Thursday, 27 May 2010
Coronation Street Screenwriter Mark Lwellyn
People don't want to pay 8 or 9 dollars to go see a problem that they have in their life, on screen. They pay to get away from that. That's why they watch soap operas.
-Omar Epps, American Actor
15th April 2010- ITV's flagship show, Coronation Street, is fifty years old today. To Mark this, “Corrie” screenwriter Mark Lwellyn is giving a talk at Gallery Oldham for the event “Script to Screen”. Out of curiosity I'm there, surrounded by mostly middle-aged women. In all honesty, I hate the soap opera format. I think real life is usually dull enough, without sanitising it for a pre-watershed audience, but hey- ten million viewers clearly don't agree. Mr. Lwellyn dishes out many nuggets of information that impress even a hardened soap-opera-opposer like myself...
Coronation Street is made by production company Granada Television. The founders of Granada named it after their favourite holiday destination, the Spanish province of Granada.
They decided to shoot the programme in Manchester because it rains a lot up here in the north. That would justify lots of cost-cutting indoor film shoots. Shooting indoors is also easier.
Not long into the talk, two teenage girls leave the room. “Eastenders fans,” quips Mr. Lwellyn.
Coronation Street was originally going to be called Florazel Street. Nobody liked this name, so the staff were asked to choose between Coronation Street and Jubilee Street. Jubilee got the majority, but somebody sent the wrong result to the heads. And the rest is history, as they say.
Corrie's theme tune, which I once saw quite accurrately described as a “mournful dirge” in one TV magazine, is called “Capri”. The composer named it so while writing the tune on holiday in Capri. (it sounds like everyone has great holidays at Granada, although it seems like everyone works through them anyway). He was given a one-off payment of £6.
Regular viewers will notice that characters always die between September and Christmas. That's because the actors' contracts are renewed around this time of year. If they don't continue their contract for whatever reason, the character has to go too...
The first Coronation Street screenwriter was paid £30 a week. Today, writers may get a script for half a show and they could be asked to finish it off.
The show's purchaseable memorabilia included a jigsaw of the show. Mr. Lwellyn holds up the box- it looks about 30 years old.
On some of the sets, the bricks are from my home town of Oldham. On the actual street, the cobbles are fake. Producers are planning to get rid of the actual street and replace it with real bricks- a lot of viewers have HDTV, which would show up the falseness!
Aside from the sets, the show is sometimes filmed in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Prestwich and Didsbury.
After Fred Elliot's death, there was a scene in which his family scattered his ashes. The production crew used Shake-n-Vac.
This week is Annual Coronation Street Week in Toronto. The show is massive in Canada; there are also big audience figures in Dubai, Australia and New Zealand. Kiwis love the show so much that they nearly ousted a Prime Minister when he had Coronation Street's slot moved to the middle of the night.
Coronation Street is a show about working-class people. There isn't much glamour in the programme. Likewise, the lifestyles for the actors aren't on a par with Hollywood either- in fact, they seem quite the opposite. Actors get a script for each episode. Mr. Lwellyn holds up a script. It looks about sixty pages long. The cast shoot six days a week on set. On the seventh day, they learn their lines. Actors are allowed to go on holiday, but they can't get a sun tan unless their character has gone somewhere warm as well. On the subject of continuity, full books exist on each character detailing everything they have done. Regular viewers will pounce on any mistakes that the writers make.
Elizibeth Dawn, who played Vera Duckworth, never learned her lines. She kept her script pages hidden in saucepans during the kitchen scenes.
Bill Waddington (playing Percy Sugden) had complicated words written into his cap. When he needed to check his lines, he'd appear very solemn and take his cap off, looking down into it. In some episodes, those shot on hot days, you could see that the ink had leaked and the print showed backwards on his bald head.
I catch up with Mr. Lwellyn after the talk and I mention I'm working on a few scripts. I ask him for advice for budding writers and he suggests checking out the BBC Writer's Room (http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/). He also suggests visiting local actors groups- Oldham Lyceum could be a good start, he says. (http://www.lyceumplayers.co.uk/) These groups might be able to act it out on stage so I could see what my script looks and sounds like. Oldham Colesium may also advise me (http://coliseum.org.uk/)
All in all it was a fascinating talk. I've got an interest in all things media-related, so I enjoyed it. I'm still not going to watch the show though, or any other soap. No matter how much the rain keeps me indoors.