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Tuesday, March 31, 1998 Published at 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK


PM supports Weatherfield One
image: [ Is fact stranger than fiction? ]
Is fact stranger than fiction?

Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to intervene, newspapers have launched campaigns and thousands of ordinary people are outraged at a gross miscarriage of justice.

The campaign to free Deirdre Rachid is gathering momentum with the Home Secretary Jack Straw under orders to look into the case.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Soap News discusses Coronation Street (2'19')
But this time, unlike many who have gone before her, this victim of judicial failure is a fictional character.

Her imprisonment is nothing more than a weapon in the vicious ratings war between ITV's Coronation Street and the BBC's Eastenders.

Deirdre was jailed for mortgage and credit card fraud while her conman lover Jon Lindsay walked free.

The courtroom drama has gripped television viewers across the UK.

Switchboard jammed

Viewers want Deirdre out of her cell and back home in the fictional Lancashire town of Weatherfield.

And they are prepared to fight for Deirdre.

[ image: Deirdre: Played by actress Anne Kirkbridge]
Deirdre: Played by actress Anne Kirkbridge
Fans are setting up Free the Weatherfield One campaigns and have jammed the switchboards of programme-makers Granada.

For Granada, it is all good news. Their soap has been grabbing headlines by the column acre. Barely a word has been printed about Eastenders.

BBC Radio 5 Live question Tony Blair's committment to Deirdre's cause (0'29')
Even the Prime Minister has joined in - announcing that he will order the Home Secretary to investigate Deirdre's case.

Almost every British national paper wants her freed. The tabloids are issuing 'Free Deirdre' stickers and T-shirts.

Even in haughty columns of The Times, Deirdre has made front page news. Only the Daily Mail accuses the nation of "mass madness."

Ratings winner

The Weatherfield One storyline comes as Coronation Street looks to build on its current supremacy over Eastenders.

The Street has recently returned to the top of the ratings. The most recent figures, which do not take in the episode where Deirdre was jailed, has Coronation Street with 17.44m viewers against Eastenders' 14.80m.

Initial viewing figures estimate around 16.5m watched Coronation Street last Sunday when Deirdre was jailed.

With video viewings and repeat showings the figure could rise to nearer 19m.

The plot is a tried and tested formula for boosting ratings. It has been used in the past by Channel Four's Brookside (murder), Eastenders (rape), and even BBC Radio's The Archers (harbouring a wanted man).

As soap fans sign up to the Free Deirdre campaign, conflicting messages are coming from Granada's studios in Manchester.

The Mirror newspaper, quoting a Street insider, says Deirdre will be freed within three months.

But Granada have built a set of Deirdre's cell and parts of her jail indicating a long running-storyline that could keep her inside for much longer.

All Granada would promise is more "twists and turns" as the plot unfolds.

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