Bailiffs: why Coronation Street doesn't help those in debt
Coronation Street currently has a plotline revolving around gambling debts and bailiffs. But don't be fooled into thinking what appears on screen really happens!
In a former career one of the MoneyAware team spent some time working on several TV soap operas. The deadlines were tough and never-ending, and the pressure to maintain viewing figures was constant and ever-growing.
With this in mind it’s easy to see why realism, research and clarity are sometimes sacrificed.
It was a bit like working in a sausage factory. Each episode of the show was like one piece of sausage connected to the other on a giant conveyor belt that couldn’t be stopped, whatever happened. The next sausage would have to be produced despite any dip in quality.
Research often went out of the window, ignored in favour of dramatic licence. In one instance - concerning a medical condition - accurate details were completely ignored in favour of drama. The second incident - where a major character was in court - was blatantly inaccurate.
Both of these incidents resulted in a volley of complaints, but these were generally ignored as long as the viewing figures remained healthy. In both cases pretty extensive research was done for the scripting of the shows but was ignored in favour of melodrama.
The perception of debt
This brings us to the current issue; in the past week or so Coronation Street has been running a storyline that involves one character being in debt, brought on by gambling.
As trained debt counsellors this is not the first time that we’ve heard about this type of storyline and exclaimed “That would never happen!” (a similar issue occurred in Hollyoaks earlier this year).
It seems in soaps that when a character has a debt problem it’s all quite furtive and that they’re not a nice person. Debt in soaps tends to happen to ‘bad people’, when we all know this isn’t usually the case.
However the most obvious cliché when soap operas discuss debt is this: the bailiff.
The production company calls Central Casting for the biggest, baldest, meanest-looking heavy to play a bailiff, who promptly crashes his bomber jacketed-body through the character’s front door without the slightest bit of provocation, or indeed jurisdiction. This bailiff will immediately start making threats and/or grabbing property.
The reality of debt
Real life is much more mundane. Getting a bailiff to the point of seizing property is a long way down the line and would involve such non-dramatic storylines as;
- Phone calls from the bank (which could go on for months)
- A county court judgment
- The judgement being broken
- The bailiff gaining walking possession
Indeed perhaps the most surprising fact is that most bailiffs would rather not seize any goods at all, and only do so as a very last resort.
This artistic licence can produce fine primetime drama. However it’s an extra (unnecessary) worry that many people in debt believe that what’s happening to their favourite soap character might happen to them if they don’t pay their credit card bill on time.
Myths surrounding debt collection are partly created through the media in soaps and dramas. We’ve tried to dispel as many as we can through the debt myths debunked blogpost on MoneyAware.
A more realistic picture doesn’t make good TV and most soap characters never think to seek free debt advice. If only the characters in debt would just sit down, pour a nice cup of tea and use the online debt counselling service Debt Remedy (and, for gambling problems, Gamcare).
They’d find a solution to their problems without any shouting or drama and there would be no need for the producers to call Central Casting for the hulking bailiff-type ‘heavy’ again.