My soap hell: a novice’s guide to Soapland

I hadn’t watched soaps for 15 years – would an evening of non-stop suds draw me back in?

I love TV of all sorts. I revel in a heady blend of drama, comedy and reality on channels ranging from BBC4 to Really. But there’s one area that, for the past 15 years, has remained pretty much a closed book – soaps.


It’s time for me to return: to walk the mean streets of Walford, trip along the sun-baked macadam of Ramsay Street and see what I’ve been missing. Have the soaps changed? Have the characters? Have I?

Three-and-a-half hours of non-stop soaps: no retreat, no surrender!

First up…


Neighbours: sponsored by Debenhams

5:35pm I went to university so of course I used to watch this. It’s been a long time, though, so I guess I won’t know any of the charact… Toady’s still in it?!

And Paul Robinson? But he wasn’t even in it last time I watched, was he? Does this mean Stefan Dennis’s pop career is definitely off?

5:42pm Neighbours definitely looks more polished than I remember, no yellowish VT here – ah, but they still have the painted backdrop outside the door of number 30. Nice to see that continuity with the past.

5:47pm Toady’s a lawyer?! Or is he just saying that for a joke…? No, he’s serious. So he’s lost weight, got himself a snazzy new line in waistcoats and become a lawyer – yet he still lets people call him “Toad”. You’d think that would be the first thing you’d change if you wanted to improve your image.

5:52pm “You mongrel!” Ha, had forgotten about “mongrel”! Ace.

Verdict: A bit glossier than back in my day (when it couldn’t have been any less glossy), but basically it hasn’t changed. All in all, I enjoyed it. But it’s early days yet, it could just be the novelty.


Home and Away: sponsored by BrightHouse, the weekly payment store

6:03pm Many young shiny people I don’t know (as you’d expect) and… Marilyn! I thought she’d moved to Emmerdale? I guess the Yorkshire climate must have been a bit of a shock after Summer Bay.

Great Scott! Morag! Like something from a heretofore forgotten nightmare. That shock of orange hair. The grey skin and blue-ish lips. She looks like a character from a badly colourised black-and-white movie. Or a corpse recently pulled from a river wearing a novelty “Scotsman” wig.

6:07pm Ah, the diner. I remember when Dannii Minogue was a “punk” and worked here. Now Australia’s Got Talent is over, maybe they’d take her back?

6:12pm It’s getting a bit heavy here. This blonde woman is extraordinarily upset about her boyfriend but I can’t tell if he’s dead or has just left her. If she’s this upset because he’s dead it’s understandable. If she’s this upset because he left her, you can see why he left her.

Verdict: I could watch this. Neighbours can get a bit claustrophobic so I’m liking the outdoor scenes in this – actually shot outdoors with real trees and everything – and I can’t help having a soft spot for Marilyn.


6:25pm Right, I have five minutes until Hollyoaks, which frankly I’m dreading. It’s Friday evening: a beer, I think.


Hollyoaks: sponsored by the Nikon Coolpix

6:32pm Are these the credits to Hollyoaks or The Only Way Is Essex?

Tony’s still in it… He’s the Ken Barlow of Chester.

6:37pm Starting to recognise a few of these people. This one once had a pink asymmetric haircut, I seem to recall. Nancy. She’s hoping to get “that job as an online blogger”. Those middle-aged writers are in touch with the modern world, all right.

6:39pm Uh-oh. That young couple weren’t supposed to be staying in this man’s mobile home, were they? Cue an escaping-in-your-pants scene. Always fun.

6:41pm Who is this evil moustachioed chap, then? He is clearly dangerous as he speaks slowly and in a whisper and deletes text messages without so much as a thought! But is he supposed to be Irish or American? I just can’t tell. His accent flits back and forth. The whispering doesn’t help.

6:55pm Closing credits, already? I think I might have accidentally gone on Twitter for ten minutes. Sorry, highly unprofessional. I risk invalidating the experiment if I’m not careful.

Verdict: Well, it wasn’t gripping. To be honest, I feel like I probably have the same problem with Hollyoaks now as I always had – I’m not interested in any of the annoying, one-dimensional characters. Except maybe the moustache guy.


Emmerdale: sponsored by Tombola online bingo

7:02pm The theme tune brings back memories of my nan watching this, back when it was called Emmerdale Farm – and when the title didn’t look like the Primark logo.

7:16pm Urg. I’m really flagging here. Losing concentration. Every scene takes place in an almost silent room, with only one person at a time speaking. It’s like walking into a very old person’s living room. Or a wake. I can almost hear a clock ticking. Could someone at least turn a light on! I thought EastEnders was the depressing one…?

7:27pm Ahhh, the lovely cymbal roll that signals the closing credits and a blessed end to this soul-sucking experience.

Verdict: Switching on Emmerdale is like inviting the Dementors into your living room. This is a soap for people who are waiting to die. Or who have already died and are waiting for their bodies to be discovered. It’s purgatory.

Coronation Street: sponsored by Harveys The Furniture Store

7:31pm Will always love the theme tune but the title sequence isn’t as nostalgic as it was. What was wrong with the original cat?

7:40pm Lister from Red Dwarf is talking to Cindy Beale from EastEnders. This is like a cheese dream.

7:43pm Continuing that theme, it’s Miss Popov from Rentaghost and she’s at a transsexual convention. I always had my suspicions.

Oh, right, no, she’s not a transsexual – of course – her friend is.

7:56pm It’s not setting my world alight as yet but there’s definitely entertainment to be had from Corrie. Will reserve final verdict until tonight’s second episode.

EastEnders: sponsored by the licence-fee payer

8:02pm Two minutes in and we’ve already heard the phrase “care home”. And Billy is sitting grim-faced and tense in a chair, looking every inch a Mitchell. Yes, this is the EastEnders I remember.

8:05pm If he wasn’t wearing his trademark white shirt and waistcoat, I wouldn’t have known that was David Essex. I wonder if he’s had it written into his contract.

8:09pm It’s only bloody Karen from Pulling! She’s reading out the sexy bits from the Bible, which seems very Karen.

Uh-oh, she’s just told this Michelle Ryan replacement that the bloke she’s seeing is a dealer. And I don’t think she means antiques, like David Essex.

8:24pm Emphysema Phil and Roxy(?) are having a bit of a face-off. Must say, I love soap scenes set in the back office of a basement club. A soap staple, I’d say (although, clearly, I’m no expert).

Verdict: EastEnders has won me over. I really enjoyed it. Turned out not to be all grim and grey at all, but full of the warmth and humour I’d been expecting from Corrie. And it’s full of stars!



  Coronation Street: sponsored by Harveys The Furniture Store

8:32pm OK, Corrie, here’s another chance – let’s see what you’ve got.

8:34pm “I love London. I love the pace of the place and the fact that everyone’s so rude,” wisecracks sassy northerner Cindy Beale, who would know after all that time she spent in Walford.

What’s that, Steve? Tracy messed things up between you and Becky? No, I think that was you.

This is more like it – an evening of pub banter. I could get into Corrie. Maybe I was just in a post-Emmerdale depression before. And, also, I’ve had some beers.

Wow, Deirdre’s made of leather.

8:44pm Back at the transvestite conference, and it’s the second time tonight a drink’s been thrown over someone – yet you rarely see it in real life…

Verdict: I wasn’t convinced to begin with but it seems Weatherfield is a more entertaining place in the evening (possibly because everyone, including me, has had a few drinks). I can certainly see why people watch this – it’s quite relaxing.


Overall verdict: I enjoyed EastEnders most at the time but, looking back, it’s Coronation Street I feel most drawn to watching again, not least because The Rovers is such a cosy pub.

I won’t watch Emmerdale again because you only have so much life force in you.

I wouldn’t mind a holiday in Summer Bay.

Am I really likely to get into any of them? No. At any given time there will always be a repeat of Come Dine with Me, or something on Living, that I’d rather watch. Sorry, soaps.

Right, time for some fresh air…