In the beginning Joe was always the happy member of the Sugden family; after a brief marriage to Christine Sharp in 1974, Joe sought lasting emotional happiness elsewhere, but it always eluded him. One of his most memorable relationships was with his old friend Kathy Gimbel, and they set up home together - which scandalised the village in 1977. As a result, Kathy's father shot himself. In 1979, Joe feuded with nasty farmer Phil Fletcher and during a struggle, Phil accidentally shot himself but tried to blame Joe. The truth outed and Joe was off the hook.
In the 1980s, Joe became very much involved in farming by working for NY Estates in which he gave jobs to his nephew Jackie Merrick and Jackie's half-sister Sandie. In 1982, Joe's new boss was Alan Turner. At first Alan seemed humble but then showed his true colours by blaming Joe for his many mistakes. In May 1982, a crop spraying caused a cattle stampede. Alan blamed Joe for the mess and said he will be keeping a close eye on him from now on. Joe became emotionally involved with vicar's daughter, Barbara Peters, in 1983 but was rejected and, feeling highly depressed, went off to France for three years, working for NY Estates. He came back briefly for his grandfather Sam Pearson's funeral in November 1984.
Upon his return in 1986, Joe became regional manager for NY Estates, beating Alan to the post. Alan was miffed. For weeks, Alan sulked and even told his workforce to come to see him and not Joe, as Alan was still estate manager.
Joe dallied with his brother Jack's ex-girlfriend, Karen Moore in 1986. But once more he was left broken-hearted when she ended their relationship. In 1987, the village faced a nuclear dump proposal battle. Joe helped them win the bettle. That year, Joe started seeing vet Ruth Pennington. When she was being harassed by nasty cowman Mr Bracknell, Joe tried to calm Bracknell down and was punched. Joe and Ruth had an on off relationship, as she was still in love with rich man Liam.
In 1988, Joe and Alan bought Home Farm when NY pulled out at the start of the year. Alan and Joe struggled to pay off the mortgage and even had aces of trees felled to make money. Yet again, Joe fought with his brother Jack, as Jack said the trees belong to Beckindale. Joe said they need to make a sacrifice to keep Home Farm in business. Ruth Pennington returned and said that she has finished with Liam for good and can marry Joe. He moved her into his Demdyke Row house. In July 1988, Joe found that Ruth was still in touch with Liam and he worried that every time she left the house she would be seeing Liam, or making secret phonecalls to him. Joe felt the trust had gone and asked her to leave. She reluctantly did and then she left the village for good.
Crooked businessman Denis Rigg conned Joe and Alan out of Home Farm, just months after they bought the place. In late 1988 he met Kate Hughes who was recently divorced. She had two children, Rachel and Mark, who were in their mid teens. Initially Kate started a feud with Joe after he shot her dog when it was bothering his sheep. Eventually they fell in love and after Kate spent Christmas with the Sugdens, Joe asked her to marry him and she accepted his proposal. They married in April 1989, but it was not easy. Kate's children wanted their mother to get back with their father, David, and Joe was worried that his marriage would not last. In 1981, he had confessed to his brother Jack that sometimes he wished he was still with his first wife, Christine. He thought he could never feel the same about any other woman. In 1989, Joe went back to working at Emmerdale Farm as a farmhand, after Frank Tate bought Home Farm.
As Rachel and Mark grew troublesome, Joe asked Jack's advice on being a stepfather from his own experience with Sandie, his wife Pat's daughter, and Jack told him that it was not easy at first but over time they became as close as if she were his own daughter.
In August 1990, Kate accidentally ran over and killed Pete Whiteley whilst driving Joe's car. She was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and released in January 1991. A few months later, Kate told Joe their marriage was over and she left for her hometown Sheffield in July 1991.
Rachel and Mark had decided to stay in the village after their mother had left, and Joe enjoyed forming a closer relationship with them as he had no children of his own. On 30th December 1993, Joe had a major row with Mark over a vacuum cleaner that needed returning. As a consequence, Mark was at the Whiteley Farm when a large section of an Eastern European Airjet came down, and Mark was crushed to death by a falling wall. The disaster affected Joe directly as well as he was driving his mother, Annie, and her new husband, Leonard Kempinski, to the airport when part of the plane hit his car, forcing him off the road. Leonard was killed and Annie was in a coma for several months but recovered. Joe suffered a broken leg but also made a full recovery.
After Joe found out about Mark's death, he suffered from depression and alcoholism. He never forgave himself for arguing with Mark on the night he died and in August 1994, after being injured at a rave after saving Dave Glover from being run over by a car, was persuaded by Jack and Rachel to go and spend time with Annie in Spain.
The following year in June 1995, news reached Emmerdale that he had died in a car crash. Annie and Amos returned to the village for his funeral. Amos would later remark that one night while enjoying a drink with Joe in Spain, Joe had asked Amos to make sure that if anything was to happen to him that there would be a few free drinks given in The Woolpack after the funeral. Amos thought that this request to him was strange considering that Joe was more likely to outlive him, hinting that Joe's death may not have been an accident.
- Joe is named after his grandfather Joseph Sugden.
- Actor Frazer Hines took a break from the show between 1983 and 1985 to reprise his role in Doctor Who. Frazer returned to the show in 1984 for the funeral of Joe's grandfather Sam Pearson, played by actor Toke Townley who had passed away months previously.
- In 2019, Hines confirmed that he would like to return to the soap as Joe despite his off-screen death.
"She's coming." (First line)
"Just like you, grandad." (To Matt Skilbeck)
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|Annie Sugden | Jack Sugden | Amos Brearly | Joe Sugden | Henry Wilks | Matt Skilbeck | Marian Rosetti | Sam Pearson | Peggy Skilbeck | Pat Sugden | Tom Merrick | Jackie Merrick | Sandie Merrick | Janie Harker | Frank Blakey|