I thought that the death of the character Jack Duckworth was a lovely piece of television drama. British soap is usually supposed to be a reflection of gritty reality. This week, the programme moved the audience from a familiar situation to the unfamiliar without the audience having an immediate awareness that this had happened. Coronation Street is often blurring boundaries, especially in playing the comedy of a situation which can be dark at the same time, and this week’s episode was a really good example of this taking place.
Normally a character exit happens on a Friday, so knowing Jack’s death was coming on the Monday felt a little strange. In building up to the moment, we are in the Rover’s Return with many of the regular cast members. There’s Audrey constantly questioning why all the fuss for a seventy-fourth birthday party. Kevin is getting drunker and drunker, and we wonder whether he will reveal his secret. In contrast to Kevin, we see Tyrone being the proud dad, though we are aware of the irony around this. We also witness Emily discussing insomnia with Rita. There is also Betty, the barmaid, reminding us that she’s 90. In the midst of this mix of Jack’s sadness at hearing baby Jack is Kevin Webster’s child and the humour in the bar, we realise that this is the character Jack’s goodbye and the actor’s goodbye. There was a moment when we shifted out of the soap world and into the real world of the actors on set doing their job when we saw the actor Bill Tarmey gesture farewell to actor William Roache.
Jack’s passing, as it turned out to be, was extremely well done and not knowing that there would be a surprise made the scene very moving. Suddenly we had transferred out of the everyday, but don’t realise we have at first. Jack sits in the chair that Vera died in, and is about to read a newspaper. We hear Vera (played by Liz Dawn) say ‘put down the newspaper’. The vision of Jack’s death is presented to us as in the familiar soap world, and in the way we experience the soap week in week out. Vera says she’s coming to take Jack with her on the bus. The two characters dance to the music we’ve just heard playing on the record player. The camera panning upwards is such an unusual shot for this programme and as the viewer we find ourselves looking down directly over the couple’s heads and at that point, we realise that we have witness the moment just after the death itself.