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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Fitting farewell to a real star

So it was Farewell Becky, who made her final departure from Coronation Street on Monday in the most riotously enjoyable episode in ages but got her official send-off in this tribute.

These Corrie offshoots are usually nothing more than clip-laden fillers designed to plug a gap during a slow night in the TV schedules. This one, though, was more than justified.

Weatherfield has weathered decades of change and somehow stayed plugged into its history and roots as the first British TV drama serial to depict the lives of ordinary working class people.

It's difficult to imagine now but when Manchester-based Granada Television first transmitted Coronation Street, it mirrored the kitchen-sink revolution happening on the stage, and was considered scandalous by the received-pronunciation stuffed shirts who ran things over at the BBC.

The blizzard of tram crashes, explosions, fatal fires, serial killers and lesbian weddings often obscure Coronation Street's lasting virtues: strong, determined female characters and dazzlingly good writing that deftly balances comedy, tragedy and all the mundane bits in between. Becky, brilliantly played by the talented Katherine Kelly, was a vessel for all that, and there's going to be a lot less of it now that she's gone.

The Britain of Coronation Street is miles away from the one in Death Row Dogs, which followed members of the West Midlands Police's dangerous dogs unit as they scoured Birmingham carting off dogs on the banned breeds list.

On call-outs to various council housing estates and high-rise concrete jungles, the officers zipped one another into bite-proof suits in anticipation of being snarled at, barked at and snapped at -- and that was just by the dogs' owners.

Although the focus was ostensibly on the dogs, which will invariably be destroyed, the bigger story, which the film tiptoed around, was the social conditions that breed the people who breed the dogs. Unremittingly grim.

A current affairs programme stands or falls by how current its affairs are. You can't get any more topical than Prime Time's item last night on loansharks, the razor-toothed carnivores that circle the waters of a recession and are having a feeding frenzy right now, chomping pounds of flesh off householders financial institutions can't or won't lend to and then returning to pick the bones clean.

Prime Time's report was predictably solid but also solidly predicable. That the vulnerable are being exploited by thugs abetted by lax laws is hardly new news. It didn't help that presenter Richard Crowley's hands were tied by having to make do with a lopsided line-up -- a man from the St Vincent de Paul Society and, by video link, a British woman involved in campaigning against loansharking -- that turned the studio discussion into a case of preaching to the converted in an empty church.

The government, said Crowley, had been invited to take part but, and this is a wearingly familiar refrain, "no one was available". Presumably they were all busy not attending the Dail, as sparsely populated when we saw it on Six-One News as a ghost estate. The next time you see some flunky government TD blathering on about how it's vital we have a vibrant, questioning, fair-minded national broadcaster, throw an egg at the screen.

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