British Television Soaps’ sensational storylines – out of order?

eastenders Coronation_Street Emmerdale

The television soaps (so called because when started in the US they were sponsored by soap manufacturers) are one of the most popular forms of entertainment, and broadcast on prime time television. It is wrongly thought they are particularly for, and appreciated only by, just the working classes?

These broadcasts are not to be confused with radio pseudo-soaps which include the Archers, which started in 1951, making it longest running soap in the world with some 5m listeners, comprising about 25% of listeners at such times. Surely, that should be an example to production companies, proving popularity can be retained without headline grabbing plots and stomach churning storylines, eh?

In years gone by, many years that is, we used to have iconic soaps on British TV that were so called ‘family viewing’ – not any longer, eh? Today’s are now full of bizarre, violent, disturbing, totally obscene, scenes and storylines, which may be suitable for like-minded adults, but certainly not for young people, surely?

It is some forty years since swear words by punk rock group the Sex Pistols, during a live interview, became a memorable breach of the so called watershed, but things have now escalated unbelievably, don’t you think?

The surprising thing to us observers is that the free to air television licensing authorities Ofcom, never step in to put a stop to it (not least with a big fine – they no longer seem to notice, now that demised censorious activist Mary Whitehouse is out of their hair, and simply conclude that viewers are now probably acclimatised to it all!) – So it all continues unabated, doesn’t it? There is supposed to be a television 9pm ‘watershed’, that means theoretically a dividing line between suitable daytime family programmes and what is termed adult content, including what we consistently now see in the modern soaps of explicit violence including brutal murder, horrific ’s including kidnapping and major catastrophes like rail-line crashes and devastating fires, drug use and regular alcohol abuse, serious criminal goings-on, serious gambling addiction, and sexual activity, when even reference to these kinds of things is supposedly barred. They and many other unsuitable things are all there frequently of course, because they drag-in the mesmerised public and produce exciting newspaper headlines for the soap’s publicity.

It is all about ratings you see (large audiences are the only criteria now not quality), so the main ones are deliberately not scheduled against each other, so ratings don’t go down when viewers have to make a choice – it doesn’t matter really these days because in addition to recording programmes, addicted watchers can see the other one on readily available ‘CatchUp’, can’t they?

In distant days starting in the 1950s we had live transmissions (and not today’s pre-recordings shot on videotape) for the likes of the BBCs Grove Family and ITVs Emergency Ward 10 – great stuff.

The BBC really then led the way in the 1960s, but we then had though some readily forgotten soaps like their Compact (a woman’s mag), The Newcomers (a new firm), United (football team), and 199 Park Lane (upper class setting) which bombed.

Of course we also suffered a year of BBC’s rubbish soap Eldorado in the early 1960s before the 1980s brought in with ITVs Brookside and an evolving panache for controversial and family unsatisfactory content (like hostage taking with killing, and rape causing pregnancy, which then in the 1990s devolved by all into such depravations as child rape (BBCs EastEnders 2008), sibling incest Families (1990), and a dramatic hiding of a bin-liner covered murdered body under a patio (Brookside 20 years ago) so it itself died early this century.

Young viewers have also suffered with the likes of broadcasts on a plane crash on the 5th year anniversary of Lockerbie (Emmerdale 1993),     lesbian kiss (Brookside 1994),          sibling incest (Brookside 1996 – resulting in its demise after 21 years following this one step too far),  brutal mail rape (Hollyoaks 2000),                   brutal female rapes (Coronation Street 2000 & 2011),          prostitution (EastEnders 2001),     Teenage pregnancy (Coronation Street 2003),     paedophilia (EastEnders 2009),      child killing emulating 1993 Jamie Bulger’s murder (Hollyoaks 2009 scrapped),  AIDS (EastEnders 2011),        cot death & baby abduction (EastEnders 2011) – all which have caused shock, upset, controversy, and major complaints. But the TV lot don’t give a jot, do they, as long as high ratings pull in the viewers and commercially the paying advertisers?

Oh yes, the supposedly reliable BBC has lost the moral high ground and its quality image tarnished, when it comes to family values in soap content a long-long while ago, as well.

The top three ‘flagship’ soaps are said to have lost the plot by unrealness, poor characterisation, loss of popular characters, absence of warm humour and depressing dreary uninteresting storylines, causing loss of popularity with lowest viewing figures for half a century but in order viewer rating wise are

  1. EastEnders BBC1 1985 with 30m viewers at Christmas 1986 – more than Apollo splashdown’s 29m in 1970 and Princess Diana’s funeral of 32m in 1997, Still pulling in just over 7m.
  2. Coronation Street ITV 1960 [nickname Corrie) the world’s longest running TV soap was a revolution to rival Crossroads (ITV’s cheap motel saga – which ultimately failed in 1968 through bad acting and technical issues). Corrie viewing down to 6m these days so not going well, eh?
  3. Emmerdale ITV 1972 the second longest running UK soap was revamped in the early 1990s after using a much criticised but highly successful aircrash storyline which led to a significant increase in popularity. Under 6m nowadays


But however Casualty (BBC1), Holby City (BBC1), Doctors (BBC1), and Hollyoaks (Ch4) are nowadays better thought of in general rate voting– oh dear.

ITV Corrie’s latest example of an unwarranted violent storyline before the watershed, involves an aggressive 12 year old child hitting his mother and others. Is a soap the right place to be exploring this kind of social issue – surely the Channel should assign the task on such a disturbing domestic topic to a current affairs programme like Exposure or Tonight?

Is it any wonder, with this constant stream of violent misbehaviour, that we are turning out a generation of abusive male and female thugs?


[The soaps are slowly but inevitably a dying form of television archaic drama and many will not grieve their demise, will they? In this century television viewers have been enticed by and have moved towards the hundreds of different digital channels with untold sports availability, American and Australian stuff, films to satisfy ever interest, so called reality programmes, fascinating nature footage, in depth current affairs episodes, as well as the ability to easily watch previous programmes].

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