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It's about time Corrie got a black family

DIVERSITY: Craig Charles was a central character on Coronation Street for 10 years before leaving in 2015

I’M NOT the only one who has wondered for some time now (half a century) where are all the black people on Coronation Street? The soap's producers will no doubt say there's no 'colour bar' in Coronation Street and never has been, only the lack of African Caribbean colour at the bar called the Rovers Return.

They will undoubtedly point out that they've been diverse in terms of Coron-asian Street and that the programme has of course had, most memorably, Craig Charles, the Liverpudlian deejay-cum-actor as one of its central characters, until he exited the series somewhat unceremoniously a few years back. I remember interviewing him the morning after the night before.

After he had raved like it was 1999 at his farewell party from the soap, and was somewhat the worse for wear. We ruminated, as black men do, on whether his departure would mean that there Corrie would once again be a no-go area for African/Caribbean representation as there evidently had been since Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner were propping up the monochrome bar at the Rovers Return. Clearly, back then, the black community of Greater Manchester was virtually invisible to the TV producers' eyes. 

Like La Capone guns, I didn't even argue with the issue. What was the point. It was like, if the soap opera was Balamory and you started complaining that the only black faces in it were Josie Jump and Spencer, the painter with the American accent.

Come to think of it, it is shocking, is it not, that that children's series set in the real-life village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull off the coast of Scotland, had more black characters than Coronation Street set in the metropolitan city of Manchester, Britain's third biggest city, and a destination to which many Caribbean families had journeyed to settle since the Windrush. Indeed, was it not in Manchester that the great calypsonian (the greatest ever) Lord Kitchener made his home when he disembarked the Windrush.

And yet, for generations, the series failed or refused to reflect that. Imagine what it missed out on - those fantastic stories from the old foots in the corner of the bar, playing dominoes and drinking rum all day long.

It also missed out on our mothers' and grandmothers' stories and wise words from back home: Yu spread yu bed hard yu afe lie down in it. Moreover, Corrie missed out on all the things that Britain missed out on in the bad old days when we could speak for England but England did not want his to speak for it. And that is why we nuh watch dat.

It's time now, though, to draw a line under that. The inclusion of the soap's first black family in Britain's biggest soap opera means that WE have arrived. It's been long time coming, brothers and sisters, I know, but we haffe watch it now, otherwise this first black family will be short-lived. If the TV execs don't see a dramatic rise in the number of black folk watching the soap now that they've done the right thing by including us in it, we can kiss goodbye to love and gwan hot' a fresh as far as this particular soap is concerned.

When I was living in Media City in Salford, in my 11th floor luxury studio apartment in The Heart building, I overlooked the set of Coronation Street. At the time, the programme was still being broadcast from its old studios in the city centre and they were in the process of moving out to Salford to modernise the set etc.

That would have been the perfect opportunity to say, 'Hey-oop, oop North ain't as grim as it used to be and, even though the Queen doesn't live here, it's like a commonwealth of peoples and Coronation Street is the head of state of it'. Yes, they could have said that then, but they didn't. Maybe they were dipping their toes in cautiously. Like I said, they brought Craig Charles in, the guinea pig (no disrespect, Craig), to see if their mostly white audience would find a black person on the street palatable or not. 

I don't doubt that there was a lot of pressure in these enlightened times to get a black family on the set. I don't doubt that it was embarrassing when Marcus Rashford is scoring for fun for the reds and Raheem is scoring for fun for the blues to act like there were no black families in Manchester and there never would be. So I am delighted that black actors oop North are getting a squeeze out of this.

Maybe it was ITV's advertisers who realised that, hang on, black people buy stuff too. Not only do black people buy stuff but they tend to spend more on buying stuff (don't go there, that's a whole other section of the black condition that we just don't have time to consider in this brief column) than any other demographic. And, like I've always said, it is our economic  power that will make people respect us and treat us like equal citizens. The more money we make the more respect we get. It's a simple equation.

So, though we draw a line on the past, let us not forget that it took nearly sixty years for a black family to move into Coronation Street. That's history.

And we all know, do we not, that this black family on Corrie better step up and come correct because they are going to have to work twice as hard to be accepted/to survive. Our parents told us that. If these actors ain't on top of their game they'll get canned and there won't be any black families on Coronation Street for another (nearly) sixty years. This black family needs the support of us the community.

But it also needs the support of the producers and scriptwriters and the directors on Corrie. This will be a sign of their commitment to diversity. If they don't get some great black scriptwriters (yes, there are loads to choose from) in there to write the lines that will make a REAL black family thrive, then this whole exercise is going to sink into the Manchester Ship Canal.

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