There can be little doubt that Blanche Hunt, played by actress Maggie Jones who sadly died yesterday aged 75, was one of the most entertaining characters on British TV.
Who was she? Fans of ITV’s Coronation Street knew her as the acerbic, brilliantly witty mother of Deidre Barlow -and mother-in-law of long suffering Ken who drew most of her witheringly accurate wit. Ken is the likeable intellectual snob who met his match in his mother-in-law. He was able to cope with her, because he wasn’t resentful of her. He accepted her as a fixture in his life and even when he could have run away with the highly improbable Martha the actress, who lived on a barge, he chose to stay with his wife – and his shocking mother-in-law.
I will miss Blanche! I found a list of some of her most famous “put downs”. Probably one of her best performances was aired only a few weeks ago. She was entertaining George, the newly discovered maternal grandfather of Peter Barlow’s step son (it makes sense if you follow the story line!) – and with the encouragement of a little too much alcohol, she had something terrible to say about every single member of her family, who were trying desperately to make a good impression on George. In their typically English way, the whole family just took it, said nothing and sat squirming with embarrassment. No-one escaped the attentions of Blanche. It was the funniest TV and a brilliant performance by Maggie Jones, even though she clearly didn’t look well.
But on a wider note, as we are approaching the festive season, I thought I would add a word of caution, because in real life these types of relatives can be far from funny and too much plain speaking can have a devastating impact on a marriage.
Sometimes I think problems can be caused because a son marries a wife a little too much like his own mother – not necessarily in looks, but character. My late mother-in-law, for example, was a strong character and, believe it or not, once or twice this has also been said about me…!
When we were first married, my mother-in-law had been widowed for many years and was a very large part of my husband’s life. Both of us had to learn to adjust, but because he took the lead, we were ultimately able to establish sensible “boundaries” when she had her son to herself and I had my husband.
I have recently been instructed in a cluster of cases where sadly the adjustment never happened and coming up to Christmas this strikes me as particularly poignant.
There had been no attempt to alter the family dynamics with any kind of give and take: instead there has been all out war. When it came to choosing between family and spouse, the families won out, particularly so where the son had not been able to balance a healthy relationship between his very strong mother and equally strong wife. Battle followed upon battle. Every issue was turned into a hostile point scoring drama. Listening to what happened in these cases, it was all about endlessly seeking to win a particular battle but losing sight of the likely outcome of the war. Ultimately therefore, it was a hollow victory. A broken marriage isn’t a victory for anyone.
In one case, the groom’s mother cried the entire way through the marriage ceremony. This was followed by the mother insisting she be seated with her son at another family wedding, leaving my client seated at an entirely different table on her own! Her husband meekly went along with what his mother wished. He left his wife isolated, because he was only too well aware of his family’s disapproval of his wife. He was too weak to support his wife and he eventually left her.
Why did he marry at all? Do some people know in their heart of hearts their proposed spouse is the wrong one for them? But then arguments make things worse and they can’t get out of it? On the other hand, would you as a spouse get married if you knew you would end up always playing second fiddle to his or her family?
I believe these issues need sorting out before marriage, not afterwards. Counseling couples about what they are letting themselves in for, raising doubts and trying to resolve them at the start, all make a lot of sense.
Interference by families really can break a marriage – it’s a serious danger and should never be treated as lightly as a TV soap.
So, at least for Christmas, to all those “Blanches” out there, please repeat my little Mantra –
1. Don’t drink too much!
2. Don’t think your comments will EVER be treated as offhandedly as you deliver them.
3. Leave the “Blanchisms” to witty script writers.
4. And finally: Even if you hate every present you receive, you hate the food, and you hate your in-laws, PLEASE don’t say so!