret annexe of the Rovers for most of the time.

Another thing Liz doesn’t know is about Becky looting the cash to pay for Our Little Maxie from Dev and Sunita’s safe, while Sunita lay wounded in the rubble of the shop following the tram crash (it doesn’t sound very good when you put it like that, does it?). Liz almost found out about this when she experienced shock number five: the previously sunny Sunita was definitely a bit frosty to Liz when she went to buy Jammy Dodgers. It’s not because Sunita disapproves of the jam-filled treats, it’s because she disapproves of the entire McDonald family these days.

Shock number six is that Becky’s sister, Kylie, is now engaged to David Platt. Liz is right to be totally outraged by this one – it is truly one of the most implausible and contrived storylines ever to besmirch the cobbles of Coronation Street.

Poor Liz. No wonder it’s all got her reaching for the Silk Cut. She’s going to need a holiday after all this lot.

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Coronation Street: I’m emigrating for the next 31 weeks

My very topmost favourite character on Coronation Street is Steve McDonald. I love his lugubrious, hyper-mobile face, and I love his banter with Eileen and Lloyd and Liz and Dev. I love the way he can be a right exasperating twat and the next minute he’s being so lovely you just want to give him a playful punch to the shoulder and yell, “Oh, you!” at him.

So why is it that the poor man is so often the centre of the most annoying storyline running at any given time? It’s the company he keeps, that’s what, and more specifically the women he gets involved with. For what felt like years Steve was living with the character known as Michelle Connor, a character so miserable and life-sapping that you could see your television screen turning monochrome every time she was on. When Steve finally dumped her and took up with the Street’s resident fruit basket Becky Grainger, I was throwing my Percy Sugden-era cap in the air and shouting “Huzzah!” Steve and Becky together? What enormous fun that’s going to be!

Except… Not. Things started badly with the wedding Becky was too drunk to complete. Then we had her being framed for possessing drugs and arrested by cartoon-evil cop Hooch (even his name was a cartoon name). Since Christmas, we’ve known that Becky is pregnant, but have had to put up with weeks of her and Steve squabbling and being horrible because he wanted kids and she didn’t and blah blah blah.

Now he knows she’s pregnant, he’s thrilled, she’s coming round to the idea of being thrilled, and you’d think we could finally settle down and relax a bit. Except I can’t help thinking that the scriptwriters are going to try and drag every last ounce of comedy/pathos/drama out of Becky’s pregnancy, because she’s currently their star performer (a position previously occupied by the aforementioned Monochrome Michelle). And I don’t think I can stand the histrionics. “I’m nine weeks gone!” she informed Steve yesterday. Holy crap. That means another 31 weeks to go.

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