Last seen on screen in January 2021, sinister serial killer Silas Blissett has been lurking in the shadows of Hollyoaks grooming grandson Bobby Costello into inheriting his murderous mantel.

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Much of this has been done remotely, with Silas and the impressionable schoolboy conversing off-screen via email and through online games of chess, his favourite pastime (other than killing people for fun).

Now the gruesome granddad is ready to strike and against the backdrop of Hollyoaks’ latest stunt week, which sees an explosion ripping through the village carnival, Silas returns to take Bobby from tiger mum Mercedes McQueen and turn him to the dark side…

“Getting Bobby has overtaken every other priority for Silas,” smirks Jeff Rawle, speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com about reprising his villainous role. “He’s older and has become more desperate in his dotage, he has a feeling that maybe on his way out and there is a sense of passing on his work and preparing Bobby from afar.

“Whenever I come back it always surprises me to learn Silas has carried on being evil, often through cajoling someone to do bad things on his behalf, and he’s still influential in the background, despite not actually being in it. Silas never really leaves the stage. But this is his big, final push and he’s determined Mercedes won’t slip through his fingers – she’s the one that got away.”

Mercedes and Silas in Hollyoaks
Mercedes and Silas in Hollyoaks Lime Pictures/Channel 4

The cat and mouse capers between Silas and arch-enemy Mercedes stretch back over a decade during the villain’s first wave of terror, where his MO was bumping off young women to punish them for being what he perceived as ‘promiscuous’.

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Mercy cheated on Silas’s grandson Riley with his dad Carl (Bobby's father), which put her straight to the top of Mr Blissett’s hit list back in 2011. Despite numerous efforts over the years, and across many reappearances, finishing off Mercedes has always eluded him, so his latest comeback is fuelled by the double motivation of finally making her his victim and stealing her precious son.

“It’s brilliant they’ve kept me alive,” smiles Rawle, as affable and warm in the flesh as his alter ego is creepy and cold. “Silas has managed to escape every time, and I’m always happy to return to such a great job, I love the crew and everyone here. And the beauty is I’m not tied down, often in a soap you effectively become part of the furniture but with this particular character he can drop in and out: that’s his strength as a player, you never know when he might return.”

Rawle is practically soap royalty thanks to Silas, but Hollyoaks is not his first brush with the genre. “At one point I might’ve gone into Coronation Street to work behind the bar at the Rovers Return,” he divulges. “My mum would’ve loved that, she never missed an episode. She passed away a couple of years back and I remember watching the first black and white episodes as a family, we were enslaved to it.

“Susie Blake, who I’ve worked with a lot, usually playing husband and wife, was in it some years back (she played Bev Unwin for three years from 2003) and it was mooted I might go in while she was there. It’s appealing to do a soap for a bit, I think in your lifetime as an actor you can afford to do one. The disciplines are different to anything else, but the acting remains the same.”

Rawle’s 40-year career is packed with high-profile stage and screen credits including appearances in Doc Martin, Doctor Who, Midsomer Murders and the Harry Potter franchise – he was Cedric Diggory’s dad Amos in the fourth movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The fast pace and quick turnaround of soap operas is something the actor admits he thrives on, and became attuned to in one of his most memorable jobs on Channel 4 '90s sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey. The satirical series, set in a TV newsroom, was famously shot perilously close to transmission to be as up-to-date as possible in referencing topical events of the time. Much like continuing dramas, rehearsal was a luxury.

“Yes, it’s very quick and similar to those days. In my first week back on Hollyoaks we had 63 pages of script to do – on a normal film you’d be doing two or three! With soaps you hit the ground running often with ink still wet on the pages. Its strength in many ways is that it's always fresh, you usually don’t get more than one take.

“I had a big, important scene right at the end of the day with only half an hour left. There was no time to rehearse but we went for it and got something very raw, and very good. I’d rather have it feel fresh and real, as opposed than perfect and not very interesting.”

Mild-mannered George Dent, sweet but ineffectual editor of Globelink News, could almost have been the inspiration for Silas when Rawle was cast in 2010, seemingly to play an avuncular, almost innocuous grandfather – until, in a masterstroke of misdirection, he suddenly commenced on a killing spree.

“At first you thought he’s this straightforward, lovely grandpa figure, but the audience quickly knew he had this double life and was arranging online dates with women and killing them. We saw him dump a poor girl’s body in his boot, and minutes later he was in the pub balancing children on his knee! We knew we were onto something with the character, no one had seen anything like this before.

“Initially it was a short gig but the story ended up going on for over a year. By that time I was happy to stay because Silas had piqued my interest, and it wasn’t the kind of thing I normally get to do. Often I play be-jumpered fools behind desks!”

A dash of dark humour and a mischievous sense of glee has seen Silas and his schemes develop into deliciously demented territory. This time round, Rawle promises the (trademark black) gloves are off and Silas is going for broke as he plots to destroy the McQueens in a deadly game of giant chess on an electrified board. Yes, you read that right.

hollyoaks silas week 39 2022
Silas returns to Hollyoaks

“He’s gone very high-tech and discovered technology in his old age,” he chuckles. “I think he’s cashed in his pension and spent it on gadgets! His latest plan is his biggest and most barking: he’s going to play a life-size game of chess with the McQueens in which they may live or die, depending on what move he makes.

“He’s using all sorts of weaponry to torture them and play mind games so they feel under threat and start turning on each other. Silas wants to demolish them from the inside, he drops the poison then lets them do the rest.

“As long as he gets Bobby the others can fester. They’re all worthless to him and are likely to implode without any help! Bobby is emblematic, a possession he wants to control to do his bidding. There is something awful about grooming him into a psychopath and tension comes from the audience hoping Bobby doesn’t fall into this evil.”

To sustain a character so heightened and hateful, one wonders where Rawle seeks inspiration – and motivation – from. The slow but playful speech patterns and icy hyper-intelligence are reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter, while the actor cites his ego and arrogance to a specific non-fictional source.

“You see it in people like Donald Trump, those with gargantuan egos who delight in their own awfulness, that petulance and justifying their actions on a whim. Silas likes to think he’s well-read and his command of language is good on occasion. He has a literary flair adding to the theatricality, which he enjoys. He’s often quoting Corinthians. And he loves telling his victims why it’s necessary to dispatch them, and how he’s going to do it, which is very creepy!”

Hollyoaks has confirmed stunt week does, inevitably, result in at least one permanent exit from the cast. Fans are speculating if this really is the last hurrah for Silas, though the temptation to keep him as a perpetually-hanging threat over the community is surely too hard for producers to resist.

As far as Rawle is concerned, he seems open to slipping on the gloves and peak cap whenever the call comes, if only to see how his character can outdo himself…

“Whenever they say ‘There’s nowhere else for him to go,’ well, there is – and we’ve found that level of madness! The writers have pushed Silas to another realm this time, and it will be really entertaining to watch.”

Hollyoaks is available to stream on All 4 and airs every weeknight at 6:30pm on Channel 4 and 7pm on E4. Check out more of our Soaps coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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