Coronation Street: Pandemic sees soap scrap 60th anniversary stunt

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image copyrightITV
image captionThe anniversary week will see the climax of Yasmeen's trial for attempting to murder Geoff

Coronation Street has been forced to "strip away some of the stunts" that were planned for its 60th anniversary episode and "go back to brass tacks", the ITV soap's producer has said.

A tram crashed off a viaduct on the 50th anniversary, but the pandemic has restricted what's possible this year.

Iain MacLeod said "a fair amount" of what had originally been planned for the 60th on 9 December had changed.

"It's arguably truer to the original version of Coronation Street," he said.

Three running storylines will reach their conclusions during the anniversary week, which has been in the planning for more than a year.

'Something big'

John Whiston, ITV's managing director of continuing drama, said: "We had plans in place for something that was going to be big and then the pandemic happened.

"So what we have done is concentrate on the stories we have running at the moment and peak them during the week."

image copyrightITV
image captionSome actors formed a bubble so they could get closer than 2m for the anniversary episode

MacLeod said the "fundamental essence" of the storylines would be the same, but social distancing rules meant the set couldn't accommodate the number of crew required for an unspecified set-piece stunt.

"We physically couldn't get enough chippies [carpenters] and other design personnel into our construction shed to make the things we wanted to make, so we had to jettison that idea," he said. "But in terms of the stories, they are fairly much the same thing.

"What it [the pandemic] has forced us to do is to some degree go back to brass tacks and focus on character and writing and performance - still telling brilliant stories but just boil them down to their essence.

No 'Hollywood trappings'

"And actually it's arguably truer to the original version of Coronation Street than the slightly more bells-and-whistles version that we were going to do," he continued.

"It's forced us to distil what makes Coronation Street so brilliant and push that front and centre, rather than some of the more Hollywood trappings that have come to characterise big event weeks in continuing drama."

About 14 million viewers watched a live episode in the aftermath of a devastating gas explosion and tram crash for the show's 50th birthday.

image copyrightITV
image captionThe residents must rally together to save the street

There will still be "a very high-octane thrillerish sequence" in the 60th anniversary episode, which required some cast members to form a bubble, MacLeod said.

"We had to isolate the actors and put them in their own little seclusion bubble for two weeks and then test them to make sure they were Covid-free," he said. "Only then were they able to come within the 2m socially-distanced rule that we've applied."

The producer also revealed that the show's bosses had rejected an idea for a global pandemic storyline for the anniversary before coronavirus began because they thought it was too far-fetched.

"About a year ago, when we were talking about what we would do for our 60th anniversary, two of our writers pitched a storyline for a global pandemic, would you believe?" MacLeod said.

"It originated in Tyrone's pigeon loft - he'd taken up pigeon racing in homage to Jack [Duckworth], and it came in as some form of bird flu and spread round the street.

"The consensus in the writing room was, 'No, it's just far too far-fetched, no-one's going to buy that'. Fast forward to now and it all looks horribly prescient."

image copyrightITV
image captionThe show first's episode appeared on 9 December 1960

The soap now attracts around 6.3 million viewers per episode, and the only cast member to have stayed on the cobbles for the whole six decades is William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow.

Roache and other older cast members were kept away from the set at first when Covid-19 began, but he has now returned.

"I was out for the first few months, so it's good to be back with my dysfunctional family," the 88-year-old joked.

Michael Le Vell, who has played Kevin Webster on the soap since 1983, said the main difference for cast members was that fewer actors could appear in any scene now, giving them more lines to learn.

"It's a shame we can't do these big stunts, but on the other hand it's also good for the actors because it means we've got to do the work, and not some flash explosions.

"It's about the writing, the acting, the directing - as opposed to the flash bang wallops."

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