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1,000 and as saucy as ever; Nick Foley on Hollyoaks' landmark 1,000thepisode.

Byline: Nick Foley

WITH its saucy plot lines and drop dead gorgeous cast, Hollyoaks has firmly established itself as one of Britain's best loved soaps.

Over 3 million addicts are now hooked on the drama, which has survived the departure of some of its biggest stars,as well as the early sneers of TV critics,and is now about to celebrate its 1,000th episode.

Fresh,funny and oozing sex appeal, the teen-orientated soap has been going from strength to strength since it was launched in 1995 and soon it will be screened five times a week.

Nick Pickard, who has played hapless Tony Hutchinson in the soap since it started,admits in the early days the drama's future looked less than secure.

``When we started it took a bit of a hammering from the press.

``I think it was seen as a bit of a joke - people were always laughing at the show and telling me it was rubbish. We never ever thought it would still be going strong eight years later.''

The first contract for the Channel 4 show, which is penned by Grange Hill and Brookside writer Phil Redmond,only ran for six months and it was then taken off the air.

Londoner Pickard, 25, is refreshingly frank about why the drama has become so popular.

``There's a lot of eye candy on the show - why do you think I've stuck around so long?When I come in for work I'm surrounded by eight or nine gorgeous girls.''

But the show has gone a long way to shaking off its frothy, frivolous image by tackling gritty issues over the last four years.

Pickard said the show's defining moment over the last eight years was when it tackled one of the last remaining taboos of British TV - male rape.

The assault itself was screened during a late night special and was roundly applauded by fans and TVcritics for its emotionally charged and convincing acting. Suddenly Hollyoaks was being taken seriously.

Though Pickard loves to see what the script writers will come up with next for the hapless Tony, he admits he was ``shocked'' when he read Tony was about to embark on an affair with middle- agedm other of two Helen Cunningham.

``I'm going out with the old lady at the moment. I get on well with Kathryn (George, whop lays temptress Helen)but it's weird when you suddenly have to be necking her.

``We just got on with it and did it.It's embarrassing when there's a cut and you don't really know what to say to each other.''

Life is pretty good right now for Pickard who thinks the show could go on for another 1,000 episodes. But will Tony still be around then?

``We never know,but I hope so.''Hollyoaks 1,000thepisode Monday,April 21,Channel 4

CAPTION(S):

Nick Pickard,inset,and with Kathryn George, whop lays Helen,in Hollyoaks
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 19, 2003
Words:488
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