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James Nightingale (Hollyoaks)

James Nightingale is a fictional character from the British soap opera Hollyoaks, played by Gregory Finnegan. The character made his first on-screen appearance on 12 January 2016. Finnegan's casting was announced in December 2015. James was billed as a mysterious character who is a lawyer. His introduction to the show featured him attempting to convince Cindy Savage (Stephanie Waring) to take legal action against Mac Nightingale (David Easter) in a bid to secure his assets in their divorce settlement. Having kept the character's identity concealed, it is revealed James is actually Mac's son and that his mother, Marnie Nightingale (Lysette Anthony), is also in on it.

James Nightingale
James Nightingale (Hollyoaks).jpg
Hollyoaks character
Portrayed byGregory Finnegan
David Perkins (flashback)
First appearance12 January 2016
Introduced byBryan Kirkwood
ClassificationPresent; regular
Home14 Weirside View

James' characterisation includes traits associated with villainy – blackmail, manipulation and scheming are usual tactics the character deploys. James is openly gay and his stories have intertwined with other gay characters on the show. He starts a feud with Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson) when he sleeps with his boyfriend Harry Thompson (Parry Glasspool). He manipulates Scott Drinkwell (Ross Adams) for personal gain and sleeps with his boyfriend, John Paul McQueen (James Sutton). James tries to frame Ste for the murder of Amy Barnes (Ashley Slanina-Davies) as revenge for sleeping with John Paul. Other storylines have included being framed for the "murder" of Kyle Kelly (Adam Rickitt) by Sami Maalik (Rishi Nair), having an affair with Harry, and discovering his secret son, Romeo Quinn (Owen Warner).

The character has also been used to explore the topic of child abuse. James has a strained relationship with his father, which at first was believed to be because Mac favoured his other children over him, but it is later revealed that Mac used to beat James when he was child. James tries to get revenge on his father on multiple occasions, including helping Mac's former fiancée, Neeta Kaur (Amrit Maghera), bankrupt him. His backstory has been used as an explanation behind his villainy.

Finnegan has often defended his character's antics; he has explained that James has a philosophy in which he has to always get what he wants. Critics of the genre have offered much debate on the character's questionable behaviour. He has been branded "machiavellian" and "sleazy" and left numerous critics in agreement that he is a "schemer".



The character and Finnegan's casting was announced on 24 December 2015. He was described as a mysterious character who would share scenes with many established characters appearing on the show.[1] James was portrayed by David Perkins in a 2018 flashback episode.[2]



Finnegan has described James as a character who likes his own way. His philosophy is that should he see something he wants, then he will get it. James does not like romantic relationships and prefers to keep things more casual.[4] The character is manipulative and scheming, something which adds fun to the role for Finnegan. Sarah Ellis from Inside Soap that he enjoys opening a script for the first time because he knows that James will be up to causing trouble. He added "he's always up to something, there's always an angle – and for me as an actor, that's brilliant." As James' time on-screen passes writers played him even more "rotten". Finnegan has said that his character is willing to "go to any lengths" to secure a victory over others.[4]

Following six months in the role, Finnegan had learned to defend his character's questionable actions. He said that while James has done bad things writers had planned to explore why he behaves in such a manner. They wrote James' backstory with the inclusion of difficult times which influenced his manipulative behaviour. He believed that it would offer viewers understanding as to why James became a bad person. Finnegan added "he's cut-throat and happy to manipulate people, but I think it comes from a real place in his life when you discover the backstory."[5]


James works as a solicitor and in his first scenes he offers legal advice to Cindy about divorcing Mac. A Hollyoaks publicist said that James would cause "terrible trouble locally" upon arriving in the show and specifically target established character Cindy Cunningham (Stephanie Waring). Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson) and Harry Thompson (Parry Glasspool) will be confused as to why he spends time with Cindy as they rightly believe that James is gay. They added that secrets about James would later be revealed.[1]

Waring described James as a suave and very mysterious man. She told Laura Morgan of All About Soap that James overhears Cindy talking to Tony Hutchinson (Nick Pickard) about committing bigamy and he offers her legal assistance.[6] She views him as a handsome man and uses her sexuality to get what she wants, James' help to escape bigamy charges. Waring added "he's very alluring and dashing, so of course Cindy is immediately taken in by his knight-in-shining-armour routine."[6] Sophie Dainty from Digital Spy reported that James would begin to target Mac Nightingale (David Easter) in a new scheme. He asks Cindy to cause trouble for Mac and attempt to gain control of his assets.[7]

In January 2016, it was publicised that James is a member of the Nightingale family, a group of characters Hollyoaks introduced in October 2015. Lysette Anthony had been cast as the family matriarch Marnie Nightingale. It was revealed that James was working with Marnie to scheme against his own father, Mac.[8][9] He then convinces Cindy to try and gain an equal share of Mac's pub, The Dog. She tries to gain leverage over Mac, but James' sister Ellie Nightingale (Sophie Porley) discovers false divorce documents and threatens Cindy with legal action.[10]

The arrival of James and Marnie was done with the intention to introduce a darker side to the Nightingale family.[11] Jared Garfield (who plays sibling Nathan Nightingale) told Digital Spy's Daniel Kilkelly that James and Marnie came in and had "really shaken things up".[12] They brought new energy and a different dynamic to the family. He explained that the nasty personas of James and Marnie worked well against the "better-natured" remainder of the Nightingales. There is much resentment between James and his family but also there is some love and care included. Garfield added that the family relationship is "far more complicated than meets the eye" and James alongside Marnie can turn to their family when they are "really desperate and in need".[12] Garfield later told an Inside Soap reporter that James and Marnie helped to explain the family history of the Nightingale.[13]

Scamming the Hutchinson familyEdit

Writers devised a new scam storyline for the character during his second month on-screen. With the help of Marnie, James plans to con Tony Hutchinson (Nick Pickard) and Diane O'Connor (Alex Fletcher) out of their restaurant, "The Hutch".[14] Marnie asks Diane if she would consider selling the business to her, to which Diane refuses. This prompts Marnie to convince James to help steal it for themselves. Marnie sets off a fire alarm to disrupt the restaurant during peak trading and James steals Tony's laptop to scrutinise the business accounts.[14] When Diane's nephew Scott Drinkwell (Ross Adams) causes The Hutch to lose money on a catering job, James and Marnie decide to use his error to their advantage.[15] James begins to fool Scott into believing he is attracted to him in order to use Scott to undermine the business.[16] His manipulation is successful and writers played Scott willing to do anything to impress the duo.[17] Marnie then convinces Scott to set fire to The Hutch and claim the insurance money. She calls the police so Scott will get caught committing arson and in turn make Tony likely to sell. But John Paul McQueen (James Sutton) realises what is happening and helps Scott escape before they arrive.[18]

As the plans involving Scott fail, James then decides to manipulate local gay couple Harry and Ste who have become homeless and financially broke. Harry is Tony's son and he decides to use him in his plot to take over The Hutch.[4] James is attracted to the characters and comes up with a plan that will benefit both himself and Marnie. Finnegan told Ellis that his character is drawn to Harry more than Ste, he then employs his philosophy of getting exactly what he wants and begins to manipulate him.[4] James uses "sneaky tactics" to undermine the relationship between Harry and Ste. He then sets up a scenario to get closer to Harry and invites him to his car for drinks and fast-food. Then James flirts with Harry and offers him ten thousand pounds in exchange for sex. But James' indecent proposal is not motivated by James wanting anything more from Harry. The actor explained that "for him it's as simple as: he's attracted to Harry, he wants him, and he's going to have him. That's how he rolls."[4] Harry accepts James' offer and sleeps with him for the money. He later feels guilty and returns the money to James.[19]

They eventually succeed in conning the restaurant from the Hutchinsons via blackmailing Harry. Marnie decides to re-brand the eatery as "Nightingales". Anthony told Sarah Ellis (Inside Soap) that her character genuinely believes she has done Diane and Tony a favour in buying them out. She thinks it would have gone into administration without her help, despite the fact she and James had caused most of the damage to the business.[20] Harry asks James to give Tony and Diane jobs at Nightingales. Writers introduced another "twist" which saw James willing to help in exchange for more sex. This time Harry refuses the offer.[19]

Harry decides to challenge James' scheming by creating his own fake kidnapping scam which could leave James in trouble with authorities. He gives Tony and Diane a job. Ste takes Harry's scam seriously and reports James to the police for kidnap.[5] James is able to have the charges discredited with his legal skills. In retaliation James visits Ste and reveals the details of his indecent proposal and Harry's subsequent infidelity.[5] Finnegan told Kilkelly from Digital Spy that his character was more than happy to get revenge by ruining their relationship. James believed Ste had crossed a line and he "doesn't have any qualms" about "ripping Ste and Harry's lives apart".[5] The actor explained James' other motivation for splitting them up was his view that Harry could find a more suitable partner. He thinks that Ste has made poor life choices and wants Harry to gain more from life. On-screen Ste retaliates by attacking James for sleeping with his boyfriend. He behaves "utterly vindictive" towards Ste and says nasty things about Ste's life. Finnegan branded it a "heartbreaking" watch for fans of Ste. He added that he was relishing the opportunity to portray such a badly behaved character.[5]

Ste and Harry were a popular partnership with viewers and sometimes referred to by the portmanteau "Starry". Despite this some viewers on social media contacted the actor voicing their support for a relationship between James and Harry. They even created their own couple name of "Jarry". Finnegan said "it's slightly perverse, but it's been quite funny."[5] Glasspool thought the new fan-ship was "weird".[21]

Affair with John Paul McQueenEdit

Scott later enters into a relationship with John Paul. But when John Paul dumps Scott for keeping secrets, James immediately begins to pay John Paul attention and convinces him to spend the day with him. He then charms John Paul and they sleep together.[22] Adams told Charlotte Tutton of OK! that he hoped Scott and John Paul could repair their relationship, but it would be difficult because James has turned his attentions to John Paul. The actor added that James' addition to their relationship throws a "cat amongst the pigeons".[23] Sutton told Duncan Lindsay from Metro that James is a "strong and powerful" character. He wants John Paul and gains power over him because John Paul finds it hard to resist an attractive man. The actor added John Paul "feels like he wants to be around this dangerous and exiting character – but then you have poor Scott following him around like a lost puppy!"[24]

James' ex-boyfriend Carter (Amron Adams) arrives in the village and asks James to join him for dinner to discuss him joining his new law firm. Carter informs him that his girlfriend Lara (Hannah Warren Green) will be there.[25] In order to prove that he to has moved on James orders John Paul to pretend to be his boyfriend and attend the meal. He reminds John Paul that he owes him for giving Holly Cunningham (Amanda Clapham) free legal representation.[25] John Paul cancels his plans with Scott to attend the lunch. He impresses James' friends and the meeting goes well. But Scott catches them and they argue publicly, embarrassing James. Rather than attempt to save his relationship, John Paul follows James home for an argument which leads to the pair sleeping together.[26]

Hollyoaks writers also developed a friendship with fellow "dastardly" character Joanne Cardsley (Rachel Leskovac) during the storyline. James explains his intentions to snare John Paul from Scott and she reveals her plan to steal Mercedes McQueen's (Jennifer Metcalfe) fiancé Joe Roscoe (Ayden Callaghan).[27] The two characters team up and place a bet on who can snare their potential love interests away from their partners first. Finnegan had previously worked alongside Leskovac on other projects. She told Sarah Ellis (Inside Soap) that Finnegan is a "phenomenal actor" who provokes better performances from her when they share scenes. She expressed her delight of the "brilliant" character pairing, adding "aside from the naughtiness, you'll be seeing a softer side to both characters."[27] Finnegan told Charlotte Tutton from OK! magazine that James views the bet as a "good excuse" to pursue John Paul without having to acknowledge his true feelings. The prospect of a relationship with him terrifies James.[28] John Paul is hit by a car and suffers from partial blindness. Finnegan said James is initially optimistic because he does not do "lost causes" and he believes he can "throw money at the problem". Marnie does not approve of the relationship and orders James' to end it. Finnegan assessed that his character was "stung" by Marnie's words. He trusts her most and her opinion "really shakes his confidence and judgement", causing him to abandon John Paul.[28]

Historical abuseEdit

The show developed a topical storyline focusing on historical physical abuse. It featured the revelation that James had been violently beaten as a child by his father Mac.[29] The story debuted on-screen during September 2016, when James is accused of vandalising Mac and Neeta Kaur's (Amrit Maghera) wedding venue. An enraged Mac violently attacks James, which is witnessed by John Paul.[30] James then confides in John Paul that Mac would often beat him in secret when he was a child.[31] The show developed the storyline with the support of child welfare charity NSPCC. Peter Wanless from the organisation said that he hoped the "powerful and emotional storyline" featuring James would give people the confidence to seek support. He believed that all too often victims blamed themselves for the violence, but James' age would help to show that it is never too late to confront the issue. Wanless added that James' behaviour showed how abuse can affect people their entire lives.[29]


James arrives in town and becomes Cindy Savage's lawyer in her divorce from his father, Mac. James has an antagonistic relationship with Mac, but has good relationships with his mother, Marnie, and siblings, Nathan, Ellie, and Alfie (Richard Linnell). James and Marnie move into a flat across from the Dog and James gets a job at a local law firm. James helps Marnie get control of the restaurant "The Hutch" from Tony and Diane Hutchinson. James develops an attraction to Harry Thompson, who is in a relationship with Ste Hay, and shamelessly pursues him. James offers Harry £10,000 to sleep with him and Harry accepts. James brags to Ste about what happened between him and Harry, creating an intense rivalry between the two.

James sleeps with John Paul McQueen, who later gets back together with his ex, Scott Drinkwell. To cover up the feelings he has developed for John Paul, James bets his friend, Joanne Cardsley, £1 that he can break up John Paul and Scott. He succeeds when he gets John Paul into bed again. James offers to let John Paul move in with him after he is blinded in a car accident. After Marnie plants seeds of doubt in his head, James tells John Paul he can't move in with him and that he purposely broke up him and Scott to win a bet.

On Mac's wedding day to Neeta Kaur, Mac and James get into an argument and Mac punches James hard in the abdomen, which is witnessed by John Paul. James confides in John Paul that his father beat him when he was child and that his family is completely unaware of this. John Paul and James finally get together and become a proper couple. John Paul encourages James to open up to his family, but James vehemently refuses. John Paul tells Nathan about the abuse. When confronted by Nathan, James denies that Mac abused him and breaks up with John Paul for betraying his trust. They end up getting back together and later on John Paul and his young son, Matthew (Malachy and Connor Birchall), move in with James. James has trouble connecting with Matthew. Nathan is tragically killed when he falls out of a window. James is saddened by the lose of his brother and tries to reach out to Mac, who cruelly tells him that the wrong son fell out of that window.

John Paul is horrified to learn that his rapist, Finn O'Connor (Keith Rice), is up for parole. James becomes Finn's lawyer and messes up his chances of being released. James tells John Paul he cannot be a father to Matthew, putting their future in question. James comes around to the idea of being a family and proposes to John Paul, who accepts. James leaves town that same night and John Paul ends up sleeping with Ste, his ex-husband. The next day, James picks up John Paul's mobile when Ste calls and learns they slept together. James drives John Paul to a cliff side and confronts him about Ste. James lies that Ste is in the boot of the car and shoves the car off the cliff, effectively ending their relationship. Later, James is devastated when John Paul's father, Sally St. Claire (Annie Wallace), informs him that John Paul has moved to Singapore.

Ste is arrested for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Amy Barnes. James agrees to represent him and schemes to throw the case to get revenge on Ste for sleeping with John Paul. When DS Gavin Armstrong (Andrew Hayden-Smith) questions James about his whereabouts the night Amy was killed, James claims he was sleeping with Harry that night. Amy's husband, Ryan Knight (Duncan James), works with James to guarantee a guilty verdict against Ste. Ryan cuts ties with James when he starts to take things too far. Once Ryan tells Ste what James has been doing, Ste threatens to report James, but then James reveals he knows it was Harry who really killed Amy. At Harry's urging, James gets Ste acquitted by framing Armstrong for Amy's murder.

James finally tells Alfie and Ellie about Mac abusing him as a child, but they refuse to believe him, leaving James devastated. James had given one of Mac's enemy, Hunter McQueen (Theo Graham), the keys to the Dog so he could finish Mac off, but he is unable to go through with it. Father and son have an explosive confrontation and Mac begins to beat James when Ellie and Marnie walk in. Ellie attacks Mac and he accidentally falls out of the same window that Nathan fell out of. Mac lives, but he has locked-in syndrome. James has Mac transferred to a care home and the Nightingales agree to never speak of what truly happened.

Harry is working as a prostitute and, to prevent him from going back on the streets, James agrees to find clients for him. James tells Harry that he is in love with him, but Harry rejects him. James's co-worker, Sami Maalik, overhears Harry say he killed Amy so he reports him to the police. James wants Harry to go to trial, but Sami convinces him to plead guilty. Heartbroken, James sleeps with Kyle Kelly. James is brutally beaten by Sami while walking home one night. Sami reports James for being Harry's pimp, which results in James getting suspended from his job and his family turning their backs on him. When James confronts Sami about trying to dismantle his life, he claims he just wanted James's job.

Kyle pursues James romantically (Sami is paying him to get James to fall in love with him). At first, James can barely tolerate Kyle, but he eventually begins to enjoy his company and they start a relationship. After it is revealed that it was actually Ryan who killed Amy, James dumps Kyle to be with Harry. Harry ends up getting back together with Ste and James begs Kyle for another chance.

One day, James awakens from a drunken stupor and is horrified to learn he physically attacked Kyle (Kyle actually drugged James and staged the attack). James visits Mac and rips into him for abusing him and making him sleep with a female prostitute when he was sixteen years old to "turn him straight." Although he was worried he might be, James tells Mac he is nothing like him and never will be. James finishes with Kyle since he is afraid he might hurt him again, but they later reconcile. After Kyle is hospitalised for an MS attack, James tells him he loves him and will take care of him. Alfie, who is suffering from schizoaffective disorder, nearly jumps to his death, but James saves him just in time. Kyle furiously confronts James when he believes he is having an affair with Harry and accidentally knocks him unconscious. When James wakes up, Kyle is nowhere to be found and he is charged with his murder. Harry is the only person who supports James, but he later withdraws his support so as not to jeopardise his relationship with Ste.

James tries to figure out who is framing him. In a series of flashbacks, details from James's past are revealed. When James was fifteen years old, Mac had found out he was gay when he tried to kiss a male classmate (though Mac was already aware of James's sexuality and just did not want other people to know). Mac forces James to sleep with a prostitute named Donna-Marie Quinn (Lucy-Jo Hudson) on his sixteenth birthday. Many years later, Mac tells James he needs £100,000 to save his business. Unbeknownst to James, he had gotten Donna-Marie pregnant and the money was actually to pay her off so she would not tell James about her son, Romeo (Owen Warner). James desperately wanted to please his father, so he embezzled the money from the law firm he worked for and framed Kashif Maalik (Nitin Patel) for it. James realises Sami is Kashif's son and is framing him for Kyle’s murder as revenge. James and Sami have a violent confrontation. Ellie tells the police about James assaulting Sami and he is sent to prison for violating the terms of his bail.

A very much alive Kyle returns to town and tells everyone that Sami faked his death without his knowledge and framed James for his murder (Kyle was actually in on it and was paid by Sami). James is released and immediately begins an affair with Harry. Ellie decides to leave town and she and James share an emotional goodbye. Mac has recovered from his fall and wants a second chance with his family. James bribes Sylver McQueen (David Tag) to kill Mac, but he declines. Frustrated that Harry will not end his engagement to Ste, James reveals to Harry's sister, Dee Dee Hutchinson (Lacey Findlow), that she was switched at birth with Rose Lomax (Isla Pritchard). Harry tells James he loves him and wants to be with him, but because Dee Dee is severely ill with encephalitis, he cannot call off the wedding. Romeo tries to blackmail Harry over the affair, but James gets him to back off.

On the day of Harry and Ste's wedding, James schemes with Romeo to stop it. James believes Romeo is trying to seduce him, but then Romeo blurts out that James is his father. James is unmoved by the revelation and tells Romeo he is nothing to him. Harry ends up marrying Ste, but he comes to James later and tells him Ste found out about their affair and now they can finally be together. James is disgusted that Harry has only come to him because he has nowhere else to go and throws him out.


An Soaplife reporter said that James and Marnie "mean business" and Tony was no match for them. They quipped that James "cooked up so much trouble for [Tony] that he was almost relieved to throw in the kitchen towel."[32] Another columnist from the magazine said "we already know that dodgy lawyer James Nightingale is a wrong'un" and correctly guessed that he would try and bribe Harry for sex.[33] Sarah Ellis from Inside Soap said that James and Marnie "seemed to revel in causing destruction wherever they went, and it was clear they didn't care who they stomped on to get what they wanted."[20] She has also branded them a ruthless, "machiavellian", "devious duo" and "wicked mother-and-son team" who have "wreaked havoc" in the show. Ellis opined that she was not surprised James is "such a wrong'un" after being raised by a "wicked and vindictive" mother.[4] A fellow Inside Soap columnist said of James' scheming "there’s nothing we love more than a good soap schemer – and Hollyoaks’ James is on top form tonight. As well as helping mum Marnie with her plot to ruin the Hutch, he also has a shocking proposition of local hottie Harry! And whatever it is that James wants, he’s willing to shell out a stash of cash to get it…"[34] Referencing James and Joanne's behaviour, another columnist stated "with Hollyoaks just packed with criminals and villains, it’s a real shame that the only lawyers in town are as corrupt as their clients."[35]

A writer from TV Soap said that "whenever James makes an appearance in TV Soap, he's always up to something super-sleazy".[36] Daniel Kilkelly from Digital Spy branded James a "schemer" and that threatening other characters is his usual trick.[37] He later commented that "schemer James" met his match in Warren Fox (Jamie Lomas).[38] Carl Greenwood from the Daily Mirror branded James a "creepy solicitor" and "evil" character.[39] Rhys Matthews writing for Attitude branded him a "shady village newcomer" and opined that James indecent proposal story was "very dark".[40] A What's on TV reporter echoed other critics in calling the character Marnie's "scheming son".[41] Lindsay writing for Metro labelled him "shady James" who had been "hanging around Starry like a bad smell" and proprietor of "underhand developments".[42][43] Anthony D. Langford writing for TVSource Magazine said that he loved the character and believed he and John Paul have good chemistry. Though he could not believe James is allowed to practise law when he advises clients to commit perjury.[44] In September 2016, Kilkelly branded James one of the show's "best new characters" and called Finnegan a "rising star" in the role.[45][46] For his portrayal of James, Finnegan earned a nomination for Best Actor at the 2017 British Soap Awards.[47] In August 2017, Finnegan was longlisted for Best Actor and Best Bad Boy at the Inside Soap Awards.[48] He did not progress to the viewer-voted shortlist.[49]


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