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18.10.09

1986: Anti-Thatcher Propaganda In Coronation Street...

Bet looks bilious and talks baloney in 1986.

Eee, the 1980s! The decade when we split into two camps - LOVE THATCHER or HATE THATCHER and our soaps developed a Left Wing bias. I fell into the "HATE" camp, very firmly, and a glimpse of Margaret on my TV screen would have me screeching for the remote control.

Brookside bravely showed us its views on what a rotten country it was under Thatcher, and EastEnders followed suit.

The realities were far more jumbled (I hope one day somebody writes an unbiased study of the turbulent, multi-faceted '80s) but it was a shame when Corrie stooped to silly anti-Thatcher propaganda, and put absolute nonsense into the mouth of Rovers Return landlady Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear), briefly making a mockery of the character.

It happened in 1986. The legendary Hilda Ogden (Jean Alexander) asked Bet to reinstate Sally Seddon (Sally Whittaker) to her full-time post as Rovers barmaid, as Bet had just employed Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) to make the pub food, and cut Sally's hours.

Said Bet: "We're not living in the '60s and '70s now, Hilda, when the problem weren't getting the jobs, it were persuading folk to turn up and do them. Nobody were a bigger skiver than me - never worked Mondays and Fridays for years. But them days have gone, Hilda - and nobody can fetch them back..."

Say WHAT?

Firstly, whilst Bet was known to skive off under Annie Walker's regime at times, she didn't often get away with it, often ended up shouldering more work than she thought she should, and sometimes worked when she wasn't scheduled to - to suit Lady Walker's whims.

So, it seemed the scriptwriter didn't know Bet's history very well.

But worse was the absurd notion that the 1970s were a time of full employment.

Let's trek back briefly. In the 1970s, unemployment passed the million mark before we were midway through the decade, and stood at around one-and-a-half million by the end of the decade.

And Coronation Street fully reflected the fact. The thorny issue of unemployment visited The Street a number of times.

In the mid-1970s, there was much publicity about graduates leaving universities and being unable to find work. Coronation Street featured this issue in 1975, when Annie Walker (Doris Speed) was threatened by two young men in her bedroom, seeking to rob her. She was informed by one of them that he had been through college, but there was no job for him.

In 1976, teenagers Gail Potter (Helen Worth) and Tricia Hopkins (Kathy Jones) faced losing their jobs at the Corner Shop. They tossed a coin for the chance of a job at Sylvia's Separates clothes shop, and Gail won. Trisha could not find employment, and left the Street to live with her parents.

Also that year, Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley) was terrified at the possibility of redundancy at the sorting office where he worked.

And 1976 brought us the grim tale of local pillar of the community Ernest Bishop's photographic business going bankrupt and his and wife Emily's desperate searches for work. Emily was forced to take a job as an orderly at the infirmary, Ernest spent several months in the wilderness before being employed by Mike Baldwin.

Another epic tale from '76 involved a dastardly plan devised by Annie Walker to cut Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) and Bet Lynch's wages, rather than give them a pay rise! Both walked out, but walked back in again, glad to have their jobs back, when Annie dropped her plan. The pay cut would not go ahead, but they wouldn't get any pay rise that year either, Annie decided!

Betty Turpin was surprised in 1976 when the local factory girls went on strike. With a million and a half unemployed, she couldn't understand the girls walking out of their workplace for any reason, she said.

Fred Gee (Fred Feast) told Annie Walker that he was well aware he was lucky having two jobs when a lot of folk didn't have one!

Not long before Christmas 1976, Terry Bradshaw (Bob Mason), brother of Corner Shop owner Renee (Madge Hindle) lost his job with Fairclough and Langton, builders and plumbers. Despairing of finding another job in the district, and romantically rebuffed by Gail Potter, he went back into the Army.

In 1977, Steve Fisher (Lawrence Mullin) decided to go abroad to find work when he was sacked by Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs), saying he was going "because there's no jobs here." Fortunately, Mike reinstated him.

In early 1978, Ernest Bishop (Stephen Hancock) was accidentally shot and killed by two unemployed young men in a wages snatch at the denim factory.

In late 1978, unemployed Gail Potter and Suzie Birchall (Cheryl Murray) decided to seek work in London, although they were warned that it might not be easy. In the end, Gail chickened out, and Suzie set off for the bright lights alone, only to return in early 1979, disillusioned. Her failure to find permanent work, and her drift into a tacky relationship with a wealthy older man, note wealthy (Suzie did!), made fascinating viewing.

If Bet Lynch had been a real person she would have never have made such a barmy comment about full-employment in the '70s. The Bet we saw on-screen in '70s Corrie knew the realities.

But there she was, in 1986, basically stating: before Margaret Thatcher, we had full employment!

Maggie was obviously to blame. Before her, everything in the UK employment garden was peachy.

It was a shame. The illusion briefly fizzled. It wasn't Bet speaking, it was some well paid scriptwriter, spouting Left Wing propaganda on his/her soapbox.

Now, if Bet had said: "Things haven't been easy for a long time, but they've got a damn sight worse since Thatcher came to power - unemployment's more than doubled!" I'd have risen from my armchair and cheered.

But in 1986, when the grim realities of the '70s were far too recent in memory to have been hyped and rewritten, her comment simply brought a puzzled "EH?!!" from yours truly.

I well remembered my step-father's time on the dole back in the '70s. And still do.

Bet's boob qualifies as one of the battiest comments in Corrie history.

But it's an interesting manifestation of the "EVERYTHING WAS FINE BEFORE THATCHER" propaganda churned out by many TV scriptwriters in the soaps and drama series of the 1980s.

Below are some screen captures (courtesy of the Back On The Street blog) from just a few of the 1970s Coronation Street story-lines which reflected the difficult times when it came to seeking employment...

Intruder: "I've worked very hard, been to college, but there's no job for me, nowhere. So I've decided that what I can't get legally, I'm prepared to take.."

Emily: "What's wrong with us, Ernest, why CAN'T we find work? I mean we're reasonably well-educated, responsible adults..."

Tricia: "I've 'ad a sickener round 'ere just lately - no money, no job..."

Alf: " 'New Staffing Levels', they called it. I never thought it'd work out like this."

1978 - Ernie was accidentally shot and killed when two unemployed youths tried to snatch the wages at the denim factory.

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