It’s impossible to have failed to notice that EastEnders is about to turn thirty. It’s unbelievable! I remember being a kid and watching the trailers for a new BBC series that was about to hit our screens in which a host of characters introduced themselves and their families. At the time I was too young to understand what was happening, but looking back it’s very obvious that hopes were high that this soap was going to be something huge – and it was! Thirty years on, EastEnders is still going strong but it’s so surreal to think that there are people under thirty who will never have known a time when EastEnders wasn’t on the box.
When the Cockney soap, which is set in the fictitious London borough of Walford, was first screened, it was only shown twice a week: on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30. As the show gained in popularity, I began to look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays which became known as EastEnders days, and felt quite bored on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – which became known as Wogan days – because there wasn’t anything worth watching. Unless Terry Wogan had some interesting guests on!
In the early days, EastEnders centred primarily around three families: the Beales, the Fowlers, and the Watts. It was only when the character of Dot Cotton was introduced several months later, did the Cotton family become another well-known family in the Square – although many would say that it was for all the wrong reasons!
Over the years, EastEnders went through periods where it was gripping, unmissable stuff to times where I’d rather have a nap than tune in to what was happing in Walford. In fact from early 2011, I pretty much stopped watching the soap – something I never thought would happen. It was a combination of ridiculous storylines, dull characters, and awful actors that just made me want to switch off. And I know that I wasn’t the only one who felt that EastEnders had lost the plot. But I have to say that in recent months, the show’s gotten to be very interesting again, and it takes me back to the days when EastEnders was nothing less than brilliant. But whether I tuned in regularly or not, one thing was for sure – that missing the Christmas Day episode of EastEnders was not an option! It has been a family tradition for so long, and it doesn’t matter what we’d be doing but everything stopped as soon as we heard the familiar opening bars of the EastEnders theme tune. My Aunt and Uncle have been having huge Christmas bashes at their house for years but as soon as it was time for EastEnders, everyone would huddle in their front room; it was an episode not to be missed.
The dominant storyline right now in EastEnders is the murder of Lucy Beale whose killer is going to be unmasked during the week of live episodes – and we cannot wait. It’s absolutely exciting stuff and I’m so glad that EastEnders is back on form. So to celebrate this momentous occasion there’s going to be a host of EastEnders-inspired blog posts honouring this legendary soap and having us skipping down memory lane. In this post, we’ll look at thirty factors that make EastEnders what it is…
1. THE QUEEN VIC
The Queen Victoria public house is the hub of Walford and was named after er, Queen Victoria. It’s where the locals meet and have a night out. And if any of the residents are having a wedding, funeral wake or christening, you can be sure that they’ll hold their event at The Vic. And let’s not forget it’s also been the venue for many a showdown, bust-up and shocking revelation!
When EastEnders first began, The Queen Vic was home to the Watts family. Since then it’s been owned by the Mitchells, the Butchers, and run by Kat and Alfie. Nowadays it’s very much the domain of the Carters.
2. THE LAUNDERETTE
It appears that no one in Walford actually owns a washing machine, so they’re always popping into the laundrette with bags of laundry, keeping Dot busy with service washes. It’s also quite bizarrely something of a meeting point and quite a few argy-bargies have taken place there. A bit like the Vic but without the drinks!
Dot has always worked in the laundrette and she used to work there with Pauline Fowler. However the often-mention Mr.Papadopolous, the laundrette’s owner whose name cannot be pronounced by Dot, rarely appears on screen.
3. THE CAFE
It was first owned by Sue and Ali Osman, a couple who made Den and Angie look like Terry and June. It was later taken over by Kathy Beale who thought that Walford needed something a little upmarket and transformed the day-time café into a late-night bistro. But I don’t think the locals were fooled – it was still the café! Today it’s owned by Walford’s answer to Alan Sugar, Ian Beale. It’s the place where everyone meets, especially when they have private matters to discuss, because let’s face it, there’s not much chance of anyone overhearing your conversation in the café!
4. THE FRUIT AND VEG STALL
It may just be a humble fruit and veg stall but it’s been a part of EastEnders from the very beginning and you just can’t imagine Walford without it. The fruit and veg stall has been in the Beale family for years. Viewers first saw it run by Pete Beale with help from his then wife Kathy and son Ian. After his death, the stall was run by Pete’s nephew Mark Fowler for years, and it’s currently Pete’s grandson Peter who now works the stall. Although most of us tend to visit the supermarkets for our five a day, the Walford locals won’t think of going anywhere else for fresh fruit and veggies.
Who’d have thought the stall could be a nice little earner?
5. THE MARKET
I remember when Angie Watts used to head ‘up west’ on many of her numerous shopping expeditions despite having a market on her doorstep. These days, the market seems to be the only place the locals will shop. They buy just about everything there including outfits for a night out. And many of the Square’s residents have been market traders at one time or another including Sanjay and Gita Kapoor, Bianca Jackson, Stacey Branning, Zoe Slater, Kat Moon and Ronnie Mitchell’s long-lost daughter Dannielle.
And who could forget slimy market inspector Richard ‘Tricky Dicky’ Cole? A corrupt lothario, Richard was more concerned with trying to get into the pants of the female population of Walford than the stall holders selling them! And when he wasn’t on the look-out for new conquests, he wasn’t averse to taking a few backhanders from stall-holders. Of the monetary variety of course but there were a few times he got himself a well-deserved slap!
6. THE CAR LOT
Even though it’s now owned by Max Branning and was previously run by David Wicks and Roy Evans, whenever I think of the car lot, I still think of Frank Butche as he’s the one who opened the car lot in the square. It may just seem like an ordinary car lot but if the walls of the portacabin could talk, it would have more than a few stories to tell: romantic trysts, dodgy deals, vicious attacks… it all took place here. And that’s before we even get to Frank torching the place as part of an insurance scam in which a homeless man was killed.
I still remember the episode where a few of the Square’s residents went to Spain and David Wicks picked up Sam Mitchell in a bar not realising who she was. She then told him about the car lot her father-in-law used to own.
“But it’s not like the car showrooms you have,” Sam said, “it’s just a tatty little car lot.”
“Yeah, I think know what you mean,” David smirked.
Indeed you did, David. Indeed you did!
7. THE ARCHES
The Arches – a garage – was what brought the Mitchell brothers, Grant and Phil, to Walford, and it was always considered Mitchell territory. Well at least until recently when Max Branning conned Ben Mitchell into signing it over to him. Like many of the establishments on the Square, The Arches have witnessed it’s fair share of drama including Ricky Butcher and Natalie Price conducting their affair behind Bianca’s back; Ben Mitchell undergoing a personality transplant and attacking his friend Jordan, and that fight between Phil and Grant after Grant discovered what Phil had been getting up to with Sharon for months. mechanics who have worked there included, Phil, Grant, Ricky, Gary, Minty, Jase and Ben.
8. ALBERT SQUARE
I don’t know why but for a long time, I thought that ‘Albert Square’ referred to the little bit of enclosed greenery where the residents often sit and mope. But it isn’t – that is actually the Square’s gardens. Albert Square refers to the row of terraced houses where most of the residents live and it is named after Prince Albert. The Beale family live at number 45, which used to be home to the Fowler’s when the show first started. The Masoods live at number 41; Phil and Sharon are at number 55; Patrick Trueman resides at numbers 19-20 with Kim and Denise, while Ronnie and Roxy live at number 27. And of course The Queen Victoria is the focal point of the Square.
9. THE GARDENS
The gardens are central to the Square and it houses Arthur Fowler’s bench which was placed there in his memory. There is hardly an episode that goes by when someone isn’t sat on that bench – known by viewers as the Bench Of Tears – crying, brooding, sulking, moaning or threatening another resident. Though as they all have houses on the Square it’s not quite understood why they can’t do all the above from the comfort of their own home and not publicly out in the Square!
10. THE MORE-THAN-EXTRA EXTRAS
The Queen Vic’s resident barmaid Tracy has been in EastEnders for years. The pub is always changing hands but it doesn’t matter who the new owners are – Tracy stays! Then there’s Winston who runs one of the stalls in the market who’s been in EastEnders since 1986 – who my family absolutely loved and cheered when he made an appearance.
But get this Tracy and Winston aren’t members of the main cast but humble extras. They’re often seen whenever there is an important event in EastEnders and every now and again, they may get the odd bit of short dialogue. Tracy did have a (speaking) part in a storyline that was fairly major (for her) when she was attacked by Sam Mitchell as Sam dug up the body of Den Watts on Dennis and Sharon Rickman’s wedding day. That’s the closest she’s ever got to having a role in a major storyline and there are often calls from the public to give both Tracy and Winston more prominent roles – and I agree.
And we can’t forget Big Ron played by actor Ron Tarr. Big Ron appeared in EastEnders since 1985 but was never given a main role. I remember that in the 1990s, a TV mag even had a campaign for Big Ron to get a bigger slice of the action but it never happened as Ron Tarr passed away in 1997 after battling cancer.
11. THE FOWLER HOUSE
Just like The Queen Vic, 45 Albert Square stands the test of time – and is probably the only house where people tend to enter via the back door rather than the front! Now owned by Ian Beale, at the start of the show it was still very much the residence of Ian’s grandmother Lou Beale who lived there with her daughter Pauline and her family. Back then the house seemed very small, cramped, and extremely dated, but nonetheless it had a certain charm to it. Of course when Ian bought the house, he set about making changes, turning it into the more roomy, modern pad that it is today.
12. THAT THEME TUNE
Composed by Simon May and Leslie Osbourne, the Eastenders theme tune is easily one of the most recognizable theme tunes around. Producers had requested May to come up with something melodic which would “bring people in from the kitchen or garden” – and that’s exactly what they got. The theme tune is so iconic that people know the show is starting when they hear it without having to look up. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t whistle or hum that tune every now and again.
In 1986 the theme was turned into a song called Anyone Can Fall In Love sung by Anita Dobson who played Angie Watts,which reached number 4 in the charts.
The EastEnders theme tune has undergone a few tweaks and changes over the years although it has generally been kept as close to the original as possible. During the mid-nineties, the theme tune underwent a major revamp which didn’t go down too well with viewers, so it went back to the original tune.
13. ‘DOOF DOOF’ SCENES
Every EastEnders fan is familiar with the ‘doof doof’ scene. It’s that famous drum beat that can be heard at the end of the last scene which signals that the episode has finished and that that famous theme tune is about to begin. This type of scene is now synonymous with EastEnders.
It wasn’t until the late nineties that I realised that this type of scene actually had a name. It was Tamzin Outhwaite, who played Melanie Owen, who said in an interview that cast members naturally wanted to be in the ‘doof doof’ scene, especially if it featured a cliff-hanger. The scene got its name from the sound of the drum beats that sounded like ‘doof doof.’
I was impressed that the scene actually had a name!
14. THE OPENING CREDITS
The opening title sequence of Eastenders is as well-known as its theme tune. It’s been revamped a few times but it’s essentially a map of the East End of London. It starts by zooming in on the River Thames before panning out to give an ariel view of London. Easily one of the most iconic opening sequences.
15. CHRISTMAS EPISODES
There were always two things we had to do on Christmas day without fail. The first was go to mass, and the second was to watch the Christmas day episode or episodes of EastEnders. This was something we always looked forward to, and it didn’t matter whose house we were celebrating Christmas in, as soon as we heard that familiar theme tune we dropped whatever it was we were doing and gathered in front of the telly. Not only was it a family tradition, but we also knew that the Christmas day episode was one that was guaranteed to have us on the edge of our seat. Yes, the public often complained that the episodes were often depressing and full of misery and often featured someone dying, but most of us found them to be full of drama and either featured a whopper of a cliff-hanger or resolved one.
Anyone would think that Ms. Marple resided in Albert Square with the number of murders, attempted murders and other crimes that take place. The very first episode of EastEnders opened up with the murder of Reg Cox and these whodunits have been keeping us enthralled for years. There was the shooting of Phil Mitchell (the first time) the murders of Dennis Rickman, Eddie Royal, Archie Mitchell and we’re currently gripped by the mystery of who was responsible for the death of Lucy Beale which is going to be revealed very soon.As with the murder of Archie Mitchell, many of the cast members only found out at the same time that the public did in a live episode – and that’s exactly what’s going to happen when the Lucy’s killer is going to be unmasked.
And let’s not forget there are whodunits of a different variety, which have nothing to do with crime, where pregnancies are involved where viewers are trying to work out who the baby’s father is as in the case of Michelle Fowler’s, Laura Beale’s and Heather Trott’s pregnancies. There was also one occasion when viewers had to work out who a positive pregnancy test belonged to with suspicion falling on the Fox-Wicks women.
It eventually turned out to be Dawn Swann’s.
17. THE NEIGHBOURING STREETS
Although most of the residents live on Albert Square, many of the small businesses are based in neighbouring streets such as Turpin Road, Bridge Street, and George Street. These places are often mentioned by the characters.
18. JULIA’S THEME
Julia’s Theme is named after the show’s creator, Julia Smith. It is used in place of the regular theme and emphasizes a particularly emotional event such as a character leaving or dying. Each episode normally ends with the ‘doof doof’ drum beats, but with Julia’s Theme, the ‘doof doofs’ are replaced with a slow melody played on piano. Julia’s Theme has been revamped a number of times, so there are different versions of this tune. Sometimes the beginning of Julia’s Theme is used as the intro to EastEnders‘ main theme tune.
I remember Julia’s Theme being played when Lofty proposed to pregnant Michelle Fowler, after Debbie Bates had been killed in a road accident; as Cindy Beale fled to Italy with her sons and was forced to leave her daughter behind; while Sharon watched Phil and Kathy embrace on their way home from France, and when Jim Branning proposed to Dot.
19. THE TRAILERS
Right now we’re all a bit spooked after watching the trailer promoting the unveiling of Lucy Beale’s killer. But spooked or not it’s a fantastic trailer, and you can’t expect anything less from the show who release great trailers whenever a major, new character is about to descend on the Square, a new storyline is about to hit, or when an old face returns. I especially liked the ‘Everyone’s talking about it’ slogan which accompanied some of the trailers.
Trailers were used when Kat and Alfie returned to the Square, just before Archie Mitchell’s killer was revealed, for Den Watts’s shock return, the Zoe, Dennis, Sharon love triangle which exploded on Christmas Day, the murder of Den Watts, Sharon’s return, and the arrival of the carter family.
20. SUNDAY OMNIBUS
When I was growing up, we all looked forward to the omnibus edition of EastEnders where Tuesday’s and Thursday’s episodes were repeated for those who had missed them. Well I say we all looked forward to them, but I’d say it was probably us kids who looked forward to the omnibus (nicknamed the ‘lonely bus’ by my brother) because we would watch it whether we’d seen the episodes during the week or not! I’ve lost count of the times Mum or Dad would walk into the living room see us all glued to the TV and exclaim, “But you’ve already watched this!” That’s right and now we’re watching it again! The EastEnders omnibus was the perfect lazy Sunday afternoon.
In more recent years, there has been a change in the scheduling of the omnibus but it has now emerged that the BBC are going to scrap the Sunday omnibus from April of this year, as the thirty day catch up on iPlayer means that broadcasting the omnibus is no longer necessary. I agree but it’s sad to lose this classic Sunday afternoon tradition.
21. THE FAMILIES
EastEnders is just about people being miserable; growling at each other; screaming their heads of in the market, or starting fights in The Vic. No EastEnders is all about family and the importance of familial relationships – or perhaps I should say faah-mily! During the last three decades there have been many prominent families who have made their mark in Albert Square: The Watts; the Fowlers; the Beales; the Mitchells; the Jacksons; the Butchers; the Slaters; the Wicks; the Brannings; the Moons; the Masoods, and now the Carters.
In each of these households there’s usually a fairly loud-mouthed matriarch who comes across as bossy, domineering, interfering and in danger of suffocating their children. But at the end of the day, to these women, family is everything. Who can forget Pauline Fowler bleating on about the importance of family? Or Peggy’s famous, ‘You’re a Mitchell’ line. I even heard Cora Cross tell Tania that she’s ‘a Cross’ but sorry – it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the Mitchell line!
Of course there were some families who couldn’t quite cut the mustard and were sent packing. When you think of the great families who graced the Square with their presence, who thinks of the Kapoors, the Ferreiras, the Di Marcos or the Flaherty family?
22. THE PETS
It’s not just the characters who have endeared themselves to the public, but we’ve also grown quite attached to the four-legged, furry creatures that have appeared in the Square. Wellard, Roly, Freida, Ghengis, Terrance, Bella and Betty – we loved them all. And during the eighties, we were asking everyone if they’d ‘seen my Willy?’
23. FAMOUS FACES
A few famous faces have popped up in Walford either as a cameo or a guest role. There was Robbie Williams using the phone in The Vic; Goldie played a gangster; Susan George appeared as Terry Raymond’s love interest; Bobby Davro played Shirley’s on-off boyfriend, and Madhur Jaffrey appeared as the Ferreira matriarch. Mike Reid, Shane Richie, Phil Daniel, and Samantha Womack are long-established actors or comedians who had or have long-term roles in the soap. And of course after Barbra Windsor started her role as Peggy Mitchell, no one ever saw her as the girl from the Carry On movies again!
24. CROOKS AND GANGSTERS
As the East End is Kray’s territory, it goes without saying that there have to be a few major league villians. Phil and Grant Mitchell might have fancies themselves as a couple of tough nuts but compared to the likes of Jack Dalton, Johnny Allen, Andy Hunter, Steve Owen, George Palmer, not to mention Den Watts’s associates, they were pretty much small fry!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen another soap opera do a two-hander: an episode which has only two characters. The very first one I remember was back in the eighties and it featured Den and Angie Watts. Den announced that he was leaving Angie for his mistress Jan and Angie played her trump card, telling Den that she only had six months to live. Another memorable two-hander was when Michelle Fowler finally told Sharon Watts the truth regarding Vicki Fowler’s paternity. Other two handers have included episodes featuring Den and Sharon, Phil and Grant, Dot and Ethel, Max and Stacey among others.
There have also been three-hander and four-hander episodes too. The episode featuring Phil, Grant and Sharon after Phil and Sharon had slept together for the first is particular memorable, as is the episode featuring Grant and Michelle, and David and Cindy in two different sub-plots where the two couples, er get it on!
The reason for these two/three/four hander episodes was that it sped up the filming process, and while the two actors were filming the two-hander, the rest of the cast could be filming another episode. These special episodes look like mini-plays and are a pleasure to watch as it relies usually on just one storyline and a limited number of actors, and it’s very clever of EastEnders to come up with that.
Incidentally, there has only ever been a single one-hander episode in the show’s entire history which featured Dot Cotton.
26. GRITTY REALISM
EastEnders isn’t one for shying away from hard-hitting social issues. It’s tackled storylines involving cot death, homophobia, prostitution, rape, mental health issues, HIV, paedophilia, child abuse, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism, racism… the list is endless.
27. RATINGS WARS WITH CORRIE
There were other soap operas around when I was growing up, but when it came to ratings, it seems that it was firmly between Coronation Street and EastEnders. The Sunday papers would always show who’d hit the top spot in the TV pull-out section and it would alternate 9or so it seemed) between EastEnders or Corrie. The others didn’t even get a look-in!
28. COCKNEY ACCENT – WITHOUT THE RHYMING
You can’t have a soap set in the East End of London and not expect to hear a few Cockney accents. And being a real-life Eastender myself, I’ve always said that Cockney accents are the most endearing in the world – although I’ve never used rhyming slang, and it very rarely features on the show. I hardly ever hear real-life Cockneys use it so it just wouldn’t be realistic.
Of course in recent times, there have been complaints that the EastEnd just isn’t Cockney enough and there are too many different regional accents. But then anyone who’s ever lived in the East End will know that it’s not just Cockneys who live there. There are people from other parts of the country and of course other parts of the world. My complaint is that I don’t hear Cockney accents enough where I live and I’m sure that the show is reflecting the diversity of the area.
29. THE CHIPPY
You can’t have an East End district without a fish and chip shop so thank goodness for Beale’s Plaice – although when Ian first purchased the shop, no way was it to be called a chippy. Ian was aiming for the rather more upmarket sounding ‘fish restaurant’!
30. THE AWARDS
To say that EastEnders is an award-winning soap is something of a understatement. So far it has won around 316 awards (roughly ten a year) and just like in the ratings wars, it often goes head-to-head with Corrie for the Best Soap category.