What makes a good soap character?
That very question is often the topic of heated discussion on online forums. It’s no wonder, really, given that genre has given birth to some of the richest, most iconic characters in British TV history.
Dot Cotton, Peggy Mitchell, Elsie Tanner, Annie Sugden and Mercedes McQueen, for example. Legends rich in character, and storylines that defined a generation. The sheer mention of their names evoke a lifetime’s worth of soapy memories.
But what made them so great? Was it the strong backstory and unique characterisation? Was it the struggles they faced on a daily basis and the stories they took centre stage in? Or was it the stellar actors who portrayed them?
I reckon it was a combination of all of the above.
These days, the soap genre is often unfairly regarded as a thing of the past, what with the ever-changing landscape of TV.
In order to survive, serial dramas need to do what they’ve always done: Create strong and relatable new characters for the next generation, who will be vessels through which the shows in question can tell hard-hitting and relevant storylines.
Creating new characters in a programme littered with TV icons is no doubt a tall task for producers, and it often doesn’t work out.
Hollyoaks has always been a cut above when it comes to devising and developing the next generation, but even by their standards, they broke the mould when Sid Sumner (Billy Price) came along.
Looking back now, the story of how Sid came to be is quite remarkable. A supporting character introduced as part of the acclaimed Far-Right storyline, who was bullied and tormented by his extremist dad Stuart.
His role was expanded in late 2019 when he saved Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson) – who had been radicalised by his father – from death, paving the way for all the brilliance that would follow.
Sid was developed further by the producers and writers, becoming a central character to the show in a short space of time, making him the perfect conduit through which the soap could tell a number of big storylines.
The troubled teen would feature in some of Hollyoaks’ most compelling, including the County Lines drugs story and losing his leg in a roadside accident.
The character never grew tiresome, and the same territory was rarely retreaded, allowing him to grow with every passing story.
What’s more, despite featuring in high-profile issue-led stories, Sid never felt like a plot device, and his richness as a character meant that he was able to slot into just about any storyline or dynamic, which is exactly what a soap character should be able to do within their respective community.
His bond with Juliet Nightingale (Niamh Blackshaw) was easily one of the best platonic friendships we’ve had on soap, and he also gelled really well with Ste, Leela and Peri Lomax (Kirsty Leigh Porter and Ruby O’Donnell), to name a few.
The audience response, meanwhle, speaks volumes in itself, with the character swiftly becoming one of the most popular on the show – something that was never more apparent than when he was seemingly killed off back in 2021, only to return from the dead shortly afterwards.
When was the last time a soap death – albeit a fake one – evoked such a reaction from fans?
And it can’t go unnoticed that, in a genre riddled with killers, cheats and schemers, Sid was just a kind, genuine and relatable type of guy who always strived to be better.
Superb characterisation and and countless award-worthy performances from Billy Price, who is an absolute star, made Sid a modern day soap legend, not to mention one of the best characters to ever set foot in Hollyoaks.
His departure is a huge loss for the show.
But having said that, his very creation and subsequent journey on the show should serve as a blueprint to all of the soaps when it comes to devising the next generation, as Sid Sumner is well and truly the cream of the crop.
Holyoak airs weeknights at 7pm on E4, or stream first look episodes daily on All4.
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