The opening bars of the Eastenders theme tune used to have a quite startling effect of our kids when they were younger. They would both yell “Rubbish!” and there would be a mad dash for the remote to switch over to another channel, anything that wasn’t Eastenders.
They had never seen the show and knew nothing about it, but they had picked up this Pavlovian response to this long-running soap from their parents’ reaction. We both hated it.
I remember when the show was launched in 1985 and was billed as an “edgy drama”. We all knew, of course, that it was another attempt by the BBC to find a rival for Coronation Street. Try as I might to like the show, I couldn’t because it was just too depressing.
It was the fault of the characters or the storylines alone. The whole production had this deeply melancholy air about it, a Leonard Cohen record set in mythical Walford, right down to the permanent backing tracking of muffled ghetto blasters that pervaded every scene. We gave up watching before 1986 had dawned.
All this is is to illustrate that I am supremely unqualified to comment on the programme, its characters and storylines, but even I couldn’t help but have an opinion on the latest “furore” to surround the BBC.
From what I can gather, one of the characters has a stillborn baby and in a moment of madness swaps it for the live baby that one of her neighbours has given birth to on the same day. I’m not sure how that worked out, but I’m sure the scriptwriters had a plausible plot.
This has upset an awful lot of people who say that the message is that all women who go through such a personal tragedy become somehow unhinged and are likely to behave equally irrationally.
I can understand that they might empathise with the events, but this was never likely to be a sympathetic or accurate portrayal of loss and grief and they would have been best advised not to watch. But they did and got cross enough to prompt radio phone-ins and reams of newspaper coverage.
Soaps can be very powerful when it comes to everyday issues, but the mundane doesn’t make for good television, so they have to over-dramatise them.
The best example was when Alma in Coronation Street died of cervical cancer after missing a smear test that prompted thousands of worried-well women to rush off to their doctor. They were scared by the rapid onset of the illness and the characters sudden demise, even though this would have taken years in real life.
The producer and writers pat themselves on the back for a social issue covered sensitively and with compassion when what they’re really proud of is the increased ratings. Apologies for being so cynical.
But back to the Eastenders storyline, I heard the Head of Drama being interviewed about it and he rationalised the plot by saying that the character’s reaction had been “atypical”. The people who watch soaps and believe it is their lives being played out on screen, atypical means typical.
Which is just typical.