It was less than three weeks ago that Coronation Street found itself in the news for showing supposed inappropriate content before the watershed. On December 27th, the programme featured two white British businessmen, Justin and Dale Parker, racially abusing Underworld trainee manager Alya Nazir, played by Sair Khan.
Whilst the storyline received plenty of criticism on Twitter, it was hardly surprising to see, as the ITV soap has never shied away from controversial plots. Whether that be Sarah Platt’s teenage pregnancy, Hayley Cropper becoming the first transgender character in a British soap or Bethany Platt being gang raped, the show has become known for being hard-hitting and powerful.
Yet there may be a new contender for its most contentious and talked about storyline ever, and one that has led to Ofcom receiving over 662 complaints over the last few months due it being shown before the television watershed.
The watershed came was put in place in the United Kingdom in 1964, with the stipulation that unsuitable content for children should not be shown before 9pm or after 5.30am. Ofcom defines this as “everything from sexual content to violence, graphic or distressing imagery and swearing.”
It is the violence aspect that the latest storyline has been criticised for, with some viewers describing it as “appalling” and “disgusting”. It is of course Pat Phelan’s murder spree, which took another victim last week.
Having already killed off rivals Andy Carver (played by Oliver Farnsworth) and Vinny Ashford (Ian Kelsey) in a vicious double shooting back in October, Phelan (Connor MacIntyre) shot Luke Britton (Dean Fagan) before torching his car in a recent action-packed episode.
Way too violent for before nine
— Ami (@ami2795) October 27, 2017
This storyline has gone beyond ridiculous now and I think tonight's episode has been like watching a slasher! It's too violent. Corrie used to have something about it and now it's just like every other soap. Depressing. Boring. And far fetched!
— Caz Williams (@meandsox) January 5, 2018
Viewers took to Twitter to share their apprehension at the scenes. “Shocking violence in Coronation Street with no warning and before the watershed. This really is not on! Coronation Street has become like watching a horror!” one retorted.
Another questioned: “Jesus…when did Corrie get so violent?”
And a third tweeted: “I’ve been a fan of @itvcorrie forever but the Phelan storyline and its appalling violence before the 9pm watershed deserves every bit of criticism it gets.”
It’s not just viewers who were concerned about the violent nature of the episode, but MPs as well.
Giles Watling of the Conservatives, and a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said that broadcasters must have “some sense of responsibility in dealing with these things”.
“It is absolutely true that young minds can be easily swayed by what they see on the television”, Mr Watling, a former actor, said.
“And if they see casual violence as part of what they see as ordinary, everyday life on television, they might incorporate it into their own lives. I do know we have to be very careful.
“In my previous life in the theatre we think about these things, and so should television broadcasters, especially television broadcasters because they reach so many. And they not only reach so many, they reach so many in their own homes, which makes it normal.”
Meanwhile, fellow select committee member Julian Knight, Conservative MP for Solihull, said it was a “very good idea” that Ofcom is investigating the soap, which he described as a “national institution”.
He told the Daily Mail: “It is a family show, and is pre-watershed. Although there are times when shows have to tackle important issues and issues that may even seem uncomfortable at that time of the evening.
“There is no need to string that out and to make it so that it becomes almost part of the norm. That is the problem with it – it is not an exceptional storyline, it seems to be maybe a changing emphasis of Coronation Street. If that is the case, if it is suddenly going to become quite violent in this respect, then the broadcaster needs to think about what time it is actually scheduled for.”
Whilst no action was taken by Ofcom after the screening of the two previous murders pre-watershed, the backlash following Britton’s death could be too much to ignore.
Since 2003, the organisation has intervened on more than 300 occasions when programmes have featured unsuitable content before or immediately after the watershed. If Corrie is found to be in breach of broadcasting regulations, ITV could be slapped with a whopping £250,000, and be banned from repeating the episode.
Campaign group Media Watch, which has long spoken about the importance of the watershed, said: “It’s worrying that such violent themes and images, especially scenes of gun violence, are considered suitable for a family show scheduled before the watershed.
“Latest research from Ofcom indicates that concern among parents about what their child has seen on pre-watershed TV is rising. We sincerely hope that the regulator and broadcasters take on board parental unease going forward.”
A spokesman for ITV said: “Pat Phelan is well established as a villain in a long line of murderous Coronation Street villains, and his evil actions won’t have come as a surprise to viewers.
“The programme is always careful to limit the violence shown to a minimum to convey the drama and tell the story. We have responded to Ofcom.”
Some viewers were also in support of soap, with one tweeting “Am i the only one who likes pat phelan?”.
“Pat Phelan is such a legend! He plays the perfect part. I really don’t want his wrath to end lol” another reacted.
A third joked: “I’m just hoping that Pat Phelan adds Gail to his victims before he gets caught”.
Whatever your opinion on Phelan’s murder streak, we won’t have to wait long to find out what happens to the villain, with police set to question him over the murder of Luke Britton in episodes to be shown next week.