It takes a lot for me to watch soaps – mostly because I find the love triangle/square/dodecahedron stories so boring and predictable – but I think that in among the in fighting and unbelievable pairings (Phil Mitchell and anyone) lies some of our greatest actors and writing. It’s easy to look down upon these shows as ratings and schedule fodder because we know that this is how they are seen by the channels who commission it as well. But every now and then a diamond appears amongst the coal and the joy of Roy and Hayley Cropper are just such a gem.
Of all the soaps I’d have to say the humour and warmth that comes with Coronation Street makes it the one I will occasionally catch – it was on permanently growing up and if you wanted to stay up late you had to watch it. There is a style and tone to both the rhythm and timbre of the voices that make is much friendlier than their East End or Yorkshire cousins. Also the lack of “shock” storylines and over the top stunt plots just to get viewers is something I like about it. Saying that the last time I tuned in was the Tram crash so what does that say about me. Coronation Street has a habit of creating one offs, something other soaps tend to fail at, the only other character I can think of outside of Corrie having such a social impact would be the brilliant June Brown as Dot Cotton on Eastenders. My point with the Croppers is they couldn’t exist on any other soap.
Like Hilda and Stan or Jack and Vera before them they are a unique and real representation of life together as a couple. The moments of heartbreak, love, happiness and grief are as real as if your friends were living it. In the middle of all this over the top writing these characters live like us, struggle like us and love like us. That’s why we attach so much of our emotion in them. Hayley and Roy, played superbly by Julie Hesmondhalgh and David Neilson, are as great as the Sherlocks or the Doctors or the Midwives or the Downtons – just because they are in a soap for some reason diminishes their stock which is hugely unfair. We rave about the performance of someone who appears in a three one-hour episode show and forget that people like Julie and David are producing this level of characterisation three or four times a week. In the same way that June Brown deserved all the plaudits she received for the one off monologue episode she delivered a couple of years ago we need to see past where the performance is given and see the skill behind it.
The other link between Dot and the Croppers is the “right to die” discussion that both shows have dealt with very sensitively and intelligently. I know it is a divisive issue for many but the more that our TVs reflect the large majority of our population the more those in power will see that it’s something that the people want to be considered seriously. If I reach a point with a terminal illness I want to have the option and the courage to do as Hayley did and stop myself from becoming something other than myself. There is a real momentum at the moment with this issue and I’m pleased that Coronation Street have dealt with it realistically and without the sensationalism we have come to expect of these shows.
Neither of the actors will get much praise or see awards for their work out with Soap awards or women’s magazine awards, but when BAFTA release their TV nominations it would be foolish not to at least have these two on the long list for the performances in the show. As brilliant as Julie is David Neilson’s understated and awkward performance as Roy Cropper has always been outstanding and the looks and silences he shared in the final few episodes were as good as I’ve seen on our screens for a long time. They are both great actors and the writers and producers deserve credit too for portraying a sensitive subject with such grace and dignity.