We have lost a real TV legend. The warmth and genuine sorrow expressed at the tragic death of Anne Kirkbride shows how over four decades, the character of Deirdre Barlow had earned a place in more than just the Soap Hall of Fame.
Think of that character – first there were the distinctive physical characteristics; the big glasses of course, the unique vocal tics and the neck vein that was so prominent it had Facebook pages devoted to it. Then you focus in on the stories and the moments.
Scrambling desperately through the scattered contents of a lorry that had crashed into The Rovers, looking for Baby Tracey.
Marrying Ken in the same week as the Royal Wedding and being the only woman, aside from Camilla, who came close to stealing focus from Diana.
And of course… The Ken-Deirdre-Mike Baldwin love triangle.
It is not exaggerating to say that the character of Deirdre was at the centre of some of the most watched and talked about TV moments of the past 40 years.
These were big moments. To coin that horrible American phrase, watercooler moments. But such moments are getting rarer. In a time of Netflix and it’s VOD rivals and hundreds of digital TV channels, the days when a number in excess of 20 million people would sit down and watch a single TV show are long gone.
The soaps of course still have that power to occasionally produce storylines that land on the front of the tabloids, as do reality shows. But with an increasingly splintered audience even they are not quite the big conversation pieces they would have been even 10 years ago.
Binge watching means that we of course still talk about telly. Witness a group of Breaking Bad devotees getting together. But we now tend to watch at our own pace. The idea of a family gathering in the living room to stare at the box in the corner and watch the same thing at the same time is becoming increasing quaint, the relic of a pre internet age.
The mourning for Anne Kirkbride is a sign of a character that we have watched several times a week over the past forty years who was part of big moments we have shared. Moments that made millions of us stop and watch.
When Ken and Deirdre were eventually reconciled, the news was announced on the scoreboard at Old Trafford during a game between Manchester United and Arsenal. It read: “Ken and Deirdre reunited. Ken – 1, Mike – 0.” If such a storyline happened now, it would be all over Twitter and Facebook or we’d wait to catch up online at the weekend.
TV has changed. How we watch it has changed too. In a world of often bewildering choice though, there is still a place for sharp writing and strong acting. But now technology means that we are as likely to find it as our own speed, sometimes years after the TV shows we obsess over were first produced. There may never be a soap plot that gets tens of millions of us holding our breath one night quite like Deirdre being sent to jail or the time that Mike Baldwin knocked on the door. But for those of who us who saw it, discussed it and lived it we will never forget Anne Kikbride. She was part of our conversation. She was part of our lives.
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.