Category: EastEnders


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Well, after the news over the weekend that Executive Produce Sean O’Connor has left EastEnders with immediate effect, I’m sure it’s no surprise that this blog post was going to be focused on Albert Square. Twitter was rejoincing on Friday night as the news broke that O’Connor has delivered his last duff duff. Unpopular is an understatement. As tweets celebrating his departure came thick and fast, feelings of frustration and relief were apparent.

It’s frustrating that O’Connor has been allowed to mess up the show for so long and the damage couldn’t have been prevented sooner (assuming he’s been sacked, if you believe the tabloids). Before he wielded the axe at so many fan favourites and before he ordered the storyliners to create tales focusing solely on the bin schedule. It’s bloody annoying that, in the last few months, nothing has happened.  Each night I settle down to an episode, knowing that by the end I won’t have anything to report. Gone are the excited whatsapp conversations to friends that populated DTC’s era. Now it’s just ‘Don’t bother watching if you’re busy. Stacey put the bins out. Sharon’s hair was nice.’

I’ve been patiently sticking with the show, convincing myself that O’connor’s vision will soon kick into gear and the slow episodes would just be side-effects of the producer change over. But after reading Friday’s press release I realised he’s been in post for a whole bloody year! Although his stories have been nothing short of awful I was looking forward to the ‘big summer story’ and hoped that the tosh we were seeing on screen was just a slow build up to something great. It’s frustrating that we probably won’t see that big reveal now that O’connor has gone. I’ve been willing to give his new characters a change – such as the Taylor family and Ted and Joyce Murray – as they haven’t really been given much to work with. Each of O’connor’s new characters seemed to pop up in an introductory couple of episodes and then disappear into the background. If the new producer gives them some decent material then they should be given a chance.

But, obviously, it’s a relief that this reign of drivel is, hopefully, over. What the show now needs is a producer of DTC’s ilk, who respects the show, understands the history and knows what the viewers want. Here’s what I think the show needs:

  • Give us answers! – Max lingering moodily in the background, ‘The Chairman’ dropping enigmatic promises, Ted Murray holding a gun then stuffing it in a cupboard for six weeks….we don’t need any more teasers! It’s no longer exciting, it’s just frustrating and annoying. Just tell us what’s going on!
  • Keep Whitney away from Mick – We all know Mick and Linda are a solid couple and would never stray from each other. So Mick mooning over daughter-in-law Whitney just doesn’t wash. A Mickney affair would just be awful so the new EP’s best plan is to get her out of the Vic. Why not move her in with Lauren?
  • Bring back Babe – One of DTC’s best inventions played by the fabulous Annette Badland. Walford needs a good Villain. Bring her back!
  • Fix Kim and Denise – One of the most frustrating things O’Connor did was have Kim and D’s mum hurriedly tell them they’re not actually sisters before disappearing into a cab. The ‘sisters’ spent an episode moping about this revelation and then it was never mentioned again. WTF. A decision like this could be forgiven if it was for the sake of storytelling but, literally, nothing happened afterwards! On the subject of the Fox-Hubbards, the EP needs to use Patrick more. Bringing back Claudette might put a smile on his face and could also lure Vincent out of the house and into some storylines!
  • Bring back Pam and Les – I loved these two and, even if they can’t come back permanently, it would be great to have them recurring.
  • Integrate the new characters – Again, the Murrays and the Taylors have arrived on the square and locked themselves away. If there’s any chance of them being successful, they need to start building relationships on the Square.
  • Kathy – She’s had a quiet few months and, as a character with such a rich history, she needs a decent storyline. Give Ian a bit of break though. I’m fed up of him salivating over doughnuts.
  • Fix Steven Beale – He’s sticking round for another year and he’s an interesting character. He deserves more than looking after Lauren’s child and never leaving the Beale sofa. My advice – Have him leave Lauren and start to make friends on the Square.
  • Sharon and Michelle – A strong friendship with a lot of history. These two have been hilarious in some episodes and it would be good to see more of that. Throw Linda into the mix too and we could have a new ‘book club’ situation.
  • And finally – Bring back Ronnie and Roxy – I don’t care that they’re dead. I don’t care how ridiculous the storyline is. I’m willing to suspend all realism and accept a storyline that sees them being restored to life on Halloween during a séance with Dot and Jack. I’ll forgive it all, just bring back R&R!

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You know I love EastEnders. I’ve had a run for at least four years where I haven’t missed an episode. In the days of the Lucy Beale Saga I was even known to watch episodes twice in case I’d missed anything. Bordering on pathetic, I know, but this heart only beats for one soap and that’s Easties.

However, those days of double viewings are long gone. Since the autumn, it’s hurts me to say, EastEnders has been a disappointment, with the only bit of real excitement being the soon-forgotten bus crash. Gone are the firecracker episodes of recent years (the live episode, Sharon and Phil’s wedding, all the Carter chaos, Claw-dette and the aftermath of Paul’s death to list just a few), instead we’re left with pathetic, half-arsed sighs of episodes, like the writers have actually just given up. Lazy writing, boring storylines and character personality swaps – here’s just handful of reasons I think EastEnders is going wrong!

  • Ronnie and Roxy – I’ve already written about this but still….What the HELL?! Four months later and I’m still not over it. Two of the most iconic characters played by very skilled actresses bumped off in a very (ahem) damp storyline. Ronnie and Roxy deserved so much more than a hastily written exit clearly fashioned to grab cheap ratings. Please, EastEnders, let it all be a dream and just bring them back!
  • Mass Character Culling – it’s not just R&R who have been victims of an over-hasty axing. It seems to be the strongest characters who have left suddenly over the past few months. First, Pam and Les, a couple representing everyday folk, suddenly shoved in a taxi and sent off to Worthing. Then there was Claudette, a fiery matriarch with so many secrets yet to be uncovered. She had one hissy fit with Patrick and disappeared into the night. And don’t even get me started on Babe, who gave her finest performance yet in her last episodes. (I think I’m going to start cursing people too). That’s before we even mention Lee and Belinda! Jeez, Easties, get a grip!
  • Boring newbies – I’m talking about the teens. Stereotypical and dull. Teenagers don’t talk like that. It makes me cringe every time. Stop it, EastEnders. Stop it now.
  • Pointless returns – I am all for a return, especially if it’s an unusual one, such as Yolande or Derek, but what I don’t like is characters who are brought back for no reason. Yolande hovered about for a couple of minutes before disappearing back into the ether. WTF. In previous years we’ve had some fantastic surprise returns (remember Anthony when Patrick had a stroke? Rainie Cross revealing a secret bunk up with Ian? Morgan and Tiff for Whitney’s wedding? Not to mention Kathy. KATHY!) all of which have had a purpose and been really effective
  • Dull storylines – One word. Bins. Need I say anymore?
  • Mick and Whitney – The whole ‘will they, won’t they’ thing with Whit and Mick has been ridiculous. We all know Mick would never cheat on Linda, they’re the most solid couple on square. Stop trying to force this one on us, scriptwriters, it’s not working.
  • Ben and Johnny – Oh I could write a whole post about this one! Ben and Johnny have been mates for years, barely a hint at romance. In fact, years ago, when Johnny had a different face, he rejected Ben and that has sort of been the basis of their friendship since. Until last week when all the other characters suddenly and fleetingly decided they were ‘meant for each other’ (and kept repeating it throughout the episode just to really shove it down our throats). Of course, by the end of the episode they were in bed together. Because, of course, gay men can’t be friends, they always end up shagging their mates. *massive eye roll*
  • Pointless, slapdash storylines – the bus crash – no aftermath. Ronnie and Roxy’s deaths – pitiful aftermath. Johnny and Ben sleep together – agree to be friends again at the beginning of the next episode. Denise’s mum casually reveals she was adopted as she’s getting in a car to leave – barely mentioned again. On times it feels like the story threads have been planned by a hyper-active cocker spaniel. There such a lack of direction or continuity that it makes you think this new producer hates the show and is sabotaging it from the inside….
  • Michelle – It was very brave of producers to recast Michelle, and to an extent it has worked. It’s been good to see the Fowlers branch out a bit and perhaps, if a return of Vicky or Mark Junior was in the works, Michelle might stand a bit more chance of succeeding. So far her constant moaning and references to ‘the way mum use to’ do things is getting on my nerves. Though I must admit her special episode with Sharon was fabulous, full of witty, emotive dialogue. My advice – get rid of Preston, stick her with Sharon and bring in some of her kids. Oh, and let her carry on teaching.
  • Dreadful writing – I remember the days when the writing used to fizz and pop. With the exception of a handful of episodes, the writing this year has been pretty bland. Being able to guess what a character is going to say word for word is not a sign of good writing, and that seems to be happening a lot. We’re suddenly being subjected to a barrage of stock-phrases (‘poor kid’, ‘who does something like that?’, ‘Is this some kind of sick joke?’ *shudders*). Another hint that the writers have just given up.

There was a time when, if you’d have said I’d be writing such a negative blog about my beloved EastEnders, I’d have told you to sling yer ‘ook and get outta ma pub. I’ve tried so hard over the last few months to ignore the building negativity but I just can’t handle it anymore! This week has been billed as ‘explosive’ with the reveal of Michelle and Preston’s forbidden relationship and a rumoured disaster. I’m pinning all my hopes on it living up to the hype, with some powerful performances and possibly some surprises in store, because if it’s another disappointment, I might be giving Easties the duff duffs.

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The Mitchells. Synonymous with Albert Square and utterly unconquerable. Fearless, loyal and unafraid to meddle with the wrong side of the law. They are the ultimate soap family and nothing can beat them. Or so we thought.

In 2007, the Mitchells were rejuvenated thanks to the arrival of Ronnie (Samantha Womack) and Roxy (Rita Simons). Cousins to Phil and Grant, the Mitchell sisters shook up the square in new ways the infamous Mitchell brothers couldn’t. Roxy was a feisty party animal who caused trouble wherever she went, but it was her icy older sister Ronnie who became an iconic character.

One my favourite storylines was Ronnie’s secret daughter. Little information was released about the story beforehand so it packed more punch as it unfolded on screen. I was genuinely moved when Danielle died in Ronnie’s arms and I think Sam Womack’s performance was one of the best the show has ever seen.  She proved this wasn’t just a one off when Ronnie tragically lost her second child on New Years Eve and swapped her baby with Kat’s. Although this wasn’t the most plausible storyline, Womack portrayed it with every ounce of truth and watching her subsequent breakdown was captivating. Image result for ronnie roxy

Then there was the New Year’s Day 2015 car crash which saw Ronnie almost die and spend the next six months in a coma. It seems every time Ronnie gets a chance at happiness something tragically takes that chance from her.

But Ronnie’s most tragic scenes aired on New Year’s Day 2017. After an almost sickeningly blissful wedding to Jack, several heart-warming moments with her sister, Roxy, and the first moment of true motherly love from Glenda, Ronnie tragically drowned.

For this little Mitchell fan, this was an act of cruelty too far. Ronnie has been through everything – the loss of a child, heartbreak, rape, blackmail – and now, on the happiest day of her life, she drowns next to her sister, in a swimming pool. A swimming pool! After everything she’s conquered she is beaten by a big puddle. To me, she is a character deserving of a much better exit. Although visually, the episode was really well made with some beautiful imagery, what really shone through was the writers/producer’s dislike of the character. I understand that a new producer wants to put his stamp on a show, but killing off an iconic character steeped in history seems to me to be a huge mistake. Surely, it would have been more forward-thinking to send R&R packing back to Ibiza for a few years so we can have them back one day.  But instead, we were given ten minutes of gruelling scenes, starting with Ronnie balancing precariously on the roof of the wedding venue, the writers taunting the audience over her impending death. Then, we have to watch Ronnie suffer one last tragedy – the death of her sister, the person who means the most to her. As Ronnie dives in to try to rescue Roxy, her wedding dress prevents her from resurfacing (I know!). The harrowing underwater screams and flailing had me watching through my fingers and, although millions raved about the ‘twist’, was it really that entertaining? Was it worth the years of entertainment from these characters we have lost?

At risk of sounding like a misery, I’m going to say a big fat no. It wasn’t worth it. Killing off Ronnie was a huge error by the producers (die-hard fans have learned this lesson from Kathy and Pat) and a decision they’ll definitely regret in years to come. Ronnie was beautifully flawed and a real tragically heroine. She was a character that had grown a lot over her ten year stay in the square, but she certainly had plenty of stories left to tell. It’s worth mentioning that we’ve also lost the fabulous Glenda, who will have no reason to return to the Square once her daughters are buried. There’s also little chance of seeing the mysterious Andy again and it feels like the whole Danielle/Archie era, one of the strongest in the shows history, will now be forgotten.

Instead we get to see Jack suffer the trauma of burying his wife whilst the other characters in the Square barely recognise R&R are gone. Judging by the poor reaction from around the Square, the new producers couldn’t wait to get rid, and in a few weeks time, it will be like Ronnie and her sister never stepped out of that taxi in 2007. What an injustice to two of Walford’s leading ladies.

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‘Oh, Christ. I’ve got to write a blog post about this horrendous year!’

I sat down at the laptop. Brexit. Trump. Celebrity deaths. The end of the Bake Off as we know it. Where on earth do I start?

Well…actually….I’d like to focus on the positives. Not just because doing otherwise would mean typing up a mammoth post that my wrists just can’t handle, but because somewhere in the embers of 2016, amongst all the ash, are a couple of gems.

I have to keep reminding myself that, for me, it’s been an awesome year. Yes, I may have been clutching for the mojitos and chocolate and spending too much time buried in a duvet by the time Christmas hit, but we can’t let the horrors of 2016 impinge on the good stuff.

First of all, there’s my job. Alright, I’m aware this is becoming a bit of a catchphrase of mine but, I do really love my job, and 2016 was the year I was entrusted with my own class. Every morning I wake up and get to spend time with hilarious, caring and happy people. What a gift!

2016 has also fuelled my favourite hobby – theatre. I’d gone through a very dry patch where theatre was concerned, until March when I discovered some real gems at Theatre Clwyd….and the obsession with theatre tickets began. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Little Shop of Horrors, Joseph, Be My Baby, Cyrano de Bergerac, RENT….just some of the awesome shows I’ve been lucky to see this year. Then, of course, there was the big one – London. I’m still recovering from the brilliance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Southwark Playhouse and I don’t think I’ll ever get over that conversation with Freddie Fox. (I say ‘conversation’. I did a lot of nodding.) I also (accidentally) went to my first Pride festival whilst in London. A celebration of diversity, unity and love. The perfect antidote to 2016.

In September I also took the leap and joined another local theatre group, something which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. After a few nights of volunteering I was really taken aback by the warmth and friendliness of the place. I’m definitely hoping 2017 brings more of that.

We’ve also got to remember the laughs. In 2016, I nearly got my hand glued to a tortoise, watched my friend face-plant the gym floor, giggled through a very serious game of bingo with my colleagues and sang the national anthem in a rural welsh pub whilst my friend tried to flick maltesars into my mouth. Mix in being chatted up by a Cliff Richard look-a-like, some awful Karaoke and the quest for the perfect Celine Dion impression and you’ve got plenty to smile about! I know, 2016 was pretty awful in a lot of ways, but none of it can be changed now. When I look back, I’m going to try and remember that year for its laughs, its nights out, its nights in, the friends, the fun and that important turning point in my career. *raises a glass of wine* and now to 2017, a new year, let’s hope it’s a happy one…..

…….*watches EastEnders*…..

Oh for Christ’s sake.

OK….I’m sure some of you will have predicted this….but I need to talk about EastEnders.

It’s been a hard week. After relatively smooth sailing since Peggy died, we were hit with a big shock on Monday when dead-Ben was in fact revealed to be dead-Paul. I’d anticipated this reveal for a while, but, like Pam, I chose not to accept it. In my head, I’d envisioned him jetting off around the World or leaving for a new life with Jenny. But on Monday night, those visions were shattered as we were delivered the gruesome duff-duff of Paul in the mortuary.

[Disclaimer: Don’t fear for my mental health. I am aware that this is all totally fictional, but for someone who watches regularly, it’s hard not to be affected by last week’s scenes. Here’s why….]

I’ve always been a fan of the Cokers. For two years they’ve been a source of normality within the Square, amongst all the drama from the Carters and the Mitchells and the Beales. The Cokers are not about sensationalism, their storylines are subtle and low-key. (which is one of the reasons why their grief seems so much more real and natural). It’s lovely to have a couple who have so much history and love for each other. (I’ve written about them before – see ‘Kudos to the Cokers’ for more Coker-praise.) And when their grandson Paul arrived, it triggered a fresh new dynamic for the show. The grandparent-grandson set up was interesting to see amidst the more traditional family s
tructures, and Paul’s strong relationship with Pam and Les provided many touching moments. (Giving Claudette a piece of his mind, sharing his suspicions with Pam and supporting Les when the truth about Christine came out.)
But in the last few weeks, things have turned sinister for
our favourite undertakers. First we’ve had the brilliant but wicked Aunt Babe threatening to expose Les’ secret and then Paul’s real mum rocks up and reveals Pam hasn’t been entirely truthful about her departure all along. It looked like we were in for a week of revelations and drama. The simmering tension over Jenny’s arrival had culminated in Pam finally deciding to come clean to Paul (after he’d been unknowingly harsh his mum, thinking she was Les’ blackmailer). It was clear that things were about to get messy for the Cokers, but as an audience, we needed Pam to bite the bullet, tear off the plaster and tell Paul the truth, so that we could go back to hunky-dory-Coker normality – dancing in the launderette and giggling on the flower stall, that sort of stuff.

Then, tragedy. After a night out with Ben, Paul was attacked by a homophobic gang and murdered.

Although, as a result, we’ve had some fantastic television and truly moving scenes, it’s all just so…cruel! Paul was always the figure of support and reason to Ben, so his death, due partly to Ben’s hot-headness, is twist that makes the blood run cold. Harry Reid has put in excellent performances this week as the guilt and shock begins to eat away at Ben, but did it really need to happen? The idea of a sturdy, comfortable gay couple living on the Square was so appealing and Paul and Ben (Pen? Baul?) were the closest we’ve had to that since Chryed. Paul was a refreshingly confident gay character who broke the stereotypes. Paul had brought Ben a long way. He’d helped him deal with his feelings and issues and supported him through his break-up with Abi. He’d been there for Ben when Phil publicly showed his disapproval and things were finally beginning to settle down for them. For a fleeting moment it looked like they might have been…well….happy!  But, I suppose that’s not really Albert Square’s style.

There’s also the matter of Jenny. Paul will now never know the truth about his mother’s departure and lived his whole life thinking she didn’t want him. Isn’t that an awful thought? He died thinking his mother didn’t want him. Not only that, but his death was so sudden. In Friday’s episode he was happily heading out with Ben and by Monday he was a gonner. The fact this all happened off-screen is even more grim as we can only imagine the trauma Paul went through and the fear he felt.

Watching Pam deny the news of Paul’s death was heart-breaking, especially as she remained focused on Les’ health, whilst he kept it together for Pam’s sake, breaking down only when Pam was out of sight – remaining true to what we know about Les bottling things up to be strong for his wife. The scene where Pam and Les return home, Pam silently heading to Paul’s room clutching one of his jackets whilst Les pours away the tea Paul never got to drink, is so poignant and subtle but packs in just as much tension and drama as a Queen Vic fire episode.

What’s most heart-breaking is that none of the Cokers deserve this. When a soap character dies, there’s usually some reasoning behind it. Their previous actions usually justify it somehow which takes the edge off it – it comforts us to find some justification. But there’s none of that for Paul. He was innocent. Loyal, caring and with a fully-working conscience. (As Les said tonight, ‘Hate crime? Who could hate Paul?’). Pam and Les have also kept themselves out of trouble, being the average community members that they are, so it’s tough to see them going through so much trauma. Add to that the knowledge of the pain they have already suffered – losing their son Laurie, suspecting Paul of blaming them, the recent blackmail from Aunt Babe – and their grief makes for almost unbearable viewing. In this instance there is no justification, which I suppose is the writers point. Chillingly, hate crime like this happens all the time to people just like Paul. People are killed because of who they love, who they worship and who they follow, as Twitter confirms every day. This wasn’t just an average soap death, it carried a painful but important message, which makes it even harder to accept.

It would have been great to see Paul get a storyline of his own, away from Ben and his grandparents. Perhaps make some other links on the Square and become a long-term character. Jonny Labey has done an excellent job in his performances but it would have been interesting to have seen a bit more to Paul before he was bumped off.

The last time I wrote about the Cokers, I talked about how Christine’s storyline seemed to come out of the blue from this normal little family, but had such an impact. Well, they’ve done it again. In the aftermath of the huge, sensational storylines like Peggy’s death and Bobby’s imprisonment, the Cokers have surprised us with a humble story of grief and injustice that has been just as powerful. Storylines rarely have such an impact but the cruelty of Paul’s death has left viewers distraught and emotionally drained. (See Pam’s note to Paul/Les’ kitchen sink breakdown/Pam’s breakdown to Belinda/Pam’s speech in the Vic etc. *sob*) Soaps need characters like the Cokers and I hope that they’re around for a long time (I said that in my last Coker-post, and now we’re one down!), and, though I’m sure Lin Blakley and Roger Sloman will be superb, seeing Les and Pam attempt to cope over the next few weeks is not going to make for easy viewing.

This last week has been a bit of a treat. For long-term viewers of EastEnders, these last few episodes have been an absolute gift.We’ve had comedy – with Belinda’s brilliant one-liners and toilet-gate – and we’ve had the emotional departure of a Walford legend, but most importantly, we’ve had history.

The last few episodes have given us a slice of Classic EastEnders, with many references to the past. It’s been a real treat to watch.

It all kicked off with the trader’s fight to save the market, showing us that EastEnders is all about community. Ian’s decision not to sell the restaurant was a huge relief, but perhaps one he’s going to regret when his psycho son finds out…

We’ve also had three big returns this week. Returns are what DTC does best and his final episodes as Executive Producer were always going to be spectacular. We’ve known since January that Peggy’s return was going to be her last, but that didn’t make it easy viewing. Seeing a defeated Peggy, so far from the feisty pocket-rocket we’re so used to seeing, was heart-breaking, but her brief return has given us a bank of classic moments. Her reunions with Phil, Ronnie, Ben and Roxy have all been emotional to watch – especially as many of them have remained in the dark over her ill health. Her final storyline also paved the way for a much needed return from Grant. Sharon, Kathy and Shirley discussing their run-ins with ‘old Ma Mitchell’ was brilliant, balanced well with those emotional boat scenes with Phil and Peggy. Long-term fans have waited for these scenes and they certainly did not disappoint. Another thing DTC is good at is being good to the fans, and this week he has spoilt us.

But it was tonight’s extra special episode that tied the week up beautifully. Starting with a classic Mitchell bust-up, the episode melted into a touching finale full of subtle hark-backs. Sharon and Grant in the same room together after all these years – amazing. And with that chemistry, it’s obvious they’ll be getting it on again in no time. Peggy’s last trip to the pub – those scenes with Whitney, Shirley and Linda – was extra special and beautifully shot. It was clear that, although she was in great pain, there were still flashes of the old Peggy there (‘Grant put your backside down there on that barrel or so help me!’), which was great to see. I’m glad Peggy made her peace with Sharon. Both women have been through a lot thanks to the Mitchell brothers and it was great to see that moment of respect and solidarity.

But the most fitting moment came as Peggy prepared to end her own life. Sitting in her kitchen, the moment we’ve been waiting for was delivered with four spine-tingling words.

‘Are you alright, girl?’

A brave decision to bring back Pat, but the perfect send off to one of Walford’s best double acts. Pat and Peggy in the ice cream van is one of my favourite scenes so it was lovely to see that mentioned again. Reminiscing over old times as Peggy dressed herself up ‘like a Queen’, it was hard for any viewer not to feel a bit damp around the eyes. It was good to see Pat back.

Barbara Windsor has been incredible this last week. In just a few episodes she has reminded us of the power of Peggy and showed us exactly how much Peggy will be missed. Whilst there are a few other things I would have liked so see Peggy do – show Claudette who’s boss, give her blessing to Ben and Paul, and give us one last ‘get out of my pub!’ – Peggy’s goodbye was beautifully written, a true slice of classic EastEnders and a fitting tribute to a Walford icon.

 

It’s no secret – I bloody love EastEnders. I could quite happily write a full thesis on my love for this programme, but I will try to condense it to a few hundred words.

Murder, deceit, cockneys. What’s not to love?

My love for EE goes way back. I remember crying as a child when Tiffany died outside the Vic, watching in horror as Dennis was stabbed and the goosebumps as Danielle died in Ronnie’s arms. (Am I showing my morbid side? It’s not just about the deaths….honest.)

I can understand these characters. I don’t know what it is but I find them so real and relatable. Far more than any other soap. (In fact, I only watch EE.) For me, this is the programme that delivers the hard hitting, true to life stories. The stories that get people talking in work, on the street and across all media platforms. It’s true, a few years ago the Square took a bit of a dive and lost its direction. I’m proud to say I stuck with it through these dark times and in the autumn of 2013 things began to pay off. I think the clouds first parted when Queen Ronnie stepped out of the nick. For me, that was the moment EastEnders got it’s groove back.

Of course, it was all down to Dominic Treadwell Collins taking over the helm. DTC has done an amazing job. His passion for the show fizzes through the screen. It’s in the writing….the performances….the whole look of the show! He’s given us bold stories such as Patrick’s stroke, Cora’s homelessness, Jonny Carter’s coming out storyline, Linda’s rape and Sharon and Phil’s wedding shoot-out. Not to mention the juggernaut that is the Murder of Lucy Beale. DTC is a genius, bringing new life to characters and bringing the Square’s history back to the forefront of the show. The character of Jane Beale, for example, wandered mindlessly around the Square for years before she finally departed, having seemingly run out of steam. With the Lucy Beale storyline, DTC has given Jane a new lease of life, as well as providing Laurie Brett the chance to flex those acting muscles. Laurie isn’t the only one. Each cast member has had their chance to shine. There are no favourites. They all have their moments. Another act of brilliance from DTC.

Easties also introduced something special which has given the show a new edge – the surprise return. I was totally bowled over when Jane made a surprise appearance two years ago. Since then we’ve had many a shock come back (Honey, Anthony, Rainie and, more recently, Lucas!). These returns aren’t sensationalised and gratuitous. It’s always the right time for the character to appear – DTC knows what he’s doing. We couldn’t discuss comebacks without talking about the mother of all returns – Kathy Beale. DTC certainly wins the Biggest Balls award for bringing back a legendary character that had been ‘dead’ for years. Things could have easily gone wrong and, although Kathy has seemed to settle back into the Square rather quickly, her return was believable and handled with care.

It’s not just the returns that DTC is good at. He’s also introduced some potentially legendary characters. I should start with the Carters, who have been a breath of fresh air in the Queen Vic. The Square needed a solid family unit and Mick and Linda are the perfect pair to run our favourite fictional public house. My favourite Carter has to be Aunt Babe. Cuddly and harmless on the outside, manipulative and cruel on the inside. Fantastic. I’ve been pretty vocal about my love for the Cokers (long may they stay) but I also think Vincent, Claudette, Kush and Carmel have made wonderfully interesting additions to the cast.

The writing supersedes any other soap. It’s real. You can tell from the Live Week episodes that the writers work tirelessly to produce top quality scripts. They know the characters inside out and they believe in what they are writing. If I could capture a fraction of that in my own writing, I’d be very happy.

For me, it’s not just about the big stories. EastEnders constantly delivers heartfelt, poignant moments – from Christine’s introduction to FatBoy’s tragic demise. What makes the show truly enjoyable to watch is that it’s clear everyone involved loves being a part of it. Producers, writers, actors, crew….they all care about the Square!

Just as the excitement of Christmas and New Year has died down (on par with New Year’s Day 2015 – I am still in shock over that car crash), we’ve been dealt an emotional week that’s included Stacey teetering on the Queen Vic roof, Kat finding out she has a secret son and a tearful goodbye to Charlie Slater.. (Can we all just applaud Derek Martin, please?)

So, yes. My love for Easties is strong and DTC certainly has a spot reserved on my Shelf of Writing Heroes. Based on this week alone, I think 2016 will be a fantastic year for the Square, and I will certainly be watching. Always.

 

EastEnders has always been very special to me. When people ask me if I like it, I say ‘No. I live it.’ For me, EastEnders is a life choice. It’s the only soap I can watch and I think of these characters like real people that I visit four nights a week. (Wednesdays are so depressing).

But enough about my love for Albert Square. This week I want to talk about something deeply moving that has come somewhat out of the blue. Amongst the high-profile storylines like Kathy’s Return, the Linda/Dean Saga and the juggernaut that is the Lucy Beale Story, something modest and almost unnoticed has blossomed into a powerful piece of drama.

I am, of course, talking about Christine.

Dominic Treadwell Collins brought EastEnders back from the brink of death by injecting a mix of believable, edge-of-seat storylines and well-crafted characters. I was a fan from the moment the Cokers arrived. It was lovely to have a ‘normal’ (whatever that is), happy couple on the square. Whilst Lin Blakley (Pam) proved her talent at the emotional stuff when it was revealed Pam had helped her son to die, I was guilty of thinking Roger Sloman (Les) was more of a comedy actor. His gurning and over the top pronunciation painted Les as a loveable misery-guts who perhaps wouldn’t be out of place in a Carry On film. Then Paul arrived and the dream team was complete. It’s great to see the grandparents-grandson dynamic on screen, having been part of that family set up myself. Although I still think we need to see more from Paul, Jonny Labey has created a loyal and confident character, who isn’t without his faults, and who has a strong, protective relationship with his grandparents, particularly Pam.

So, for months, we’ve been speculating over Les’ supposed affair with Claudette (another fantastic character introduced by DTC) and last Monday Les finally revealed to a gobsmacked Pam that he had an alter-ego called Christine. Now, I had my suspicions for a few weeks that Les was cross-dressing (I’m an EastEnders expert – not much gets past me) and I must admit I was worried. After Les’ previous comedy scenes I was worried that the storyline might mock Les and his situation. Thankfully this didn’t happen.

Instead, we got a beautifully written and sensitively performed piece of drama. The focus has been less on what Les is wearing and more on the fact he has kept it a secret for so long. Friday’s scenes were extremely powerful. I found myself wanting to skip through all the Kathy and Ben stuff (even though they have been brilliant) to get back to the Coker’s kitchen table. I felt the same butterflies as Pam as she waited to meet Christine and when she finally made an appearance I was touched by Christine’s fragility. The moment Paul walked in was truly shocking, as the scene beforehand was so engrossing the sound of the front door opening provoked a genuine flutter of panic.

What EastEnders has done is incredible. Les doesn’t want to be a woman. He isn’t transgender and he isn’t gay – he is still utterly in love with Pam. For Les, Christine is a coping mechanism. He spends his days suppressing emotion and acting in the conventional and socially acceptable male way. For Les, Christine is his chance to express his emotions. She is simply another part of Les. EastEnders are giving us a highly believable and modern storyline. I know lots of men who feel pressurised to be that archetypal male. I’ve felt that pressure myself (remember cardigan-gate?). When Les explained that he needed to be feminine in order to express his emotion I completely understood. Les has become a victim of the pressures of society that many of us feel and feels that crying or grieving would betray his masculinity, therefore he has to appear female in order to do those things. I also think that it’s refreshing that EastEnders have chosen to give this story to an older character. I know a few people who would think that only the younger generation experience this sort of crisis, and would proudly say ‘Oh, you never saw this when I was younger!’. Well, they’re wrong. And stupid.

Lin Blakley has been magnificent as Pam has tried to come to terms with no longer knowing the man she loves, whilst Roger Sloman has surprised us with a moving performance as Les and Christine. I hope he gets the recognition he deserves. I’m sure this storyline will continue along a sensitive and realistic path. As much as I understand Pam’s frustration, I really want to see Pam and Les patch up their problems. Pam is a force of support within the Square and I’d love to see her support her husband. I want to see more of Christine and I don’t want to see her used as a figure of ridicule (hmm….not happy with you, Eamonn Holmes).

Whatever happens, I hope the Cokers, all four of them, are around for a very long time.