When Hayley put Corrie streets ahead

Why do stars fall down from the sky/Every time you walk by?/Just like me, they long to be/Close to you.”

The plaintive Bacharach/David love-song pumped from the Wurlitzer organ at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool as Roy and Hayley, the floor of the empty fabled ornate venue entirely to themselves, had their last waltz together. Also their first. Roy had had to take lessons from Norris so he could fulfill what he knew was one of Hayley’s last wishes.

Later, he even took off his socks and rolled his trousers up to join Hayley paddling in the shallows as a pale sun faded.

“The tide comes in quickly,” she murmured.

When Hayley first appeared on the Street she was presented as something of an unfunny joke. Alma (remember Alma?) introduced her to the permanently flustered, rigidly logical and definitely virginal Roy in a last-ditch effort to find him a girl-friend. Or just a female companion.

The denouement was intended to unfold when Roy realised that she was a pre-operation transexual, “real” name Harold. But that’s not the way it turned out. The Corrie audience took Hayley to its heart from her first episode - January 26th, 1998. The 13-week stint actress Julie Hesmondhalgh had signed up for was to run for 15 years.

She headed off to Holland for reassignment surgery. Roy realised upon her return that he was in love. They married in the caff and lived happily ever after, until now.

We don’t think of soaps as being ahead of the curve when it comes to social change. Because they have to appeal to a broad and varied audience, they remain resolutely conservative in the attitudes they sanction. But Hayley and Roy were a couple two years earlier than Queer as Folk, eight years before civil partnership law. She remains the only transgendered person to have featured as a stock character in any long-running TV series anywhere.

The acceptance of Hayley by a mass audience as a regular person marked a moment in the development of social thinking. The main reasons for the story-line’s impact have included the acting of Julie Hesmondhalgh, suggestive of naivety and tentativeness as well as strength of will and pure decency. She has sometimes conveyed all this with a glint of the eye and her face half-smiling.

Her story ends as it began, highlighting and humanising a fraught, unresolved issue - assisted suicide, the right to die. There is sentimental element. But the story is also serious and socially relevant.

Sustaining Roy’s character after Hayley will test the Corrie writers. The team has had its creative ups and downs. Some story-lines have been plain silly. Some characters - Gail - have remained one-dimensional. This will be their biggest challenge yet.

Meanwhile, the audience - us - will remember her with respect and affection, and we will worry about Roy.

“On the day that you were born the angels got together/

And decided to create a dream come true/

So they sprinkled moon dust in your hair/

Of golden starlight in your eyes of blue…”