Coronation Street is a soap opera shown four times a week in the United Kingdom.

Of course, there's much more to it than just that ! Coronation Street is the most popular soap opera in Britain. It's also the world's longest-running television drama serial - the first episode was shown in December 1960, and has been shown continuously since then, going from two, to three (October 1989), and in December 1996, four episodes a week. The 4,000th episode was transmitted in April 1996. It is also transmitted in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe.

Like other UK soaps, its attraction lies in the mundane. Set in the fictional Weatherfield, part of the Manchester conurbation in north west England, it portrays ordinary working class people in ordinary, believable situations and is a world away from US soaps such as Dallas and Dynasty. However, what makes The Street stand out from other UK soaps is the quality of writing, and the fact that plots are written from the characters viewpoint, rather than the issue-led storylines of other soaps.

Coronation Street was the brainchild of writer Tony Warren. Although he was brought up in middle-class surroundings in Swinton, Manchester, Warren drew inspiration from his grandmother's surroundings in inner-city Salford. In 1956, Warren, only 19, wrote Where No Birds Sing, a script about a northern back-street, and a year later developed a comedy version - Our Street which he submitted to the BBC in Leeds and famously is still awaiting a reply. In 1958, he joined Granada Television, writing episodes for Shadow Squad, People and Places and Biggles.

Granada Television (yes, named after the Spanish city) had been created by brothers Sydney and Cecil Bernstein in 1955, and was granted a licence to transmit television in the north of England. Part of the remit was to reflect the life of the region, but they were hardly fulfilling this. After pressurising producer Harry Elton to write about something he knew and understood, Warren was given twenty-four hours to 'come up with an idea to take Britain by storm'. Drawing on his childhood experiences and those first two scripts, overnight he produced what was to become the first episode of Coronation Street. Its potential was immediately obvious, and Warren's memo to the Granada board, explaining Florizel Street (Coronation Street's working title) ensured its production:

"A fascinating freemasonary, a volume of unwritten rules. These are the driving forces behind life in a working class street in the north of England. The purpose of Florizel Street is to examine a community of this nature, and to entertain."

Coronation Street went into production with twelve episodes, and a possible final thirteenth episode, were the street was bulldosed if the programme wasn't successful. The first episode was transmitted at 7:00 pm, Friday 9th December 1960 and was an immediate success. Before the end of 1960, more episodes were commissioned, and by May 1961 it was fully networked throughout the UK, topping the TV ratings - where it has remained ever since.

You can hear a cheesy version of Eric Spear's theme tune - though the one used in the TV series is far better.


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