EastEnders (BBC1, 1985-present)
This is the final soap that I want to review, and I have delayed taking a look back at this one for a while as it’s another really successful show where it’s difficult to know what angle to take. One thing that I suppose I should make clear right away is that EastEnders means a little more to me than most soaps, because it is supposed to be set a fairly short distance from where I actually live in London, and you can just about see it on the map in the famous opening sequence.
The story begins around 1983, when the BBC was still struggling to launch a long-running soap. Around the time the established Coronation Street on ITV was approaching its 25th anniversary, they really wanted something that had a formula to finally achieve that level of success. After a lot of research and planning, EastEnders finally came to the screen in February 1985, originally with two episodes a week. Had they finally got it right?
The show is set in Albert Square in the fictional borough of Walford, and would feature the lives of a few families, with the earliest episodes concentrating on the Beales and the Fowlers, and a few places that they would regularly visit, including, the cafe, the launderette, the fruit and veg stall, and the local pub The Queen Victoria, where they would all have a right old knees-up, or a fight.
Memorable characters from the early days include Den Watts, Ian Beale (who remains there to this day), and dear old Arthur Fowler. Well what he went through, you wouldn’t wish it on anyone, any yet despite it all, he loved that place. It also helped that the show featured some hard-hitting stories in areas that had barely been touched on in British soaps before, the Walford Gazette could barely keep up with it all.
EastEnders was originally shown at 7pm, the same time that Emmerdale Farm was on ITV, following a move to 7:30pm after about six months, this really helped to boost its popularity. About a year after the launch, the show really could be classed as a success, with Radio Times covers, books, and in 1986 Nick “Wicksy” Berry even had a chart-topping single. It was clear that this one was here to stay.
Going into the 90s, episodes were enhanced by the arrival of the Mitchell brothers, two tough nuts who dominated the next decade. The Butchers, the Jacksons, and Nigel Bates were also popular additions. In 1994 the show went to three episodes a week. By the late-90s there was also the spin-off series EastEnders Revealed on BBC Choice that took a look behind the scenes.
In the 2000s, a fourth episode was added, and the stars of this era included the Slaters, the Brannings, and the welcome addition of Shane Richie finding his true calling as a barrowboy. There have now been over 6,000 episodes of EastEnders, including live specials for anniversaries, it has been repeated on various channels in this country and around the world, and who needs a Bafta when you can triumph at the mighty TV Quick awards. I must admit that I don’t watch too regularly nowadays, but you can’t deny its importance in British TV history, you muppet.