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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 lawyer who comes to town and convinces Cindy Savage (Stephanie Waring) to take legal action against Mac Nightingale (David Easter) in a bid to secure his assets in their divorce settlement. It is later revealed James is actually Mac's son and he is scheming with his mother, Marnie Nightingale (Lysette Anthony).

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 pays his boyfriend, Harry Thompson (Parry Glasspool), to sleep with him. He manipulates Scott Drinkwell (Ross Adams) for personal gain and sleeps with his boyfriend, John Paul McQueen (James Sutton). Other storylines have included: an ongoing feud with his father, trying to frame Ste for the murder of Amy Barnes (Ashley Slanina-Davies) as revenge for sleeping with John Paul, being a suspect in Amy's murder, being framed himself for the "murder" of his boyfriend Kyle Kelly (Adam Rickitt) by Sami Maalik (Rishi Nair), having an affair with Harry, discovering his secret son, Romeo Quinn (Owen Warner), and being poisoned by serial killer, Breda McQueen (Moya Brady).

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. However, it is later revealed that Mac used to beat James when he was child, mainly because of his sexuality. 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". For his portrayal of James, Finnegan won the "Best Actor" accolade at the 2019 British Soap Awards.



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 exciting 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, the eldest of the Nightingale siblings, arrives in town and becomes Cindy Savage's (Stephanie Waring) lawyer in her divorce from his father, Mac (David Easter). James has a strained relationship with Mac, but has good relationships with his mother, Marnie (Lysette Anthony), and siblings, Nathan (Jared Garfield), Ellie (Sophie Porley), and Alfie (Richard Linnell). James helps Marnie get control of the restaurant "The Hutch" from Tony (Nick Pickard) and Diane Hutchinson (Alex Fletcher). James shamelessly pursues Tony's son, Harry Thompson (Parry Glasspool), who is in a relationship with Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson). James offers Harry £10,000 to sleep with him and Harry accepts. James has a fling with John Paul McQueen (James Sutton), who later gets back together with his ex, Scott Drinkwell ((Ross Adams). James bets his friend, Joanne Cardsley (Rachel Leskovac) £1 that he can break up John Paul and Scott, though it is clear James has actually fallen for John Paul. James wins the bet when he gets John Paul into bed again. James offers to let John Paul move in with him after he is blinded in an accident. However, James becomes convinced he is not good enough for John Paul and revokes the offer.

James confides in John Paul that his father physically abused him when he was child and that his family is completely unaware of it. This leads to John Paul and James finally becoming a proper couple. James considers pressing charges against Mac, but then decides against it. James refuses to tell his family about the abuse, but John Paul tells Nathan anyways and James breaks up with him for betraying his trust. They later get back together and John Paul and his young son, Matthew (Malachy and Connor Birchall), move in with James.

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. James becomes the lawyer of John Paul's rapist, Finn O'Connor (Keith Rice), and successfully messes up his chances of being paroled. 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. The next day, James is devastated when he learns John Paul slept with Ste. To get back at him, James drives John Paul to a cliff side, confronts him about the one-night-stand, lies that he put Ste in the boot, and shoves the car off the cliff. Later on, James is devastated when John Paul's father, Sally St. Claire (Annie Wallace), informs him that John Paul has moved to Singapore.

Ellie is raped by Nick Savage (Ben-Ryan Davies) and James supports her through her ordeal. When Ste is charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Amy Barnes, James agrees to represent him so he can throw the case and get revenge on Ste for sleeping with John Paul. DS Gavin Armstrong (Andrew Hayden-Smith) questions James about his whereabouts the night of Amy's murder and 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. Eventually, Ryan starts to feel that James has taken things too far and tells Ste the truth. Ste threatens to report James, but then James reveals he knows it was Harry who really killed Amy (Harry had shoved Amy and she hit her head). At Harry's urging, James gets the case back on track and Ste is acquitted.

James finally tells Alfie and Ellie about Mac abusing him and is devastated when they refuse to believe him. When Ellie and Marnie walk in on Mac beating James, 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. The Nightingales agree to never speak of what truly happened to keep Ellie from going to prison.

Harry is working as a prostitute after being thrown out by Tony (he had found out about Harry's involvement in Amy's death) 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. Sami Maalik, who has a secret vendetta against James, reports Harry for Amy's murder. James wants Harry to go to trial, but Sami convinces him to plead guilty. Sami also reports James for being Harry's pimp, which results in James getting suspended from his job and his family turning their backs on him.

Sami pays Kyle Kelly to pursue James romantically. However, James is not interested in dating Kyle and only wants him as a lodger. Eventually, Kyle wins James around and they start a relationship. After it is revealed that it was actually Ryan who killed Amy, James dumps Kyle to be with Harry. However, Harry ends up getting back together with Ste and James begs Kyle for a second chance. Kyle drugs James and makes him believe that he beat Kyle in a drunken rage. James fears he is exactly like Mac and finishes with Kyle, but they later reconcile. After Kyle has an MS attack, James tells him he loves him and will care for him. Alfie, 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.

James tries to figure out who is framing him. In a series of flashbacks, details from James's past are revealed. After finding out that James had tried to kiss a male classmate, Mac forced James to sleep with a prostitute named Donna-Marie Quinn (Lucy-Jo Hudson) on his sixteenth birthday to "turn him straight." Many years later, Mac told James he needed £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. James desperately wanted to please his father, so he embezzled the money from the law firm he worked for and framed the firm's accountant, Kashif Maalik (Nitin Patel), for it. James realises Sami is Kashif's son and is framing him for Kyle’s murder as revenge. James attacks Sami and 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 to frame James for his murder. James is released and immediately begins an affair with Harry. Ellie decides to leave town and she and James share an emotional goodbye. James is not happy when a recovered Mac returns to town and even bribes Sylver McQueen (David Tag) to kill him, but he declines. James wants Harry to end his engagement to Ste so they can be together. Harry also wants to be with James, but since his sister, Dee Dee Hutchinson (Lacey Findlow), is severely ill with encephalitis, he feels he has to go through with the wedding to give his family something to be happy about. On the day of the wedding, Harry leaves a message for James telling him he will run away with him; at the same time Romeo tells James he is his son, but James cruelly rejects him. When he hears Harry's message, James rushes to stop the wedding, but Harry and Ste have already married. Later on, Harry tells James that Ste found out about their affair and 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.

When Harry returns to town weeks later, James agrees to give him another chance, but then decides he has to focus on building a relationship with Romeo instead. Romeo encourages James to get back together with Harry and the two reunite. James shares a heartfelt goodbye with Alfie before he leaves for the United States. With Mac up to his usual villainy, James becomes more determined than ever to take his father down. James teams up with Cindy and Marnie to send Mac down for switching Cindy's bipolar medication and stealing her house. Mac blackmails serial killer, Breda McQueen, into murdering James. Breda poisons James, but purposely does not give him enough to kill him and she instead murders Mac. Breda attempts to frame James for Mac's murder, but accidentally frames Romeo when she plants the vial of poison in the wrong jacket. James bribes Donna-Marie to confess to Mac's murder, falsely promising her she will get bail if she does. Donna-Marie is locked up and Romeo is released.


For his portrayal of James, Finnegan earned a nomination for Best Actor at the 2017 British Soap Awards.[32] He was later longlisted for Best Actor and Best Bad Boy at the Inside Soap Awards.[33] He did not progress to the viewer-voted shortlist.[34] Finnegan was nominated for Best Soap Actor (Male) at the 2018 Digital Spy Reader Awards; he came in second place with 12.1% of the total vote.[35] James' pairing with Harry was nominated under the "Best Soap Couple" category; it came in fifth place with 8.9% of the total vote.[35] Additionally, James being framed for murder was nominated under the "Most Bizarre Soap Storyline" category; it came in fifth place with 11.5% of the total vote.[35] Finnegan won the "Best Actor" accolade at the 2019 British Soap Awards.[36]

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."[37] 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.[38] 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…"[39] 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."[40]

A writer from TV Soap said that "whenever James makes an appearance in TV Soap, he's always up to something super-sleazy".[41] Daniel Kilkelly from Digital Spy branded James a "schemer" and that threatening other characters is his usual trick.[42] He later commented that "schemer James" met his match in Warren Fox (Jamie Lomas).[43] Carl Greenwood from the Daily Mirror branded James a "creepy solicitor" and "evil" character.[44] Rhys Matthews writing for Attitude branded him a "shady village newcomer" and opined that James indecent proposal story was "very dark".[45] A What's on TV reporter echoed other critics in calling the character Marnie's "scheming son".[46] Lindsay writing for Metro labelled him "shady James" who had been "hanging around Starry like a bad smell" and proprietor of "underhand developments".[47][48] 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.[49] In September 2016, Kilkelly branded James one of the show's "best new characters" and called Finnegan a "rising star" in the role.[50][51]


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