Soap Returns: Welcome Back, Chuck?

"The door has been left open for their return." This phrase, uttered by soap producers when a major character leaves, can provoke varied responses. Sometimes it can be relief from the viewers that a popular creation hasn't been killed off. Other fans may feel dread that someone who has blighted their viewing may resurface in the future. The soap's writers may be pleased that they've offloaded a character that has outlived their shelf-life. (Or if they like the character, they can be hopeful that a return may happen down the line, with refreshing new plot twists.) While for the actors, it can provide a security blanket for when their new glittering Hollywood career/panto season dries up.

What has prompted our musings on the reactions to soap departures? Sunday's News Of The World claims that Julie Goodyear (aka Bet Lynch) is set to return to Coronation Street's cobbles yet again, that's what! We had to groan when we read this story. Is this really what the show needs? A tired drag queen version of an iconic character turning up uninvited? Don't get us wrong, Bet was great in the 70's, 80's and early 90's. She's undoubtedly a massive part of the show's history, and the 50th anniversary is coming up in December. But she's returned before and it hasn't worked (partly because Goodyear understandably found the increased workload from extra episodes hard to cope with). Where would she fit in? We already have brassy blonde landlady Liz McDonald ably running the Rovers Return. Am not quite sure what stands to be gained. (I always hoped Goodyear would show up on Celebrity Big Brother, but that dream has been cruelly snuffed out).

The imminent return to Corrie of Tracy Barlow is another matter entirely. The murderous mama still has connections on the street, from parents Ken and Deirdre to daughter Amy. The fact that her release from prison would cause ructions between mismatched Steve and Becky is a major bonus. Let's hope Tracey's comeback is handled better than the return of Gail's prodigal son, Nick Tilsley. Recast/miscast with an actor nine years older than the character, viewers are yet to be convinced. EastEnders has become renowned for bringing back old cast members, with a revolving door installed at Walford tube station. The most infamous comeback involved Dirty Den, who had seemingly died 14 years earlier. His return lasted less than 18 months before he was definitively killed off. It just didn't work. (Leslie Grantham's off-screen exploits hadn't helped). The recent comeback of popular couple Ricky and Bianca has slotted in nicely, though. Bianca's mother Carol's re-appearance is also welcome, as she had unfinished business with her daughter, plus a large extended family to interact with. But the announcement that Kat and Alfie are headed back to Walford smacks of desperation and flagging careers.

The most infamous soap returnee was Patrick Duffy's Bobby Ewing in Dallas. His 1986 resurrection in the shower after seemingly dying a year earlier had a bizarre explanation: it had all been a dream. In their desperation to bring back a popular actor, the producers succeeded in alienating viewers and angering key cast members. (Storylines that fans and cast had invested in during "the dream season" were swiftly dropped once Bobby returned).The show became a laughing stock and never really recovered. Let's just hope the current crop of soap producers bear this cautionary tale in mind when planning their next comeback.

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