“Coronation Street” has had individual characters who are black or members of other racial and ethnic groups before. In 2013, a character of Pakistani origin appeared, followed shortly by members of his family, the Nazirs. (In 2016, Marc Anwar, who portrayed the father, Sharif Nazir, was fired over anti-India posts on Twitter.)
The series, based on the residents of fictional Coronation Street, has been a British favorite for years alongside “EastEnders,” set in East London, and “Emmerdale,” set in Yorkshire. The story lines revolve around lives that viewers can easily identify with and have produced quotations and characters that are firmly engraved in British culture.
The shows have given rise to some of the most popular television celebrities in the country, including Pat Phoenix, who played the glamorous Elsie Tanner on “Coronation Street,” and Barbara Windsor, who appeared as Peggy Mitchell, the protective pub owner in “EastEnders.”
Both shows are so iconic that they appear in guides to British culture that applicants for British citizenship need to study for the test.
In recent years, soap operas have seen a decline in viewership, according to a report published in 2018 by the Office of Communications, or Ofcom, Britain’s telecom regulator. In 2007, “EastEnders,” “Coronation Street” and “Emmerdale” averaged 8.7 million viewers among them. By 2017, that figure had dropped to 6.9 million, the report said.
In contrast with the aspirational settings and improbable plots of American soaps, the British shows have seduced viewers by portraying daily life with its difficulties, such as joblessness, poverty and raising children as single parents. Still their plot lines have been criticized for being nostalgic for a bygone era and tone-deaf to the changes in modern Britain.