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News about Britain

Soap operas

Filming a soap

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Watching TV is a very popular pastime in the UK. But what kind of programmes do British people like to watch? Well, the most-watched TV programmes every week are very popular dramas that are usually on at least four times every week. They are dramas based in one neighbourhood that try to depict ordinary life in the UK - we call these dramas ‘soap operas’ or ‘soaps’.

In the early days of TV, there were often dramas on during the day. Back in those days, it was traditional for the husband to go out to work and for the wife to stay at home and look after the house and the children. Most of these daytime dramas were aimed at entertaining the housewives who would traditionally be at home, probably doing the washing. Companies selling washing powder would advertise their products at times when these dramas were on, and sometimes those companies would even sponsor the drama. Hence the word ‘soap’.

So what about the word opera? Well, that’s because these dramas are often an exaggeration of real life. They are supposed to represent ordinary lives but, to make them entertaining, lots of dramatic events, like murders, divorces, affairs etc., all happen probably much more regularly than they would in a normal neighbourhood.

Most soap operas these days are shown in the evening. Each show will have several different storylines happening at once that continue over several shows. The same cast members will appear in every show, too.

There are lots of different soaps on in the UK on different channels but there are three main popular ones. ‘Coronation Street’ has been on since 1960. It is set in a suburb of Manchester and it’s supposed to represent working class life in the north of England. Then there’s ‘Eastenders’ which started in 1985, set in the East End of London, and ‘Emmerdale’, which is set on a farm in Yorkshire, in the north of England.

The BBC even has a soap opera to help you learn English - so if you want to experience one of these dramas in English, ‘The Flatmates’ would be a good place to start - go to


what you do outside work for enjoyment, e.g. a hobby

an area where people live rather than work or do shopping

to depict
to describe, to show, to represent

women who work at home, doing the cleaning, cooking, etc., and who usually have no other job

washing powder
laundry detergent; a cleaning substance in powder form used for washing clothes

show short television commercials to promote

here, pay for filming

hence the word 'soap'
this is how the word 'soap' became part of the expression

an exaggeration
showing or representing something in a more dramatic, serious or shocking way than it really is

here, intimate relations outside marriage

at once
here, simultaneously, at the same time

cast members
actors in a particular film or TV series

it is set in a suburb of Manchester
the action takes place in an area near Manchester (people from suburbs usually work in the city which they are close to, however there are usually very few or no businesses within a suburb itself)

it's supposed to represent
the intention is to show; it's meant to show

Download 38 K pdf
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BBC Learning English: The Flatmates
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EastEnders: Soap of the Year 2008
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ITV: Coronation Street *
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ITV: Emmerdale *
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The Soap Show *

* The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
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