Hey there everybody, and welcome to another edition of TTWTWB, our weekly trawl through the heights, frights and delights that are coming up in the next week on the small screen! As always we kick off with our theme, once again provided by the ever reliable Stargate Universe. This is Alexi Murdoch’s ‘All My Days’
We’ve got a few things to discuss before we get into our preview-y goodness, namely FlashForward nearly giving me heart failure and the continuing mass exodus/expulsion from Eastenders, but before then we have the matter of our weekly feature to address!
As promised, we’re taking a trip to Weatherfield this week, and I thought with the news that a modern day Coronation Street institution is soon to be leaving in the shape of Ashley Peacock, we’d take a look at everybody’s favourite squeaky butcher.
Ashley was first introduced to Corrie as the nephew of Fred Elliot (I say, the nephew of Fred Elliot!) and was largely used for comic relief alongside his ebullient Uncle, working in his butcher shop. He soon became one of the most commonly impersonated soap characters, due to his softly spoken, squeaky voice (which was later revealed by actor Steven Arnold who portrays Ashley to have been an aspect he played up in the character’s formative years, so as to provide a stark contrast to the big booming voice of John Savident who played his Uncle), and was quickly a popular part of the soap’s extended ensemble cast.
As Fred became a bigger part of the show, so did Ashley and as the character was fleshed out, Arnold showed he was able to provide more than just simple comic relief, as Ashley became romantically involved with Zoe Tattersall (Joanne Frogatt), a young single Mother who was unsure whether she would keep her baby. After an on-again-off-again relationship, where Ashley pleaded with her to keep the baby and remain with him, the pair split and Zoe left. More romance followed, with the unlikely pairing of Ashley with glamorous (well, glamorous by Coronation Street standards) hairdresser Maxine (Tracy Shaw), herself largely a comedy relief character at that stage, but the relationship ended temporarily when Zoe returned, this time on the run from a group of people that she had been associated with, (this storyline was one that really came out of left field and then was never really elaborated on. Joanne Frogatt portrayed the bewildered and frightened Zoe excellently, and indeed was supported by some superb acting from Steven Arnold, but the group concerned was never really shown outside of a few members and their motivations/beliefs were never expanded upon then sort of went away in a hurry as Zoe eventually left as part of the group, with no real closure given) and sought help from Ashley. Ashley welcomed back Zoe with open arms, but she left again soon after, again leaving Ashley in an emotional farewell.
Ashley and Maxine reunited a short time after Zoe left, and were married in 1999. There were a few more daft comedy storylines, mainly centred around Ashley teaching Maxine to drive and Maxine trying to convert Ashley, a butcher, to vegetarianism, but despite the aplomb with which these were acted, Steven Arnold had already shown he was able to do much more, and was eventually given another meaty plot in the shape of Maxine falling pregnant a short time after having an affair with Street Doctor, Matt Ramsden (It’s pretty much a given in Soaps that unless a Doctor is Dr Legg of Eastenders, they will inevitably have massive character flaws and not spend a great deal of time actually being a Doctor). The truth about the affair came out and the resultant confrontation between Ashley and Maxine caused the child to be born prematurely. Young Joshua was healthy, but Ashley and Maxine’s marriage was anything but. Tensions raged on between the pair, as Ashley desperately kept the fact the child may not be his from becoming public, but unable to forget what had happened, he insisted on a paternity test. For once in soapland though, things, at least on this occasion ended happily as Ashley forgave Maxine and realised he loved Joshua so much that he didn’t need the test, he was happy to be a family man and leave Maxine’s indiscretions in the past.
Ashley and Maxine's Wedding Day
The happiness was relatively short lived however (it’s a soap, people can never be happy too long) as Maxine was murdered by serial killer (every soap should have one…) Richard Hillman. Once again, Steven Arnold here deserves props for his acting skills as his was the most credible (and indeed very moving) performance in the whole series of events. Richard Hillman was a cartoonish villain and especially by that stage his storyline had descended into a farce, Tracy Shaw did her best, but her skills very much lay on the comic side of things, but Ashley’s devastation at discovering Maxine’s death was one of the most convincingly portrayed reactions in soap history.
In the wake of Maxine’s death, Ashley very nearly lost his son, as it was revealed that Matt Ramsden was in fact Joshua’s biological father, but in a rare act of nobility in a soap, Matt stepped aside and allowed Ashley to raise the child given their strong bond. Ashley then struggled as a single parent and eventually conceded to hiring a nanny, Claire. As soap tradition dictates, the introduction of a nanny brings one of two things, either a psychotic character or a romantic interest for the parent concerned. In this case, Claire turned out to be the perfect woman for Ashley and the pair were married in 2004. Julia Haworth, who plays Claire and Steven Arnold have great on screen chemistry and gave way to one of the most convincing married couples on TV, so this was all pleasing for the viewer, if a little predictable. The wedded bliss was broken however by the revelation that Fred, whom Ashley had always called ‘Uncle’ was in fact his biological Father. When Ashley’s biological Mother fell pregnant, she turned down Fred’s proposal of marriage, and so when Ashley was born he was given to Fred’s sister Beryl who was married but childless. Ashley grew up oblivious to the truth and had called Beryl ‘Mum’ his whole life. The shock caused a rift between Ashley and Fred for a time, but the pair eventually reconciled, and Ashley began to call Fred ‘Dad’, forming a closer bond than ever.
Ashley and Claire's Wedding Day
On their first anniversary, Claire announced to Ashley that she was pregnant and in 2006, gave birth to a son who they named Thomas, but the happiness was extremely short lived as Claire sank into post-partum depression and was eventually sectioned for a short time. This storyline came under a great deal of criticism for the way in which the issue of post-partum was dealt with, amidst fears that the ordeal Claire went through would discourage people from seeking help for the condition in the future. Claire was only sectioned for a short time, but it was felt the damage may have already been done.
Ashley and Claire during the post-partum storyline
As far as storylines go, things didn’t get much better for Ashley despite the reuniting of his family, as his Father, Fred died on his wedding day. Steven Arnold’s performance once again shone out, but the aftermath of Fred’s death was addled with frankly stupid storylines concerning arguments over who would take possession of his ashes. In what was a happy note for the soap couple, and quite a touching tribute to Fred who had been a popular character for some time, baby Thomas’ name was changed to ‘Freddie’, which did give a nice sense of closure to the plot.
Ashley once again had his world rocked shortly after in a hastily re-written storyline. A house fire led to allegations that Claire was once again suffering from depression as baby Freddie went missing for a short time. Originally Freddie was supposed to have gone missing for a longer time in a kidnap storyline, but this was dropped after the abduction of Madeleine McCann hit the news. The re-write re-introduced a friend Claire had made while undergoing counselling, Casey Carswell, who was later revealed to have been the abducter and arsonist. Claire suspected all along, but Casey spun things to make her look guilty. Claire left Ashley for a short time, furious at the allegations against her, which opened the door for Casey to lead Ashley astray with a very out of character extra-marital affair. Claire rumbled Casey, and she was imprisoned, but Claire then had a very hard time forgiving Ashley. Fortunately for fans of happy endings, Claire did forgive Ashley following persuasion from Audrey Roberts, and the pair reconciled.
Of course, this being a soap opera the happiness was short lived and Ashley nearly became a widower for the second time when Claire was rushed to hospital with a blood clot following a miscarriage. The drama soon though turned back to the familiar comedy storylines for Ashley as Claire, fearful of falling pregnant again and inducing another bout of depression, requested Ashley get a vasectomy. Ashley initially bottled out of the procedure, leading to some very Carry On-esque scenes, riddled with innuendo, but eventually conceded to having the snip. After this long run of big storylines though, Ashley and Claire have both moved into the background as peripheral characters but, with the news that both characters are to leave the soap around the 50th anniversary celebrations in December of this year, we’re promised a big exit for the pair.
Honestly, I really hope this is one of those times where soap convention is left by the wayside and the pair get a ‘happily ever after’ sendoff, because after all the heartache we’ve seen two beloved characters endure it would be nice for them to leave on a positive note. Apparently, both Steven Arnold and Julia Haworth approached the producers and asked for another meaty storyline, but were instead told that they were getting the proverbial axe. Obviously we can’t know for sure, but given the way that was reported, and the fact Coronation Street producers have given actors a rough time in the past (See Platt, Martin), this does come off a little bit like a ‘powerplay’ from the bigwigs, and one which could prove to be very foolish. In the shape of Steven Arnold they lose one of their most accomplished actors and best loved characters, and given they desperately need a married couple to stick together to fill the void left by the absence of Jack and Vera, it does seem daft to not capitalise on the chemistry Ashley and Claire have. Regardless of the circumstances though, and whatever December holds, I certainly can say without a doubt that I will miss Ashley Peacock a great deal.
Next week we’ll be taking a look at another soapstar who is just about to leave, Stacy Slater of Eastenders.
Two down, ten to go! Yes the Eastenders exodus continues with news that Lacey Turner who plays Stacy and Gillian Wright who plays her Mother Jean are also leaving. More worryingly, this adds more credence to the theory that Eastenders is not a happy place to work at the moment, as Turner and Wright are the fifth and sixth actors to leave the soap of their own accord. Add to that the six characters that have been axed by producers (four of whom are mind-boggling choices to leave, only Adam and Danny can be considered failed or dead wood really) and the recent comments from former star Phil Daniels who stated the producers are very out of touch with what the viewing audience want, on top of the planned influx of former characters, all of whom left after long, played out storylines and you can see why some might be unhappy in the work environment on set.
Certainly it does little to encourage continued viewing as the cast is continually chopped and changed and what were only a short time ago, very balanced and considered storylines turn into melodramatic and frankly quite bigoted conclusions. Case in point being the Syed/Christian storyline which was dealt with very carefully in it’s opening stages and treated Islam and people of it’s faith with respect. While it made no mistake of the conflict that exists in the cirumstances of a character like Syed (a Gay Muslim), it showed his faith in a positive light, as something he turned to for strength and comfort. However now as the storyline comes to it’s conclusion, the writers have put themselves in a frankly dispicable position, where no matter the outcome, Islam looks backward and is shown in a very negative light. Of course then there is the issue of the only Christian character other than Dot Cotton being a sociopathic serial killer, and Eastenders in the space of a few months has practically reverted to the cliched pap that was being churned out a few years ago.
Finally before we get into our highlights and lowlights for the week, I have to give HUGE praise to the makers of FlashForward for the UNBELIEVABLY tense finish to the most recent episode in the UK. Benford finding and saving Demetri was one of the finest pieces of suspense based writing I have ever seen. My heart was pounding by the end, and it really rekindled my enthusiasm for the show. Bravo once again to those in charge of FF. You officially have my attention.
I’m in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band! has Mark Radcliffe looking at what makes the perfect rock band by analysing the different roles and the attributes that make people stand out. It’s an original premise to televise and one which should be ably undertaken by Radcliffe who has been in many bands himself (his autobiography/band history is a definate must-read) with varying success. The ‘ideal band lineup’ is a common discussion point among music fans, and this should put a different spin on things as the interviews and research look closer at what makes a band really work.
BBC2 has another cultural offering for us this week too, in the shape of Modern Masters. Alistair Sooke takes a look at the life and works of the genre defining modern artists, such as Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse and how their place in the modern world influenced their art. Quite often in an effort to be high-brow, modern artists are overlooked by cultural shows like this, so it’s a real treat to get time devoted to the subject like this.
Our final highlight of the week is Bremner, Bird and Fortune: The Daily Wind-Up. As the build up to the General Election sweeps over the country, who better than to make everybody feel a little bit easier about things and to take the sour faced nature of politics away than the best satirists around. Look for biting remarks and astonishing improvisation as no political figure is to remain safe!
On the other side of the coin however, we have a show that really is the polar opposite of Modern Masters and Bremner & Co and a solid candidate for worst show of the year already, with Scream If You Know The Answer. Strike one, it’s hosted by the horribly smarmy Duncan James. Strike two, it involved celebrities interacting with the general public which is always death to a tv show and the key factor in making this a massive lowlight is strike three… the fact it’s the most obnoxiously stupid premise for a show since Bring On The Wall as it features celebrities answering questions….WHILE ON A ROLLERCOASTER! Who the hell approved that idea and why are they working in television? Seriously, the premise of this show actually offends me. Watch is becoming a spectacular graveyard for terrible shows of all genres.
Our final lowlight of the week is one that always disappoints me when I have to throw it in the lowlight bin each time a new series starts. Lewis has yet to do anything to convince me that it is anything other than a cheap cash in on John Thaw’s death. I like Kevin Whately, I really do, but even he struggles with the horrifically underdeveloped lead character. This has to rank as one of the worst spinoffs ever.
And on that rather bitter note, I bid thee all farewell for the week. Don’t forget to check out the rest of our site, send any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments below, and remember to always stay safe.