We’ve seen some big soap birthdays over the years, including Corrie’s 50th anniversary tram crash and the iconic ‘who killed Lucy?’ whodunit to mark three decades of EastEnders, but Emmerdale’s half-century is going to be something really special.
Rather than confine the festivities to just one episode or week, the show will be celebrating for the whole of October, so viewers are in for an entire month of massive stories and spectacular stunts – including an hour-long special on Sunday October 16, exactly 50 years to the day since the first episode aired.
Who’d have thought back in 1972 that an afternoon filler about a farming family in the Yorkshire Dales, originally expected to last only three months, would have turned into one of the biggest ratings hits of the past five decades?
What’s coming up
Several big plotlines are set to explode over the coming weeks. Lady of the manor Kim Tate (Claire King) prepares to tie the knot with her bit of rough Will Taylor (Dean Andrews).
And with Harriet Finch (Katherine Dow Blyton) still in love with the groom, the scene is set for an epic battle between these two feisty women.
Plucky Faith Dingle’s (Sally Dexter) cancer battle comes to a tragic end, but new life is promised when pregnant teenager Amelia Spencer (Daisy Campbell) goes into labor.
It’s also been hinted that a resident will be facing the prospect of life behind bars, but one key event will dominate the month…
Show bosses have revealed that the centerpiece of the anniversary month will be a massive storm which causes chaos for the residents.
‘The village will never be the same after this,’ executive producer Jane Hudson has teased to Metro.co.uk. ‘The impact the storm has is just massive. It’s a windstorm, not a rain storm, and it takes place in one day and across three or four episodes.
‘It’s all in daytime so you can actually see what’s happening and what’s going on.’
Last time a storm hit the village, in 2004, poor Tricia Dingle was killed by a pile of falling rubble – so will another hapless local meet a similar grisly fate?
A host of former cast members will be popping back during October.
As the oldest surviving member of the iconic Sugden family, it’s fitting that the brilliant Elizabeth Estensen is returning as former Woolpack landlady Diane, and she’ll be joined by Danny Miller as the perennially angst-ridden Aaron Dingle and Amy Walsh as new mum Tracy Metcalfe.
They’ve all still got connections to the village: is Diane back to sort out daughter Bernice, granddaughter Gabby and great-grandson Thomas?
Could Aaron prove to be sister Liv’s savior and will he uncover his own mum Chas’s sordid affair with Al?
And what of Tracy? It seems she’s got some big news for estranged boyfriend Nate…
The road to Emmerdale
The evolution of Emmerdale is one of the biggest success stories in TV history. Launched as Emmerdale Farm at 1.30pm on October 16 1972, it took five years for the show to be given a prime-time slot but over the next two decades, a series of revamps kick-started its phenomenal rise from underdog of the soap world to the ratings juggernaut of today.
A big shake-up came in 1989, when the word ‘Farm’ was dropped from the title to reflect an increased focus on characters other than the pivotal Sugden family, headed by the legendary Annie (Sheila Mercier).
This change coincided with the arrival of the Tates at Home Farm. Wealthy and glamorous, haulage company boss Frank, conniving wife Kim and troubled kids Chris and Zoe were Emmerdale’s answer to the Ewings of Dallas and the show’s focus shifted from everyday farming life to the headier world of boardroom battles, bitter feuds, bitchy catfights and, of course, affairs, affairs, affairs!
A raunchy ad campaign featuring stars such as Noah Huntley (Luke McAllister) and Glenda McKay (Rachel Hughes) in various states of undress also made it clear that ‘it’s far from quiet in the country’.
Compared to EastEnders and Corrie, ratings were still low (although any program would kill for 11 million viewers these days) so in 1993, soap supremo Phil (Brookside) Redmond was drafted in to provide a much-needed boost.
Five memorable moments from 50 years
Coming Out (1993)
Brookside’s Beth may have hit the headlines, but Emmerdale knows Zoe Tate was the first regular lesbian character in British soap. Her coming out was a pivotal moment, and the late Leah Bracknell gave a beautiful, truthful portrayal of Zoe’s fear, confusion and ultimate acceptance of her sexuality.
The Plane Crash (1993)
The shocking event that put Emmerdale on the map, the 1993 plane crash proved the catalyst for the show to undergo a complete revamp. 18 million viewers tuned in for the spectacular stunt – still a record.
The (first) storm (2003)
A terrible storm caused havoc on New Year’s Eve 2003, taking the life of ditzy Tricia Dingle. As she tottered across Main Street, a bolt of lightning hit The Woolpack and a whole section of wall plummeted down on top of her.
Daniel’s death (2008)
Possibly Emmerdale’s saddest moment came when Laurel and Ashley Thomas’ infant son Daniel was found dead in his cot. The performances, particularly Charlotte Bellamy as the bereaved mum, were outstanding. It was later discovered that the tot had been switched at birth, but the couple never forgot the tragic little boy.
The toxic, borderline abusive but weirdly watchable relationship between Robert Sugden and Aaron Dingle captured the hearts of the nation. The pairing of two complex and troubled individuals became one of the key romances in the show’s history.
His answer was to crash a plane on the village. Four main characters died, Chris Tate was paralyzed from the waist down (and to the show’s credit, they resisted the temptation to find a miraculous recovery for his condition), and the village, previously known as Beckindale, was renamed Emmerdale.
Although the stunt attracted some criticism, given its similarity to the real-life tragedy at Lockerbie five years earlier, the public perception of Emmerdale changed.
No longer regarded as a sleepy tale of farming folk, its ratings built and the arrival of the Dingles – today the show’s largest and most popular clan – as well as high-profile names such as Patsy Kensit, Amanda Donohoe, Maxwell Caulfield and Pauline Quirke , cemented its place among the televisual big hitters.
Today, Emmerdale is the second most-watched soap on British TV, outranking EastEnders and, on occasion, even beating Corrie in the ratings.
In recent years, two memorable serial killers have grabbed viewers’ attention in ruthless Cameron Murray and the deliciously unhinged Meena Jutla, and the soap has won a slew of awards. Life is definitely never going to be quiet in the country.
Watch the 50th anniversary celebrations on Emmerdale all this month
MORE: Emmerdale spoilers: Faith’s final episodes confirmed with Cain by her side as she dies
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MORE : Emmerdale spoilers: Kim’s rage to explode as she hears Harriet and Will’s love declaration before the wedding
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