BANNED! Soap storylines too controversial for the screen!

Banned soap storylines - EastEnders Jack and Ronnie
The EastEnders baby swap storyline starred Jack and Ronnie. (Image credit: BBC)

Soap stories can be derailed by many things before they hit our screens. An actor can suddenly get ill, filming problems can lead to scripts changes or producers can suddenly see an exciting new direction to take the plot in and change course. Sometimes these changes can actually add to the energy of ongoing dramas, keeping then alive and exciting.

But there are outside factors that can also change planned stories. A strong public reaction to a plot can see bosses backtrack, or events in the real world can echo the fiction a little too closely. Sometimes, bosses can lose their nerve on a controversial plot before it hits our screens, or actors refuse to play a story.

This means things have to change – often at very short notice – which can lead to chaos behind the scenes.

So, which were the soap plots that were banned from our screens – or quickly curtailed, never to be spoken of again? We present the stories that were just too hot to handle…

Baby swap scandal

EastEnders Ronnie

Ronnie's actions brought Kat the worst kind of heartbreak. (Image credit: BBC/Jack Barnes)

EastEnders was all set to blaze into 2011 with one of its most sensational and emotional stories ever. New Year’s Eve saw an unstable Ronnie Mitchell, devastated by grief after discovering her baby son James dead, walk upstairs at the Vic and swap James with Kat’s newborn son, Tommy.

The story was meant to run and run, with producers even mooting the secret could be a time bomb ticking away for decades. However, nervousness on the BBC's part soon started to become apparent. Aspects of the episode were toned down after it was previewed to the press. However, that wasn’t enough to appease complaints when the episode aired.

Within days, the story had become the most complained about soap story ever. Such was the furore that the plot barely ran for a week before producers announced on the EastEnders blog that it would end 'earlier than planned'. Meanwhile, the scissors were taken to the episodes around the funeral of ‘Tommy’, cutting some of the more harrowing material.

That said, ratings soared thanks to all the controversy and EastEnders went on to win three National TV awards just weeks later, including Best Serial Drama.

Freddie’s kidnap backtrack

Casey divides Ashley and Claire

Casey caused big trouble – but it could have been bigger! (Image credit: ITV)

In 2007 Coronation Street was running a plot that saw Casey Carswell (played by Zoe Henry, now better known as Emmerdale’s Rhona) become obsessed with the Peacock family. Casey was to become so unhinged that she decided to torch Ashley and wife Claire’s house, before fleeing with their young son Freddie.

The abduction plot was intended to last for several months, with scenes including Ashley and Claire’s heart-wrenching TV appeal for Freddie’s return already filmed and ready for transmission. However, in the run-up to the story airing, terrible events unfolded in Portugal with the disappearance of young Madeleine McCann. Corrie bosses decided to cut the story, and while the fire still happened, Freddie was kept safe and sound with the Peacocks thanks to some quick rewriting and hastily-filmed new scenes.

Doctor, no

May confronts a terrified Dawn

May's sinister plotting was cut short.  (Image credit: BBC)

Corrie wasn’t the only show to have a rethink in the wake of Madeleine’s disappearance.

EastEnders was in the middle of one of its more twisted storylines as local Dr May Wright and her husband Rob plan to steal pregnant Dawn Swann’s baby, which had been fathered by Rob. However, in the end, the soap stopped short of a baby snatch, rethinking the climax to the story, a spokesperson explained to the Daily Mail, “In the current circumstances it was felt any storyline including a child abduction would be inappropriate and could cause distress to our viewers.” 

The hasty rewrite was found rather confusing by some viewers, while actress Amanda Drew aka May admitted to Digital Spy that she thought the original ending was “perhaps more dramatically engaging".

Glen and Lucy’s forbidden love

Lucy Robinson Paul Robinson and Glen Donnelly on Neighbours

Back in the day good Neighbours became more than just good friends... (Image credit: Channel 5)

The early 1990s saw Neighbours introduce a new character – Jim Robinson’s long-lost son, Glen. There was big drama in the family when Glen arrived, with neither Jim nor his kids knowing he existed. But things took a turn when it became clear there was a spark of attraction between Glen and his half-sister Lucy that neither could deny

Well, it became clear to Aussie viewers – UK viewers had no idea as the BBC deemed incest a little too much for the 5.30pm teatime slot (in Oz the show went out a little later in the evening). So, Auntie Beeb got her scissors out, removing the scenes around the story.

When Glen made a return to the show last year after three decades away, however, he and Lucy did make a passing reference to having been “a little too close” in the past. But everyone concerned thought it best not to dwell!

But this wasn’t the only time Aussie soaps have got the chop. Home and Away’s story which portrayed Shannon’s (future Hollywood star Isla Fisher) relationship with an older woman was cut by ITV, while a hostage situation at gunpoint at the Summer Bay High was removed due to sensitivities over the Dunblane massacre of 1996.

Killer drama

Loretta turns bunny-boiler!

Being a minx was the least of Loretta's crimes... (Image credit: Lime Pictures)

Hollyoaks got itself into hot water in 2009 when it was revealed that one of the characters was to be discovered to have murdered a child.

Loretta Jones carried out the crime many years before when she was just a child herself and was now trying to put her past behind her with a new identity. However, the parallels to the real-life case of Jamie Bulger, who was murdered when he was two years old by two older children, quickly become an issue – especially with Hollyoaks filmed in Merseyside, where Jamie lived.

As a media storm ensued, bosses decided to remove the story, some of it being removed only hours before transmission.

Angie's agony

EastEnders Den and Angie

Den drove Angie to the brink. (Image credit: BBC)

Den and Angie’s dramas were the cornerstone of EastEnders in the early years, but it all got a little too real in 1986 when a plot saw Angie attempt to take her own life. Mad with jealousy as Den’s mistress Jan became more and more apparent in his life, Angie could take it no more. Fuelled with gin, she sat the Vic kitchen table and swallowed a load of pills.

Angie did survive, after being rushed to hospital, but some organisations were concerned that watching Angie’s attempt could trigger others into copycat actions. The BBC bowed to pressure and the episode was trimmed for the Sunday omnibus, cutting away before Angie reached the pivotal moment…

Suicide secret

Coronation Street's Shelia Birtles

Weatherfield's Sheila Birtles made headlines in 1963. (Image credit: ITV)

Another suicide story was banned for almost 50 years before finally being aired. Scenes were filmed for a 1963 Corrie episode where a distraught Sheila Birtles swallows pills in an attempt to end it all.

When the press got wind of the story, it soon became front-page news, and the flood of viewer complaints that followed made producers have a rethink. The suicide scene was cut, viewers only seeing Shelia sitting silently in the grip of a breakdown. However, with only Sheila’s scenes being changed, some of the episodes aired later saw characters reacting to something that now didn’t actually happen!

The scenes were eventually aired as part of the documentary The Corrie Years in 2011.

Nick Cotton’s gay day

Nick Cotton has been making Billy's life hell ever since he found out that he did nothing to help Jase on the night he died.

John stopped a plot in the Nick of time! (Image credit: BBC)

We’ve seen Nick Cotton be many things over the years, but gay certainly wasn’t one of them – but it would have been had EastEnders producers had their way.

A storyline in the early years was to see Nick embroiled in an affair with gormless Lofty Holloway. However, John Altman thought it was a character change too far, and told producers he wouldn’t do it – leading to Nick’s departure from the Square for a long time.

"Julia [Smith, the show's producer] wrote me out for about a year when I protested that Nick wasn't the kind of man who would start a gay relationship with Lofty, another straight character,” John told The Guardian in 2012.

Get shot of it...

Coronation Street Carla

Carla had as nightmare at gunpoint. (Image credit: ITV)

Coronation Street was all set for a huge week of drama in 2010, with a set of blockbuster episodes to run each weeknight sandwiched between two ratings-busting episodes of the Britain’s Got Talent live finals. Tragically, during that week, real-life drama unfolded as lone gunman Raoul Moat shot three people before going on the run.

With the Corrie episodes featuring Carla and Hayley held at gunpoint by Tony Gordon in the Underworld factory, ITV felt it wasn’t appropriate to air the episodes in the immediate aftermath. So, they delayed transmission of the final three episodes, waiting until the following week, and running double episodes to catch up.

Steven Murphy

Steven is a writer, editor, and commentator with a passion for popular TV and soap operas. He spent 20 years as the editor of Inside Soap magazine, documenting every punch-up and pucker-up in the Street, the Square and the village. As a feature writer, he’s covered TV crime dramas, period dramas and even some real-life star dramas. He’s been seen as a talking head on more TV clip shows than he cares to remember, has a life-long passion for TV sci-fi – the older and creakier the better – and is a slight obsessive about any reality show featuring hotels.