Three of Brookside's most controversial storylines side by side

Brookside: Channel 4 soap’s top 10 most controversial storylines ever – lesbian kisses, festering dead bodies and incest!

The popular soap ran for 21 years with some very memorable plots...

Brookside on Channel 4 was a groundbreaking series unafraid to push boundaries – so what were its most controversial storylines?

The soap ran for 21 years, from 1982 until 2003, and it’s about to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

The soap – which starred cast members including Ricky Tomlinson, Sue Johnston, Claire Sweeney and Simon O’Brien – was perhaps most famous for its shocking and explosive storylines.

Here’s a rundown of the top 10 most controversial, taboo-breaking storylines to ever appear on the Channel 4 soap opera Brookside.

Brookside controversial storylines
Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston as Bobby and Sheila Grant in Brookside (Credit: Kevin Holt/ANL/Shutterstock)

Brookside’s most controversial storylines: Sheila Grant’s rape

One of the stand-out Brookside episodes included the horrifying rape of Sheila Grant.

An unknown attacker raped and beat Sheila, leaving Brookside fans sickened.

The storyline highlighted the issue of sexual assault in 1986 – something that affects at least one in four of us to this day.

This was well before EastEnders’ depiction of Linda’s chilling rape at the hands of her brother-in-law Dean in October 2014.

The Brookside storyline made everyone a suspect, including family friend Matty Nolan (Tony Scoggo).

Scriptwriters eventually revealed that the taxi driver who had driven Sheila home from a night out had raped her.

Sheila later discovered she was pregnant and her marriage to Bobby fell apart from the strain.

The character went on to suffer a miscarriage and lost the baby.

Sheila, played by Sue Johnston, appeared in Brookside from the first episode in 1982 until the character’s departure in 1990.

Brookside Trevor Jordache
One of Brookside’s most controversial storylines was when Mandy Jordache killed her abusive husband Trevor (Credit: YouTube/C4/Lime Pictures)

The murder of Trevor Jordache and the body under the patio

The murder of Trevor Jordache remains to this day one of the most shocking and controversial soap moments of all time.

Viewers had watched in helpless horror as the vile character mentally and physically abused his terrified wife Mandy.

Sickeningly, Trevor sexually abused both his daughters Beth and Rachel.

Mandy (Sandra Maitland) moved into number 10 hoping it would be a safe house where Trevor couldn’t find her and her daughters.

However, Trevor found them after he was released from prison having served time for GBH against Mandy.

Tragically, the abuse continued.

But, in 1993, Beth (played by Anna Friel) and mum Mandy plotted to kill their abuser.

The pair attempted to poison him with weed killer, but Mandy eventually stabbed him to death.

In the now famous storyline, Mandy buried Trevor under the patio, with the help of Beth and Sinbad.

Trevor’s body was eventually discovered after laying under the patio for two years.

Mandy and her daughter Beth were subsequently tried and found guilty of murder.

The women were eventually sent to prison for the murder.

Beth died off-screen from a genetic heart condition, two hours before their appeal.

Of course, nowadays, the defence would have argued against the murder sentence on the grounds of coercive control and abuse, as in the case of Sally Challen.

Soap fans may have felt a sense of deja vu in 2002, when EastEnders aired a very similar domestic abuse storyline.

Abuse victim Little Mo walloped her abuser Trevor Morgan – even the same first name! – over the head with an iron in a dramatic Christmas episode in 2001.

Simon O'Brien and his Brookside co-stars
Simon O’Brien and his Brookside co-stars attending the 38th BAFTA awards (Credit: Alan Davidson/Shutterstock)

Brookside on Channel 4: Damon stabbed

Damon and Debbie (Gillian Kearney) were one of the most worshipped couples to ever appear on Brookside.

They were teenage sweethearts, and the viewers adored them.

So his tragic death was a controversial choice for Channel 4 soap Brookside.

When actor Simon O’Brien announced he wanted to leave the show, they decided to kill his character Damon off in another soap landmark – a three-part spin-off ‘bubble’ in 1987.

In the special episodes, simply called Damon and Debbie, the lovebirds ran away together.

However, an unknown assailant stabbed Damon Grant in jaw-dropping scenes that left viewers sobbing.

He died in Debbie McGrath’s arms.

A remarkable seven million viewers tuned in to watch Damon’s funeral.

Actor Jonathan Comer, the extra who played the part of Damon’s killer, received threatening phone calls and hate mail after the episode was broadcast.

Sue Sullivan Brookside
Sue Sullivan came to a terrible death in Brookside (Credit: Clive Limpkin/ANL/Shutterstock)

Sue and baby Daniel’s deaths

The character of Sue Sullivan (played by Annie Miles) was the wife of Terry Sullivan and the mother of Daniel Sullivan.

She first appeared in 1987, and made her last appearance on October 4 1991.

Disgusted Brookside viewers saw Barry Grant push Sue off of scaffolding to her death.

Controversially, Sue was holding her baby son Daniel at the time, and both plunged to their deaths in harrowing scenes.

In his early years, writers portrayed a close friendship and double act between brothers Barry and Terry Sullivan.

However, Barry later started an affair with Terry’s wife, Sue Sullivan.

Producers then turned Barry into a murderer when he killed Sue and her young son Danny.

The story helped celebrate Brookside’s 1,000th episode and was played out as a “whodunit” story, with viewers initially unaware that Barry was responsible.

Brookside wasn’t afraid to kill off children.

Tony Dixon, the son of Ron and Deborah Dixon, was killed in 1993 after being run over by Jimmy Corkhill who was high on drugs.

Later, Susannah Farnham’s two kids Matthew and Emily died in the heartbreaking crash storyline in 1997.

Ray Quinn winning an award for Brookside
Ray Quinn won Best Dramatic Performance at the British Soap Awards for his role as Anthony in Brookside (Credit: ITV/Shutterstock)

Brookside on Channel 4: Anthony’s revenge on bully Imelda

From 2000 to 2003, Ray Quinn – credited as Raymond – portrayed the victimised and tormented child Anthony Murray in the Channel 4 soap opera Brookside.

During that time, Brookside tackled the triggering issue of bullying.

Viewers saw 12-year-old Anthony subjected to months of bullying at his school.

But finally he fought back…

Unable to take it any more, Anthony lashed out at school tormentor Imelda Clough (actress-turned DJ Billie Clements).

The storyline reached a shocking climax when Anthony attacked Imelda, who had made his life hell, and accidentally killed her.

After school, Imelda chased Anthony into the woods.

In the ensuing struggle that took place, the two fell into the pond and Imelda hit her head on a rock.

With Anthony holding her under the water, she accidentally drowned.

Brookie creator Phil Redmond said the story, showing the controversial and uncomfortable scenes of a child killing another, reclaimed the show’s “dramatic credentials”.

The show was applauded for highlighting the issue of bullying, while Ray Quinn won Best Dramatic Performance at the British Soap Awards for his part in the storyline.

The character of Anthony was eventually arrested, and charged with Imelda’s murder.

However, after a harrowing trail, Anthony received a not-guilty verdict much to the relief of his dad Marty (Neil Caple).

Brookside incest story
Brookside’s incest plot was truly shocking (Credit: Nils Jorgensen/Shutterstock)

The incest storyline between brother and sister Nat and Georgia Simpson

Brookside tackled one of its most uncomfortable and controversial storylines in 1996.

They introduced brother and sister Nat and Georgia Simpson.

But viewers were soon horrified to discover that they were having sex with each other.

The shocking incest storyline left fans of the soap wondering if the show had finally gone too far…

Nat and Georgia were the eldest brother and sister in a well-to-do family (for Brookside Close anyway).

Sickening scenes followed, when their parents found them in bed together.

Nat justified their actions, saying: “We’re adults, we love one another.”

Unsurprisingly, the storyline proved far too controversial for some.

Many viewers began to switch off as the brother and sister embarked on a full-blown affair.

Phil Redmond eventually admitted they’d made a mistake.

The Simpson family were subsequently axed from the soap.

Brian Murphy as George Manners in Brookside
George Manners – played by popular actor Brian Murphy – died in Brookside (Credit: Lime Pictures/YouTube)

Brookside controversial storylines: The deadly Coronavirus-style plague

In 1995, Brookside tackled another storyline that left some viewers with a prickling sense of unease…

That year saw Brookside Close sealed off as a result of a killer virus.

The storyline even killed off some very minor characters, including George Manners (Brian Murphy), his wife Audrey (Judith Barker), and garage owner Gary Salter.

The Close was locked down to contain the spread of infection in what some now believe was an uncanny prediction of Coronavirus.

In the end, the Ebola-like illness failed to take the same devastating toll as Covid.

At the time, some accused the plot of being fantastically over the top.

But little did we know what was around the corner two decades later…

Brookside lesbian kiss
Brookside’s famous lesbian kiss saw actresses Anna Friel and Nicola Stephenson lock lips (Credit: Lime Pictures/YouTube)

THAT lesbian kiss between Beth and Margaret

Possibly THE most controversial scene in Brookside ever was the lesbian kiss between Beth Jordache and Margaret Clemence.

Although a mere locking of lips – tame by today’s standards – it was the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss ever aired on British TV.

The kiss, which aired in 1994, remains one of soaps most infamous and talked about storylines.

Anna Friel and Nicola Stephenson, who played Beth Jordache and Margaret Clemence, made history.

The pair subsequently got together, but broke up when Margaret rekindled her relationship with Catholic priest, Derek O’Farrell (another hugely controversial storyline at the time).

Critics and viewers praised the soap plot for its representation of a gay relationship, but it was also heavily criticised.

The moment is such a famous one, it even appeared during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London as a celebration of British culture.

Brookside Sinbad accused of child abuse
Brookside fans were horrified when Sinbad was accused of child abuse (Credit: Lime Pictures/YouTube)

Brookside’s most controversial storylines: Sinbad accused of child sex abuse

Fans of Channel 4 soap Brookside will remember Sinbad as the lovable window-cleaner, who was always there for the residents if they needed him.

Had a body you needed burying under the patio? Sinbad (Michael Starke), was your guy!

The gentle giant was much loved by viewers, which is why Brookside’s abuse storyline was so controversial.

Viewers were heartbroken when Thomas Sweeney – aka Sinbad – was accused of abusing a young deaf boy.

Partially-deaf Sinbad was invited to attended a school for death children.

There, he befriended a young boy called Andrew Taylor.

However, in a shocking plot twist, Andrew was manipulated into telling the police that Sinbad had sexually abused him.

Many of Sinbad’s so-called friends and neighbours turned against him as news of the allegations made their way around the Close.

Tragically, the iconic character eventually left the Close.

Although Sinbad proved his innocence, his neighbours were slow to apologise, and Sinbad decided he had no future on the Close.

Katie and Simon in Brookside
Brookside aired a very controversial storyline involving characters Simon and Katie (Credit: Shutterstock)

Cult leader Simon grooms Katie and takes her virginity

Katie Rogers was an integral part of the Rogers family and their three children.

Fans will know that Diana Burke played the popular character from 1989, until the show was cancelled in 2003.

As well as storylines involving alcoholism, eating disorders and toxaemia, Katie was central to a controversial religious cult storyline.

Lee Hartney’s character Simon Howe manipulated Katie into the cult, and into having sex with him, leaving viewers  appalled.

Simon Howe’s cult was the source of numerous shocking storylines.

The cult leader preyed on the vulnerable Katie before indoctrinating her into his cult by taking her virginity.

He also strapped a bomb to Barry, and blew up the house at number 5, before taking his own life.

Read more: Brookside fan launches petition for the release of classic episodes

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Brookside is available to watch on All 4, and BritBox.

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Helen Fear
TV Editor