Thursday, December 09, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Debut of 'Coronation Street'

On this day in 1960 Coronation Street made its television debut on Granada Television (now ITV Studios)...  The very same episode was placed here on this day in 2010, on the occasion of the show's 50th anniversary.  Nearly 7,500 episodes and 50 years later the show is heaped with superlatives, including Britain's longest-running soap opera and the world's longest-running dramatic programme among many others.

Set in Manchester's fictional working class district of Weatherfield - itself based on the City of Salford - the brainchild of Tony Warren was initially rubbished by critics but embraced by audiences, who'd made it the number one show on British television by 1961. This dichotomy probably best illustrates the class divide in Britain; ITV was basically founded in an effort to put the working class majority and their stories on television, in direct competition to the shows aired by the middle class, pro-Establishment BBC.

From its beginning Coronation Street sought to combine the aesthetics of kitchen sink drama popular in British cinema throughout the 1950s with those of the American soap opera; among its other innovations was the presence of strong female characters, such as Ena Sharples (Violet Carson), Elsie Tanner (Patricia Phoenix), and Annie Walker (Doris Speed) - proprietress of the Rovers Return Inn. The original cast are mostly gone now... Only one remains, namely Ken Barlow (William Roache).
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Happy Birthdame!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI first became aware of her when the sitcom she made, As Time Goes By, began appearing on our local PBS affiliate; alongside her old friend Geoffrey Palmer - himself a Britcom stalwart - Judi Dench added a kind of gravitas to the proceedings that, if anything, made the show funnier.

Then came Mrs. Brown (1997), a little movie about a little woman that plays a huge part in bringing the character of the reclusive Queen Victoria to light; together with Palmer, Antony Sher (a revelation as Benjamin Disraeli) and Billy Connolly, the film portrays the creation of an imperial matriarchy that saved the British throne at a time of crisis.

At an age (a radiant 76) when most people are slowing down to enjoy their dotage, Dame Judi Dench appears to be full steam ahead, never making a misstep in the choices of roles - whether onstage or onscreen: Tea with Mussolini (1999), Chocolat (2000), The Shipping News (2001), Mrs Henderson Presents (2005), Notes on a Scandal (2006)...

She just keeps getting better and better, which makes celebrating her birthday a no-brainer for the Pop Culture Institute!
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"I Know What Boys Like" by The Waitresses

The Waitresses were among my favourite bands when, back in the day, I and my hair were all about the New Wave; in memory of their vocalist Patty Donahue, who died on this day in 1996 of lung cancer, it's their biggest hit, from the 1982 album Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful.

It's not available on CD; for that you'll need to get The Best of the Waitresses; the band is shown here performing it on BBC2's long-running music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test.

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Remembering... Margaret Hamilton

Sooner or later, every pretty girl becomes aware that her looks won't last forever, meaning she must develop talent or personality or some other such thing to compensate... For all that plain girls may dream of beauty, the nightmare of losing it never need trouble their sleep.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMargaret Hamilton - born on this day in 1902 - was one of the hardest working actresses in Hollywood, precisely because she wasn't pretty; glamour girls are almost always the flavour of the month, whereas a classic like vanilla is a perennial favourite.

Famed for her portrayal of The Wicked Witch of the West, Hamilton assayed a variety of maids, nurses, schoolteachers, and New England spinsters during the course of her long career, from Zoo in Budapest (1933) to her final appearance nearly fifty years later on a 1982 episode of the television show Lou Grant.

Rumour has it (and true or not it has a nice ring to it) when Gregory Maguire wrote his great novel Wicked, he made Elphaba (the name he gave to the Wicked Witch of the West) concerned about the ill-treatment of animals as a tribute to her; throughout her life, Margaret Hamilton's charitable works always supported children and animals.

She was, to all who met her, a beautiful lady indeed...
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Happy Birthday Your Imperial Highness

In another life Masako Owada could have been a diplomat, as she was before her marriage, and as her father Hisashi Owada is; no doubt in her next life - as Empress of Japan - she will not only be among that country's foremost ambassadors but a superlative one at that, owing to her background. If, that is, she can get the Imperial Household Agency to stop hectoring her over her failure to produce a male heir - as if bullying someone were any good way to get what you want!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1963, Crown Princess Masako - bright, beautiful, beloved - has instead turned into something of a spectre within Japan's Royal Family, seldom venturing out on public duties, nursing the wounds that result from the particular misogynies of royal life. For a woman as worldly as Her Imperial Highness, the paternalism of Japanese society - especially in its upper echelon - has proven especially hurtful.

Not that she didn't expect it; stories abound about how many times she refused Crown Prince Naruhito's proposal and (setting aside all romantic notions about his persistence during their courtship) it's a darn good thing he's stood by her as resolutely through her trials as he has. Even more so than with most married couples, her problems really are his problems.
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"Willow" by Joan Armatrading

Birthday wishes go out today to Joan Armatrading, the anglo-Caribbean singer whose smoky voice has no doubt proven the ideal soundtrack to many a steamy night...

I chose this song because it was featured on the soundtrack for the film Boys on the Side, which for three months in the mid-90s never left my CD player. It's the song of hers with which I'm most familiar and, having since experienced a broader spectrum of her music, in my opinion shows her full range of talents well.

Plus, it's got a great message; what more could you want?
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POPnews - December 9th

[P. B. S. Pinchback was many things - newspaper publisher, gambler, orator, speculator, dandy, and mountebank; although racially he referred to himself by the quaint term quadroon, he chose to take pride in his accomplishments (over which he had some degree of control) rather than anything as arbitrary as the colour of his skin.]

1425 - The Catholic University of Leuven was founded as a Studium Generale courtesy of a papal bull issued by Martin V.

1531 - The Virgin of Guadalupe is said to have first appeared to Juan Diego in the Mexican town of Tepeyac.

1824 - Patriot forces led by General Antonio José de Sucre defeated a Royalist army under Viceroy José de la Serna and José de Canterac at the Battle of Ayacucho, putting an end to the Peruvian War of Independence.

1872 - Louisiana's P. B. S. Pinchback became the first black governor in US history; his tenure in Baton Rouge lasted 35 days.

1897 - The feminist newspaper La Fronde was first published in Paris by Marguerite Durand.

1905 - In France, a law separating church and state was passed.

1917 - In Palestine, Field Marshal Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire.

1922 - Gabriel Narutowicz was elected the first President of Poland by the Sejm.

1931 - The Constituent Cortes approved the constitution which established the Second Spanish Republic.

1935 - Walter Liggett, an American newspaper editor and muckraker based in Minneapolis, was killed in front of his family in a gangland murder; Liggett had recently exposed the connection between gangster Kid Cann and the administration of Minnesota governor Floyd B. Olson. His daughter Marda Liggett Woodbury would grow up to write a book about her father's crusading work against corruption entitled Stopping The Presses: The Murder of Walter W. Liggett.

1946 - The Subsequent Nuremberg Trials began with the Doctors' Trial, which prosecuted Nazi doctors alleged to be involved in human experimentation.

1952 - The dense mixture of fog and coal smoke that had first descended over London on December 5th finally cleared, although the impact of the Great Smog would be felt for months.

1958 - The John Birch Society was founded in the United States.

1960 - The first episode of Britain's longest running television soap opera Coronation Street was broadcast.

1961 - Tanganyika gained its independence from the United Kingdom; today the East African territory is better known as Tanzania.

1965 - During the Kecksburg UFO Incident a fireball was seen in the skies over Michigan and Pennsylvania; witnesses later reported something crashing in the woods near Pittsburgh. In 2005 NASA admitted that it had examined an object as a result, but changed their story from its having been a meteor to some kind of Russian satellite instead.

1979 - It was announced that the virus which causes smallpox had been eradicated.

1990 - Lech Wałęsa became the first-ever directly elected President of Poland.

2008- Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested by federal officials for a number of alleged crimes including attempting to sell the US Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
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