I RECENTLY visited my elderly aunt, whose TV viewing consists mostly of old re-runs of Murder She Wrote, Midsomer Murders and Heartbeat.

I love staying with my aunt and being fussed over, but three days of her "old lady telly" is about as much as I can stand. Her TV set is permanently tuned to a nostalgia channel devoted to repeats of feelgood dramas, murder mysteries and creaky old sitcoms. We even watched George and Mildred one teatime.

When I asked why she no longer watched the soaps, she sighed. "They're so depressing these days," she said. "When you get to my age you want a bit of a laugh."

Having watched last Friday's Coronation Street double bill - in which a psychotic rapist shot one man dead and forced his hostage to kill another - I'm inclined to agree.

Now, I like a soap baddie; they have their place in continuing drama as much as the gossiping busybody, the formidable battleaxe and the unlucky-in-love barmaid. And Pat Phelan, played brilliantly by Connor McIntyre, continues a tradition of moustache-twirling Corrie villains, following the likes of devious Alan Bradley, who persecuted poor Rita all the way to Blackpool, and briefcase-wielding serial killer Richard Hillman.

Corrie's strength is blending drama with comedy and, thanks largely to the writing, I think it does this better than other soaps. But the long-running Phelan storyline has crossed a line, particularly Friday's dark episodes. Broadcast before 9pm, they contained shocking scenes in which Phelan ordered his hostage Andy Carver to kill fellow captive Vinny. "I'll film you," said Phelan, in his chillingly casual, dead-eyed way. In a grim warehouse that wouldn't have looked out of place in the Saw horror movies, we saw one of the men shot at close-range. Phelan later tipped both lifeless bodies into a lake. The double-bill also included unsettling revelations about his past as a rapist.

Gone was the warm familiarity of Corrie. It felt like watching a gritty post-watershed thriller. "What has happened to Coronation Street?" I found myself thinking.

I'm not alone in feeling disturbed. TV regulator Ofcom is assessing nearly 400 complaints about last Friday’s violent episodes. Yes, there's the option to turn over or turn off. But as a lifelong fan Corrie fan, why should I? Those of us with a sense of loyalty to the show stick with it through the highs and lows. I just think that over-egging a storyline smacks of desperation to win ratings and TV awards, at the expense of what viewers actually want to see. Phelan is in practically every scene, which always turns a character tiresome, however cold-blooded he is. Meanwhile, the likes of Sean Tully and Roy Cropper, both great Corrie characters played by great actors, are woefully under-used.

To be fair, it isn't just Corrie that has crossed to inappropriate territory. I watched an episode of Emmerdale this week in which an emotionally disturbed teenager told his sleeping grandfather he wondered how it would feel to see "the oxygen leaving your body"..."you take your last breath"... and "your lips turn blue". In the same episode, two schoolgirls had a chat over a bottle of spirits. Is any of this suitable for teatime family viewing?

I know soaps have to move with the times, and there's a lot of pressure to chase ratings and headlines, but they also have pre-watershed responsibilities.

Mu aunt's aforementioned nostalgia channel is screening vintage Corrie episodes from the '70s and '80s in the daytime. I'm tempted to record them to watch in the evenings. Well, when you get to my age...

* GOOD news that the Royal Shakespeare Company is to continue working with Bradford schools. Samuel Lister Academy and Bingley Grammar School have completed three years with the RSC’s learning performance network, which teachers say has had a "brilliant response". Now Bradford College will work with 15 schools in the district, leading a curriculum-wide programme using Shakespeare in subjects such as art and history as well as English and drama.

When it comes to laying bare the human condition, nothing comes close to Shakespeare. If his work is a chore to learn, that says more about the way it is taught than the text itself. Used across the curriculum, in innovative and exciting ways, these words written over 400 years ago can stay with children forever.

* POOR Prue Leith has had some stick for inadvertently revealing the Great British Bake Off winner hours before this week's final. She's not the first to ruin a TV surprise. At the Oscars, La La Land was wrongly announced as Best Film, while Strictly contestants Debbie McGee and Ruth Langsford have both let slip results ahead of pre-recorded Sunday shows this series.

And last year Alan Sugar followed the Apprentice winner on Twitter ahead of the final being broadcast.

Spoiler alert! When it comes to surprises, social media is a minefield.