Monday, January 13, 2003 by Chris Diamond
Death walks tall amongst the big soaps this weather. In one of them a major character gets busy dying, on the other a major character gets busy killing. What one to watch? How long do I get to answer that?
It’s difficult to admit to enjoyment of a storyline as – relatively – fantastical as that of the Weatherfield serial killer, Richard Hillman, when one has spent so much time postulating the windy hypothesis that Coronation Street was always the greater of the two main soap operas (the other being EastEnders, before you ask) because it was rooted in everyday life and humdrum events more akin to reality and that its success and longevity was based upon those pillars of wisdom. It also doesn’t help that much of the criticism levelled in the direction of Walford Square was that it depended on outlandish events for dramatic effect and had lost touch with that same reality. So none of this helps one bit when one considers that the best storyline for a long, long time in Weatherfield has been the appearance of a serial killer so oily and odious that if he were to regularly wear a top hat and twirl a pointy waxed moustache with jewelled glove, no one would notice. But it is a fact, I at least would contend, that Richard and his murderous campaign down The Street, his thievery, threats and deceit, is the best thing to happen in soaps for years.
The highpoint so far came with this evening’s double episodes across which Richard dealt his next dastardly hand and raised the stakes for his liberty – and sanity – and our hopes for even greater and higher drama. Using a ploy more familiar to EastEnders, where the worst happens to some whilst others party merrily away, the axe was to fall on Maxine Peacock and Emily Bishop whilst a double birthday party bubbled away literally over the road at the Rovers. Every regular viewer knew that someone was going to get it and I was no different so it was no surprise when Richard sloped out of the party and began his latest spree. Who was it to be? Odds on it was to be Maxine but Emily was in her house babysitting. Surely Emily wouldn’t be in the line of fire? Poor, drippy, sensible shoes Emily? But she was and the scene where Richard laid the blow on her was one of the most genuinely shocking things I have ever seen on television. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. And that was where the genius of the episode lay. I knew Emily was going to get it. I saw Richard creeping up behind her and I was fully cognoscent of the fact that the crowbar in his hand was not for snagging her cardie. But I was sure that even at this point something was going to happen that would divert Richard from his target. When the blow actually fell I was utterly amazed.
At that point Maxine then stumbled in and the second victim was caught but the real shock was with the first. For the first time since heaven knows when my jaw actually dropped in amazement and everyone with me was equally dumbfounded. I may seem to be labouring the point – I may still be in shock – but I just could not conceive that she was dead. And then another masterstroke. She wasn’t dead at all, only badly wounded and was taken to hospital while poor Maxine was taken to the morgue. Ashley meanwhile was lead away in handcuffs, proving that even in the darkest moment there’s always a little bit of sunshine.
None of this will be of the slightest relevance to the look-in or casual viewer but then this is soapland after all and in this case, as it should be, perseverance bore fruit. The character of Richard has reinvigorated the old place like nothing I could have imagined. Everyone I know who has even a passing interest in Coronation Street was transfixed by Richard and his mayhem and even Peter Kay in concert was able to raise a great murmur among his audience by mentioning his name and awful deeds.
It is of course a truism to say that Richard Hillman is not the representation of an everyday person and it might be contended that he has no place in what ought to be a series set in a supposed reality, certainly his is the most radical character I can recall in Coronation Street from any time. But still it seems to work and work extraordinarily well. Perhaps what we have come to expect from soaps has changed; perhaps reality is not what we want after all? For whatever reason it gels together I shall be watching for some time to come, at least as long as Richard is around, as will all those to whom I spoke immediately after the show and received text messages from in tremendous abbreviated excitement.
We’re hooked again. I mean to say, he has to be caught surely? Doesn’t he? Will Ade, who Richard has put in the frame for the murder and assault, be put in jail first? Will Audrey find something out? Will he kill Gail first (please God!)? Who knows what might happen? But whatever does, I’ll be watching.
Mission accomplished, Granada.