Monday, October 13, 2014

Mavis's Kiss: Corrie in Mallorca

Forty years ago television history was made. Mavis Riley had her first on-screen kiss. She had looked longingly into the eyes of Pedro, who worked in a nightclub and who had looked equally longingly into Mavis's innocent peepers. The merest peck and ... roll the credits.

Mavis disappearing for a little stroll with her Latin love that "went a little further" than she had intended was a huge shock to the nation, as it also was to Rita. What time had Mavis got in last night, enquired Rita. Mavis was unsure. She was dewy-eyed and quiffy in a way that Hugh Laurie's George was to be many years later after a night out with Stephen Fry's Melchett in "Blackadder Goes Forth". But while Mavis discovering a holiday romance was sufficiently outrageous that it should have raised questions in parliament, there was no such shock attached to either Rita or Bet's flings.

Rita and Mavis had been on the beach, Rita's sides-scooped-out swimsuit daringly lowered so that she was sunbathing topless front down. They were lying on lilos the size and weight of orthopaedic mattresses. No sooner had Rita unclipped the back of her swimsuit than a comedy Spaniard came hovering. He was to next be seen in  "Are You Being Served, The Movie" set on the Costa Plonka and had adopted a moustache and hairstyle borrowed from Peter Wyngarde's Jason King. Bet, meantime, was being sucked in by an alleged property tycoon. Stephen Yardley was rehearsing the slimeball routine that he was to later perfect in "Howards' Way", a soap so maligned within the BBC that it was known as "Gerrybuilt" after its producer Gerard Glaister.

This was of course the occasion when most of the female cast of "Coronation Street" took a holiday in Mallorca. They had been part of Betty Turpin's "Spot the Ball" syndicate. There they all were: Mavis, Rita, Bet, Betty, Emily, Annie, Hilda and Deirdre. And what priceless moments there were. The 1974 era was captured by Hilda playing the castanets and bellowing out "Y Viva España" (which was a UK hit in 1974). There was Annie Walker's snobbishness. "The Anglo-Saxon epidermis is so delicate," she told the suffering Emily. Annie didn't have to endure problems of sunburn on account of her being an "English rose with a touch of exotic ancestry".

They were staying at the so-called Hotel Playa in Palmanova. We know it was Palmanova (for purposes of the script) because when Hilda's washing was blown away, Bet shouted at her that she didn't want to let her Stan know that she'd been throwing her knickers all over Palmanova. They were a highly diverse group of characters, to say the least. Deirdre was the youthful sex interest under the watchful eye of Annie. Deirdre was going to get married to Billy Walker, which in the end she didn't, thus making Billy the only male cast member who Deirdre didn't marry. Bet was the older, more mature sex interest, falling hopelessly head over heels for a conman, as was her wont. Emily was, as always, the studious one. How many l's are there in Valldemossa, she asked. Hilda, surprisingly perhaps, knew the answer.

While the eight ladies of the Street were off in Palmanova, back in Weatherfield the only females left were Minnie Caldwell, Kathy Staff's Vera Hopkins and mother-in-law and daughter, and Blanche, Deirdre's mother. "I'm a lazy slut at heart," she admitted to lecherous Len Fairclough, one of the men left behind along with Ken and Ray (who were to both have Deirdre in common), Billy, Stan, Ernest Bishop and Jerry Booth.

The contrast between Weatherfield and Mallorca was striking; the drudgery, mundanity and greyness of the former dripping from the just-out-of bed Jerry sniffing heavily as he prepared the newspapers at Rita's shop. But then the contrast was meant to be striking. It was also very accurate. This was Britain in 1974, the year of the Three-Day Week, a four-week miners' strike and a time when parts of Manchester were rundown and neglected as was the case with so many other British cities and large towns. Though Len could remark that it was a "millionaires' playground", Mallorca was the escape for the working-class, just as the British Workers' Travel Association had envisaged over three decades before. In 1974 it was still comparatively new and fresh, even if it had acquired an image of naffness that was to take years to shake off. And in a sense the "Coronation Street" episodes contributed to that image where a more high-brow, middle-class audience might have been concerned.

The episodes form a period piece not just of "Coronation Street" as it was but also of Mallorca and its place in British society and culture. There was really only one destination that could have been chosen. And that was Mallorca.


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