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June 11 2012

Coronation Street fails to win listed status

English Heritage says redbrick terrace of long-running TV soap fails to meet historic and architectural criteria

The most famous street in the north of England has failed to win listed status as an historic building because of its constant reinvention to suit the changing demands of TV drama.

The redbrick terrace of Coronation Street, which is threatened by redevelopment as the city's media move from central Manchester to Salford Quays, lost out after a detailed analysis by English Heritage.

For all its lore and grip on the national imagination – "Corrie" is comfortably the world's longest-running, and typically the UK's most-watched TV soap – the actual bricks and mortar are comparative newcomers. Although increasingly "real", with the fibreglass chimneys being replaced by brick to meet the demands of high-definition TV, they only date back to 1982 and have had many additions since.

English Heritage said it failed the listing system's "extremely strict" criteria on age, albeit only by months, but other problems with supposed historic and architectural value were rife.

The ruling says: "Most of the houses do not have interiors and therefore exist as facades, and most of those have been altered. The set as it stands today is an active reminder of the long-running television programme, rather than a survival of an earlier era of television productions."

The full-size street was opened by the Queen, an indication of the show's status rather than the quality of the set. Its two predecessors were built smaller than life-size to fit into Granada TV's production space, obliging actors to walk more slowly than normal. The first set was indoors; the second outside and unpopular with staff because it was built at an angle which caught the wind.

The set has attracted some support from conservationists and Mancunian loyalists who believe the fictional city of Weatherfield, first introduced to viewers in 1960, is Manchester and not its neighbour and rival, Salford, the home of Media City where ITV Granada is building a new set. A number of housing and tourism groups are thought to have approached the company, which is expected to move out next year.

ITV Granada said in a statement: "We continue to consider the future of the Coronation Street set ahead of our planned move to Media City".

Nick Bridgland, of English Heritage, said: "There is no question that Coronation Street is a television institution and holds a huge place in many people's hearts. While listing is not appropriate for the set, a better solution could be for a local group or organisation with an interest to care for it and allow fans from all over the world to visit and enjoy it."


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October 15 2011

Rewind TV: Comic Strip Presents: The Hunt for Tony Blair; Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey; Who Do You Think You Are: Tracey Emin – review

The Comic Strip's handsomely made political satire had mischief at its heart, while Joanna Lumley proved that a little charm goes a long way during her adventures in Athens

Comic Strip Presents: The Hunt for Tony Blair (C4) | 4oD

Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey (ITV1) | STV Player

Who Do You Think You Are: Tracey Emin (BBC1) | iPlayer

We see so little of the Comic Strip ensemble these days that it's easy to forget how long they've been in the trenches of British spoof, tossing out a grenade every now and then, as if cursed to spend the rest of their days striving to match the perfection of their hilarious first episode, Five Go Mad in Dorset, which introduced high jinks to Channel 4's inaugural broadcast in 1982 and the term "lashings of ginger beer" to the cultural memory.

The Hunt for Tony Blair – a parodic splicing of noughties politics and 1950s British film noir (though what Herman's Hermits were doing on the soundtrack I don't know) – wasn't uproariously funny but it was handsomely made, with melodramatic shadows and enough money for fog, flat-footed policemen and steam trains. The plot, such as it was – a madcap chase across country, with the PM on the run for murder – threw up knockabout humour and vignettes from Blair's WMD fiasco, featuring a cast of the usual suspects: a languid Nigel Planer as Mandelson; Harry Enfield in East End shout mode as "Alastair"; the excellent Jennifer Saunders as Thatcher in her dotage (and full Barbara Cartland drag), watching footage of her Falklands triumphs from a chaise longue.

Director Peter Richardson, whose comic talents aren't seen enough on screen, played George Bush as a rasping B-movie Italian mobster ("I'm gonna get straight to the crotch of the matter here"). With the exception of impressionist Ronni Ancona (whose 10 seconds as Barbara Windsor seemed puzzlingly extraneous), no one went for a direct impersonation. Stephen Mangan didn't make a bad Blair, though he could have worked on the grin, and he couldn't quite make his mind up between feckless and reckless as he capered from one mishap to the next leaving a trail of bodies. Did Blair's moral insouciance ("Yet another unavoidable death, but, hey, shit happens") call for a look of idiocy or slipperiness?

The comedy had mischief at its heart in mooting that Blair had bumped off his predecessor, John Smith, and accidentally pushed Robin Cook off a Scottish mountain, while Robbie Coltrane's Inspector Hutton (aha!) tacitly invoked the spectre of Dr David Kelly (we never found out who Blair was charged with murdering). But it was hard to squeeze fresh satire from the overfamiliar stodge of the politics ("Tell Gordon to run the country and trust the bankers"). Mangan was at his funniest hiding among sheep in the back of a truck or kicking Ross Noble (playing an old socialist) off a speeding train, though there was amusement elsewhere. I had to laugh at variety theatre act Professor Predictor, shoehorned into the story to enable Rik Mayall in a bald wig and boffin glasses to answer questions from the audience. Would the Beatles still be at No 1 in 50 years' time?

"No. The Beatles will no longer exist. But Paul McCartney will marry a woman with one leg."

How the audience roared. "Pull the other one," someone shouted. Arf, arf.

My heart sank a little when Joanna Lumley started her Greek Odyssey with the words: "I'm in Athens, the capital of Greece." Well, OK, I suppose she could have meant the one in Ohio. But it wasn't long before she won me over, not least by climbing what looked like a homemade ladder to the top of the Acropolis to watch restorers scraping away, using toothbrushes and dentists' drills. You wouldn't have got me up there. "Don't look down," said her interpreter. Joanna, bless her, tried to take her mind off her vertigo by telling us about the traumatic day she got stuck on a ladder as a girl and had to be rescued. She was only up here now, she said, out of duty to the viewers. "Because I love you," she said, shooting a toothy smile at the camera.

After a day at the ruins she was ready for a night on the town and was soon heading for a club where it was tradition for the customers to pay 60 euros for a plate of flowers to throw at a singer on stage. Apparently, a wild evening here could cost five grand. Economic crisis? Pah!

"We live only for this day," reasoned one reveller. "Tomorrow, maybe everything boom!" Maybe? Still, it was good to see philosophy alive and kicking in the home of Aristotle and Plato.

There were gods to be worshipped, in particular 1960s bespectacled diva Nana Mouskouri, whom Joanna met at the remains of a huge amphitheatre. She was taken aback when Joanna asked her to sing, but she didn't need asking twice. The tourists were stilled as Nana trilled, as if required to observe a minute's silence. Joanna does make friends easily. She wooed the odd women of Evia who communicated by whistling at each other. They could speak, too, but if you wanted to banter with a goat on a roof – as one did – only whistling would do. Admittedly, the goats could only say "meh" but frankly it's eerie to see one converse in any tongue. Whistling was a dying language, though, with most of the children in the tiny community of 40 unwilling to learn it, perhaps seeing English or Chinese as a more attractive option in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Then on a remote peninsula, Joanna stumbled upon an old woman living in a deserted hill village. Everyone had left, she said, when they built a road in the 70s. What on earth did she live on? For her answer she took Joanna out to forage for wild asparagus, which she cooked with oil and salt, and lemons as "sweet as oranges". Tucking in, Joanna asked if she didn't get lonely out here in this ghost town in the middle of nowhere. "I'm not afraid of anything," she said. Homer would have put her on the itinerary.

Art's tough girl Tracey Emin has spent her career answering the question Who Do You Think You Are?, or at least creating an effigy of who she wants us to think she is. As a medium of revelation itself, WDYTYA? admits no such cunning. After all, you can't choose your own family. Tracey was a nervous wreck. Would she get the ancestors she deserved – gritty swashbucklers, salts of the earth, creative mavericks – or would they turn out to be loss adjusters from the home counties?

It didn't start well, with maternal great-grandfather Henry having been a product of reform school. Tracey's inventive mind fizzed with wishful thinking. Perhaps young Henry had been plucked out of poverty and earmarked for an education by a rich patron, impressed by his native gifts and promise? In fact, he had stolen two brass taps. But, hang on, he had a spotless record during his years there and acquired skills with saw and lathe that would stand him in good stead if he now emigrated to Canada, which was all the rage with former inmates. Tracey's eyes lit up, but no – he burgled a house instead and stole some cocoa, £8 and a violin. Tracey was sad for poor Henry (whose mother had died) but not without hope: "Maybe he wanted the violin to play," she suggested, adding that there had been guitar players in the family.

Perhaps, said the researcher gently. Tracey blamed the father, but then it transpired that he'd done a year's hard labour for thieving in the 1880s, when hard labour meant walking the treadwheel six hours a day – and that was the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis twice, said the narrator, who throughout this fascinating programme talked us through pictures of grimy urchins, old lags and scenes of corrective punishment.

But just as Tracey was losing heart, the next archive provided thrilling evidence of a "besom-maker" in the family and then, blimey, a line of tent-dwellers, pedlars, tinkers and Gypsies as long as your arm – kindred free spirits to the blood and bone! Tracey's face said it all. You couldn't make it up and yet it looked as if someone just had.


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August 16 2011

TV highlights 17/08/2011

Village SOS | Natural World: Heligan – Secrets Of The Lost Garden | Who Do You Think You Are? | Frank Lloyd Wright | Timothy Spall: Back At Sea | Pendle Witch Child

Village SOS
8pm, BBC1

What could be better than taking ownership of your village pub and trying to make it the hub of the community that so many rural villages now lack? Such is the situation in Honeystreet, Wiltshire, as residents start running ailing hostelry The Barge Inn, hoping to relaunch it with a music festival. This second episode of the Sarah Beeny-fronted Village SOS, in which struggling communities attempt to regenerate with the help of the functionally entitled Big Lottery Fund, sees rows and tears before last orders. Ben Arnold

Natural World: Heligan – Secrets Of The Lost Garden
8pm, BBC2

The historically restored gardens of Heligan in Cornwall are home to myriad animal wildlife. Cameraman Charlie Hamilton James has been taking a look at what goes on behind the scenes throughout the year, revealing a family of badgers that tour the grounds foraging for food; barn owls that are kept busy feeding their chicks; a somewhat lost green heron (it should be in America) and a newborn fox cub exploring its habitat for the first time. There's also a look at the insects attracted by the plants, including bumblebees and a red admiral feeding on flowers. Martin Skegg

Who Do You Think You Are?
9pm, BBC1

Jo Rowling never got to tell her late mother about Harry Potter. Now the author goes in search of her French ancestors on her mother's side. And so begins her fascination with her great-grandfather Louis. He came to England from France at the start of the 20th century to work in the hotel trade and was soon supporting an English wife and child. She gets to see incredible documents, and on one branch of the family tree hangs the possibility of heritage from another country altogether. Julia Raeside

Frank Lloyd Wright
8pm, Sky Arts 1

As part of the Sky Arts architecture season, this two-part documentary delves into the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright who, by his own reckoning, was the greatest architect ever. Wright was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, loosening up the designs of homes and buildings with his "organic" architecture, which culminated in the magnificence of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. But his life story is fascinating, if troubled: he scandalised society by running away with his mistress, who, upon their return, was butchered at Wright's self-designed home by an employee. MS

Timothy Spall: Back At Sea
8.30pm, BBC4

Second instalment of Timothy Spall's barge-borne circumnavigation of Britain. Tonight, Spall and his wife, Shane, leave Wales to creep along the coast of England's north-west. The footage shot at sea is quite engaging, as Spall struggles grumpily with the boat, the sea and the bureaucracy of ports. Unfortunately, a lot of the episode is based on land, where the narrative drifts into the cut-and-pasted potted histories of the locations that disfigure many travel programmes. Andrew Mueller

Pendle Witch Child
9pm, BBC4

The 1612 trial of Alizon Device in Lancashire is considered one of the most controversial in British legal history. Device was accused of being a witch, and was ultimately damned by the testimony of her nine-year-old sister, Jennet. Forensically analysing the socio-political context of the trial, poet and playwright Simon Armitage presents a portrait of a pre-modern Britain struggling to balance reason and superstition. Armitage's skilful reading of events makes this another welcome addition to an excellent summer season of documentaries from BBC4. Gwilym Mumford


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May 05 2010

General election 2010: TV channels plan hi-tech coverage

BBC constructs massive 'coliseum' set, while rivals also plan touchscreens and graphics to display possible hung parliament

Following the success of the leaders' debates, broadcasters are preparing for the most extensive and hi-tech general election coverage ever on Thursday night.

The BBC in particular has pulled out all the stops for its election night programme, with a "coliseum" – a two-tier set constructed from hundreds of scaffolding poles in BBC Television Centre.

Tension was high when I was allowed onto the set yesterday for the last rehearsal before Thursday night's marathon live broadcast.

Surrounded by miles of cabling and buzzing with more than 100 crew and journalists under black blankets covering the "coliseum" poles, the set includes a giant "swingometer", which Jeremy Vine was examining closely with technicians.

To his right is a big results touchscreen operated by Emily Maitlis and above them all on the top tier will be Jeremy Paxman, interviewing guests from on high.

David Dimbleby anchors the whole thing in the middle and was an oasis of calm when I saw him, running through his notes as young producers in jeans and beanie hats frantically raced around.

The BBC is understood to have a general election budget of about £10m. ITV, with less than £2m, has a set that is a more intimate affair in a green-painted studio a fifth of the size, featuring a Spooks-style touchscreen in the centre for Alastair Stewart, virtual battlegrounds – including one recently commissioned for the Liberal Democrats following their surge in the polls – and ITV's new version of a swingometer, dubbed "Flo".

Flo shows three connected glass pots with red-, blue- or yellow-coloured paint that will fill up and drain down depending on the flow of the parties' fortunes.

Despite having around a tenth of the technicians of the BBC, ITV's coverage from ITN includes ground-breaking gizmos devised by a team of just four led by head of computer graphics whizz Ian White, such as a holographic wall showing the House of Commons.

The broadcaster also has two big touchscreens that co-host Julie Etchingham will use to show voting share that are, rather charmingly, stuck together with sticky tape, though viewers will not be able to see, as it will be covered up by a computer image.

ITV has about 700 people working on its coverage, which will include a big party at County Hall hosted by Mary Nightingale.

Sky News will be offering UK viewers general election coverage in high definition for the first time and is at about 100 locations around the country.

John McAndrew, the Sky News Decision Time executive producer, said: "We've got more people out in the field than ever before in the constituencies as that will be the story, rather than what's in the studio."

In a move of which Nick Clegg might approve, Sky, the BBC and ITV are working together for the first time on an exit poll and sharing some cameras at the leaders' counts and some helicopter shots.

All the broadcasters stress there will fewer gimmicks this election – apparently the lessons have been learnt from Vine's ill-advised comedy cowboy routine during the US presidential election in 2008 – and the emphasis is on "clarity".

"There's almost an arms race about how you cover election programmes. People are not knocked out any more if they've seen things like Avatar. I think what people want is clarity," said Craig Oliver, the BBC's election night editor.

Deborah Turness, the ITV News editor, said the complicated political story with the potential for a hung parliament has had an impact on how television has covered the election.

"The story has demanded we get more people in more places. The way the campaign has been we've got more people out than last time, more dishes etc," Turness added.

Presenters including the BBC's Dimbleby and ITV's Stewart and Etchingham are steeling themselves for marathon stints in front of the camera.

BBC1 and ITV1 also have plans to clear out their daytime schedules on Friday – even popular shows such as Loose Women – if the outcome of the election is still uncertain.

Both have scheduled their Election 2010 programmes to run from 9.55pm on Thursday night to 6am the following morning. BBC1's Breakfast Election 2010 Special will then run from 6am until 2pm on Friday, ahead of a 45 minute news bulletin.

ITV1 plans to go over to GMTV as normal between 6am and 9.25am, featuring election coverage, before Katie Derham pickes up the baton for more Election 2010 between 9.25am and 10.30am.

The network is then scheduled to revert to its normal daytime line-up, starting with This Morning and Loose Women – depending on the outcome of the election.

"We could be here until 6pm Friday," said Oliver, although he stressed Dimbleby will get a break when BBC Breakfast airs.

Etchingham said: "I'm due to go until 9am and then do News at Ten that night."

A veteran of general election nights, Stewart concluded: "It can't not be interesting, whatever the outcome. It's too close to call but it's going to be an historic election."

Perhaps the only thing the broadcasters can predict is the inevitable complaints from some viewers about their regular programmes being disrupted.

• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email editor@mediaguardian.co.uk or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000.

• If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".


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