The mournful wail of a lone cornet in the evening must be one of the most recognisable sounds in British television. For over 50 years, the theme music to Coronation Street has beckoned millions to the sofa every week.
It is in many ways the most unlikely of siren songs. Drab and depressing, it depicted life in the fictional town of Weatherfield, on a bleak, working-class terraced street originally called Florizel Street by its creator Tony Warren.
Later renamed Coronation Street after Edward VII’s enthronement and the architectural era of the houses, the soap set out to examine “the driving forces behind life in a working-class street in the North of England”, wrote Warren, “…and, in doing so, entertain.”
It was an idea spun out of the ‘kitchen sink’ genre of the 1950s, with its ‘angry young men’, and it didn’t go down well with the executives of Granada Television, who found it dreary. Nonetheless, they were persuaded to make 13 pilot episodes, the first of which was aired on 9 December 1960 – and it was performed live.
The programme’s representation of working-class families struck a chord with viewers, who tuned in to watch student Ken Barlow (still played by William Roache) coming to terms with his humble origins. Right from the get-go, Coronation Street acquired a loyal following.
With its north-west accents and use of regional dialect, Coronation Street contrasted with the London middle-class focus preferred by the BBC. Commercial television had only been around for five years, and the programme helped give Britain’s second channel an identity, as well as ensure the success of its maker, Granada.
In 2010, Coronation Street became the longest-running soap opera in the world, and it has consistently attracted some of the highest ratings in television. And if you find yourself in Australia, New Zealand or Canada, you can still tune into life on Britain’s favourite street.