Vicky Jackson: ‘Coronation Street, Class and Colour Television: “Me own colour telly. Oo just think, the changing of the guard in ‘livid’ colour.”’

Coronation Street.

Colour Titles. Coronation Street Episode. 1103, 11 August 1971. Directed by Ronnie Mutch. Granada Television.

Coronation Street is the longest running TV soap opera in the world. It follows the lives of working-class residents on a street in a fictious suburb of Manchester in the North of England. The Street began in December 1960 and remains a fixture of ITV’s primetime scheduling to this day. It was broadcast in monochrome for nine years before the switch to colour in 1969 and its longevity and popularity make it a fascinating subject for exploring the introduction of colour to British television.[1] Colour had a significant impact on technical and aesthetic considerations and the show itself reflected economic and cultural responses to colour television in a series of minor storylines.

As early as 1966, Coronation Street’s move to colour was described as ‘a long term thought nagging away’ at the Managing Director of its production company, Granada.[2] And in 1970, the show’s then producer, June Howson claimed that since she’d joined three years earlier: ‘The Street has been rocked to its foundations by everything short of earthquakes – but nothing … has brought to it a greater re-think than the arrival of colour.’[3] The show’s transformation to colour was part of a £3 million project by Granada to re-equip their studios for 100% colour production after ITV’s official switch to colour in November 1969.[4] As a result nearly all of the technical equipment for producing the series was replaced including a videotape machine which had recorded and transmitted 500 episodes of The Street.[5] These technological changes effected the production practices and the aesthetics of the show in numerous ways. For example, as Daran Little has noted the show could no longer be recorded as live because: ‘all the cameras had to be realigned and the technicians struggled to balance the colours. Scenes had to be stopped halfway through as colours flared, and for the first time the cast faced re-takes and pick-ups’.[6] As a result editing on videotape became a necessary part of the production process.

Colour also influenced the design of the show and its aesthetics in numerous ways. For example, June Howson compared the early colour episodes of Coronation Street to ‘something out of a Sunday supplement’ which had to be toned down, referring to the trend for glossy colour magazines among quality Sunday newspapers.[7] These ‘colour supplements’ were associated with ‘lifestyle’ pieces and advertising for expensive consumer goods, a world away from the lives of the working class.[8] Similarly in recurring discourse found in the popular press of the time black and white was considered a far more suitable aesthetic for realistically portraying the grim northern, working class street:

“For some reason or another colour hasn’t improved The Street. People in whom one believed, seemed to lose a touch of their authenticity. The studio make-up seemed a little bit too obvious, while even that sombre hostelry, the Rovers Return, seemed to be lacking in its normal atmosphere. What is the reason for this? … Perhaps it is because, as in the cinema, there will always be some subjects that come over more effectively in black and white. Coronation Street has always reflected, in dramatic terms, the drabness, greyness and solidarity of the industrial North. This has been a major factor in its appeal. No doubt we will get used to seeing The Street in colour.”[9]

In this piece, however, I want to study a series of minor comedic storylines between 1971-1981 featuring Stan and Hilda Ogden’s attempts to acquire a colour television which offer a way to discuss the broader social and cultural response to colour television.[10]

The Ogdens and Colour TV.  

Stanley and Hilda Ogden arrived on The Street in 1964: they were regarded as more vulgar and common than the other families and were regularly the subject of ridicule by the other residents. Stan had a series of manual jobs including a window cleaning round, but he was renowned for being workshy, preferring to spend his time in the Rovers Return where Hilda worked as a charwoman. Hilda longed for more though: many storylines followed her attempts to better herself and gain the respect of her neighbours. However, such efforts were always unsuccessful and invariably misguided serving only to reveal her lack of class and taste. A famous example of this is the wallpaper mural of a ‘view’ of a mountain scene she had fitted in her living room in 1976.[11]

Fig2HildasMural

Hilda’s Mural. Coronation Street. Episode 1617, 14 July 1976. Directed by Bill Gilmour. Granada Television

Hilda’s recurring quest for a colour TV set was yet another misjudged attempt to improve the Ogdens’ standing in the community and most importantly make the neighbours jealous:

Hilda (to Stan): Listen, I just invited Bet in to bombard her eyes with glorious colour.

 Stan: Invite the whole street in will you? Put a notice outside – Liberty Hall.

Hilda: Stan there’s no need to get all toffee-nosed just because we’ve got a status.

symbol.[12]

Restrictions on consumer credit in the early part of the decade and prohibitively expensive colour TV sets had helped ensure colour television was slow to be adopted by audiences.[13] As a result of its limited take up, the colour television was widely seen as a status symbol, with the Daily Telegraph writing as early as August 1967, ‘Come Christmas the greatest status symbol a home can have will be colour television…’[14]

In the early 1970s, in a bid to persuade consumers to invest in colour television, a number of television retailers offered colour sets on approval or “appro,” an arrangement by which goods were supplied on the condition they were returned if not satisfactory. Several contemporary newspapers made reference to this practice being abused by poorer families who could not afford colour TV. For example, in September 1971 a reader’s letter in the Daily Mirror noted – ‘The latest dodge apparently is to have a colour television set “on approval” when there is a major sporting event like a Test Match or Wimbledon, then return it to the dealer.’[15] The writers of Coronation Street drew on this practice and in August 1971 the Ogdens arranged to have a colour TV on “appro”: a purchase that they could not afford and which was quickly repossessed.

Despite this failure, the Ogdens and particularly Hilda, continued to dream of owning a colour TV set.  A few months later in November 1971, the Odgens made another attempt to purchase a set through hire purchase, but found their names were now on a credit blacklist.[5] This storyline reflected a contemporary shift in legal requirements affecting domestic credit, which made high-cost items a viable option for those on a lower income. Joe Moran has noted ‘this created a sudden surge in demand for colour TVs in the UK, with just over 2 million sets being produced in the peak year of 1973.’[16] News reports expressed concern however that low income families might be seduced into buying or renting TVs they could not afford. A concern that this storyline appears to tap into, despite the Ogdens being ultimately unsuccessful in acquiring credit.

In 1978 Hilda again attempted to secure a colour TV set this time in the January sales. She camped outside a department store all night to be first in line when the store opened, only to lose her space in the queue at the last moment.[17] Finally, in July 1981 –Eddie Yates, the Ogdens’ lodger borrowed a colour TV for the day so that Hilda could watch the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana in colour. This time Hilda was triumphant  – when the colour television set in the Rovers Return, where the other residents had gathered to see the wedding, broke down the Odgens and Eddie Yates were able to save the day by bringing their set to the pub.[18]

While you might expect Coronation Street to present colour television in a positive light to encourage sales and in turn potential advertising revenues for ITV, in all but the last of these storylines the Ogdens are ridiculed for their desire for colour. Hilda is as interested in bragging about her colour TV set as a status symbol as she is watching it. They are portrayed as naïve viewers, uncritical of the colour television experience.

Fig3HildaDusting

Hilda Lovingly Dusts Her Colour TV Set. Coronation Street. Episode 1101, 4 August 1971. Directed by Eric Prytherch. Granada Television clip shown in 40 Years on Coronation Street, 28 November 2000. Directed by Gabrielle Osrin. LWT.

During the colour television “on appro” storyline the Ogdens are shown completely engrossed as they watch a man sitting at a desk talking to the camera in Welsh, despite neither of them speaking the language. As the camera pans from the colour TV set across the room to the engrossed Hilda and Stan we see socks drying on the fireplace and a general sense of disorder and slovenliness.

These storylines also portrayed The Ogdens as lacking in good colour taste. In another scene Hilda and Bet Lynch sit watching a cricket match, bathed in a sickly and ridiculous green light – a joke lost on the majority of viewers still watching the show in black and white.

Fig4HildaGreenLight

Hilda Ogden and Bet Lynch watch the cricket on the Ogdens’ colour TV set. Coronation Street. Episode 1102, Directed by Ronnie Mutch (Manchester: ITV, 9 August 1971).

This storyline would appear to reflect anecdotal evidence that contemporary audiences played with the colour TV settings to produce images far more vibrant than intended by the broadcasters.[19] David Conroy a BBC producer noted in an article for The Stage in 1969:

“I remember staying in a hotel where there was a colour set and my production of Nana was on the screen. The colour values were appalling so I immediately tuned the set down to get the effects which I had only recently spent many thousands of pounds trying to achieve. There was an uproar in the lounge … We shall have to hope that in due course the public becomes a little more sophisticated about colour values though this may take a long time.”[20]

The green light emanating from the Odgen’s colour TV set was intended to indicate to viewers Hilda’s unsophisticated colour taste or colour sense. The issue of good colour sense has long been in existence; it manifests in a variety of contexts – fashion, interior design – and most notably cinema, for example in Natalie Kalmus’ work on colour consciousness. [21]

However, alongside the mocking of the Ogdens’ colour taste, the merits of colour television were also continually ridiculed throughout these storylines. When the Repo man comes to the Ogdens’ house to collect the TV on appro, he finds the TV set is playing to an empty room. A wildlife programme featuring orangutans is being broadcast, featuring a spoof commentary clearly intended to be heard by viewers: “she can move as gracefully as a trapeze artist. In fact, put her in spangled tights and you wouldn’t know the difference.”

Fig5RepoMan

Left: A Wildlife Programme Is Played to An Empty Room. Coronation Street. Episode 1103, 11 August 1971. Directed by Ronnie Mutch. Granada Television.

Fig6RepoMan

Right: The TV Set is Repossessed. Coronation Street. Episode 1103, 11 August 1971. Directed by Ronnie Mutch. Granada Television.

Later, as the repo man prepares to leave, he recommends the Ogdens go to a different shop for another TV on appro, stating that: ” You’ll get another half a dozen Montana landscapes, two rained off cricket matches and a royal visit before they snatch that back.”[22] Such subjects were often presented in contemporary discourse on both colour film and television as the most effective subjects in colour. As the Lichfield Mercury noted when ITV switched to colour: ‘… all the favourite ITV programmes can be seen in colour – and when it comes to sport, Colour can do wonders in creating just the right sort of atmosphere and excitement … Westerns are really out-of-doors in Colour … Many great occasions are Royal occasions too, when the pageantry of Britain is shown in all its magnificence.’[23] In this scene such colour conventions are clearly being mocked. Similarly, in 1978 as Hilda waits outside the local department store having camped outside all night to be at the front of the queue for the January sale she exclaims to Stan and their lodger Eddie: “Something I’ve always wanted is that: me own colour telly. Oo just think, changing of the guard in “livid colour.” You can get sick of watching her Majesty through shop windows you know.”[24] Hilda Ogden, was famous for her malapropisms and here through her confused voice the convention of military pageantry and uniform long associated with colour and moving images is setup for gentle ridicule.

Coronation Street provides a fantastic subject through which to explore the introduction of colour to television. It offers a chance to shed light not only on technical and aesthetic issues of colour, but also the cultural context and the audiences’ experience of the introduction of colour television in the late 1960s and 1970s. This piece is a precursor to a much more thorough examination that I am in the process of writing, but one that I hope hints at the fascinating engagement that this TV series has with colour on many levels.

Acknowledgements: This paper is indebted to Corriepedia The Coronation Street Wiki  fantastic resource on the series developed by fans which includes among other resources – episode synopsis for nearly every episode in the show’s 60 year history, character biographies and location summaries. Without this resource this research would have been nearly impossible.

Endnotes:

[1] Colour was first introduced to British television on BBC2 in July 1967. BBC1 and ITV followed in November 1969. Initially only the Granada, ATV and Thames franchises were able to broadcast in colour on ITV. While other regions quickly followed it took nearly two years for all but one of the franchises to change over to colour.

[2] TV’s Men of Power. No. 3. Denis Forman’, Liverpool Echo, 21 September 1966.

[3] ‘At the Rovers. A Face You Never Saw Before…’, TV Times Souvenir Extra Coronation Street, 1970.

[4] Leslie Diamond, ‘How We Converted Our Centre’, The Stage, 13 November 1969.

[5] ‘Video-Tape Machine for Museum’. The Stage, 17 July 1969.

[6] Daran Little, The Coronation Street Story. Celebrating Thirty-Five Years of the Street (London: Boxtree, 1995), pp.89-90.

[7] ‘At the Rovers. A Face You Never Saw Before…’, TV Times Souvenir Extra Coronation Street, 1970.

[8] For more information on the Colour Supplement see Richard Farmer, ‘Supplemental Income. British Newspaper Colour Supplements in the 1960s’, Media History 25, no. 3 (8 June 2018): 371–86.

[9] James Towler, ‘Television Today. Colour Is Doing Nothing for Coronation Street’, The Stage, 19 March 1970.

[10] This paper is part of ongoing research that will also consider the technical and aesthetic introduction of colour to Coronation Street.

[11] Coronation Street. Episode 1617, 14 July 1976. Directed by Bill Gilmour. Granada Television.

[12] Coronation Street. Episode 1102, Directed by Ronnie Mutch (Manchester: ITV, 9 August 1971).

[13] Colour sets only outnumbered black-and-white for the first time in 1976.

[14] A H, ‘The New Status Giver: Colour TV’, The Daily Telegraph, 22 August 1967.

[15] ‘Readers’ Letters’, Daily Mirror, 1 September 1971.

[16] Coronation Street. Episode 1126, 1 November 1971. Directed by Roger Tucker. Granada Television.

[17] Joe Moran, Armchair Nation (London: Profile Books Ltd, 2014).

[18] Coronation Street. Episode 1771, 4 January 1978. Directed by George Spenton-Foster. Granada Television.

[19] Coronation Street. Episode 2121, 29 July 1981. Directed by Charles Kitchen. Granada Television.

[20] Stanley Reynolds, ‘A YEAR OF COLOUR TELEVISION’, The Guardian, 5 July 1968.

[21] David Conroy, ‘Needs of Story Must Modify Rules of Colour’, The Stage, 13 November 1969.

[22] Natalie M. Kalmus, ‘Color Consciousness’, Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers 25, no. 2 (August 1935): 139–147.

[23] Coronation Street Episode. 1103, 11 August 1971. Directed by Ronnie Mutch. Granada Television.

[24] ‘Television’s Bug Colour Switch-on Opens up a Whole New World’, Lichfield Mercury, 14 November 1969.

Bibliography:

A H, ‘The New Status Giver: Colour TV’, The Daily Telegraph, 22 August 1967.

Anon ‘At the Rovers. A Face You Never Saw Before…’, TV Times Souvenir Extra Coronation Street, 1970.

Anon, ‘Readers’ Letters’, Daily Mirror, 1 September 1971.

Anon, ‘Television’s Bug Colour Switch-on Opens up a Whole New World’, Lichfield Mercury, 14 November 1969.

Anon, TV’s Men of Power. No. 3. Denis Forman’, Liverpool Echo, 21 September 1966.

Anon, ‘Video-Tape Machine for Museum’. The Stage, 17 July 1969.

Conroy, David, ‘Needs of Story Must Modify Rules of Colour’, The Stage, 13 November 1969.

Diamond, Leslie, ‘How We Converted Our Centre’, The Stage, 13 November 1969.

Farmer, Richard. ‘Supplemental Income. British Newspaper Colour Supplements in the 1960s’. Media History25, no. 3 (8 June 2018): 371–86.

Kalmus, Natalie  M.,‘Color Consciousness’, Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers 25, no. 2 (August 1935): 139–147.

Little, Daran, The Coronation Street Story. Celebrating Thirty-Five Years of the Street (London: Boxtree, 1995), pp.89-90.

Moran, Joe, Armchair Nation (London: Profile Books Ltd, 2014).

Reynolds, Stanley, ‘A YEAR OF COLOUR TELEVISION’, The Guardian, 5 July 1968.

Towler, James, ‘Television Today. Colour Is Doing Nothing for Coronation Street’, The Stage, 19 March 1970.

Filmography:

40 Years on Coronation Street, 28 November 2000. Directed by Gabrielle Osrin. LWT.

Coronation Street. Episode 1101, 4 August 1971. Directed by Eric Prytherch. Granada Television.

Coronation Street. Episode 1102, Directed by Ronnie Mutch (Manchester: ITV, 9 August 1971).

Coronation Street Episode. 1103, 11 August 1971. Directed by Ronnie Mutch. Granada Television.

Coronation Street. Episode 1126, 1 November 1971. Directed by Roger Tucker. Granada Television.

Coronation Street. Episode 1617, 14 July 1976. Directed by Bill Gilmour. Granada Television.

Coronation Street. Episode 1771, 4 January 1978. Directed by George Spenton-Foster. Granada Television.

Coronation Street. Episode 2121, 29 July 1981. Directed by Charles Kitchen. Granada Television.

About the Author: Vicky Jackson is an independent scholar. Her previous research and publications have been in film history with particular interest in colour, exhibition, animation and advertising films. She has previously worked as a research associate on the ERC project ‘The Idea of Animation: Aesthetics, Location and the Formation of Media Identity’ (2015-2018) and as a research assistant on the Leverhulme Trust project ‘Colour in the 1920s: Cinema and Its Intermedial Context’ (2012-2015) both at the University of Bristol. Contact details: vicky.jackson@bristol.ac.uk

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