A love letter to Hollyoaks, Britain’s most under-rated soap

25th May 2018

It’s a wild time to be a Hollyoaks viewer. This month alone we’ve seen a glorious fake death, two jaw-dropping comebacks, Duncan from Blue meeting a soggy end, a father killing his own son… and countless priceless asides from national treasure Myra McQueen.

In fact you MIGHT JUST SAY it’s all been more than deserving of some good old British Soap Awards votes.

I’ve worked with the programme as a scriptwriter for about 18 months (disclaimer: I didn’t write or contribute to anything mentioned here) and I couldn’t be prouder to be even slightly affiliated with it. I first became a fan eleven years ago, amidst the now-iconic love story between John-Paul McQueen and Craig Dean – it was a time in British television when LGBT+ visibility was yet to really start improving, and all us confused and closeted teens had to watch was Maxxie in Skins (sidebar: I’m still mad he never got his own episode) and the extremely fanciable but fucking evil Andrew Van De Camp in Desperate Housewives. A storyline so legendary it now has its own page on Wikipedia, ”McDean” played out tenderly and truthfully (that time Craig hurled homophobic insults at John-Paul after they slept together? Reader I SOBBED), earning unanimous praise from LGBT rights groups and a hell of a lot of love from fans.

Fast forward 11 years, the important storylines have continued to deliver – offering more diverse representation not only with regards to queer issues (Hollyoaks’ LGBT+ roster currently includes a Muslim lesbian, a man living healthily with HIV, and the first trans woman to play a trans character on a British soap) but across the board with matters like mental health, cancer, consent, addiction and much, much more. A single-strand episode on youth homelessness last month was honestly some of the best television I’ve seen so far this year – and considering the high engagement this show has with younger viewers, issues like that are so important to beam into people’s houses every teatime.

And when all that great work is combined with the kind of bold, wonderfully balls-to-the-wall plots like the ones listed at the top of this post, Hollyoaks is nailing the balance between its three types of stories; which – as exec producer Bryan Kirkwood put it to Metro last year – respectively prompt its audience to think, “I’m glad that’s not me”, “I wish that was me”, and, in the case of the issue-based tales, “that is me”.

But Hollyoaks has been painted far too often as the underdog of the soap world. That’s not to take away from the incredible work the other continuing dramas are doing – I’m waiting for that Robron wedding as much as the next guy – but with the British Soap Awards coming up, I do think it’s time for the Chester-based gem to start collecting the silverware it deserves.

For a start, I really believe it boasts some of the best actors on British TV – and British Soap Award nominees Anna Passey (Sienna) and Theo Graham (Hunter) couldn’t be more deserving. Soap stars often go under-appreciated (Bronagh Wagh articulated it well earlier this year) but the genre is rammed with talent and ‘Oaks is no exception. I could list the lot of them, but  off the top of my head; Nadine Mulkerrin’s (Cleo) performance as a young woman struggling with bulimia has been SO powerful, Ross Adams’ (Scott) portrayal of a camp gay man quietly sinking into depression as he dealt with others’ internalised homophobia was world-class, and Alex Fletcher’s (Diane) recent scenes as a mother watching her toddler face life-threatening illness have ripped my little gay heart to smithereens.

And that’s not even touching on the priceless comedy we get from the likes of Chelsee Healey’s Goldie boasting about her dignity before hobbling away with a broken heel, or Daisy Wood-Davies’ Kim asking a Rick Astley poster which of his tunes he wants her to sing (”Ugh, don’t you have any other songs?!”). The scene below, with Tamara Wall and Stephanie Waring on fine form, had me cackling. CACKLING.

Add to that a team of laser-focused producers, inventive directors, mind-bendingly talented storyliners, writers I’d love to be even half as good as, and a whole wealth of people doing various somersaults behind the scenes, you’ve got a show worthy of some serious love.

Massive TMI alert, but last Friday I was a few beers down at a bar in Brixton, treating myself to a wee with my phone in one hand, watching camp icon Sienna re-appear on a hospital roof just hours after her own funeral. Honestly I was so shook, I completely forgot what I was doing and my accuracy went right out the window (not literally out the window but you know… the floor). And frankly who doesn’t want that kind of excitement from their favourite telly?! Funny, relatable, uproarious and bursting with phenomenal plot twists, this show is the gift that keeps on giving.

I mean for fuck’s sake, ALAN CARR WAS JUST IN IT.


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