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Inside the bars of soap; Millions of viewers drink in the atmosphere of the TV pubs every week. From births, to deaths and marriages, all human life is here.

THEY'RE the hub of the great British soap - and one of their biggest stars. From Coronation Street's Rovers Return to EastEnders' Queen Vic, the good old-fashioned pub is the lifeblood of the soap opera.

Everything from murder to sex takes place in the soap pub's beer-stained surroundings. Relationships are started and finished over a pint, children are conceived on bar tables and killings are plotted after a quick whisky.

Births, marriages and deaths are commem-orated there, fights are a regular attraction and occasionally a fire rips through it, leaving regulars wondering where they will get their next pint.

And of course, from Coronation Street's Natalie Barnes to Brookside's Jacqui Dixon, every soap has its pub landlady - or landlord - overseeing some of its most dramatic events. A string of barmaids have had viewers transfixed, from The Street's vixen Tanya Pooley to Emmerdale's troublemaker Bernice Blackstock.

Never mind the alcohol that is served by the gallon, life in the soap pub is as addictive to its viewers as it is to its regulars.

The original, and arguably the best, is Coronation Street's Rovers Return, which first welcomed viewers through its doors when the ITV soap began 39 years ago.

The latest peroxide blonde to step into the shoes of licensee is Natalie Barnes, a sassy fortysomething intent on modernising a pub which has seen all human life swig a pint at its highly-polished wooden bar. Incredibly, she is only the seventh licensee to lord over the Rovers, following in the footsteps of Jack and Annie Walker, their son Billy, Alec Gilroy, Vera Duckworth and that other famous blonde, Bet Lynch.

The Rovers has always been packed with the best and worst of Coronation Street's residents, from lager lout Les Battersby, to the shandy-sipping Emily Bishop.

It has been the backdrop for some of the Street's most dramatic events and, like both Emmerdale's Woolpack and EastEnders' Queen Vic, it has suffered a near-devastating fire.

The Rovers was almost devoured by flames after Jack Duckworth attempted - and failed - to fix a faulty fuse box. His boss Bet was asleep upstairs but, thankfully, she and the Rovers were saved.

In 1979, a lorry ploughed through the front of the pub, leaving Deirdre Barlow wondering if her daughter Tracy was buried in the rubble. She made it out alive, but death has played its part in Rovers' life - in 1964 Martha Longhurst died from a heart attack in the snug bar.

Behind the drama, however, the reality is quite different. Fans of the soap can take a trip to Manchester to see a replica Rovers, just around the corner from the legendary cobbled street inside Granada Studios' theme park. Visitors can sample Betty's hotpot and order a pint of Newton and Ridley bitter from opening time at 11.00am.

But what viewers see on screen is quite different. The set is much smaller than the real affair. The beer pumps and Betty's hotpot are authentic, but the rest is just fiction.

Coronation Street actors get to drink diluted shandy instead of beer and Mike Baldwin's whisky is a glass of apple juice.

The Rovers' biggest rival in soapland is EastEnders' Queen Vic, which dominates London's fictional Albert Square - and its residents' lives. Since it flung open its doors in February 1985, it has been the backdrop for some of the BBC1 soap's biggest dramas.

It began with Den and Angie Watts at the helm, ensuring plenty of fireworks as they battled their way towards divorce. Dirty Den earned his nickname in the Vic as he made love to his daughter's best friend, Michelle Fowler, after hours.

Later, Michelle shocked viewers by becoming close to another Queen Vic landlord, Grant Mitchell. Bad boy Grant will soon follow Michelle to America after discovering she had his son.

The bar was also the setting for Michelle's shooting, the compulsory pub fire, and the night Tiffany Mitchell overheard husband Grant talking to her mum about their affair.

The real-life Queen Vic is built in London's Elstree Studios. It is far smaller than viewers would think, thanks to the miracle of wide-angled cameras.

Another bar was built for exterior shots, in the BBC's Albert Square, the biggest permanent set in Europe.

The meals served on set are prepared earlier, with duplicates on hand to wheel on after cuts in filming. And while there is no alcohol served on set, the crisps are real.

ITV soap Emmerdale's Woolpack pub has seen some major changes since the soap began in 1972. It began life as an exterior location in the Upper Dales village of Arncliffe, switching in 1976 to the Commercial Pub in Esholt, close to Yorkshire Television studios. The real-life pub eventually changed its name to the Woolpack, to encourage tourism.

In 1997, the Woolpack was transferred to its present home in the world's largest single-floor television studio.

The pub was ravaged by that inevitable fire last year and almost wiped out in 1993's shocking Lockerbie-style air crash. It cost more than pounds 1million to stage and provoked controversy, but the pub survived.

The bar's licensee, Alan Turner, lords over his bar staff, including grand-daughter Tricia Stokes, Bernice Blackstock and the irrepressible Mandy Dingle.

There are 20 gallons of beer and lager delivered to the studio Woolpack each week, pumped up from a real cellar. But the actors abide by the same rules as their soap rivals - no beer drinking on set. As compensation, the food served is authentic, prepared in the studio canteen.

Unlike the Queen Vic, where viewers hear the latest chart hits belting out, the Woolpack has never had music - unless you count Vic and Terry's Woolpackers.

Much more modern is Channel 4's Bar Brookie, the setting for many dramatic events since Barry Grant opened it.

After Jacqui Dixon took over the bar, she enlisted Barry's help to see off gangster Callum Finnegan, played by Scot Gerard Kelly.

The real-life bar is not just up the lane from Brookside Close. It stands five miles away in Liverpool's leafy suburbs. Unlike the other soap pubs, the exterior is not just a facade. When you go through those curvy glass doors, there is a real bar.

The drink served up is strictly non-alcoholic, with burnt sugar solution standing in for dark spirits. At least the food is real.

The bar began with a trendy mix of bright colours, but is now minimalist white.

"Just as Jacqui likes to change her hairstyle, she likes to change the look of the bar," says a Brookside spokeswoman.

Channel 4's sister soap, Hollyoaks, has a more traditional pub at its heart - The Dog In The Pond. While the teen-soap is set in Chester, most of the soap is filmed in Liverpool, including the pub scenes.

Hollyoaks' local is a working set, which is closed to the public. The present landlord, Jack Osbourne, is an ex-copper who takes no nonsense from his regulars - although most of them seem to be underage.

Scottish soap High Road has the cosy Arnacraig bar as its hub, run by Eric and Joanna Ross-Gifford. Most of the action that takes place within its walls involves village gossip - and the odd heated argument.

Villain Paul Lafferty once had a pint thrown over him, before being jailed and pig farmer Lachie McIvor had a heart attack there during the role-playing game Murder.

The real-life Ardnacraig is built in Scottish Television's Cowcaddens studios in Glasgow, but unlike its rival soap pubs, is dismantled every week. If it is needed for filming, the three-wall set is constructed for two days a week and then carefully packed away again.

External shots are taken on location in the idyllic setting of Luss, on the banks of Loch Lomond.

Channel 5's home-grown soap Family Affairs chose to have a contemporary-styled wine bar, The Lock, as its local, run by bad boy Peter Callan. Actor David Easter, who plays the womanising Callan, has been nominated as Best Villain in The British Soap Awards on ITV tonight.

The pub's interior shots are taken at HDS Studios in Hayes, Middlesex, but there is a real-life version of The Lock. The bar used for exterior shots is near the village of Yedding, and has been renamed The Lock.

Under the guiding hand of executive producer Brian Park, the former "axeman" of Coronation Street, The Lock has seen a few more dramas than spilled pints recently.

It was the scene for gay character Clive Starr being "outed" by a male stripper, Steve, during a ladies' night.

Soap stars come and go, but the one staple ingredient viewers rely on in Coronation Street, EastEnders and their rivals is the soap bar. And as long as it keeps frothing, we will remain addicted to life in the soap pub.

AMAZING PUB FACTS Emmerdale's Woolpack is an 18th-century pub dating back to the days when wool was taken over the moors by packhorse.

The rope that Rovers Return landlady Natalie Barnes pulls on to call last orders was a gift from a fan who used to be in the Navy.

Grant Mitchell set the Queen Vic alight on wife Sharon's 23rd birthday in a bungled attempt at insurance fraud.

High Road' Joanna and Eric once left the Ardnacraig with Jocky and Effie MacDonald, only to return to find the pub wrecked after the pair had a lock-in with free beer.

The ones who pull the pintsWild about the Rovers ... Natalie Barnes (Denise Welch) calls the shots in Coronation Street

Double act ... Joanna Ross-Gifford (Tamara Kennedy) runs High Road's Ardnacraig with husband Eric

Family ties ... Peter Callan (David Easter) has his hands on the till in The Lock wine bar in Family Affairs

Mother knows best ... Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor) ditched bad-boy son Grant from the Vic

Measured up ... Alan Turner (Richard Thorp) turned the Woolpack into more than a farmer's howff
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Morgan, Kathleen
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 15, 1999
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