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You're killing a great British TV institution, Hilda tells Street chief; CORONATION STREET IN CRISIS `Brian is basically a man who loves to be hated'.

Coronation Street's most respected star Jean Alexander last night broke her 10-year silence over the show to ask controversial new producer Brian Park: "Why are you destroying it?"

Jean, 70, who played Hilda Ogden for 24 years before leaving 10 years ago, said: "I always thought Coronation Street would go on forever - a great British Institution - but now I have my doubts."

"It's becoming more depressing than EastEnders, with more sex and violence than Emmerdale. It's just continuing doom and gloom."

Since leaving the show Jean has always refused to criticise it. Now her comments - aimed directly at Park - are bound to rekindle the national row over the changing face of Coronation Street.

From her home in Southport she said: "I'm not a prude, but there's so much sex it's boring.

"People, even those with the strongest sex drives, do get up to other things.

"I used to be a big Street fan. I hardly missed an episode until recently. But now I rarely watch it because it has become so miserable.

"People come up to me every day asking, `What are they doing to the Street? We don't like it any more' - and I agree with them.

"They say all the happiness has been drained out of it. The fun and laughter has gone.

"Some of the fans are elderly, and have been watching the Street since the first episode 37 years ago.

"But many are young people - teenagers. And even they tell me they are no longer watching the Street. No-one had a good word to say about it.

"Granada TV was good to me. Playing Hilda all those years was the best acting job I've ever paid too.

"I'm not ungrateful, and I'm not bashing the Street just for the sake of it. I care for it too much. I'm speaking out as the voice of its fans, the millions who also love it but, like me, are worried at the way it is going."

Softly-spoken Jean added: " I was told that Brian Park said he planned to roughen it up to boost its ratings, but less and less people are watching it now.

"And parents must be worried with the increase in sex and violence.

"It's time Mr Park listened to viewers.

"There's little humour or laughs, because they are not in the scripts.

"They have two great comedy characters in Roy Barraclough (Alec Gilroy) and John Savident (Fred Elliot), but they get few chances to show what they can do.

"Peter Baldwin and Thelma Barlow were a wonderfully funny couple, but they've killed off Derek and now Mavis is about to leave.

"Even all the humour has been taken out of scenes between Mavis and Rita - and Barbara is being given less and less to do. Now the Street's only stable couple, the Websters, have jumped on the sexual roundabout, and are screaming at one another.

"The producers don't seem to want happy families any more - only a family from hell, the recent arrivals who are like thieving magpies, pinching anything from anyone. What a wonderful example they are to family viewers!" Jean added: "Soaps have to change. Everything changes. Life is so different from the 60s...or even when I left 10 years ago.

"But there was always a lot of fun, love and happiness in the Street. That's why it's been a favourite for so long - but for how much longer?

"It has the best writers, actors and production crews, but it is the producer who decides the story-lines and has the ultimate responsibility for for what we see."

Jean has been asked several times to make a comeback to the Street - even just for a few weeks.

But she said: "Hilda is living a new life now, retired with a little nest-egg after working as a housekeeper to the doctor somewhere in Cheshire.

"She's not going back because she wouldn't fit in there any more.

"She would feel threatened by all the violence and disgusted with all the hanky-panky."

Since joining the show in January, Park has got rid of six main stars. They are: cabbie Don Brennan (Geoff Hinsliff), salesman Derek Wilton (Peter Baldwin), supermarket manager Anne Malone (Eve Steele), brainbox Andy McDonald (Nick Cochrane), shop owner Maureen Holdsworth (Sherrie Hewson) and handyman Bill Webster (Peter Armitage). Thelma Barlow, who plays Mavis Riley, is also leaving. Controversial storylines under Park include:

THE split between the loving Websters - with mechanic Kevin having a sizzling fling with maneater Natalie Horrocks.

THE introduction of the neighbours from Hell, the Battersbys.

CABBIE Don Brennan plunging into an icy dock after becoming a serious sex pest

Derek Wilton being killed off with a heart attack following a road rage incident.

Throw in several sexy romps - the most bizarre being middle- aged Jim McDonald's seduction of his son's ex-girlfriend, young hairdresser Fion Middleton - and you can definitely say that 1997 was The Year of Change for Coronation Street.

It's all so different from the yesteryear. For instance, do you remember?

Len Fairclough's first date with Elsie Tanner at the Orinoco Club in 1963.

THE goods train ploughing through the viaduct in 1967 - miraculously no-one was hurt.

wide-boy Mike Baldwin opening a shirt and jeans business in 1976.

Ernie Bishop dying after being shot in a wages snatch in 1978.

the famous love tangle between Mike Baldwin, and Ken and Deirdre Barlow in 1983.

Hilda Ogden accepting Dr Lowther's offer to become his housekeeper in the country in 1987.

Steph Barnes leaving bookie Des and running off with her lover Simon in 1991.

nanny Carmel's obsession with nurse Martin Platt in 1993.

And, in 1995 after 25 years in the Street, Rovers landlady Bet Gilroy bowing out to head for a life in the sun.

But Park hasn't just confined his changes to the actors and their storylines.

He has now brought in an Australian, Wayne Henry, as assistant producer to give the show an even fresher look.

An insider said : "The old producer Sue Pritchard and her assistant Kay Patrick have long gone now.

"It's as if the old school has finally gone with Brian Park bringing in his own dynamic team.

"The word around the studios is that Wayne is trying to ensure that the storylines become even more appealing to the younger audience. Talk is that there is pressure from the advertisers to attract the younger set to watch the show.

"And that's certainly the feeling amongst the production crew".

Meanwhile, the Sunday Mirror can reveal that Brian Park is revelling in the storm his changes have created.

A highly-placed source said : "Brian is basically a man who loves to be hated and by being that way he feels he has done his job at Granada.

"He has no problem with any criticism that comes his way. His feeling is that any publicity - good or bad - is good for Coronation Street.

"He is boastful of the fact that people in pubs, clubs, shops, at work or wherever, are all talking about the new-look Coronation Street.

"His attitude is that if people are talking about the sexy storylines or the neighbours from hell, then he's done his job - and done it well."
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Roberts, Brian; Anderson, Bill
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 10, 1997
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