11 of the most I-CON-IQUE Black soap characters EVER

Take a trip down memory lane with us

Iconic black soap stars

by Marianna Manson |

British soaps are an institution, right? From Coronation Street, which has been running continually since 1961 (with its first and only hiatus from filming last year at the height of the coronavirus pandemic) to Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, which was marketed at a progressive soap for young adult audience in the 90s, they’ve been stalwart of British telly since long before most of us were even born.

But despite playing such an important role not only in the TV landscape but also in the socio-political climate as a whole, the first recurring Black character wasn’t introduced to any soap until 1983 – more than twenty years after the format became part of the UK’s weekly viewing habits.

Shirley Armitage, played by Lisa Lewis, became Coronation Street’s first Black character in that year, but it wasn’t until nearly four DECADES later that the show’s first Black family was introduced.

Bailey Family Corrie
The Bailey family were introduced to Corrie in 2019 ©ITV

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In 2019 the Bailey family moved into Number 3, the home previously occupied by Emily Bishop.

Speaking of the “long overdue” arrival of the Bailey’s in Weatherfield, show boss Iain MacLeod said at the time, “The north-west and Great Britain as a whole is a big melting pot of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities and the more representative we can make Corrie of Manchester and Britain the better really.

“It was a no-brainer, but I mean, as with anything on Coronation Street, it was the characters that came first and [the Baileys] were just instantly likeable,” he said.

The producer said he “didn’t really know” why it had taken the soap so long to include a Black family, and added, “Manchester has a large proportion of black residents so it did feel sort of overdue we did this and represented modern Manchester a bit more accurately.”

But Corrie isn’t the only soap to have introduced some truly iconic Black characters – here’s some ones that stick out across the board.

CHECK OUT: 11 of the most iconic Black soap stars

Gallery

11 of the most iconic Black soap stars

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CREDIT: ITV

Fiona arrived on the street in 1992 and during her six years on the show had quite the complicated love life. She was initially involved with Steve McDonald but would later get engaged to police detective Alan McKenna before having a one night stand with Steve's dad, Jim (are you keeping up?)Fiona left the street in 1998 to start a new life in Australia but in 2019 she was confirmed to be the mother of newcomer, Emma Brooker, and after much speculation it was revealed that Emma's dad was in fact... Steve McDonald.

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CREDIT: ITV

Al is a relative newcomer to Emmerdale, making his debut in the village in 2019, but anyone who can give Kim Tate a run for her money is pretty iconic in our eyes. After initially masquerading as an investor, it was later revealed that Al was the father of Jessie Grant's son Ellis. He's since been in cahoots with Kim and is the perfect soap villain.

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CREDIT: Channel 4

Felix was introduced in 2020 as an old foe of resident baddie Warren Fox, who he grew up with in a care home and used to bully. But in classic soapland fashion, there's a whole lot more to the story when Felix is revealed to be the father of Mitchell Devereux, Toby Faroe and Celeste Faroe. Absolute SCENES.

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CREDIT: ITV

Lloyd was on the show for ten years between 2005 and 2015 and he had major Original Cast Member energy. He was introduced as a friend of Steve McDonald's and a Cabbie at Street Cars, even buying out Dev Alahan's share of the business in 2006, but later went head to head with Steve when he opened his own rival firm, Fare Ladies.

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CREDIT: BBC

Lenny joined the cast of EastEnders in 1996, as a bartender for the Queen Vic's rival, The Cobra Club. He's best known for his affair with EastEnders legend Bianca Jackson, while she was in a relationship with Ricky Butcher, which resulted in a pregnancy scare. He eventually left Walford in 1999 for pastures new (The West End, to be precise).

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CREDIT: ITV

James is one quarter of Coronation Street's first Black family, arriving in 2020. He's a bold character who stood up to racism when he was racially profiled by police and bravely came out as gay, despite the threat of it affecting his promising football career. Call it a hunch, but we think James might just go down with legendary status.

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CREDIT: BBC

Denise has certainly had a time of it since arriving in Walford in 2006. Most notably, when she was kidnapped by her ex, Lucas Johnson, for failing to submit to God. While Denise was being held captive in squalor, Lucas even faked her death. She's been through a lot, our Denise, but EastEnders wouldn't be the same without her or her hilarious sister Kim.

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CREDIT: ITV

Shirley is, of course, best known as the first Black character on a British soap. Introduced as recently as 1983, her arrival on the Street was groundbreaking but proved the TV industry at the time had a long way to go (and still does). For most of Shirley's time in Weatherfield she was in a relationship with Curly Watts, but broke his heart in 1989 before leaving the Street for good.

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CREDIT: Channel 4

Hollyoaks was Channel 4's soap to rival the likes of EastEnders and Corrie, and had been marketed as being more progressive and aimed at a younger audience. Maddie was introduced as one of the original cast, and during her time on the show was kidnapped by a mentally unstable ex, Michael, who held her hostage and tried to force her to marry him. Maddie eventually left Hollyoaks in 1997 to start afresh, and we haven't heard from her since.

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CREDIT: BBC

It wouldn't be a list of iconic Black characters without EastEnders' own Patrick Trueman. During his twenty year reign on the show, Pat has become one of the most loved faces on the Square thanks to his enduring fatherly love for Denise and Kim Fox and his cheerful disposition. An all round lovely man, Patrick is often the voice or reason and hope amid plenty of dark storylines.

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CREDIT: Channel 4

The Valentine family certainly had PLENTY of drama in Hollyoaks, and Sasha - who starred on the show between 2006 and 2010 – was no exception. After a battle with heroin and sordid affair with Warren Fox, Sasha left the North for London. Actor Nathalie Emmanuel has gone onto do some BIG things since her time on 'Oaks, including roles in Game of Thrones, the Fast and Furious films and the Maze Runner franchise.

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Last year, Channel 4’s Hollyoaks was rocked by accusations of racism on set, when actor Rachel Adedeji, who played Lisa Loveday on the soap for four year before quitting in 2020, tweeted about her experiences.

“Did Black Lives Matter when I was told 'You’re all the same' by a make-up artist you employ, and is still employed to this day?” she wrote. “Do Black Lives Matter when my fellow black cast mates are deemed angry, aggressive and too vocal?

“Do Black Lives really Matter to you if, over the past four years at Hollyoaks, I have only worked with ONE Black director?”

In response to Rachel’s statement and a number of other corroborating claims from Black actors on the soap, Hollyoaks launched a full investigation into the issues and said it was “deeply shocked and saddened” by the accusations.

In September this year as part of Channel 4’s Black to Front Diversity initiative, the channel aired an hour-long special of Hollyoaks made by an exclusively Black cast and crew.

Written by Thabo Mhlatshwa, the scriptwriter said of the move, “We’ve all become much more aware of black representation onscreen, and that’s great, but for our stories to be told with all the nuances we need black storytellers and black decision-makers. It’s not just having our faces there, it’s actually having our voices there behind the scenes.”

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