Coronavirus will probably turn out to be the “Word of the Year” for 2020, not just here in the UK but worldwide. It may well become the Word of the Decade. The word Corona on its own has two meanings for me, both recalling the 1970s.
First of all, Corona was a soft drinks brand. Here’s a nostalgia-inducing image from seekpng.com showing a range of Corona flavours in glass bottles.
The bottles were part of a deposit return scheme. You could take the empties back to any shop that sold Corona in return for a few pennies. As I recall, it was 3p per bottle. Recently I caught a snippet of some “I Love the 70s” style talking heads and clips show (probably on Channel 5), and one of the participants talked about getting 10p back for your empty bottle of pop. 10p? I don’t remember it ever being that much. It might, conceivably, have gone up to 5p by the end of the 1970s, but 3p is the most that I ever received for an empty bottle. It was enough to buy a packet of crisps or a wagon wheel back then, or you could put it towards your next large bottle of lemonade, which would have cost something like 25p.
Most people who grew up in the 1970s will recall Corona, along with Schweppes, R White and Cresta, as manufacturers of fizzy drinks. For me, the second meaning associated with Corona comes from the name of a stage school here in West London. I was never quite sure where it was, somewhere in Hammersmith I think. You would often see kids in their distinctive green and yellow blazers around King Street. If there were a couple of girls tap-dancing while waiting for a bus, they would be in Corona uniforms. You would also see the uniform on TV. Countless adverts, TV shows and, later, pop promos with roles for schoolchildren would feature kids in green and yellow. I imagine that it must have saved the costume departments plenty of hassle. Rather than trying to source a dozen or more matching uniforms for a shoot they’d just ask the kids to turn up in their usual day wear.
I hadn’t seen a Corona uniform on screen for years, but they are clearly visible in the video for “I don’t like Mondays”, the 1979 #1 by Boomtown Rats. It’s not a song that I was ever likely to search for, but in recent weeks our TV has often been set to “Now 70s” (Freeview Channel 78). It plays non-stop hits from the 1970s (in between the ad breaks) and seems to recycle much of its content in a range of shows with only slightly different names. You could watch “Sensational 70s!”, “Non-Stop 70s Number 1s!”, “40 Biggest Pop Groups of the 70s!” and see a handful of videos repeated on all three shows. Nothing wrong with that if the featured act is Blondie or Slade, but I have had to switch channel more than once when confronted with “Message in a Bottle”. Again. I paid more attention to the screen when the Boomtown Rats video came up, once I’d caught a glimpse of the uniform. Here’s a screen grab showing a group of Corona schoolchildren.
For all I know, some of these child actors went on to have long and successful careers, on the stage, in film or on TV. I don’t recognize any of them. They would all be in their 50s now. If you want to see the whole video, click here. If you grew up in West London in the 1970s the sight of these uniforms might induce the same kind of nostalgia as a row of Corona drinks bottles, but images are all we have left. The school closed many years ago, and the fizzy drinks brand was discontinued in the 1990s.