Ken Barlow and Prince Charles are the best known characters in British Soap Opera.
Ken Barlow has been appearing in “Coronation Street” since 1960. I confess that it is my favourite soap but now dated so much that it seems to be happening in a bubble. It is a relic of Manchester in the 1950s (not much different from Belfast in the 1950s). I dont actually recall cobbled streets in my part of Belfast but for the fortieth anniversary episode (broadcast live) in 1960 had Coronation Street’s cobbles preserved as achitectural heritage. I think the programme itself is being preserved in the same way.
Back in 1960, Ken Barlows father, Frank, was a postman and Harry Hewitt was a bus driver.Occupations….which like a civilization has gone with the wind. In 2012 everybody who lives in Coronation Street actually works in Coronation Street…..the garage, the Rovers Return, Roy’s Rolls, Street Cabs and the “knicker factory”. Discounting the stereotypical Asian shopkeeper, there are no regular black faces……not unusual in fictional Weatherfield but a bit unusual in factual Manchester/Salford. The scriptwriters thought that ill educated characters like Stan Ogden and Albert Tatlock might be revealed as racists so best to avoid the situation.
The scriptwriters discussed introducing a black family in the early 1970s but decided against. Coronation Street does not do well with the modern world. It is a 1950s vision, romanticised a little…..kitchen sink drama cos “its grim up north”. It is the world of the Wakes Week, coach trip to Blackpool, the Busby Babes and the cotton mill.
Ken Barlow has seen it all. William Roache (the actor who has played Ken since 1960) once decsribed himself as the “caretaker” of the character. For scriptwriters come and go and necessarily with fifty adult characters, some are asked to do things inconsistent with their character..to further the plot.
But Actors are different from the parts they play. Ken Barlow is a harmless old 70ish bleeding heart liberal…..he was jailed for a week in the early 1960s after taking part in a demonstration against nuclear weapons. Much married…even more lovers…Ken’s marriage to Valerie Tatlock was a fairy tale event. She later died…..an accident with an electrical appliance. But too easy to confuse Ken Barlow with William Roache. Roache is an 80 year old actor, a leading light in the Cheshire Conservative Party….a big fan of Margaret Thatcher.
And that is the problem with soap operas….and actors. We confuse Fact and Fiction. Indeed we are asked to do so.
Which brings me to Prince Charles, a character in the Royal Soap Opera. He is played by Charles Windsor.It is easy to confuse the fictional Prince with the real life actor. He has played the role for all his life. He has been a child actor, a juvenile actor and an adult actor.
Prince Charles is Prince Charming. But it increasingly looks like Charles Windsor has been miscast, a spoiled child actor who was cute enough up to his becoming Prince of Wales (sic) in the summer of 1969. Then routinely deflowering young women in the English aristocracy (essentially Royal groupies) until told to settle down and breed for England.
The marriage of Charles and Diana was the least convincing plot-line in the history of the Royal “soap”. In character Prince Charles is expected to care about the environment and engage with young multi-ethnic folks from the inner cities thru his Princes Trust…but actually the actor Charles Windsor is part and parcel of the shooting and fishing, tweedy cousinage of aristocratic England.
There is a lot of strange casting in the Royal Soap. The part of the Duke of Edinburgh is played by an Teutonic-Greek called Philip Mountbatten (well thats his stage name) who is little more than an economic migrant from southern Europe. The part of the Colonel in Chief of the Royal Irish Rifles is played by Randy Andy Windsor, a golf club bore. The least convincing Royal Marine in its history was played by Edward Windsor.
Of course the Queen is Head of the Church of England……and while Elizabeth Windsor might be convincing in a role which is not exactly sound in Theology, it is hard to see most of the Windsor family being at ease with the role.
Of course, rather like William Roache sees himself as caretaker of Ken Barlow’s character……guarding against unlikely uncharacteristic plot-lines, then surely Charles Windsor is entitled to do the same. Surely the Royal scriptwriters are working on a plot where the Crown passes from The Queen to Prince William. It would be popular with viewers but not exactly consistent with the theme of the Soap……monarchy. Indeed if Prince Charles woke up and found Lady Di in the shower and realised it was all a dream ….it would only match Dallas for inconsistency.
Soap Operas NEED inconsistency. Princess Anne, being divorced could not re-marry in the Church of England so became Scottish for the day, marrying in Scotland where seemingly GOD is not quite so fussy about the rules.
Rather like Corrie, it has been difficult to bring black folks into the cast. Apparently the Queen Mother, the nations favourite grandmother expressed some displeasure at seeing black faces in the Household Cavalry and Guards regiments. So obviously they have to be air-brushed out of the cast until more acceptable to the other characters such as………..er the Duke of Edinburgh perhaps.
The Royal Jubilee this weekend……..celebrating sixty years of the Queen ……is a bit like a live episode celebrating Coronation Street and Eastenders. Happily the cast was not culled by an incident on the River Thames….like the Weatherfield Tram Disaster of 2010 which took out Molly and Ashley.
The U-boat in the Thames was actually some German relatives of the “Royal Family”.