To lower the tone of this blog, or to prove we don’t spend all our time up our own rear ends reading classical philosophy and listening to ‘difficult’ jazz (that’s just Rory), here is the first of a once-in-a-blue-moon series about the five-nights-a-week-plus-Sunday-omnibus series that is the TV Soap Opera.
Every soap opera has its template characters – the villain, the tart-with-a-heart, the lothario – but there is none quite so endearing as the Soap Geek, those unsnappily-dressed, fumbling, bumbling, luckless losers with sociopathic tendencies and permanent bad hair days.
The Soap Geek, done well, is a scriptwriters’ godsend. He/she can be the stooge, the fall guy, the jester, the idiot savant, the closet romantic, the tragi-comic hero, the underdog made good. With a Soap Geek at his disposal, Shakespeare would have had a field day.
Done badly, of course, you end up with David Bishop from Neighbours – a joke, full stop.
Because to set them apart, the best Soap Geeks need another dimension. If they just read comics/collected butterflies/spotted trains they’d be rubbish. They need something else that we the audience get to see that other characters, except maybe a selected confidante or two, don’t – a heart of gold, a hidden past, a brilliant mind or a kinky side. Here, we look at five of the best examples.
5. Norman ‘Curly’ Watts (Coronation Street)
Curly Watts reeked of geek. Tall, gangly, bespectacled and awkward, he was cartoon geek made flesh, the Walter the Softy of Weatherfield. Arriving in Weatherfield as paperboy, then graduating to binman (a classic geek career progression), Curly served time on the Street as the son Jack and Vera would have liked to have had instead of their own bad egg Terry (a role later winningly reprised by semi-geek, Tyrone).
In his spare time, Curly played drinking buddy to moustachioed 80s super-stud Kevin Webster. But while our Kev snapped up Street ultra-hottie Sally (the lucky, lucky blighter!), Curly lurched from one dating disaster to another, making a fool of himself for the likes of scary student radical, Angie Freeman. Even his promising career as a supermarket manager (another rung up the geek ladder) was often frustrated by the scheming of his mentor, Reg Holdsworth.
Crucially to his inclusion in this list he nailed the classic geek narrative arc – geek gets the girl – when he took tottering, airheaded barmaid Raquel up the aisle. But there was no happy ending for this hapless sad-sack. Raquel left him, and after a second failed marriage to policewoman Emma he left the Street for good. It’s difficult to see where Curly would fit into the modern Weatherfield, which is exactly why we want him back.
Geek superpower: Astronomy expert
Geek-a-like: Lofty from Eastenders
4. Tamwar Masood (Eastenders)
Possibly bumped up this list by recency bias, we nevertheless have a good feeling about this guy.
Unwittingly espousing the very 21st century concept of geek-chic – button down shirt, fashion specs, knowing humour, he mopes around Albert Square, exuding the geek triple whammy of superiority, disillusionment and inadequacy. For good measure, his foiled ambition (an Oxbridge career) is worn all too obviously on his sleeve, a classic geek trait.
The dating disaster box is ticked too in all too many ways. Mother who suspects him of being a closet homosexual? Yup. Failed marriage? Yup. Brief fling with girl who was weirdly fixated with the guy she babysat for and is now falsely accused of his murder? Yup. Plus, there’s his poetic run-ins with market stall battleaxes Kat and Bianca to consider, which brought the familiar schoolyard dynamic of geek-baiting to the small screen. All in all, Tamwar is a geek from the top drawer.
It’s not clear where the character is going, but his epic awkwardness and bone dry humour are a welcome tonic to an Albert Square still drenched in machismo and cheap perfume.
Geek superpower: Business brain
Geek-a-like: Moss from the IT Crowd
3. Jane Harris (Neighbours)
The thinking man’s Kylie, Plain Jane Superbrain waltzed into Ramsay Street, virginal and bookish, under the watchful eye of Grandma Nell in 1986, at a time when Minogue was in her early pomp as sexy car mechanic, Charlene. Picked on for her intelligence and dowdy appearance, Jane was in every respect girl geek supreme.
With the encouragement of fellow Ramsay Street residents, Helen and Daphne, our Jane began to come out of her shell. And boy, did she come out of her shell. Tell me, which red-blooded heterosexual teenage male of the late 80s didn’t feel a stirring when Jane finally ditched the specs and…….. well, hello, Miss Harris, we do scrub up well don’t we?
This new dumbed down and sexed up Jane went on to seduce the dopey Mike, the icy Paul, the loveable Des and just about every other unsuspecting male in Erinsborough. But crucially, she was still a geek at heart, just a very sexy one.
Geek superpower: Specs appeal
Geek-a-like: Sandy from Grease
2. Benny Hawkins (Crossroads)
From the Village Idiot lineage of Geekdom, Benny was a loveable, sweet-hearted man-child and an anti-style icon. He is now just about the only character anyone can remember from the ill-fated 70s/80s motel drama, as much for his trademark woolly hat and overalls as for anything else.
Our Benny was dim-witted, camp and accident prone, a Brummy Frank Spencer. In those less enlightened times, he might have been described as ‘simple’, ‘backward’, ‘a few sandwiches short of a picnic’, but in more sensitive 21st century terms we would call him a ‘freaking retard mentalist with special needs’.
What Benny lacked in mental prowess, though, he made up for with a loving and devoted heart. And oh, how that heart went to waste! In the finest Soap Geek tradition, his one true love Maureen was knocked off her bike and killed on her wedding day, leaving poor Benny bereft. He then took to endlessly fawning around after ‘Miss Diane’, in one of soap’s most enduring platonic male-female pairings, only for her to die of a brain haemorrhage and leave him heartbroken again. In true Benny style, he named his donkey after her.
And Benny got the non-event Soap Geek ending par excellence, simply going up a ladder to put up some Christmas decorations and then never being heard of again.
Geek Superpower: Handyman skills
Geek-a-like: Sam off Emmerdale
1. Roy Cropper
Brooding, troubled, occasionally brutal, but still essentially mild of manner and pure of heart, Roy Cropper is the Don of Soap Geeks. Lurking behind the side-parting, the charity shop cast-offs and the shuffling gait, is a man of intense, glowing passion. Not in the physical sense, you understand – it is difficult, nay revolting, to imagine Roy’s dishevelled, naked frame pulsing uncontrollably with red-raw wanton lust – but who can doubt the profound, soul-deep love he had for transgender wife, Hayley. The fact he even had a transgender wife is a key to this man. For this is no nerdy, uptight geek, this is a free-thinking radical in a cardie. A man who can defeat prejudice with reason, hate with logic, hostility with compassion. He has taken on all-comers and won.
Roy is a man so utterly disinterested with the vagaries of fashion and modern living he has gone full circle and become a role model for our times. So utterly removed from soap normality is he that peers for Roy only exist in the world of detective drama. He is Columbo. He is Ironside. He is Morse. He is the only Corrie character whose spin-off series would work.
And as if he weren’t brilliant enough already, we’ve had several months of him wrestling with the anguish of a dying wife. Throughout the heartbreak, he has been an example to us all. Sure, he has raged and asked ‘why oh why?’, sure he has snapped at Hayley and friends and café customers, but he has been a rock. The episode where he took Hayley to Blackpool Tower ballroom for one final dance was a triumph of romance over adversity. Who would have thought this chess club outcast had it in him?
Roy Cropper. The kind of guy who would get the Countdown Conundrum in less than a second, and manage to look humble and embarrassed about it. The kind of guy who could explain the mysteries of science to you without making you feel two foot small. The kind of guy who could tell you the history of the Intercity 125 while cooking you a tasty fry up. I wish he were my friend in real life.
Geek Superpower: Encyclopaedic brain
Geek-a-like: Stephen Hawking