Hollyoaks’ longest-serving executive producer Bryan Kirkwood is leaving the Channel 4 soap.
Kirkwood – who alerted show bosses to his decision in March – will depart at the end of 2020 as the programme celebrates its 25th anniversary.
He served as executive producer between January 2006 and December 2009 before rejoining the show in June 2012 after a stint with BBC One’s EastEnders.
During his tenure, Kirkwood created characters including the McQueen family and oversaw storylines about far-right radicalisation, mental health and male rape.
The news comes days before the soap returns to screens after a three-month break due to Covid-19.
Kirkwood said: “For many years I have had the privilege of running a soap opera with a fiercely loyal audience.
“I passionately believe that soaps can help viewers start serious conversations about their lives and in recent years we have covered important topics within mental health, sexual consent, far-right radicalisation, male rape, sexual abuse and many issues other shows might look away from.
“It has also been a joy to deliver the plot-buster stories that ‘can only happen on Hollyoaks’, stories that give our viewers an entertaining escape into a heightened world.
“I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved, and I want to thank the entire team.
“Their talent, warmth, loyalty and friendship are why I stayed so long.
“The 25th anniversary feels like an elegant time to hand the reins over to someone else but I’m confident that the beating heart of Hollyoaks – the people who make it – will keep the show around for another 25 years.”
Lime Pictures, which produces the soap, is introducing new measures after one of its stars, Rachel Adedeji, said she had experienced racism while working on the show, later announcing her departure.
Adedeji said on social media that the “experiences I have encountered are a constant reminder of how difficult it is being a black woman in the industry”.
The company recently launched an “inclusivity action plan” setting out a number of areas for improvement including training, outreach, creative inclusivity and hair and make-up.
Lime Pictures co-managing directors Claire Poyser and Kate Little said: “Bryan’s passion for creating gloriously soapy characters that take fans from laughter to tears in a heartbeat, a rich imagination for nurturing compelling plot busters and his unwavering commitment to tell groundbreaking issue-led stories mark him out as an outstanding executive producer of Hollyoaks.
“This has been rightly reflected in the multitude of awards that the series has secured throughout his tenure at Lime.
“We would like to thank him for his dedication, care and commitment to the show throughout the last eight years.”
Channel 4’s director of programmes, Ian Katz, said: “Bryan has been the untiring creative force behind the extraordinary resurgence of Hollyoaks.
“He’s taken the show into new territory with some extraordinarily brave storylines and soap firsts and collected numerous awards.
“I’m immensely grateful for his steering of the show safely back to screen next week and leaving it in top creative form and I wish him all the best for his next chapter.”
Kirkwood’s episodes will remain on screen until June 2021.