Why soaps won't wash with me: a cyclist comes clean

Q. What do Coronation Street, Eastenders and Emmerdale have in common?

A. They’re all soaps?

Q. Yes, yes. What else?

A. They all have a pub in which characters consume alcohol well above the safe drinking levels advised by all the health agencies?

Q. Can you give me more?

A. Er, they’ve all featured storylines in 2010 that involved one established character murdering another?

Well, yeah. Okay, I’ll tell you. Nobody ever rides a bike in any of them. Obvious, really.

I know soaps aren’t meant to represent real life, but can it be right that in the three communities of Salford, Walford and… Emmerdale not one person has a push bike? And what does this have to do with a cycling blog? Okay, let me explain:

One of the many unrealistic conceits of the soaps is that almost everyone seems to live within comfortable walking distance of their jobs: Kevin and Sally’s places of work are even next door to each other; Molly used to work at Dev’s, barely twenty paces from her house; Tyrone could see the garage from his house etc etc. And even when they change jobs it’s usually for another one on the same street: tired of working at the Kabin, Tina? Here, have a job at the Rover’s. Tired of working at the Rover’s, Michelle? How about a completely unrelated role at Underworld? Eastenders has the Arches, the launderette, Ian Beale’s food outlets, the Minute Mart, that beauty place and, of course, the Queen Vic – all staffed by residents of the square (although I’ve still no idea where Tracy lives, bless her, even after all these years). Over in Emmerdale, Eric’s machinists lose their jobs, but worry not as many will find employment at a chocolate factory that springs up. Or the Woolpack (or garage or vet’s).

Where am I going with this? Well, personally I’ve always worked at places I could cycle to from home. For most of these places I’ve also taken the bus or driven my car, and for every one I’ve been able to walk or even – in a pinch – run to work if necessary. During the recent heavy snow there was a bit of a theme that developed on the local BBC radio station. Many schools closed for three, or even four, days and the daytime presenter, and a number of his listeners, had a pop at teachers. There was some suggestion that teachers couldn’t get in to school because they lived too far away to travel safely in the bad weather. This may well be true for some, but the decisions taken higher up to close schools had little to do with individuals’ travelling arrangements and more to do with the safety of the children. (I shall stay out of any further discussion on that matter.) But what was most amusing was the idea put forward by more than one listener that teachers should live right near the school they worked at so that they could just roll out of the front door and through the school gates in a morning. I think they must have been watching too many soaps. So perhaps that’s why not one cyclist lives in soapland: they just don’t need a bike to get to work.

But surely somebody – anybody – could own a bicycle even for pleasure in Coronation Street, Eastenders or Emmerdale? If you lived in soapland wouldn’t you expect to pick your way through a mangle of BMX and mountain bikes scattered on the flagstones outside Norris’s Kabin, or Viv’s post office or Kathy’s café? But no, not a bike in sight. How do the producers and others decide what characters to introduce from one year to the next? Might the conversation go something like this:

Characters from some ethnic background or other?

Of course.

Gay/lesbian couple?

Like duh! And you want on-screen kisses, yeah?

Homicidal maniac?

What? Just the one?

What about having a character who uses a bike for getting to work, or just for pleasure?

Hey now hang on a minute. Let’s not get carried away here!

All we’ve had is that mountain bike in an old title sequence on Emmerdale, Graeme messing about with some contraption he used for cleaning windows (sorry, doesn’t count) and Kevin Webster’s dad being in that Yellow Pages advert from years ago. Surely it’s time to pluck a story from some other part of the media? What about the rise of the MAMIL? There must be some fun to be had at the expense of at least one of the characters wearing Lycra and holding in a bit of middle-age spread? I can imagine Dev wobbling away on a De Rosa, Bob stomping the pedals on a Bianchi, and Max getting his leg over a Milani. (Well he needs a new bike now that Stacey has left, and with Vanessa surely not far behind. Ouch. Saucer of milk for Christopher.)

The most recent methods of despatching murder victims have been through the use of blunt instruments in the urban settings and a shotgun out in the country. But various modes of transport are also useful in soapland, apart from their obvious utilitarian role of moving people about from one place to another. Pretty much every vehicle has been used to kill off a character after the actor or actress playing them asked for a better contract or more interesting storylines:

Train (oh, no he’s still alive that one, isn’t he?)
There has probably been the odd tractor mangling hasn’t there?

I have an idea for killing off a character in 2011, for which I expect no royalties in return. It would need to involve one of the means of transport listed above, but in conjunction with the bicycle. You see killing a cyclist is met with the most lenient form of punishment in comparison to any other method of homicide (or, ahem, accident). Don’t you see? What about this? Dev gets the insurance money for the shop, has a mid-life crisis (yes another one) and buys a flash carbon fibre road bike. He rattles over the cobbles and then whizzes along Rosamond Street. Becky, hearing that the CCTV recording wasn’t destroyed after all, thinks that Dev knows she looted the safe. She drives in to him (wait a minute – can she even drive? No? Perfect) ideally in one of Steve’s cabs (another provider of employment for the locals). Even better, she runs him over on her husband’s motorbike. Oh, no, wait a minute, Kylie sold it to that unpleasant man, didn’t she? Anyway, there are two ways this could go: she wipes the car then torches it on the Red Rec pretending it was the work of joyriders. Or – if she does get caught – she claims it was an accident and throws herself on the mercy of the courts.

Because the courts can be quite merciful to motorists who kill cyclists. You can Google plenty of cases for yourself, but this one says something about the attitudes expressed when cyclists are killed by motorists. There is also the suggestion that cyclists who don’t wear a helmet, or high visibility clothing, are asking for it. It reminds me of the defendant’s counsel asking the alleged victim of a sexual assault whether she was wearing a miniskirt at the time. I wonder how long this sense of culpability or contributory negligence will remain.

Anyway, back to my storyline. The beauty of it is that all the soaps could use the same one. Don’t believe me? There is the possibility that the garage owner cuckolds employee, female character exits soap: Kevin/Molly/Tyrone; Phil/Manda/Minty. Oh, wait a minute. That ended up being all in Minty’s imagination. (Admittedly, in Emmerdale it would have been harder for Cain to follow their lead; his co-workers are either a. gay; b. his daughter; c. mostly in prison.) Hey! I’ve just read that Manda rode a bike. She taught yoga and pottery, too, so the three things together marked her out as an odd bod and the actress left after her one-year contract expired.

But I digress.

Look out for that storyline in 2011, and remember you saw it here first 😉

Resolutions for 2011: watch fewer soaps; get out on bikes more

28 comments on “Why soaps won't wash with me: a cyclist comes clean”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Soap characters seem to have an aversion to any form of exercise, perhaps thats why they all live within staggering distance of work! I thought things were looking up when Kevin and Molly took up running but it soon turned into an excuse for an affair. There is a bike in Coronation Street – its a pink/purple kids mountain bike that has been leaning against a wall unlocked for some time now. Bike theft must be the only crime that doesn't feature in the programme.

  2. Chris wrote:

    Hilary wrote: There is a bike in Coronation Street – its a pink/purple kids mountain bike that has been leaning against a wall unlocked for some time now.

  3. Patrick wrote:

    I suppose I should come clean and confess I've never watched a single episode of Coronation Street, Eastenders or Emmerdale, but I agree that Manda should be run over by a taxi speeding through a red light (as they do). The driver could then be punished with a compulsory £60 speed awareness course. I'm actually doing one of those in January (I was caught speeding I'm afraid) and I'll report back on whether any mention is made of avoiding cyclists.

    Back in December 2009 I posted a suggestion for getting more people cycling – blockbuster cycling movies and new laws to protect cylists – but your idea is better. Can we bring 'Casualty' into it as well? Re: soaps aren't meant to represent real life – I'm not sure about that. Casualty strikes me as not much more than government propaganda on the 'issues of the day' (but I've never really watched that either).

    Great Post anyway Chris. It's high time television started to take cycling seriously... (The Independent)

  4. Chris wrote:

    Hilary, you've jinxed me, woman. So did you see that bike hanging in the Windass's shed thingy tonight? Quill stem, downtube shifters and those dinky alloy 'racing' mudguards that were all the rage thirty years ago. I'd say it's been hanging there all that time, but Sinbad only got the thing constructed a few years ago.

    I don't think soaps do represent real life, Patrick – that would be far too humdrum. I don't suppose many of us can claim to have a murderer in our own street, square, dale or close. (You won't know about that Jordache bloke under the Brookside patio – hey, didn't Sinbad put him there, Hilary? He was quite the handyman.) That Independent article was very similar to what I was trying to get across. I hadn't read it – honest. It just goes to show that almost four years on not much has changed. Incidentally, well done for not getting hooked on the soaps. Take my advice and keep well away. I could handle it *sniff* if I wanted...

  5. Patrick wrote:

    Don't worry. I'll handle it. Mrs T just got started on the entire archive of The West Wing (154 episodes on DVD). No more Julia Bradbury for a few weeks.

  6. Alan wrote:

    Great blog, even if I was hoping for a confession about personal hygiene.

    Chris wrote: There has probably been the odd tractor mangling hasn’t there?

    John Archer (of Radio 4's "The Archers") was famously squished by his tractor.

  7. Hilary wrote:

    Good point about the bike in the Windass' shed Chris, its age definitely predates that of the shed. Has someone got a secret cycling past?

    Just like to point out that Coronation Street is the only soap I watch, tho God knows why – its not exactly cheery at the moment!

  8. Kern wrote:

    Chris, I think you missed an element of intrigue in your plot line – how about the old sabotaged-brake-cable routine? Rider comes down a hard hill with a sharp right-hand turn at the bottom ... hits the low wall and flies over the handlebars into the abyss ... to be continued next week/month/decade ... ???

  9. Jim wrote:

    Seth on Emmerdale used to have a bike and trailer. On Coronation Street Len Fairclough's apprentice Jerry Booth was a regular racing cyclist and turned up in the Rovers in his Lycra. All many years ago though.

  10. Chris wrote:

    Hi, Jim. In the days of Seth and Len I don't suppose I would have watched more than a handful of episodes of any soap in any year. Well remembered, sir!

    Ooh, in Eastenders this week a road cyclist passed through the square at the beginning of the Heather special episode. Perhaps four seconds of screen time. Ah, well. It's a start...

  11. Keith Edwards wrote:

    I was unfortunate to be on Grandad sitting duties when he was unwell, I can not remember how long ago. He was watching Eastenders and there was a woman who rode a bike. I can not remember the character's name but she was playing the part of the girlfriend of Minty (I think that the name).
    She had a pink step through bike with metal mudguards, a basket on the bars and stick on flowers put all over the place.
    I think she was supposed to be up to something in a car with steamed up windows parked under the railway arches.

  12. Chris wrote:

    Hi, Keith. I don't have such vivid recollections of the character whose bike obviously left an impression on you. Presumably she was Manda, who I mentioned right near the end of the original post:

    I’ve just read that Manda rode a bike. She taught yoga and pottery, too, so the three things together marked her out as an odd bod and the actress left after her one-year contract expired.

    Some small child was on a bike in Emmerdale this week or last. I think it was a Dingle child, but I can't be certain. I see some of the blokes in that soap have started running. Surely those road bikes are not far away now...

  13. Chris wrote:

    I don't know. You wait for one and then five come along together. Team Emmerdale, four actors and an executive producer from the soap, are to cycle from the set near Leeds down to 'Albert Square' and the set of Eastenders. They plan to complete the 224 mile route in 24 hours.

    Team Emmerdale on Calendar

    The ride is in memory of series producer Gavin Blyth who died last year aged 41 shortly after being diagnosed with a form of Lymphoma cancer. Cast members have already raised more than £60,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support with a charity football match.

    But given that none of the riders has managed more than 80 miles so far, such a long bike ride – on 19th August this year – will be some challenge.

    I wonder if they will be tempted to, ahem, re-cycle their bikes on set somehow?

  14. Hilary wrote:

    Did anyone see Thursday's Coronation Street where would be super model Rosie finds herself doing a photo shoot for a cycling safety promotion? Quite funny but her shrieks of 'Oh my God, I look like some sad, loser, weirdo!' definitely did nothing to encourage teenage girls to take up cycling!

  15. Chris wrote:

    Yes, Mrs Bailey even rewound it on Sky+ to show me that scene. And inevitably there is a poster of our Rosie – in her hi-viz vest and helmet – on a bus shelter on The Street. Oh, crrrringe. The poor girl.

    The last sighting of a bicycle in that soap – two actually – were those stolen by the lovable rogues Chesney and the other ginger one – you know, the one out of the Army – to allow Chesney to get back in time for the birth of his child. So that's all right then! 😆

  16. Hilary wrote:

    They did later return them to where they'd nicked them from. Presumably to be nicked by someone else as the hapless cyclists would have long since walked home! Still cyclists are only sad, loser weirdos after all!

  17. Patrick wrote:

    Anyway Chris, you're not watching soaps any more, right? LOL

  18. Chris wrote:

    That resolution was so 2011.

  19. Chris wrote:

    I wonder if anyone else has seen this story:


  20. Patrick wrote:

    Unfortunately not fiction. All too familiar "genuine remorse," "suffered from depression," "post-traumatic stress disorder" etc (as defences)... it won't wash, nor will "not wearing a safety helmet ... contributed to her death." British Cycling call to action (2012) »

    (CTC feels strongly about it too)

    BTW, did your storyline for 2011 come true Chris?

  21. Chris wrote:

    No, Patrick, no storylines involving the deaths of vulnerable road-users resulting in derisory sentences for the perpetrators. That would appear to be too fantastical for our soap operas, but not for Sheriff James Scott. Pathetic.

  22. Patrick wrote:

    Straying off soaps now, but "The Sentencing Guidelines Council recommends community penalties in cases where drivers kill someone through momentary inattention" and also "Widower wants wife’s killer to be spared jail." Scotsman last Friday » [link corrected]

    I'm not sure what to make of that (except that the widower is a very nice chap). I think we've discussed this before. It does seem to give out a message that killing cyclists – or anyone – by driving carelessly doesn't matter very much. That is wrong.

  23. Hilary wrote:

    CTC is urging people to write to the Lord Advocate about such a derisory sentence.

    Its the second time he has killed a cyclist!

  24. Patrick wrote:

    The campaign seems to have had some effect. The 'derisory' sentence is now being reviewed by the High Court once they have heard from Sheriff James Scott on why he thought 300 hours of community service and a 5-year driving ban was an appropriate sentence for a 'double-killer' driver.

  25. Chris wrote:

    Back to the original story. Sort of. Dev has started... running, with hilarious results (he's a bit out of breath and jogs to the Rovers)! Well, it's a start...

  26. Hilary wrote:

    Yes, exercise can only be seen as a source of amusement in soap operas – or as an excuse to have an affair!

  27. Patrick wrote:

    Time really flies. Any resolutions for 2014 Chris?

  28. Chris wrote:

    Any resolutions for 2014 Chris?

    I've been thinking about this. No. What happens, happens.

    However, we are down to just Corrie as our only soap. Honest.

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