Call Ofcom! The most complained about soap moments of all time

As soap viewers, we expect to be shocked and one edge from time to time, but do EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale ever go too far?

Recently a number of horrified viewers of Coronation Street complained to Ofcom about an episode that saw Alya Nazir (Sair Khan) stabbed in a violent attack.

The episode received 72 complaints from those who believed the scene to be too much for pre-watershed viewing.

This is not new territory for Corrie, or any of the soaps for that matter.

They are shows that refuse to shy away from difficult or controversial storylines, which, as well as garnering them a lot of respect, can also lead to a lot of backlash.

Clutch your pearls, because what follow are the most complained about soap storylines of all time.

Ronnie’s baby swap – 13,400 complaints

The titan of all controversial storyline, the moment that saw Ronnie Mitchell (Sam Womack) swap the body of her dead baby with Kat Moon’s (Jessie Wallace) newborn son Tommy, has never been forgotten.

Very quickly, national outrage was sparked by plot, with 13,400 horrified viewers making their anger known officially to the BBC and over 1,000 directly contacting Ofcom.

The show reacted swiftly, completely re-writing the story and cutting it short. Not long after the now infamous New Year scenes aired, Sam quit the show to rest the long suffering character of Ronnie.

All of that said, Ofcom eventually cleared the soap, explaining that while the scenes on their own could be perceived as offensive, they were within the boundaries in the wider context of a show known for tackling tough issues.

Karen’s anti-vax rant – 684 complaints

During the Covid lockdowns, the soaps had a balancing act over how much they should address what was going on.

With characters constantly standing metres apart and the usually bustling pubs and shops closed, it was hard not to.

When EastEnders returned to our screens after a pandemic induced hiatus, there was discussion amid the residents and the writers decided that there needed to be two sides to an argument over vaccines.

It didn’t go well. Karen Taylor (Lorraine Taylor) was seen ranting that she didn’t want to be a lab rat and have poison pumped into her.

As Suki Panesar (Balvinder Sopal) branded her an anti-vaxxer, Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker) added that he had been in hospital at death’s door with Covid, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Social media was immediately alight with horror at Karen’s words – and the complaints to the BBC came thick and fast, making it the most complained about moment to the channel in a decade.

Phelan’s double murder – 541 complaints

It is impossible for any Coronation Street fan to not remember Pat Phelan’s (Connor McIntyre) reign of terror.

The latest Corrie serial killer went a step further in menace and brutality in a number of graphic scenes, which included him sexually assaulting Anna Windass (Debbie Rush), shooting his daughter Nicola (Nicola Thorp) and eventually being stabbed to death.

But one horrifying moment topped them all, and led to discussions across all media on whether Coronation Street had overstepped the mark and become too dark.

In a darkened warehouse, Phelan held Andy, a man he had held as his hostage in a cellar for half a year, at gunpoint.

He forced him to shoot dead his own henchman, in a drawn out scene which traumatised Andy.

Phelan went on to then shoot and kill a sobbing Andy anyway, in a shocking bloodbath that saw waves upon waves of complaints.

Kate Oates, the show’s boss at the time and now BBC’s Director of Drama, even found herself on morning TV defending her storylines.

Despite hysterics from the Loose Women, Ofcom cleared the show, saying: ‘While the threatening tone of the 20:30 episode reached the upper limits of what audiences are likely to expect pre-watershed, we considered this was mitigated by other factors which ensured that overall the material was suitable for a pre-watershed audience on ITV and ITV2.’

They added that the violence was limited and not ‘graphic nor gratuitous in nature’ and said that regular fans would have anticipated Phelan’s actions as part of the ‘culmination of an established storyline’.

Emmerdale Dognapping – 448 complaints

The soaps are often airing scenes of kidnapping, sieges and hostage situations, but it seems that viewers draw the line when it comes to dognapping.

Viewers were horrified by scenes aired in 2016 that saw Charity Dingle (Emma Atkins) and Ross Barton discussing a plan to make money by holding a dog for ransom.

The story received 448 complaints from viewers who were concerned that the scenes may inspire people to commit similar crimes in real life.

However, Ofcom dropped the investigation, with a spokesperson explaining:

‘We received a number of complaints about the risk that a storyline involving an attempted theft of a dog could encourage similar behaviour.

‘We found that the scenes were not likely to condone or encourage people to attempt dog theft, taking into account the dramatic context and that the characters involved were clearly not role models.

‘It was clear to viewers they were behaving in a morally questionable manner, and the attempt to capture a dog failed.’

Jai and Laurel’s abortion decision – 447 complaints

In 2020, Emmerdale aired a controversial storyline which saw Laurel Thomas (Charlotte Bellamy) and Jai Sharma (Chris Bisson) decide to abort their baby after discovering that it had Down’s Syndrome.

When the storyline was announced, fans were up in arms, and Ofcom received hundreds of complaints before the story had even aired.

Following its broadcast, the storyline had received a total of 447 complaints from outraged viewers.

On top of the official complaints, a petition asking for Emmerdale to drop the storyline reached over 30,000 signatures.

Speaking to, show producer Laura Shaw defended the story, saying:

‘We’re confident that what we’ve produced has been done in a really balanced and sensitive way. We haven’t gone into this blindly, we’ve spoken to as many people as we possibly can.

‘We’ve got the research, this is based on real life, and I think people will see that. You’re going to feel uncomfortable at times watching it, but I hope that people will then, as they watch it, understand why we’ve done it.’

Ross’ acid attack – 366 viewers complained

Back in 2018, Emmerdale bad boy Ross Barton (Michael Parr) became the victim of a vicious acid attack.

366 viewers complained about the scene in which the acid was thrown by drug dealer Simon.

According to Ofcom, they were concerned that families with younger children may have seen the violent scene, as it was aired pre-watershed.

A spokesperson for Emmerdale later addressed the complaints.

‘Emmerdale has a long track record of tackling difficult and topical storylines and the unprovoked acid attack upon Ross is another example of this.

‘We take our responsibility seriously when portraying what happens in these circumstances.

‘Consequently, the storyline was researched thoroughly with medical experts at Pinderfields hospital.

‘For the sequence following Ross’s attack we adhered carefully to the NHS guidelines about how to help people who are the victim of an acid attack.

‘We also specifically researched this story with one particular victim who felt it important to share what happened to him with the Emmerdale production team.’

Ben’s rape – 353 complaints

In 2022, EastEnders aired a storyline that saw Ben Mitchell (Max Bowden) raped by Lewis Butler (Aidan O’Callaghan).

The story sparked a massive 353 complaints from upset viewers.

However, EastEnders later issued a statement in response to the complaints, saying:

‘EastEnders has been a pre-watershed BBC One staple for over 37 years and has a rich history of dealing with challenging and difficult issues and Ben’s story is one of these.

‘We have worked closely with organisations and experts in the field to tell this story which we hope will raise awareness of sexual assaults and the issues surrounding them.

‘We are always mindful of the timeslot in which EastEnders is shown and we took great care to signpost this storyline prior to transmission, through on-air continuity and publicity as well as providing a BBC Action Line at the end of the episode which offers advice and support to those affected by the issue.’

Geoff kills and cooks Yasmeen’s chicken – 350 complaints

Coronation Street viewers were left absolutely horrified in 2020 when evil Geoff Metcalfe (Ian Bartholomew) fed Yasmeen Nazir (Shelley King) her pet chicken for dinner.

The scenes came as part of a coercive-control storyline, which saw Geoff constantly belittle and gaslight Yasmeen over the period of several months.

Cooking Charlotte the chicken was a step too far for the 350 people who complained about the episode.

Geoff ultimately got his comeuppance during the shows 60th anniversary episodes, when he fell off the roof and died, surrounded by Charlotte’s surviving sisters.

Evelyn’s therapy comments – 275 complaints

Coronation Street favourite Evelyn Plummer (Maureen Lipman) never fails to make us laugh. She’s a no nonsense, says exactly what she thinks type of woman, and the viewers love her for it.

However, there was one occasion where she took things too far, leading to outrage.

During an episode in 2021, Evelyn made some comments about play therapy that shocked viewers and led to 275 complaints.

‘She’s had play therapy, touchy, feely rubbish, new age, but she needs something long-term. Teach her right from wrong.’

EastEnders’ portrayal of social workers – 193 complaints

EastEnders was hit with 193 complaints in 2022 following a storyline which saw Linda Carter’s (Kellie Bright) daughter Annie taken away from her, after Linda was framed for drink driving by Janine Butcher (Charlie Brooks).

Viewers were furious over the way social workers were portrayed in the story, claiming that it was ‘inaccurate’.

David’s rape – 183 complaints

Coronation Street pushed the boundaries of soap in 2018 by airing the first male rape storyline.

The story involved David Platt (Jack P Shepherd) and was inspired by true stories.

The impact of the storyline was huge, with calls to charities and helplines increasing by hundreds of percent.

Despite this, Ofcom received 183 complaints regarding the storyline.

However, these were dismissed, with a spokesperson saying: ‘This storyline tackled a sensitive and challenging subject, which we appreciate was uncomfortable viewing for some.

‘However, we considered that ITV took extensive steps to ensure it was handled sensitively and carefully.

‘These included working closely with a victim support group, and repeatedly signposting the help available to anyone affected by sexual violence.

‘We also considered that, although the offender’s violent intentions were clearly implied, the scenes were neither explicit nor graphic. Finally, we took into account that clear warnings were broadcast before both episodes.’

Racism in Coronation Street – 139 complaints

In 2022 Coronation Street began airing a storyline which saw Max Turner (Paddy Bever) groomed into joining a right-wing extremist group.

The episode aired on November 16 received 139 complaints in relation to the storyline.

In the episode, it was revealed that Daryan, a young asylum seeker, had been been the victim of a racially motivated attack.

When confronted by Alya, Max defended his new friends, claiming that they weren’t racist and had nothing to do with the attack.

Sharon’s swearing – 116 people complaint

EastEnders viewers were gobsmacked back in 2017 when Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean) swore during an episode which aired before the watershed.

Having discovered that Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) had cheated on her with Denise Fox (Diane Parish) and got her pregnant, Sharon called him a ‘b*stard’.

Viewers were outraged by the use of the foul language, leading 116 people to file a complaint with Ofcom.

It wasn’t upheld, with a spokesperson explaining: ‘We assessed a number of complaints about a character’s use of offensive language in this pre-watershed soap.#

‘We found the single use of the word was justified by the storyline. We also took into account the programme’s established role in presenting sometimes challenging and distressing social issues.’

What is Ofcom and what does it cover?

Ofcom is the regulator for the communications services that we use and rely on each day.

The watchdog makes sure people get the best from their broadband, home phone and mobile services, as well as keeping an eye on TV and radio.

Ofcom deals with most content on television, radio and video-on-demand services, including the BBC. However, if your complaint is about something you saw or heard in a BBC programme, you may need to complain to the BBC first.

Its rules for television and radio programmes are set out in the Broadcasting Code.

The rules in the Broadcasting Code also apply to the BBC iPlayer.

This Broadcasting Code is the rule book that broadcasters have to follow and it covers a number of areas, including; protecting the under-18s, protecting audiences from harmful and/or offensive material and ensuring that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.

Audiences can complain to Ofcom if they believe a breach of the Broadcasting Code has been made.

Every time Ofcom receives a complaint from a viewer or listener, they assess it to see if it needs further investigation.

If Ofcom decide to investigate, they will include the case in a list of new investigations, published in the Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin.

An investigation is a formal process which can take some time depending on the complexity of the issues involved.

Ofcom can also launch investigations in the absence of a complaint from a viewer or listener.

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