Death by tram: A ratings boost?

In 1989, British prime-time soap opera Coronation Street hit the viewership jackpot, drawing more than 26 million viewers with the episode in which bad guy Alan Bradley was struck dead by a Blackpool tram, as seen below:

“Come back, you stupid bitch,” shouts Alan, his last words before Rita Fairclough escapes his clutches at last as Balloon car 710 sends Alan from Lancashire straight to Hell.  Personally, I can’t think of a better way for an abusive jerk to meet his end. I keep watching the clip over and over. 

Maybe it’s that impulse which has the show’s producers planning a dramatic tram crash cliffhanger this year in connection with Corrie’s 50th anniversary.  As announced last week, several characters will die when the show’s signature viaduct collapses, sending a tram crashing down onto the street. Of course, they’re not saying which characters will die. Would you really expect them to when a week’s worth of episodes is on the line? Set to air in December — the show’s anniversary month — the plot will see the events of a single night stretched out over a week.

This time,  however, the tragic tram involved won’t be a traditional Blackpool double decker. The show is set in Weatherfield, a fictional Manchester suburb, and the producers are said to be working closely with the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive in connection with the crash plot.

In fact, for several years the opening credits have shown a Manchester Metrolink tram gliding by on the viaduct over the street — initially an AnsaldoBreda unit, but new credits introduced this spring feature one of the system’s new Bombardier Flexity Swift M5000 model cars.

Alan Bradley’s death, meanwhile, brought a whole new cult following to the Blackpool tramway, as Corrie fans made pilgrimages to the seaside to see the spot where he was mowed down.  

I am not a soap opera fan, dear readers, but I have been to the spot: In March 2009 I stayed at The Strand Hotel, which starred in the 1989 episode as Rita’s refuge from Alan. It was from outside the North Promenade hotel that he chased her across the street and the tram tracks. In December 2009, the hotel’s owners unveiled a plaque on the 20th anniversary of the event. I did not lay a wreath when I was in Blackpool nine months earlier, but I did enjoy the hotel’s hospitality, seaside views and, of course, trams running beneath my window.

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