How TV has changed - for the better - over the last 60 years

Guess what? After nearly sixty years, I’ve stopped watching Coronation Street. Is it just me or are there other people who have thought ‘what a load of drivel?’. It does appear that some people are wearing lapel badges to state that ‘I’ve stopped watching Coronation Street’ though I don’t think I’d go as far as that!

A 1970 picture on the set of the 'Rover's Return' in the long-running soap opera 'Coronation Street'
Cast members, left to right, Doris Speed (Annie Walker), William Roache (Ken Barlow), Violet Carson (Ena Sharples), Jack Howarth (Albert Tatlock), Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner) and Margot Bryant (Minnie Caldwell)
A 1970 picture on the set of the 'Rover's Return' in the long-running soap opera 'Coronation Street' Cast members, left to right, Doris Speed (Annie Walker), William Roache (Ken Barlow), Violet Carson (Ena Sharples), Jack Howarth (Albert Tatlock), Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner) and Margot Bryant (Minnie Caldwell)

I think I finally saw the light when I realised that life is too short to waste time watching rubbish, with improbable story lines, unreal living conditions and depressing characters. And according to a recent survey it seems that I’m not the only one who has finally seen the light. It also appears that Coronation Street is a much more dangerous place to live than Los Cabos in Mexico with over 180 deaths over the years!

Although I do spend a lot of time writing nostalgically about nostalgia, I don’t necessarily think that old times were always better, but Coronation Street definitely was. My husband, who says that there has never been any good music after the 60s with perhaps begrudgingly admitting that there might have been a small amount in the 70s, won’t admit that any of today’s music is worth listening to. I do find that he is showing his age. His father used to say the same about the Rolling Stones and Beatles.

Today there is a wealth of quality television programmes, although I do admit to a certain reservation about the language frequently used. It’s funny to think that when my son was a young boy, I was reluctant to let him go to football matches at Hillsborough because of the spectator’s bad language. Today it seems to be commonplace, part of everyday life. This year alone I’ve been transfixed by ‘The Crown’, blown away by ‘Gentleman Jack’ written by Sally Wainwright who also gave us the award winning ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ and ‘Happy Valley’, loved ‘Ackley Bridge’, ‘Deep Water’, ‘Line of Duty’, ‘Peaky Blinders’ and recently the amazing ‘Rebellion’ about the Irish Uprising, and also learnt so much from excellent documentaries. There have been so many excellent television programmes which have meant that watching mediocre soap operas would have been a waste of time.

As far as comedy programmes, there have been some good ones over the years. I have a great affection for ‘Dads Army’ ‘Rising Damp’ and ‘Faulty Towers’ and yes, I know they are well in the past, but somehow there doesn’t seem to be any today to touch them. ‘Friday Night Dinner’ and ‘Plebs’ seem to be the only ones I can recall enjoying of recent years!

We haven’t always been so concerned about the quality of the television that we have watched in the past. The 1960s was an embarrassing era in British sitcom television history. Of course, television was a new thing for us and to be honest we watched anything and everything, even the dot disappearing on the television screen at the end of transmission. We gave little thought to whether things were offensive as there wasn’t really anything to cause offence, at first, that is. And it was only in later years that we questioned ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’. Before the 1950s when the’ Windrush generation’ of immigrants from the West Indies started to make their presence felt, race was a relatively little used subject used by British comedians. But from the early 1960s for some reason writers like Johnny Speight decided to take a swipe at what he called white, working class bigotry and the floodgates were opened for totally objectionable sitcoms like ‘Till Death Us Do Part’. What was so disturbing about it was its popularity, leaving pubs almost empty on transmission night. A poll discovered people found what Alf Garnett had to say about black people was ‘quite reasonable’ and that those who watched and liked the programme were more likely to think that black people were inferior to white. It didn’t say much for the intelligence of those viewers who also seemed to be quite happy with the derogatory language used.

Speight’s next excursion into the world of multiculturalism was with the short lived ’Curry and Chips’ with Spike Milligan as a “browned up” character who was Irish/Pakistani. The television company failed to anticipate the offence it caused.

‘Love thy neighbour’ was again a very popular show in some quarters, at a time when Enoch Powell was busy stirring up racial tension. The antagonism between the two lead characters was expressed by regular racial name calling to the apparent hilarity of the studio audience. ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ made stereotypes of the handful of Indian supporting characters as servile, lazy, foolish or devious, whilst ‘Mind Your Language’ offered crude caricatures of almost every nationality.

Luckily, as years passed and people became more enlightened, the dubious sort of sitcoms that were around decades ago became relegated to archive television programmes where amazement was expressed at exactly what programmers could get away with then.

‘Desmond’s’ represented a breakthrough in black representations, with gentle comedy showing generational misunderstandings between West Indian parents and their British born offspring, together with ‘Chef’ starring Lenny Henry who became established as the first black comedian with mainstream appeal and become a national treasure. ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ had widespread appeal as did the award winning ‘Kumar’s at Number 42’ which attracted countless celebrity guests and became a kind of Asian ‘Grove Family’.

And that’s showing my age! What a shame it all took so long to get decent programmes.