Tears through the tinsel

CHRISTMAS is the season to be jolly, but if there is one thing you can sure of - it's usually anything but in the nation's soap operas.As the residents of Albert Square, Coronation Street and Emmerdale prepare for some festive disasters, here are three storylines that are bound to take the sparkle off Christmas for some characters.

CHRISTMAS is the season to be jolly, but if there is one thing you can sure of - it's usually anything but in the nation's soap operas.

As the residents of Albert Square, Coronation Street and Emmerdale prepare for some festive disasters, entertainment reporter HELEN JOHNS hears from the cast about three storylines that are bound to take the sparkle off Christmas for some characters.

EASTENDERS

FROM the very beginning, Dawn Swann's romance with Rob Minter seemed doomed.

When EastEnders' star-crossed lovers first met she was pretending to be Jane, Ian Beale's wife-to-be, causing much confusion.

Now the big romance of Dawn's life has been ripped apart by the revelation Rob has a wife - his childhood sweetheart May - who he's very reluctant to leave, after the trauma they've experienced trying for a baby with IVF treatment.

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"It's not that he's a bad man," explains Kara Tointon, who plays Dawn.

"The IVF treatment put such a strain on Rob's relationship with May that they decided to have a break, which is when he met Dawn. So it's just that he's become a bit stuck. May wanted him back, and he's in a dilemma because he's in love with two women. He was going to leave May but he realises he can't put his wife through any more heartache."

But this Christmas will provide heartache for all three, when Dawn discovers she is pregnant with Rob's baby. At first she is determined to have an abortion, but when her brother Mickey finds out, and then

Rob, it's not long before May hears the news.

May's reaction is surprising - she offers to buy the baby from Dawn, so she and Rob can finally have the family they've long desired.

"Dawn is shocked," says Kara. "She thinks May has been knocked over the head with a brick or something. May offers her money, but Dawn doesn't want money, she wants her man.

"In the end she agrees to do it. Not for the cash; she thinks she's going to get Rob, because she thinks that in the end all he really wants is a baby."

The emotion-wrenching storyline is just one of a handful that will have fans of the soap watching this Christmas, not least self-confessed 'Enders fan Kara herself.

"I've read my part," said the 23-year-old, "but I don't read anyone else's because I still watch it every week. I'll definitely be watching at Christmas because there's quite a lot of things going on."

Not least the departure of EastEnders' perennial Pauline Fowler, as Wendy Richard finally bows out from the soap after nearly 22 years.

"I know, Wendy," said Kara forlornly at mention of her departure. "We really miss her. There's a place that she always sits in the green room and it's now empty, which is really strange.

"Obviously I've been watching her my whole life on EastEnders, and meeting her when I joined was weird, and now she's gone, which is really sad. But she's going on to do other things, so that's cool."

Life goes on in EastEnders as well, as Dawn continues to play her part in the soap's latest love triangle. It's been Kara's biggest storyline yet, after over a year on the soap.

"I had a bit of a storyline with Ian Beale, which was fine and funny," says Kara, "but I wasn't really the main part of it. So it's just really nice having something to get my teeth into. I'm just loving it."

CORONATION STREET

SHERRIE Hewson is looking forward to Christmas this year.

She and her daughter Keeley always make the most of it. "We always prepare things for everybody to come and stay," Sherrie said. "Everything you can possibly buy we buy - a model Santa Claus, lights for the trees, it's silliness."

But this year will be particularly special as it will be Sherrie's first with her baby grandson Oliver.

"Now I've got a grandson my life has completely changed," she said, "because my daughter is the love of my life and now I've got a grandson. It's the best thing that's ever happened to me apart from my daughter.”

While Sherrie will be enjoying Christmas with her family this year, the same cannot be said for her Coronation Street character Maureen as she returns to Weatherfield for the holidays after nine years away.

We last saw Maureen dumping the now-deceased Fred Elliott for Bill Webster, and the pair ran off together to Germany where they married. Bill has been back on the Street for a while, visiting his family and romancing Audrey Roberts.

Little does he expect the wife he left behind to show up and ruin his fun - and the Websters' Christmas into the bargain.

"Maureen doesn't think there will be any problem in turning up," Sherrie said. "She thinks she's going to the heart of her family, if you like. And suddenly it all turns very nasty indeed."

We see a very different Maureen to the one who left the Street nine years ago. Marriage to Bill has not been the romantic, fun experience she expected and her time away seems to have hardened her.

"When Maureen was here before she was trodden on by Reg Holdsworth, and Maud, her mother," Sherrie said. "She was a bit downtrodden, a bit sort of dreary because she didn't have any guts.

"Well, she comes back and is totally fighting for herself. She's very feisty now and I like that in her. She's got a character of her own now, at long last. She can take on anybody. And she does."

But this time at least it's a flying visit. Maureen comes in, causes havoc at the Webster's (albeit because of David Platt's stirring rather than any malicious intent on her part), then goes again. But will we see more of this tenacious new Maureen in the future?

"Who knows?" Sherrie said. "We don't know, but I'd love it. I enjoyed every second of being there - it was just fantastic. Everyone was so welcoming and nothing had changed really, apart from a new wood floor in the green room," she laughed.

"But I'd love to do more because I like the fact that Maureen has grown into this feisty character, which is what Coronation Street is known for - those wonderful strong women. That's been its history, hasn't it?"

EMMERDALE

CHRISTMAS Day will be anything but peaceful in Emmerdale this year, when millionaire businessman Tom King is brutally killed at Home Farm on the day of his wedding, and the village is swamped by a massive murder investigation.

"I don't even know who kills Tom off myself," laughed Ken Farrington, who plays Tom King - adding that ten secret scenes have been filmed for the hour-long Christmas day episode, each showing a different suspect so not even the cast have a clue who the killer is.

"I would imagine that Jimmy would be a prize candidate, as would my newfound wife Rosemary Sinclair as she is a very, very dodgy character. I also think that Chaz would be quite high up on the list because she has that kind of volatile temperament, and I think that Bob also wants his revenge on the King clan after Dawn was killed in the explosion at their river show home.

"Basically any one of them could have done it - they're all just mad. They don't understand the man, he has a heart of gold," the 70-year-old actor joked.

"I think he used to be a villain but he's a bit like the Krays in that they got to the top using very evil methods but once they were there they tried to make themselves a bit respectable. I imagine there is a touch of that in Tom but he has definitely mellowed in his old age," he said.

Tom King was supposedly born and brought up in Emmerdale, and Ken admits he's slightly disappointed that the scriptwriters didn't go into a little more detail about the crooked businessman's past.

"The writers don't tend to go into too much depth - it's just one story line after another really and I think they could have delved a bit deeper.

"It upsets me when characters have to change in order for a story line to develop, and that happens a little too often on soaps generally. To be honest, even though I make my living in them, I'm not a great fan of soaps," Ken revealed, adding that he prefers to watch sport and one-off dramas instead.

Soap storylines aside, it is the rise and rise of reality television that really gets Rada-trained Ken's back up.

"We're governed now by accountants who look at the viewing figures, and they find that things like I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! and Big Brother are cheap shows which get big audiences and so we're getting a load of old rubbish to watch.

"It's all so cheap and people are being degraded for fun - I feel quite strongly about it as the standard of television here is deteriorating rapidly in my opinion and it makes me absolutely spit blood."

Luckily for Ken, a former lieutenant with the Royal Artillery and founding member of the National Youth Theatre, he has plans to spend a lot more time in France, where he vows not to watch any television whatsoever.

"I am in the process of buying a home in France between Marseilles and Toulon, and I'm going to swim, and I am going to eat and drink wine, and enjoy my life," he beamed.

"French television is actually worse that ours so I shan't even bother to watch that!

"Of course I shall miss certain members of the cast when I go - I've made some great friends. But I'm happy to leave, and the nearer I get to the date the more I realise that it's right for me to go because I can't wait.

"I've had some very happy times and I've really enjoyed it - the crew and backstage lot are one of the best teams that I've ever worked with - but I have to admit that I am glad to be leaving now, put it that way."

EastEnders - BBC One

Christmas Eve: 8pm

Christmas Day: 6.30pm and 9pm

Boxing Day: 7pm

December 27: 8pm

December 28: 7.30pm

December 29: 8pm

Coronation Street - ITV1

Christmas Eve: 8.30pm

Christmas Day: 8pm

December 27: 8.30pm

December 29: 8.30pm

Emmerdale - ITV1

Christmas Eve: 7pm

Christmas Day: 7pm

Boxing Day: 6.30pm

December 27: 7pm

December 28: 7pm

December 29: 7.30pm

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