Brother Ivo recalls the very opening episodes of Coronation Street which began with unpromising critical reviews but is now the longest running television series in the world.
Its grainy black and white images captured post-war Britain perfectly, from the trio of old ladies nursing their milk stouts in the “snug” of the Rovers Return, to the character working all hours running a back street motor repair shop. The adoption of the local dialect was ground breaking in a broadcasting world where news readers had only comparatively recently put aside the donning of evening dress before reading the bulletins. It was both strikingly original and authentic as it depicted northern life in Salford thinly disguised as “Weatherfield”.
Although the culture it depicted was new to the television screens, it was an all white affair, but then, why wouldn’t it have been?
The early Coronation Street was very recognisable to anyone with experience of Northern working class life of the time. Brother Ivo’s grandparents lived in just such a community and one could have identified real people on whom the fictional characters might easily have been based. The original programme could have been called Correlation Street in those early days.
Since then, Salford has become the home to the thoroughly un-working class BBC whose late contribution to the genre ” Eastenders” is also set on the fringes of a major city, and purports to similarly reflect the lives of the urban working class. It is now multi-cultural, but in a very sanitised fashion.
Brother Ivo has been contemplating how that fictional community might develop in the next few months. Shall we be seeing homeless Roma characters setting up camp in the gardens at the centre of Albert Square?
Might they vie for GP services with ladies of indeterminate age and character who are hidden under head to toe Middle Eastern dress? Might the Queen Vic be transformed from the hub of the community to a Gastro pub because its original business model of purveying beer to the masses is unsustainable thanks to Excise duties and parking restrictions?
It seems unlikely.
One can imagine the responses of the television editors and producers if, as part of the negotiations for the next BBC settlement, they were asked to produce a community narrative more closely mirroring the modern East End. We might add to their woes by asking them to introduce some Sharia Law campaigners, and a few crowded households of Polish builders who work every hour that God sends and send the money home. We might add a requirement that they grapple with story lines that explore the difficulties of the local school trying to meet a National Curriculum within classrooms filled with a hundred different languages.
Forced to adapt their programme rapidly to such a pace of change, one might readily imagine the producers rebelling against the impossibility of the task.
Yet theirs is an imaginary community: the course of the outcome is theirs to invent. It is a universe in which a happy outcome may be guaranteed.
In considering the complexities of fashioning a credible fictional community out of such disparate elements, one begins to understand why there might be genuine concern at the addition of additional cultures into the complex mix that is now this world city. Those who live there may not view the changes negotiated by Governments in the high principled fashion or in quite the same disinterested light as the politicians, lawyers, and bureaucrats who are accelerating the changes at this time.
Every new element adds to the problem exponentially.
The Roma must not only accommodate with the English neighbour, but also the Polish tradesman, the Pakistani shopkeeper, the Nigerian teacher, the Iraqi doctor and the Afro-Caribean nurse. Trying to imagine the cultural institutions and contexts in which community will build is not easy; it is not impossible, but it is certainly not going to be problem free or quick. Whilst that is developing, the scope for fear, suspicion, and resentment will increase with every newcomer, and with each added inter-cultural complexity.
Christians are obliged to find ways of overcoming such problems as His Grace Archbishop Cranmer has already ”explained”. Yet those responsible for creating such problems rarely find themselves in close proximity to the consequences of their actions. One wonders how many of the new arrivals will find their way to live in Chipping Norton, Primrose Hill or Notting Hill. How will their lives be impacted in any meaningful way?
Herein lies a social and democratic deficit.
Abraham Lincoln famously observed that “Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”
Brother Ivo wonders whether the same principle should be applied to politicians and all who uncritically embrace open door immigration policies.
This is not a call to be in any way uncharitable towards those who arrive from conditions of privation with hope in their hearts. It is easy to empathise with them. It is higher up the chain of responsibility that Brother Ivo becomes a little more critical.
One might legitimately be less charitable towards those who impose un-comprehended change upon others without adequate preparation, resource or regard for what might be necessary to ease their worries and difficulties. Those anxieties are very far from fictional.
One might similarly wish that those in the “creative industries” be more sympathetic towards those who grapple in real life with that which the artistic community shies from, in the world of their imagination. If it can’t be made to work in Walford or Weatherfield, one should begin to worry for Walthamstowe or Whalley Range.