There aren’t many things the British love more than soaps.
Our nightly trips to these ceaseless kitchen sink dramas slot so seamlessly into our shared cultural landscape that it can often feel like Tyrone Dobbs, Charity Dingle and Denise Fox are more like family than our actual families. We laugh with these characters, we fall in and out of love with them. They deal with life’s biggest questions and it’s most minor quibbles, often in the space of the same half-hour on an otherwise dreary weeknight.
The soap opera is a way of working through the day’s issues without needing to sit through Question Time. And so, to raise awareness of climate change, this week a host of British soap stalwarts (EastEnders, Corrie, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks) are joining forces with a trio of medically-minded dramas (Doctors, Holby City and Casualty) for a series of intertwining storylines.
Because apparently the impending end of the world isn’t really cutting through and making the front pages of the Radio Times just yet
It’s easy to be snarky about this. But given that each of the Big Three (sorry, Hollyoaks) gets around six million viewers per episode – a few million more than the BBC’s 10 O’Clock News – it’s obvious why there’s some sense in the idea. With COP26’s potentially future-shifting outcomes just round the corner and the ongoing hoohah around the Insulate Britain protests filling up airtime on every media platform possible, talk about climate change has rarely been so present in day-to-day British life.
Teasers for the crossover have promised things like: “A famous face from Hollyoaks is due to show up at Albert Square in a landmark event.” But given the scale of the climate emergency, is a sighting of an off-their-regular-patch actor enough?
We don’t think so. So we’ve peered into our televisual crystal ball and come up with a few plot suggestions that might actually have some impact on the telly viewing public.
Eastenders – Mick Carter realises it’s time to insulate The Vic
If anyone can convince the population at large that climate change is very real and very worrying and, importantly, very much here right fucking now, it’s Danny Dyer. At least that’s what the permanently-beleaguered BBC are banking on with this apocalyptic episode of the long-running soap.
Aware of the stubbly wide boy’s straight-talking public image, he’s the perfect foil for half an hour of subtle storytelling about the horrors of our collective reliance on technologies that are speeding up the irreversible destruction of everything we’ve ever known and loved. And, yes, that does include Kathy’s Café.
Watch enough I Love Soap clip shows – and believe me, I have – and you’ll inevitably see a few Z‑listers paying tribute to the infamous “Bouncer’s dream” segment of Neighbours. For this special bit of soap screenwriting, the Aussie programme’s producers dropped any semblance of the show being rooted in reality and gave viewers an unforgettable insight into what it might be like if one dog from a soap opera married another dog from a soap opera.
Recalling that trip into the realm of fantasy, this special edition of the grimiest of the Big Three British soap operas sees Danny Dyer, as incumbent Queen Victoria landlord Mick Carter, waking up dishevelled and distinctly hungover after an unscreened lock-in with a few of the Square’s shadier characters. Beyond the furry tongue, the pounding head and the unshakeable sensation of having plunged himself into a bottomless emotional chasm, Mick feels hot.
Stumbling into the early morning light, Mick sees why: the Square is on fire. In fact, most of the E20 postcode is engulfed by flash-fires that are evidently the result of our collective refusal to stop plundering the planet.
Knocked out by the plumes of smoke inching through Walford at an apocalyptic rate, he’s visited by the ghosts of landlords past. Den Watts, Frank Butcher, Alfie Moon in his lairiest shirt and every Mitchell imaginable proffer advice on how Mick, as the owner of an independent local business that is the heart of the community, can reimagine The Queen Vic as a more sustainable, future-proofed establishment that’s fully committed to being environmentally friendly.
He’s convinced of the merits of working with local breweries, and sourcing his nuts and crisps from artisan producers who sell their wares out of the back of raffishly rusty Citroen 2CV’s at the local farmers market on Sunday mornings. He even finds himself applying for one of the government’s recently announced heat pump grants.
Anything to keep Nadine Dorries happy, eh?
Emmerdale – the cast warm to the idea of civil disobedience
The thing that makes Emmerdale unique in the soap opera landscape is that, even though millions of people allegedly watch the Yorkshire-set soap, it goes relatively unremarked upon.
This is a shame, because whenever I catch a minute or two of it at the gym I always think: “I definitely have the room in my life for another soap, so you know what, I’m going home tonight, pouring myself a glass of limeade, cracking open a grab-bag of dry roasted peanuts and tucking into the most recent Emmerdale omnibus.”
And then I get home and just watch old Corrie clips instead. I can’t be alone in this. Can I?
That all changes here: using this climate crossover as a chance to really get some discourse going, the Emmerdale team have decided to inject a bit of cinema verité into proceedings by hiring real Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain activists to stage a semi-dramatic sit-in in the Dales.
Charity, Marlon, Paddy and the rest of the country-dwelling denizens of Emmerdale are initially put out by what they see as infuriating hippy-dippy disruptions to their daily goings-on – a perception reinforced by endless face-palm interviews with the activists on Good Morning Britain.
But after actually listening to what the protestors have to say, they realise that direct community action is one of the only methods we have of really demonstrating our unhappiness with a situation that feels increasingly hopeless. In the final scene, the entire cast stand shoulder-to-shoulder, linking arms in the middle of the road and imploring a delivery driver to make major lifestyle changes – an electric van, maybe? – if they want their grandchildren’s grandchildren to see the glorious Yorkshire sunrise in the Dales.
Coronation Street – Roy Cropper sees the cobbles submerged by a flood
Given the Sunday-afternoon-in-early-November melancholy that clings to Roy Cropper and his oversized oatmeal cardigans – a sadness that seems to only linger around Englishmen of a certain age, an ennui that if it were to be bottled and spritzed would smell of Everton mints, Old Holborn and mildewing, unspoken regret – it only seems right that the producers might use this one-off episode as a chance to really explore the depths of Roy.
David Neilson, who plays Roy, is one of the finer actors in the Corrie ensemble. His sensitive portrayal of a fundamentally kind, decent, lonely man desperate for connection and kinship is rewarded in an episode which sees him performing all manner of derring-do, captivating the audience almost single-handedly for 30 minutes of tear-jerking, thought-provoking television.
Flash floods have battered the Street. Weatherfield has been left in ruins. Roy’s Rolls is a waterlogged wreck. But even as he watches his life’s work float away before his very eyes, Roy’s concern is with the community that quietly accepts him as one of their own.
What follows is a rain-soaked dash round Greater Manchester’s most beloved southwestern town. Determined to put his fellow man above himself, Roy attempts to assess the situation and tend to those most in need. As the rain pours – and this is Blade Runner rain; biblical rain – he makes his way round the Street’s streets. It becomes reassuringly evident for both Roy and viewers that most of the residents are well and accounted for.
Underworld might be, for want of a better word, fucked and things aren’t looking good for anyone hoping to have a few small plates at the Bistro any time soon. But Gary Windass is fine, Billy Mayhew’s fine and beardy David Platt is fine, because of course David Platt is fine. The people that make the place what it is will pull through because that’s what they do – this is the story that soaps tell us time and time again, and it is a story we want to believe in.
And this, hopefully, is what we’ll learn to do in real life when things get really hairy vis-à-vis the whole climate-change-is-bringing-the-end-of-the-world-uncomfortably-close situation.
But back in the calming balm that is telly, there’s one big figure that no one can get hold of: Steve McDonald. The last the rest of the Street Cars crew had heard, Steve had taken an airport fare. Tension mounts as Roy wades further and further into the boggy marshes that now surround Weatherfield. Will he find the hangdog, unlucky in love ex-landlord? You’ll have to tune in and find out.
(Spoiler: he finds him.)