Was any soap exit less traumatic?

Soaps are all about make believe but David Whetstone explains how fate has brought two real-life brothers together on Emmerdale.

Soaps are all about make believe but David Whetstone explains how fate has brought two real-life brothers together on Emmerdale.

Many a soap character must have wished for a guardian angel, particularly when facing TV oblivion. There have been so many gory deaths and traumatic disappearances.

Simon Meredith, Emmerdale's amiable fishmonger, will take his leave of the series tomorrow with a smile on his face and a bottle of champagne to share with his one-time lodger.

Was any soap exit ever less traumatic? You can almost hear the embittered chorus of disapproval from the ghosts of less fortunate characters past: "Jammy swine!"

Simon, you see, had a guardian angel, or the next best thing. For the character is played by Dale Meeks and his final episode in the series was written by big brother Philip.

The brothers - Philip is 38 and Dale 32 - are now based in Leeds but they grew up in South Shields, where mum Pat still lives, and forged careers in entertainment after cutting their teeth in amateur dramatics.

Whereas Dale has become a familiar face on stage and screen, Philip is making a name for himself as a writer. In his first year as one of the Emmerdale core writing team he has written 15 episodes of the fast-paced drama (according to Philip, it packs in about 21 scenes per episode compared with Coronation Street's 14).

At the outset, he wishes to quash any notion that he personally caused his brother's Emmerdale demise. He says the producers had already decided that the character had run its course.

"I didn't write him out... I just wrote the last episode. We just get commissioned by the producers to write certain episodes but I expressed an interest in writing this one.

"I just thought it would be a nice thing to do. Sometimes people's exits get lost but I thought I would make it the focus of the story. It doesn't come on the back of a huge story so it's a nice light-humoured exit."

Philip, who for years wrote the annual panto at the People's Theatre in Newcastle, says the longevity of Simon Meredith is a credit not only to the writers of Emmerdale but to his brother's performances.

"He came in for three months as a short-term story but they kept him in for three years and even brought in a mother, played by Sherrie Hewson, and built up the story around him."

In the end, though, the writing was more on the wall than on the page for Simon.

His story, suggests Philip, was too entangled with that of dodgy love interest Nicola Blackstock (played by Nicola Wheeler), daughter of Rodney Blackstock (Patrick Mower) whose champagne Simon exits swigging. Nicola left the series several months ago, leaving Simon's dramatic position "untenable", according to Philip.

"He has had such an upsetting time there that you can understand why he'd want to leave," says Philip of his brother's alter ego.

The episode to be shown tomorrow was actually filmed in June so Dale has already moved on. Philip says he has "moved on to great things". He has landed a part in the national touring production of Chicago, fresh from the West End, and will then go into panto in Grimsby.

Philip, meanwhile, continues to tread through the soap opera jungle. "It's a real test of your skills," he says. "I get mad when people say, `I couldn't write soap because it's not creative enough'. It's the most creative job you could ever imagine."

This is a big week for Philip. Not only is his Emmerdale episode on screen tomorrow but his new play, Twinkle Little Star, featuring Tim Healy as a panto dame, opens for preview performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival tonight (see the article in Culture - free with this newspaper).

Meanwhile, he has just completed another Emmerdale episode and has been commissioned to write two more that will air in December.

Without giving too much away, he says that, having disposed kindly of Simon, he has "a really big exit coming up".

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