The coronavirus era arrives in Coronation Street and Emmerdale

Are you allowed to remove your mask in a hospital setting, whilst talking to your ex-fiancé, who’s just been run over whilst pushing you out of the way of a car, about the fact that he murdered a loan shark and buried him in the woods?  Sarah Barlow, formerly Platt, nee Tilsley, did.  I don’t understand why she’s even bothering with Gary, when she’s married to Adam, but never mind.  Meanwhile, the Rovers Return, Roy’s Rolls, Speed Daal and, presumably, the Bistro – there are a lot of food outlets in Coronation Street! – are now only doing take-aways.  Does this include Betty’s hotpot?  The factory is making PPE for the NHS, nurse Aggie Bailey was unable to celebrate her 30th wedding anniversary due to having to self-isolate, Maria is desperately trying to keep up with the demand for haircuts after the salon was finally able to reopen, and Gemma regretted that social distancing meant that she couldn’t hug Abi after inadvertently upsetting her.  Over in Emmerdale, now back to proper episodes after the lockdown specials (some of which were OK, some of which were dire), it’s also take-aways only, and two characters played by high-risk actresses (Claire King, who’s got rheumatoid arthritis, and Michelle Hardwick, who’s pregnant) have disappeared, one on a business trip and one to stay with relatives.

None of the child actors are allowed to feature at the moment, either, because children require chaperones on set and that would mean more people.  Noah and Sarah in Emmerdale have been around, but I assume that those scenes were filmed pre-lockdown.  The Coronation Street teen gang of Amy, Asha, Aadi, Summer and Kelly, who are great and who had been at the centre of two plots, are out of the picture, as are all actors aged over 70 or those who are high-risk for other reasons.

It’s easy to explain that Gemma can’t hug Abi because of social distancing, and there are social distancing signs up in the cafe and the factory, but it’s a bit more difficult to explain why characters can’t get too close to their partners, children, parents or siblings!  However, social distancing didn’t stop Amy in Emmerdale from arranging a date with Lee, even if it was only in the hope that it’d make Victoria realise that she wanted Lee back.  Come to that, it didn’t stop Sarah and Charity from breaking into Priya’s house.  However, there must have had to be a fair bit of last minute rewriting.  Yasmeen in Coronation Street has even had a heart attack to explain why her courtroom appearance couldn’t take place!

Ironically, EastEnders, the one soap which usually likes to mention current events, is off air at the moment.  But, when it’s back, presumably it’ll be the same there.  The scriptwriters had to do this: soap world might not be the real world (how many people do you know whose ex-fiances murder loan sharks and bury them in woods?) but it has to mirror it to a reasonable extent.  So our favourite characters are going through it all with us!

It is very, very weird, though, watching it and knowing that neither we, the characters, the actors nor the scriptwriters have any idea what is going to happen.  Now, over 35 years after I first read The Chalet School in Exile, I know a tiny bit – obviously the pandemic is hardly to be compared with the risk of a Nazi invasion, but the uncertainty is comparable – about how it must have felt for Elinor M Brent-Dyer to write that, and for her readers to read it.

Strange times.

Strange times indeed.

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