In its heyday, anything more violent than a cutting remark from Bet Lynch or a killer look from Ena Sharples would have Street fans reaching for the smelling salts.
But now murder, mayhem and explosions have become run of the mill on the long-running soap – and viewers are not happy about it.
So much so, that the TV watchdog is investigating Coronation Street for airing ‘harrowing’ scenes before the 9pm watershed after receiving more than 600 complaints.
Bloodbath: Villian Pat Phelan (played by Connor McIntyre) in an episode last week that triggered hundreds of complaints
Campaign groups and MPs have also criticised the ‘violent themes’ in the programme.
A storyline involving the soap’s villain Pat Phelan has seen his menacing behaviour escalate in the last few months.
At the end of October, a chilling episode saw Phelan – played by Connor McIntyre – force Andy Carver to shoot Vinny Ashford dead, before turning on Carver and killing him as well. Then, in an episode last Friday, he shot dead a third character, Luke Britton, before blowing up his car.
It’s a far cry from the show that Sir Michael Parkinson recently lamented was once ‘gentle and funny’.
Speaking a few months ago, the veteran broadcaster gave a scathing verdict on the direction the programme had taken, saying the recent storyline was more akin to a ‘horror film than a family show’.
He told Radio Times: ‘I never imagined I would recoil from watching Coronation Street, but the storyline of the kidnapping and torture of Andy and Vinny and their brutal murder by Pat Phelan had little to do with that gentle, funny reminder of life in the North Country I discovered and so admired in the early 1960s.’
Over the last few months, the watchdog has received 622 complaints from viewers involving Phelan’s character and the murder scenes.
Based on these, Ofcom is assessing whether ITV has broken rules on ‘appropriate scheduling’ and pre-watershed violence.
Looking daggers: Bet Lynch and Hilda Ogden cross swords in an episode from 1986
If a broadcaster is found to have breached the rules, it can face a series of sanctions. These can include fines of up to £250,000, being banned from repeating the programme and having to issue a correction or statement.
The violent storylines have not reversed declining viewing figures. In the last year, an average of 6.5million watched Coronation Street, which is typically scheduled six times a week. These figures are a long way off the soap’s heyday in the 1980s, when it topped the television ratings and attracted over 20million viewers.
A spokesman for ITV said: ‘Pat Phelan is well established as a villain in a long line of murderous Coronation Street villains, and his evil actions won’t have come as a surprise to viewers.
‘The programme is always careful to limit the violence shown to a minimum to convey the drama and tell the story. We have responded to Ofcom.’
Tory MP Giles Watling, a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said that broadcasters must have ‘some sense of responsibility in dealing with these things’.
‘Broadcasters should have some sense of responsibility when dealing with these things,’ Mr Watling, a former actor, said.
‘It is absolutely true that young minds can be easily swayed by what they see on the television, and if they see casual violence as part of what they see as ordinary, everyday life on television, they might incorporate it into their own lives. I do know we have to be very careful.
Charlie (Bill Ward) thrusts Shelley (Sally Lindsay) up against a wall in a 2006 episode of Coronation street which has become increasingly violent since it first aired
‘In my previous life in the theatre we think about these things, and so should television broadcasters, especially television broadcasters because they reach so many. And they not only reach so many, they reach so many in their own homes, which makes it normal.’
Meanwhile, fellow select committee member Julian Knight, MP for Solihull, said it was a ‘very good idea’ that Ofcom is investigating the soap, which he described as a ‘national institution’.
He told the Daily Mail: ‘It is a family show, and is pre-watershed. Although there are times when shows have to tackle important issues and issues that may even seem uncomfortable at that time of the evening.
A bloody scene in the hit ITV soap. Campaign groups and MPs have criticised the ‘violent themes’ in the programme
‘There is no need to string that out and to make it so that it becomes almost part of the norm. That is the problem with it – it is not an exceptional storyline, it seems to be maybe a changing emphasis of Coronation Street. If that is the case, if it is suddenly going to become quite violent in this respect, then the broadcaster needs to think about what time it is actually scheduled for.’
Campaign group Media Watch, which has long spoken about the importance of the watershed, said: ‘It’s worrying that such violent themes and images, especially scenes of gun violence, are considered suitable for a family show scheduled before the watershed.
‘Latest research from Ofcom indicates that concern among parents about what their child has seen on pre-watershed TV is rising. We sincerely hope that the regulator and broadcasters take on board parental unease going forward.’
They later added that while broadcasters did not show a ‘total disregard’ for the watershed, they were ‘frequently pushing the boundaries’ on what was acceptable.