Nothing really gets people talking like a surprising turn in a soap opera’s plot.
In order to keep the British audience interested over the years, producers have thrown a whole heap at them, whether it be an explosion of some type, a nasty affair or two, or even a good old-fashioned whodunit.
Making the decision to kill off beloved characters might be the bravest move.
Others are telegraphed if a lot of effort has gone into a story, while some are done to attempt and improve ratings quickly.
But on a few occasions, characters from soap operas have been brought back, even after we thought they were dead and buried!
And because Phil Mitchell appeared to have taken his final breath this week, it inspired us to reflect on some of our favourite comebacks from the past.
EastEnders’ Den Watts
Let’s start with one of the most famous soap opera lines ever, “Hello, princess,” from Dirty Den.
When Leslie Grantham reappeared to our screens in 2003 as infamous Eastenders bad guy Den Watts, who had been killed 14 years prior, or so we believed, those words shocked the nation.
Initially, we witnessed what we thought was Den, shot by a gang member, drowning in the canal in 1989 after hearing a splash.
However, it’s important to note that we never saw a body, and more than ten years later, Den surprised his daughter Sharon by saying, “Hello, princess.”
Later, his ex-wife Chrissie Watts killed him after attempting to blame Sam Mitchell in a protracted murder mystery.
Leslie Grantham, who sadly passed away at age 71 from lung cancer, never returned to the soap opera and was given a special memorial at the conclusion of one of the BBC episodes.
Mercedes McQueen – Hollyoaks
It is not surprising that some members of the McQueen family have died in the past given the extensive list of foes they have faced over their turbulent time in Hollyoaks.
The most notorious was when thugs attacked Jennifer Metcalfe’s hotshot Mercedes in November 2014.
As Grace Black repeatedly stabbed her and dragged her lifeless corpse outside, viewers watched in horror.
The brunette beauty, however, had apparently been kicking back at an opulent villa on the French Riviera since she fled from her house.
All of it was a part of a revenge plot, and Mercedes and her family were still very much in charge of Chester.
Coronation Street’s Vera Duckworth
Not all comebacks are final, and there are instances when it’s better that way, as was the case when beloved Vera returned to Coronation Street.
Over the course of their tenure on the street, Vera and husband Jack Duckworth became inseparable. However, when actress Liz Dawn decided to quit the soap opera after 34 years, Jack was devastated to learn that Vera had passed away in her sleep in 2008.
Two years later, the ITV soap opera had a plot in which Jack was given an incurable cancer diagnosis, which resulted in his death in November of 2010, but not before Vera’s ghost made an appearance to chastise him over his attire before the two of them danced tenderly.
Eastenders’ Pat Butcher
Everyone enjoys a good old-fashioned soap opera feud, so we return to Albert Square to see Peggy Mitchell and Pat Butcher in a well-known one.
Pat died on January 1, 2012, after reuniting with her estranged children, ending her 25-year run in the BBC soap, shocking many viewers.
When Peggy (played by the late Barbara Windsor), her greatest friend and worst nemesis, returned to Eastenders in May 2016 with terminal brain cancer.
Peggy experienced a psychotic break in which she imagined seeing a wisp of cigarette smoke on her staircase as she contemplated suicide.
There was Pat, who was the only person it could possibly belong to.
With the expression of a forlorn child, Peggy questioned: “my devoted friend You promise not to leave me ever.”
“No sweetheart, not for a single second,” Pat assured.
Neighbors – Harold Bishop
Being able to rise from the dead twice requires a unique kind of personality.
But Harold Bishop acts in just that manner.
Harold is among the most well-known Neighbours characters, because to his extended stays on Ramsay Street, where he was instrumental in several major episodes.
He has twice survived assumed death. The first one happened in 1991 after Neighbours’ creators thought a redesign was necessary to reverse a decline in viewership. Harold was carried out to sea while out for a stroll with his wife Madge along the coast; Madge could only recover his recognisable glasses.
After five years, Harold made a comeback and went by the name Ted while having amnesia. After fully recovering, actor Ian Smith abruptly left the serial opera in 2008; around this time, viewers witnessed Harold’s heart stop while receiving treatment for prostate cancer and having a heart attack.
Harold wanted to be put to sleep, but doctor Karl Kennedy went against his wishes and revived “The Bish” once more.
Before the soap opera’s last episodes on July 29, Harold is returning, and teases for the momentous event have suggested it is likely to be heartbreaking.
Emmerdale’s Kim Tate
What did we say about characters passing away twice? Here comes Kim Tate, the biggest b**ch ever to appear in Emmerdale.
During her initial tenure in the Dales, the matriarch of Home Farm was never far from trouble thanks to affairs, fires, slaps, and, of course, plenty of drama.
Prior to 1996, when Kim Tate married her husband (and former boss) Frank Tate, everything was going swimmingly for her.
When Kim’s car was discovered in the village in February with what appeared to be the blonde driving, viewers were riveted as Frank recognised the body as being that of his wife.
But three months later, he experienced the shock of his life when Kim returned and revealed that she had hired a prostitute to create the accident in her place. Frank’s heart couldn’t take the trauma of seeing Kim reapply her makeup while watching him die.
Kim returned to Emmerdale in 2018 after spending almost 20 years away, and she (unsurprisingly) created a few enemies. People were so enraged by her personality in 2021 that there was an effort to poison her.
She pulled off a blinder to figure out who, in the trademark Tate fashion, by hiring actors to play the roles of the police, doctor, and undertakers to show up at Home Farm and even by putting herself in a bodybag to startle her son Jamie into telling the truth.
Pat Phelan – Coronation Street
Pat Phelan, a scheming builder turned sometimes killer, is unquestionably a contender for Coronation Street’s biggest bad guy after terrorising the Street for years.
All of this culminated in 2018 though, when his partner Eileen Grimshaw learned of his crimes from friend Tim Metcalfe. This sparked a tense confrontation between the two by the sea, during which Phelan was forced to cling to a rope in a harbour for his life until Eileen stomped on his hand, sending him plunging into the murky water below.
To the surprise of millions, Phelan survived the incident and was found after using a false identity to cross the Irish Sea being cared for by a small Irish woman.
All of this culminated in a stressful week on the cobblestones. ITV aired several post-Watershed episodes in which Phelan was stabbed by his ex-girlfriend Anna Windass after he shot Michelle Connor (Kym Marsh).
Eastenders’ Nasty Nick Cotton
When “Nasty” Nick Cotton was declared deceased in 2014, his mother Dot was left in utter anguish.
Dot, whom he had constantly terrorised, had mixed emotions as it was alleged that he had overdosed on drugs.
But Nick returned to try to get money from Charlie the same year, and he also damaged the brakes on Ronnie Mitchell’s car, which nearly killed her as she was travelling to the hospital in labour.
Long-suffering Dot helped Nick buy heroin and hid him in an abandoned house, but they split up when Nick had no sympathy for Ronnie, who was unconscious.
Later, Dot discovered Nick comatose from a true drug overdose.
After being mistreated by him for decades, his mother hugged him as he died while refusing to seek for help. He briefly recovered consciousness and confessed to Dot that he had murdered Reg Cox in 1985.
Dot admitted to killing Nick by allowing him to pass away, and she was sentenced to four months in prison for manslaughter.
John hasn’t been silent about his opinions of the soap since he left, telling The Mirror: “Too many episodes are available. Indeed, people have lives to live. I’m not sure how people manage to keep up.
“There are many more things in life than that. I believe that travelling the earth would be more enjoyable than watching a soap opera.
“How many characters are now in EastEnders, I asked someone on the production crew when I last visited? They added that there were more than 50.
There were hardly more than 20 actors and actresses in the initial cast, if you look back.”
“”I believe there are too many characters; I feel that the plot is more fully developed when there are fewer characters.
Home and Away’s Darryl Braxton
For half a decade, the Braxton brothers wrecked havoc in Summer Bay, with the family patriarch Darryl “Brax” Braxton typically the most collected of the group.
After surviving a stabbing attempt, a shooting, and several risky scenarios, it appeared that Brax had finally met his match when he was run off the road while being transported between prisons by an old adversary.
He had survived, but his companion Ricky Sharpe and brothers were unaware of it. After realising that his family had moved on without him, he made the decision to leave the Bay.
A little over a year later, Brax would return to shock viewers before ultimately leaving the show the following summer with Ricky and his son by his side.
The actor later said that he would never return to the soap opera, saying: “It was a fantastic, enjoyable job with excellent coworkers, but no. It’s one of those things that you should appreciate while doing and decide for yourself if you want to stay or move on thereafter.
“The conclusion of the plot, in my opinion, was about right on the money. I believe the audience really loved how it ended. It reached the finest decision possible.”
Bobby Ewing – Dallas
A discussion about well-known soap opera returns would be incomplete without mentioning the largest of them all.
In the ninth season of the American soap opera Dallas, Bobby Ewing passed away after being struck by his sister-in-law Katherine.
Fans were horrified, but Bobby’s widow Pam woke up to the sound of someone taking a shower at the start of the tenth season.
Bobby turned to face his wife and revealed that the past year had been a protracted dream for her in what would come to be known as the “Dream Scene.”