Soap opera actress in courtroom scenes to rival TV drama

Top libel QC counts another victory as 'EastEnders' star collapses after losing case against 'Sun' newspaper with £500,000 bill for costs

THE scriptwriters of EastEnders would have been hard-pushed to produce an episode as dramatic as the end of Gillian Taylforth's libel action against the Sun newspaper yesterday.

The collapse of Miss Taylforth, the screams of her distraught family, and the wailing of the ambulance siren were scenes never seen before in the High Court. The real lives of soap opera stars are increasing resembling their stage dramas.

From the start, the action brought by Miss Taylforth, who plays Kathy Beale in EastEnders, and her fiance Geoff Knights, had been an irresistible combination of sex and soap with plenty of twists in the plot.

Here was one of the best-known stars of EastEnders suing over allegations that she and her lover, a wealthy businessman with a criminal record, had been having oral sex in their Range Rover when they were spotted by a policeman.

During the first week of the case a bizarre reconstruction was staged in the Range Rover in the court car park. The judge, jury and journalists watched as the couple showed what position they said they had been in and then two Sun journalists simulated a rival version.

At the beginning of the second week, like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, George Carman QC, counsel for the Sun, produced startling new evidence. Two days previously two men had arrived at the newspaper's offices with a video.

It showed Miss Taylforth at a party five years ago simulating oral sex with a large German sausage, making sexual motions with a wine bottle and saying to camera 'I give very good head'.

Miss Taylforth, who had wept in the witness box and said that she was not a sexual exhibitionist, was recalled to give further evidence. She told the court that the episode had merely been drunken high jinks with friends.

Peter Carter-Ruck, a leading libel lawyer, said on BBC radio yesterday: 'I think that the video evidence was very damaging in two respects. First of all it went to the witness's credibility and secondly it went to the issue of damages.'

The couple's case was not helped by the fact that Mr Knights signed a caution admitting the offence of indecency after being taken to the police station. He claimed that he had been too drunk to know what he was signing but officers said he seemed reasonably sober.

The criminal past of Mr Knights, who runs a chain of photocopying shops, was revealed to the jury. He has convictions for assault, burglary and criminal damage and last year beat up an EastEnders scriptwriter who gave Miss Taylforth a lift home.

Eventually the jury had to confront the fact that either the police or the plaintiffs were lying. PC Terry Talbot was adamant that he had seen Mr Knight's erect penis through the vehicle window.

By a majority of 10-2 they chose to believe the police. The jury stared straight ahead as the foreman announced the result, unable to look at the tense couple a few feet away in the packed courtroom.

EastEnders was never far from the minds of the protagonists in the case. When Miss Taylforth said she felt unclean and ashamed after reading the Sun story, Mr Carman accused her of re-enacting the aftermath of a rape scene in the soap opera. Miss Taylforth gripped the rail of the witness box and replied: 'No, Mr Carman, that was Kathy Beale. I'm Gillian Taylforth.' She denied that she had rehearsed her evidence.

High drama involving the real lives of actors and actresses in soap operas seems to be becoming almost as routine as it is for the characters they portray.

Leslie Grantham played 'Dirty Den' Watts in EastEnders, a character who served time in jail and was eventually murdered. In real life Mr Grantham had spent 11 years in prison for killing a taxi driver in Germany in 1966.

The string of personal tragedies suffered by Mike Reid, who plays Frank Butcher, in EastEnders, has been worse than those he has portrayed on screen. His son Mark accidentally killed a friend in a mock duel and later burned himself to death; his granddaughter Kirsty suffered a cot death; and Mr Reid himself lost pounds 240,000 in a Spanish nightclub venture.

But none can equal Julie Goodyear, who plays Bet Lynch, now Bet Gilroy, who has pulled pints at the Rovers Return in Coronation Street for more than 20 years. She has had three disastrous marriages, one husband walking out on her at the wedding reception.

In 1979, Miss Goodyear underwent surgery for cervical cancer and decided to set up a charity to help sufferers. She then found herself accused of defrauding the charity by fixing a raffle result but was acquitted.

Anthony Hayward, author of The Who's Who of Soap Operas, said soap stars were no different from other actors and actresses. 'In the end it is down to how popular the programmes are and the press scrutiny that results.'

Kathy Beale, the cafe owner, has suffered rape, a nervous breakdown and the suicide of her daughter. But even she has never been faced with a pounds 500,000 legal bill and the torment of cross-examination by Mr Carman.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions