The storylines of Britain’s soap operas have grown increasingly outrageous over the past few years, but the real life misadventures of some of our soap stars put them to shame.
This week sees the wedding from Hell in EastEnders, not quite the culmination of the plot, but another phase in the downward spiral of a strangely dysfunctional Islamic family. The eldest son Syed having married his beautiful, chaste and faithful Moslem fiancée is led into temptation by the local butch queen – who has to be called Christian – and this having torn the Masoods apart, his parents are anxious for their second son, Tamwar, to restore the family honour by marrying an equally suitable wench. Which he does, in secret at the mosque, unfortunately the happy couple haven’t told their parents, and are now going through another, public marriage ceremony, which is interrupted by Tamwar’s father who has been thrown out of the family home after an unfulfilled tryst with Christian’s sister, winning money at poker then throwing it all away on the horses – as good Moslems do – and then kidnapping his wife’s first husband – Tamwar’s wife’s father – and threatening to dowse him with petrol and set him on fire.
There have been other strange family goings on in this series, take Sonia, who appeared way back in 1993. Although to begin with she is the sort of girl most men would take home to meet mother, she manages to get “knocked up” by one of the local wide boys, gives up her baby for adoption, marries the father, then develops lesbian tendencies before being reunited with both her husband and her young daughter (when her adoptive parents are killed in a car crash), and they all live happily ever after. Except the dead adoptive parents, of course.
Unfortunately, in real life, actress Natalie Cassidy’s love affair did not have such a happy ending. Her (now former) fiancé smashed up their home, smeared her with mascara, and beat her with a slipper. There appear to have been two such incidents “fuelled by alcohol” – honest judge, I only beat her when I’m drunk. Somehow he managed to escape a gaol sentence, but restraining order aside, there seems to be no chance of reconciliation as with her soap character.
Britain’s soaps have plenty of violence; in Emmerdale, even the local vicar has been known to take a swing at someone when sufficiently provoked. His bishop appears to have taken no action – possibly because they are on first name terms – but when actor Luke Tittensor was convicted of grievous bodily harm on another teenager, he was sacked. Forgiveness is one thing, but ITV has to maintain high standards.
There are perhaps nine million people in Britain who have some sort of criminal record. including police officers, so it would be churlish to suggest that no one who has ever fallen foul of the law should be hired by the BBC, but a man who has now been murdered twice in the same soap opera caused quite a stir when it was revealed that he was a convicted murderer. Leslie Grantham was a 19 year old soldier serving with the British Army in Germany when he murdered a taxi driver. Sentenced to life imprisonment and dishonourably discharged from the Army, he took up dramatics while in Leyhill open prison, and was released in 1977, eventually landing the part of pub landlord Dennis Watts in EastEnders.
Such was the notoriety of “Dirty Den” that it was only a matter of time before his past was raked up, and he was subjected to one of those exposés so beloved of tabloid newspapers.
While it is arguable if any murderer can totally repay his debt to society – he certainly can’t bring the victim back – Grantham has “done his bit” for charity, as have countless showbiz people of course, but while the Beeb may have been willing to give a convicted murderer a second chance, they weren’t going to tolerate a cyber-pervert, especially as the incident appears to have happened in a BBC dressing room, so, after his character returned from the dead in September 2003, he was killed off again in February 2005 and buried under his pub. Dennis Watts that is, not Leslie Grantham.
Another former member of the EastEnders cast has also been linked to a murder, a very high profile and tragic one. Actress Brooke Kinsella appeared in the soap from 2001 to 2004. In June 2008, her 16 year old brother was stabbed to death in one of the senseless murders that have become all too common in Britain. This led to his family setting up the Ben Kinsella Trust, and to Brooke being awarded an MBE for her campaigning work.
If murder is the ultimate crime, rape is right up there with it; Gillian Taylforth spent fifteen years in EastEnders, during which time her character was raped by her caddish boss. Fortunately the actual rape wasn’t shown – after all, this is a family show! However, it was a consensual sex act that was to be the undoing of the actress herself. In 1994, Miss Taylforth and her lover brought a libel action against the Sun newspaper. They were sitting in their car on a main road while she massaged his stomach because he was suffering from an acute attack of pancreatitis. At least, that was their story. The policeman saw – and said – something entirely different. The Sun took PC Talbot at his word, and the case ended up in the High Court.
Alas, her fate was sealed when the defence adduced a video of her at a party in 1988 posing suggestively with a large sausage and doing something with a wine bottle that no lady would ever dream of doing. In this video she was heard saying “I give very good head”, a phrase she was asked to explain in the witness box, and which unquestionably sealed her fate. She fainted and left the High Court in an ambulance.
Now, how about this for a storyline in Hollyoaks, one of Britain’s lesser known soaps: grandmother dies of natural causes, daughter and granddaughter leave her body slumped behind the bedroom door, and continue to claim her state pension. A bit ghoulish, and not very palatable most would say. Unfortunately, this was not in the script; earlier this month, actress Hazel Maddock and her daughter Jasmine pleaded guilty to failing to report the death of 95 year old Olive Maddock and two counts of fraud. As the man said, you couldn’t make it up.
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