LONDON — When failed-model-turned-barmaid Raquel married supermarket-manager Curly in a recent episode of the ''Coronation Street'' soap opera, 20 million viewers tuned in to watch.
The hour-long episode - filmed in strict secrecy - was a special treat for viewers of Britain's longest-running evening soap, which celebrated its 35th birthday last month.
Program chiefs at Independent Television's ''Coronation Street'' say they filmed three possible endings to Raquel's messy love life before deciding on the final outcome. The fictional wedding now has viewers aflutter over whether Raquel will have a baby - perhaps even twins - this year.
Unlike their American counterparts, British soap operas don't focus on the lives of the rich, ruthless, or ravishing. Instead, their heroes are ordinary and the plots far from extraordinary. Viewers love them - because nothing ever happens.
''American soaps are shallow,'' says office manager Paul Hill, who has watched ''Coronation Street'' with his family for 30 years. He likes it, he says, because it reflects real life. ''['Coronation Street'] has a thread of humor which makes it watchable, and the characters are very strong,'' he adds. ''It's unbeatable in terms of soaps.''
Britain has four main domestic evening soap operas, along with several Australian soaps broadcast during the day. Most domestic soaps concentrate on a certain geographical location and the people who live there. The plots revolve around their daily lives, with little action except for the occasional infidelity, bar fight, or change in job status.
So it's no surprise that both ''Coronation Street'' and ''EastEnders,'' the two most popular home-grown soaps about working-class people, center on that most British of institutions: the working-class pub.
BBC's ''EastEnders,'' set in the fictional suburb of Walford, features the Queen Victoria pub at least four times per episode. It has a smaller following than ''Coronation Street,'' as viewers often find the former's plot too depressing.
But the pub on ''Coronation Street'' has become such a household word that a new tourist attraction in Blackpool, Lancashire, has re-created Rover's Return in its entirety.