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Soap injustices: When campaigns aim to free the innocent ‘Benny’ ‘Deirdre’ ‘Roy’ and ‘George’

Innocent of their crimes: Benny, Deirdre and Roy

Soapworld

Soap injustices: When campaigns aim to free the innocent ‘Benny’ ‘Deirdre’ ‘Roy’ and ‘George’

Corrie is currently running a ‘Free Roy’ Campaign following Cropper coming a …er… cropper by the coppers…

There have been several campaigns started by soap bosses that captured viewers’ imaginations, here’s a few of the most memorable…

Free The Weatherfield One – Coronation Street – 1998

The biggest soap character campaign happened in Coronation Street in the late 1990s when stalwart of the show Deirdre Barlow (Anne Kirkbride) was accused of theft.

The story began innocently enough when she began dating Jon Lindsay (Owen Aaronovitch) who was pretending to be an airline pilot with a lavish lifestyle that whisked Deirdre off her feet, ex-husband Ken (William Roache) realised early on that Jon wasn’t all he seemed, but thinking he was just jealous Deirdre ignored his attempts of a warning. Lindsay, a career criminal, ended up framing Deirdre for the fraud he had undertaken.

His plan worked Jon had created a convincing trail of evidence against her and even though she was innocent of the crimes, the judge found her guilty and Deirdre was sentenced to eighteen months. To enrage viewers even further Lindsay escaped with a suspended sentence.

Granada Television created banners, badges and t-shirts while street artists got involved and graffiti proclaimed that Deirdre was Innocent. Tabloid newspapers got involved and created their own posters that readers could place in their windows to show support for the ‘Weatherfield One‘.

It is unlikely any soap will ever better, or beat, this campaign that even made it to Parliament when then PM Tony Blair noted the Weatherfield One should be freed and he had instructed his Home Secretary Jack Straw to intervene in the case. However, after months behind bars, Deirdre was finally freed when new evidence came to light on Jon’s past proving he had form for such crimes without the involvement of the ‘Weatherfield One’.

Anne Kirkbride appeared in Coronation Street from 1972 to 2014 / Granada TV

Benny is Innocent – Crossroads – 1979

Benny Hawkins (Paul Henry), the lovable motel handyman, who loved spanners and his dear Miss Diane (Susan Hanson) was accused of murder in 1979. ATV launched a ‘Benny is Innocent’ campaign that was picked up by the tabloid press which saw posters, badges and even unofficial huge banners issued across the UK. University students unfurled the slogan down the side of student accommodation in Birmingham, which led to Paul Henry recalling he heard two elderly women tutting at the stunt with them noting indignantly, ‘and we pay for their education.’

The Crossroads plot had seen tarty farm worker Linda Welch (Lesley Daine) having an affair with the married Motel Garage boss Colin Dutton (Graham Weston). However, when the romance cooled she tried to blackmail him – this led to a row in which a vigorous struggle occurred and Colin accidentally killed Linda when she hit her head. Her body was found, and with his noted violent past Colin framed Benny for her demise. Fearful of the law Benny went on the run. Luckily for the handyman, Colin was ultimately uncovered as the real culprit.

“And then the murdering of Linda Welch, I mean that was just hysterical, everybody loved it and they stuck up for Benny and people got really annoyed at the fact that he’d been accused. And I mean students, Birmingham University and up north, Bradford I think it was, as you went through Bradford there was a bridge “Benny is Innocent”! And the universities they were all hanging things out the windows saying “Benny is Innocent” and that was the tongue in cheek side…” – Paul Henry speaking in 2001

Paul Henry featured in Crossroads from 1976 to 1987 / ATV

Free George Jackson – Brookside – 1983

Channel 4 launched a campaign when producers at Mersey Television featured a criminal injustice storyline in which the character of George Jackson (Cliff Howells) was imprisoned for a warehouse robbery he did not commit. George was set up for the crime by a gangster, Tommy McArdle (Malcolm Tierney) and his associate Victor Scott (Robbie Dee).

The character, a firefighter, ended up jailed for the robbery and in Brookside a fictional ‘Free George Jackson‘ campaign was launched, this then became a real project for Channel 4 with thousands of posters, t-shirts, badges and banners released. However, unlike the other TV soap campaigns, this one wasn’t going to have a happy ending.

Cliff Howells’ contract had concluded when the character left the series via his imprisonment and the campaign wasn’t ever intended to have George released, this was further confounded by Howells being unhappy with the campaign’s publicity and Mersey Television continuing to use his image on posters without his consent. Howells sought help from the actors union Equity, who helped him build a case against Mersey Television. They changed the posters and despite the campaign being well known nationally in the United Kingdom, George was not released from prison. In the story, he is transferred to a Leeds prison.

David Neilson has been part of the Corrie cast since 1995

Roy Is Innocent – Coronation Street – 2024

Trying to recapture their Deirdre ‘Weatherfield One‘ campaign Corrie recently launched a ‘Roy Is Innocent’ campaign – using the modern age of social media mixed with the tried and tested T-shirts.

Roy, (David Neilson), found himself under suspicion of being involved in the disappearance and possible murder of former employee Lauren Bolton. Initially taken in for questioning by the police it isn’t long before news of his arrest hit the internet and he found himself a virtual prisoner in his own home – as social media sleuths and vigilantes became intrigued by the case resulting in Roy being threatened and heckled.

“Roy is innocent in every respect, he is innocent of the crime, but he is also an innocent soul. He never thought for one minute it would come to this, he truly felt that if he simply answered everything honestly it would all be okay and he was naive to  assume that being innocent meant that he would be seen to be innocent.” – David Neilson speaking in March this year

Roy has been the police’s number one suspect and currently is charged with Lauren’s murder and is being held in police custody. Can ‘Roy Is Innocent’ get him the happy ending everyone thinks he deserves? This Coronation Street story continues.

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