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Will this scene help to fight male suicide?; DAWN COLLINSON talks to the Hollyoaks producer who is shocking viewers for a good cause.

Byline: DAWN COLLINSON

IT'S a shocking soap storyline as graphic as any ever seen on TV.

A young man, yellow from liver collapse, dies a slow and agonising death after taking a lethal cocktail of pills and alcohol.

Even Hollyoaks producer Jo Hallows, the woman responsible for killing off one of the programme's most popular characters, admits she watched the hospital bed scenes with a lump in her throat.

But, she says, she also felt a sense of satisfaction that the story had achieved what it set out to do - to highlight in an unglamorised way, the full horror of suicide.

Fans of the Channel 4 soap have seen club owner Lewis spiralling towards self-destruction in this week's late-night episodes of Movin' On.

Despairing after a violent attack on his ex-girlfriend Ruth, he washes down a bag full of tablets with vodka. Although he fails to kill himself immediately and is full of remorse, his liver is so badly damaged he is admitted to hospital with no chance of survival.

What follows is a dramatic demise which, Jo predicts, will stun Hollyoaks' predominantly young audience.

"I saw Lewis's death being filmed and, even though I knew what to expect and what was coming next, it was so absolutely terrible it brought tears to my eyes, " she says. "I think people will be truly shocked, I'd be amazed if they weren't, because it is such a horrible death."

She hopes the scenes will also highlight the problem many young men face in coming to terms with and talking about their problems.

Mersey TV has worked closely with Calm, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, over the storyline and it coincides with a radio promotion featuring local celebrities designed to raise awareness.

Ben O'Brien, Merseyside coordinator for the project which is backed by Cream, says: "What is particularly worrying is that the suicide rate among men aged 18-35 has almost doubled since the mid-80s.

"We are trying to encourage them to talk about their problems because there is still this stigma attached to asking for help. It's just not seen as a masculine trait, more of a weakness. What we're saying is that it takes courage to put your hand up and say 'actually I'm not feeling great and I'd like to talk it through.' "The way that Hollyoaks has developed the Lewis storyline has been really well handled and although it's very distressing it's actually very realistic and it gets a powerful message across."

Jo, who has been with Holloaks as producer since episode nine, makes no apologies for the way Lewis's soap life comes to an end.

And it isn't, she insists, about ratings grabbing.

"Of course we want good ratings but it's more about good drama, " she explains. "We decided that, since male suicide was so much on the increase, it was about time we did something about it.

"But the biggest story isn't necessarily Lewis committing suicide, it's the debris that he leaves behind. People who commit suicide think all their problems will be solved, but they're only just starting for those left behind."

For actor Ben Hull, who played Lewis for six years, the storyline meant saying goodbye in the most painful way to his wheeler dealer character.

The 28-year-old had already decided it was time to move on from Hollyoaks and says he was honoured to be given such a powerful exit story.

"I know that people who watch the show and are fond of Lewis would probably have liked him to reform and turn it around but I never wanted that, " says Ben. "I wanted to leave on a high and after everything that's happened to him recently the suicide made sense."

Ben says he felt his responsibility was to make his scenes as real as possible. He adds: "I read a lot and talked to a medical advisor about what state Lewis would be in and what actually happens; the agony you go through. I came to the conclusion that too much wasn't enough. It's so awful, it's impossible to overplay it.

"Lewis thinks he's got no alternative to suicide, but that's not the case, " he says. "What we're trying to promote is that people need to talk, especially men because they are the worst for bottling up their feelings."

"If Lewis's story can help one person, " adds Jo, "and save them from going down that same route, then it will have been an issue worth doing."

Calm's helpline number is 0800 585858. Lines are open 5pm-3am every day.

CAPTION(S):

HELP: Ben O'Brien of Calm DESPAIR: Lewis (Ben Hull) in hospital after his lethal overdose . Hollyoaks producer Jo Hallows (right) hopes his death will be a deterrent
COPYRIGHT 2001 MGN Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 12, 2001
Words:783
Previous Article:Bad and mad; ECHO COMMENT.
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