I got an email from ITV yesterday telling me that Emmerdale, the long running UK soap, was broadcasting it's 5000th episode next week. That's a lot of soap. Add Coronation Street and Eastenders and the 3 main UK soaps have racked up a staggering 17,422 episodes over the last 48 years.
Thankfully I've not seen many of them.......quite a few, but not many. Ok maybe a lot. Maybe most of them. Noooooooo. What am I saying ???
The old lady of UK soaps, Coronation Street, started on the 9th of December 1960 when Northern England was still in black and white, but mostly black due to the coal dust and factory fumes. Streets were still cobbled and people washed their front steps and chatted over the back garden fence. The Swinging Sixties hadn't got going yet and Elvis Presley was No.1 with "It's Now Or Never" which became true as he was replaced at the top a week or so later by Cliff Richard with "I Love You"
Almost 48 years and almost 6900 episodes later, the cobbled street is still cobbled, the pits and factories are gone, Elvis is allegedly dead and Cliff is still going strong. Well going strong between his homes in London and Barbados if not actually going strong in the charts. Bless.
I don't remember the early years of 'Corrie' as for one thing I was only 8 at the time and I'm not even sure we had a tv set. I was shipped off to boarding school in '63 so opportunities to have watched ANY tv were severely limited for the next 7 years anyway. I'm sure my parents would've disapproved of the show as it was mostly set in a pub which were evil places to them. Add to that the dubious morals of some of the characters and so no, we probably wouldn't have watched the show even if we had owned a tv set.
As if that slice of gloomy Northern life wasn't enough, Emmerdale came along 12 years later - the first episode went out on 16th October 1972. Ahhh now we had a soap that was well received in my part of the world. It started out as Emmerdale Farm you see and my family were from farming stock and most of my relatives had farms. You see the connection here, don't you ?
I think it used to be on during the early afternoon to catch the stay at home moms, unemployed car workers, striking miners and rich farmers who had 'people' to do the work for them. I was a student at Leicester Uni and I remember catching episodes at that time of day anyway. Then I worked shifts at my first job and would just get an episode in before going off to work at 3:30pm. It made me a bit homesick with all the action in the milking sheds and I used to wonder if the cows knew their udders were being fondled by equity members !?
Musically speaking (or maybe not), Lieutenant Pigeon was No.1 with 'Mouldy Old Dough' to be followed by the much more memorable and classy Gilbert O'Sullivan with 'Claire'.
On the ITV web site you can watch that very first episode of Emmerdale Farm when we were introduced to the laugh-a-minute Sugdens and Nay Nay Mr. Wilks as I always thought he was called. Speaking of Amos Brierly, he was there with his huge sideburns serving frothy warm pints behind the tiny bar in The Woolpack and we also met Jack, Joe and Peggy Sugden who were all involved in one way or another at the funeral of their dad, Jacob, in this very first show. We never even saw Jacob in his coffin so that saved the show a bit of money in fees I guess.
Poor old Jacob was well out of it in more ways than one and I'm sure death was a welcome relief from life with Annie who had a mirror smashing face and a no nonsense attitude to go with it. She took no prisoners and was joined at the kitchen table by her dad who, in the early episodes, never had much of a part except to be there with his flat cap, white scarf and pipe.........uttering pearls of Yorkshire farming wisdom which being mostly incomprehensible to anyone living outside of Yorkshire (and most inside it too), fell on deaf ears.
I liked Joe, mostly as he reminded me of Bev Bevan, the ELO drummer, as they were one of my fav groups back then. And speaking of laugh-a-minute characters, remember Matt, the happy hubby of Peggy Sugden ? Wow what a party pooper he was !! He was just perfect for the funeral scenes but sadly he was also kept in for the next decade or so but never once did I see him break into anything resembling a smile. I know farming is a hard occupation but hells teeth, Matt, cheer up lad.
I loved watching that first episode of Emmerdale Farm on the ITV site as having lived here in Yorkshire for the last 35 years, it was great seeing all the Woolpack punters wearing flat caps and seeing the whippets tied up outside. Eee by gum, it fair took me back.
Finally, after 2 decades of not understanding a word of what was being said by these people somewhere north of Watford (and therefore almost being cast as Johnny Foreigners), the nancy boys dann saath had to have their own soap to show what life was like in deepest darkest London and so on 19th February 1985, Eastenders was foisted upon an unsuspecting world. They copied Emmerdale by having a dead body in the first episode and have seemingly gone down that path ever since. There have been more deaths in Eastenders over the last 23 years than experienced by most British comedians put together.
To keep the music thing going, Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson were No.1 with "I Know Him So Well" from the musical "Chess". Yes I can hear you singing it now. Bet you'll be singing it for hours too. Sorry.
But back to the cock-a-knees..................
Eastenders is always being classed as a true to life soap, featuring everyday issues like murder, abortion, drugs, suicide, rape and adultery with lashings of fighting, shouting, swearing, spitting and all the other friendly activities you'd see at a typical footy match. True to life ? If I lived in a place like Walford with that lot going on around me I'd be off in a flash. I can't imagine a worse advert for living in London if I tried.
I'll admit to watching during the early years when it didn't seem so 'dark' in Walford. The lighting may have been, but the storylines weren't. It was never a barrel of laughs though and Miss Brahms definitely had her funny chip removed when she swapped the gentle arms of Grace Brothers for the less than gentle fists of the Mitchell Brothers. Like a lot of people, I gave her credit for making such a transition and for keeping it going for so long. Mr. Grainger would've approved.
So there we have it.....3 long running soaps which form a sort of geographical triangle around this fair country - and you're doing well if you can understand the dialects and accents from all of them. I only wish we'd had a spin off sometime with Annie Sugden, Peggy Mitchell and Ena Sharples together in it. Wow. Call it Eastdale Street or something.
Now then our Ashley, there would be a show I'd watch, I say, a show I'd watch.