Intended for healthcare professionals


Death rates of characters in soap operas on British television: is a government health warning required?

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 20 December 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1649
  1. Tim Crayford (t.crayford{at}, senior clinical fellowa,
  2. Richard Hooper, statisticiana,
  3. Sarah Evans, research associatea
  1. a Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, King's College Hospital, London SE5 9RS
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Crayford


Objective: To measure mortality among characters in British soap operas on television.

Design: Cohort analysis of deaths in EastEnders and Coronation Street, supplemented by an analysis of deaths in Brookside and Emmerdale.

Main outcome measures: Standardised mortality ratios and the proportional mortality ratio for deaths attributable to external causes (E code of ICD-9 (international classification of diseases, ninth revision).

Results: Staying alive in a television soap opera is not easy. Standardised mortality ratios for characters were among the highest for any occupation yet described (771 (95% confidence interval 415 to1127) for characters in EastEnders), and this was not just because all causes of death were overrepresented. Deaths in soap operas were almost three times more likely to be from violent causes than would be expected from a character's age and sex. A character in EastEnders was twice as likely as a similar character in Coronation Street to die during an episode.

Conclusions: The most dangerous job in the United Kingdom is not, as expected, bomb disposal expert, steeplejack, or Formula One racing driver but having a role in one of the United Kingdom's most well known soap operas. This is the first quantitative estimate of the size of the pinch of salt which should be taken when watching soap operas.

Key messages

  • Characters in soap operas lead very dangerous lives

  • Their lives are more dangerous even than those of Formula One racing drivers or bomb disposal experts

  • People suffering from many forms of cancer and other serious diseases have better five year survival rates than do these characters

  • Could the exaggerated portrayal of these violent and dangerous lives be contributing to our distorted national perceptions about violent crime and death?

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