Hollyoaks boss teases shock return and more in our big summer preview interview

We talk to Bryan Kirkwood about what's in store - and what he thinks of the other soaps…

Hollyoaks summer preview

Hollyoaks hots up with the launch of its annual ‘6 weeks of summer’ campaign on Friday 19thJuly’s E4 showing.

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Every year, the show gives a nod to its younger demographic by planning a number of high-profile storyline peaks during the school holiday period in a heady mix of dramatic twists drenched in extra sunshine, as teased in the current trailer.

RadioTimes.com sat down with Hollyoaks producer Bryan Kirkwood – still on a high from being voted Best Soap by the public at the 2019 British Soap Awards – to talk through the sizzling summer plots and beyond, including a mystery comeback, a first tease of the autumn stunt, and the continuation of the controversial far right radicalisation storyline.

Why has summer become an important season for Hollyoaks?
Other soaps traditionally get their biggest audience over Christmas, EastEnders in particular goes all out to ensure Christmas Day is their biggest episode of the year. Because Channel 4 plays things slightly differently we like to swim against the tide, and our research tells us the audience love to watch in the summer – so we go large in order to make sure there’s a reason for them to tune in during the evening after being in the sunshine all day!

What can we expect from Laurie Shelby’s return?
We were thrilled at the audience’s response to the storyline and how Sinead and Sienna found solidarity against rapist Laurie. Like all the best villains, we felt there was one last breath to be had and when planning 6 weeks of summer we had tonnes of mischief, love and adventure in the bag and felt a final chapter with Laurie was just what was needed.

How does Ste’s radicalisation into the far right progress?
Coming out of the summer we have a huge week in mid-September, by which time Jonny and Stuart have a radicalised Ste where they want him and start to explain they have bigger plans. That’s when the scales finally fall from Ste’s eyes as he realises he’s in the company of monsters. It’s a week that changes the lives of the Maaliks and Ste forever, and alters the course of the story.

Were you worried about tackling such a taboo subject?
It has been a very scary time telling that story but soaps should take risks and explore uncharted territory. It’s the first time I’m aware of a soap dipping its toe in politics and religion, two areas they’ve never gone before. But at its heart is a traditionally-constructed soap story with clearly drawn heroes and villains, and a victim in groomed Ste. It can be a tough watch but I’m relieved and pleased the audience has responded intelligently and passionately to some amazing material.

Hollyoaks Ste Jonny Stuart

Will there be an autumn stunt?
We’re just about to start shooting. I love the stunt, the audience enjoy that appointment to view as stories peak and start among a fantastic spectacular they don’t get anywhere else. We’re really proud of our stunts, and don’t apologise for giving the audience more of what they want. We challenge ourselves to be better and make it different every year, but at the heart is always characters and good stories, never bits of metal flying through the air for the sake of it. If it was the audience wouldn’t like it, and they are smart and discerning.

Who is involved this year?
The focus is on our big line-up of heritage characters: Darren, Nancy, Mandy, Cindy and Luke are at the centre of life-changing secrets being exposed, and new secrets being born… Heart, character, love and loss will be running through the stunt week.

Hollyoaks summer trailer

Are there any characters you are planning to bring back?
I’m delighted to say we are welcoming back a much-loved character later this year, but I can’t reveal who it is yet! More details will follow soon…

Why do you think the public is currently so engaged with the show, symbolised by the Soap Awards success?
We respond quickly and respectfully to our audience and they recognise that. We do a great deal of research about what’s working and what needs more work, the response is fantastic, encouraging and sometimes painful but we are quick to respond! That, in conjunction with some of our best ever hard-hitting issue stories such as Lily’s self-harm, footballer abuse and Sinead’s abusive marriage, made it a great year topped off brilliantly by winning Best Soap.

Hollyoaks executive producer Bryan Kirkwood

Are you influenced by what the other soaps are doing?
It’s part of my job to keep up with what’s going on in the other shows. I think we occupy a different space but it’s good to know if the others are veering into similar territory as soap fans don’t want to see two soaps do the same story at the same time. It’s healthy to know what’s on the horizon.

Which characters from rival soaps could you see fitting into Hollyoaks?
I could definitely see Pearl Ladderbanks from Emmerdale enjoying a G&T with Nana McQueen – I saw an episode recently and Meg Johnson was as dazzling as ever. And I love Karen Taylor, I believe she’s one of the best EastEnders characters in years.

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