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Soaps Interview

Exclusive: 'Coronation Street' gossip and teasers from producer Stuart Blackburn

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Coronation Street producer Stuart Blackburn

© ITV

For Digital Spy's latest soap producer interview, we caught up with Coronation Street's boss Stuart Blackburn, who took office at the ITV show in January after nearly two years in charge of Emmerdale.

With Corrie enjoying another successful year, we asked Stuart what's coming up over the rest of the summer and beyond. Read on to find out what he had to say!

How easy has it been to make the transition from Emmerdale to Coronation Street?
"It's been hard and easy at the same time! The hard part was that it was a real wrench to leave Emmerdale when I did. We'd just come off the back of the show's 40th anniversary, which obviously went very well, and I'd built up a really good relationship with the cast and crew there. In some ways, it felt like I was leaving a year or 18 months too early.

"With that said, I've worked on Corrie before and everyone here has just made me feel so welcome. The cast and crew have been supportive from the word go, so everyone around me has made my life really easy."

How different are the two shows to work on?
"The two shows are the same in some ways and completely different in others. In the time I'd been at Emmerdale, I'd almost forgotten just how big the focus is on Corrie. With everything you do or say, there's a great deal of pressure and scrutiny - but quite rightly so. After 53 years, there has to be a pressure there to continue getting it right for the audience.

"Creatively, the locations mark the two shows out as very, very different. For me, Corrie is very much about a working class community in Britain, so that's always what informs the characters we have, the style of the show and the stories we tell. On Emmerdale, the show is set in a village, where you can credibly have the lady of the manor drinking in the same pub as the gardener. Emmerdale can work as a classless picture of Britain, whereas that's not really the case with Corrie."

You've spoken in other interviews about making sure Corrie sticks to its roots, as a drama telling the stories of working class people. Have you had to make any specific changes to bring that vision to the screen?
"A lot of it is very subtle, but for me it starts with the dialogue and whether we're keeping on top of our characters' voices. There's a huge danger that, over time, you can transform the characters into being 'middle class' with the way they speak and the clothes they're wearing, so costume is also very important. We do have to keep it within reason, though. Soaps also provide escapism and glamour, which is great.

"It's also about telling stories which are most relevant to our audience. For example, the upcoming story between Paul and Lloyd is really focused on male pride and reputation, but the element that does touch upon racism is very relevant and contemporary from both of those characters' point of view.

"As people may have already read, we are also introducing a second hand shop, which is such a contemporary presence on so many working class streets. More than anything, we need to always remember where the show is based and what the lives are like for people who live there."

Lloyd accuses Paul of being racist.

© ITV

Paul and Lloyd's race row at The Rovers



With recent plotlines such as Roy learning his father had died and Norris worrying about the future, has there been a conscious decision to introduce more grounded and character-based stories?
"Absolutely. It's the nature of soaps that we'll always have heightened stories too, and I do embrace those. It's always about the mix, and we rely on one form of storytelling at our peril. At the same time, our characters have got such rich and truthful histories, and those are the stories that I adore telling.

"It's about believability and if viewers watch a week's worth of episodes and can't recognise or relate to anything that's on the screen, then we've got it wrong. I think the stories you've pointed out are just about a common humanity that we all, in some way, will have experienced."

Which characters and stories should we be watching out for over the summer and into autumn?
"I think we're looking in really good shape. What I'm trying to do is use as many characters as we can, rather than being over-reliant on one small group for too long. It's always a judgement call, but over the summer and autumn, we've got a really good mix.

"Roy and Hayley's storyline, which also brings in Fiz and Tyrone, is going to be incredibly strong over the next few months. It's a story that I'm already extremely proud of, and we're not even half-way through it yet. We've also got David, Kylie, Nick, Leanne, Gail and Audrey as one of our finest clans, so they're going to be really driving things on too.

"There's lots coming up for Peter, Carla, Rob, Tracy and Tina. We've already seen that Tina and Tracy don't get along, so Tina will be brought into the story and that character group is going to be very big.

"Viewers should also watch out for Steve and Michelle. I think they haven't had enough screen time lately, so we're going to be really working hard on them, with the reintroduction of Liz to help move things along!"

Beverley Callard

© PA Images / Ian West/PA Wire

Beverley Callard



Aside from Liz and Todd, are you planning to bring back any more faces from the past?
"I've got no plans to at the moment. What I don't want to do is go overboard on it, as I want Corrie to be a show that's constantly looking forward rather than looking back. At the same time, there are other characters out there like Liz and Todd who do have family and a strong history on the street. If the right story came along, that'd be great, but I won't be actively hunting for stories for returning characters.

"By throwing Liz, Todd and Jimi Mistry's character Kal into the mix with our existing regulars, we've got a really strong and solid base. We want to focus on giving them the stories and screen time they deserve, rather than worrying too much about new faces or returnees."

When we asked for reader questions, a lot of people wanted to know whether Craig knows the truth about Karl starting the Rovers fire…
"Craig is very, very troubled. He has a certain perspective about the fire, I'll say that much! There's a secret that he's been carrying since that night, and it's a secret that will have a great deal of impact on both his life and Karl's. However, I don't want to give too much away on that - teasers are great, but spoilers are horrible!"

As you probably know, Carla and Peter have a very strong fanbase. Most fans know there's an engagement on the way, but would you take them down the full route of marriage and babies?
"I love Carla and Peter. I'm so lucky to be able to work with those two characters and actors. There's something so dark, brooding, passionate and tempestuous about them. I don't think they're destined for a life of cosy domesticity while I'm here - the two of them in their own way can both be equally self-destructive.

"As a couple, though, I adore them. And who knows - a wedding doesn't necessarily mean a quiet and cosy life! When did it ever?"

Carla backs Peter with his new business venture.

© ITV

Carla and Peter



Have you made the decision on who the father of Kylie's baby is yet?
"Yes, we have! There's a lot more to come with this storyline. Many viewers will have probably seen that there's a road accident coming up for David and Nick, which is a great moment because it's the culmination of weeks and months of story. However, it really is the prologue to the next chapter of that storyline.

"I always work on the principle of consequence and change, and for me, there's no point in hitting massive story peaks like a car crash only to have everything back to normal two weeks later."

Reports have suggested that Liz is back for six months. Is that for definite, or would you like to see her stick around for longer?
"I would hope that Liz will be back for longer. Things constantly change as we work on stories and new directions for characters, and it also depends on the actors themselves. However, I would love Liz to be here for the duration. She's a fantastic character and she's loved by the audience.

"Better still, if you look around the cast now, there are so many characters that Liz has ties with. There's Owen who she had a fling with, friends in the form of Deirdre and Eileen, and of course there's Steve, Michelle, Amy and Tracy.

"Liz is 'proper Corrie' for me, and one of those working-class matriarchs that the show does so well. But in terms of what story we're going to tell, the viewers will have to wait and see."

What can we expect from Todd's return?
"What I will say is that we're not trying to change Todd's character into something unrecognisable. However, the story he's been telling Jason and Eileen about the rosy, wonderful life he's having in London is not quite the truth.

"When Todd returns, we'll realise that he's taken an emotional and financial battering. Things haven't been going so well, so it's more of a damaged Todd that will return. Rightly or wrongly, he's learned that nice guys don't always finish first, so there's going to be a big journey for him and Eileen as she starts looking at her son through different eyes…"

> For more gossip on Stuart's plans for Coronation Street, check out the second part of this interview in Soap Scoop

Coronation Street airs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on ITV.

Digital Spy Soap Scoop video - press play below to watch Amie Parker-Williams reveal gossip on a big twist at the bookies in Coronation Street, a heartbreaking discovery in Hollyoaks and wedding plans in both EastEnders and Emmerdale.

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