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Happy Birthday EastEnders… And A Look Back At That First Ever Episode

 

Well we’ve been waiting for this day for what seems like eons – and now it’s here! EastEnders turns thirty today – and I feel so old! When the show first aired, who’d have thought that three decades later we’d be still be tuning in – and that Sharon and Ian would still be in it?

 

As part of EastEnders thirtieth celebrations, the BBC are showing the first ever episode of the London-based soap opera which began on 19 February 1985. If you’d asked me if I’d ever watched the first episode, I’d have said no. I had absolutely no recollection of seeing it and I don’t recall the infamous opening scene where Albert Square regulars Den Watts, Arthur Fowler, and Ali Osman kick down the door to Reg Cox’s flat and find the pensioner dying. Incidentally there is to be an ode to this first ever scene in tonight’s episode.

 

So I thought I’d take a Butchers (pardon the pun!) at this iconic episode which was to change the course of weekday television viewing forever. We were introduced to the Fowlers, the Beales, the Watts, the Osmans and the Jeffereys, plus we got our first introduction to ‘Nasty’ Nick Cotton – though no sign of his ‘Ma’ Dot. We also got to meet the lovely Dr. Legg. It’s amazing how young everyone looked, especially Ian who looked as though he was living a carefree existance. If only he knew then what we know now…

 

As it happens, I realised that I had actually watched this episode as I remember many of the scenes so clearly. I remember Sue Osman’s and Kathy Beale’s argument in the café where Sue tipped Kathy’s teas down the sink. Kathy then went out to the stall and told Pete that there was no tea because of ‘bloody Sue.’ I also recalled Kathy having a dig at Sue when the Osmans walked into the Vic just as Kathy was starting her shift there.

 

It was also in this episode that Pauline and Arthur Fowler discovered that they were going to become parents again – that’s right, little Martin Fowler was on his way. But despite being happy about the baby, the Fowler’s were worried as Arthur was finding it hard to get work (as were most of the population in the mid eighties) and they were more than a little afraid of the reaction of Pauline’s mother, the legendary Lou Beale. As it turns out, it all kicked off – in a scene I remember very well – but what was supposed to be so tense turned out to be quite hilarious for the viewer. And the non-stop shouting over each other was an indicator of the shape of things to come…

 

There were also signs that Den Watts had quite an eye for the ladies and was going to be quite a handful for his wife, the long-suffering Angie – we just didn’t realise how much! And the glimpse back into television three decades ago was fascinating. There wouldn’t be racial slurs and name-calling for example, unless it was relevant to the storyline and there’s less swearing today on the Square – we don’t even hear ‘bloody’ as much now.

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip back down memory lane and watching all those much-missed characters who made EastEnders what it is today. but now I have to return to the present as a very special episode of EastEnders is about to start – and I want to witness television history as they reveal the killer of Lucy Beale.

Happy birthday EastEnders!

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 19, 2015 in TV Shows

 

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Video

Fresh Fields: Happy 30th Birthday

 

This week marks 30 years since Fresh Fields first hit our screens and I’ve just spent a fantastic few weeks watching all four series of the 1980s classic. As with Dear John and Streets Apart, it was a very nostalgic trip down memory lane to eighties bliss! I was very young when Fresh Fields was first shown on our screens, so even though I remember the British sit-com which ran from 1984 to 1989, I couldn’t remember very much about the show other than the fact that it starred the late Anton Rodgers and Julia McKenzie. In fact I remember it’s sequel French Fields much better – probably because I was a little older when it was broadcast.

Written by John Chapman, the show centres around William and Hester Fields, played by Rodgers and McKenzie; a devoted, middle-aged, married couple who live something of an idyllic life in Barnes, South-West London. They’ve been married for twenty years and have two adult children who have left home. William works hard as an accountant in the city in order to provide a good life for the two of them, while Hester is a housewife and looks after the home – and William! They share their beautiful home with Hester’s mother Nancy (played by Fanny Rowe) who lives in the granny flat at the bottom of the garden.

Much of the humour in the show comes from Hester’s non-stop methods of improving her life with a multitude of hobbies and interests in order to keep things ‘fresh’ and interesting and to fill the void that comes with empty-nest syndrome. Pottery, cooking courses fencing, keep-fit, painting, DIY… you name it, Hester’s tried it, although not always culminating in great results! She also throws herself into ventures such as delivering meals to the elderly and cooking in a restaurant. The opening credits set the tonefor the show: Hester and William are shown in silhouette form, with Hester being super active and on the go, trying out different activities while William is content just to sit and read the paper.

The other source of humour is Hester’s neighbour and best friend, Sonia (played by Ann Beach) who lets herself into the Fields’ home, especially at inconvenient times with her catchphrase ‘It’s only Sonia’ and is forever ‘borrowing’ things from the Fields with the intention of returning them but of course it never happens. Sonia grates on William to great comic effect but Hester is very fond of her and finds it hard to turn down any of her requests. Despite my initial reservations that Sonia was taking advantage of Hester’s generous nature, it gradually becomes evident that the two women do indeed share a strong bond.

I also loved the sub-plot between Hester’s estranged parents Nancy and Guy (played by Fawlty Towers’ Ballard Berkeley) who divorced forty years earlier after Guy ran off with and eventually married another woman while Hester was a very young child. After all these years. Guy now plans to win Nancy back but Nancy is a very strong-willed, no-nonsense, straight-talking lady who claims that she has no interest in Guy but over the course of several episodes, viewers start to see her soften towards her errant ex-husband…

Although the Field’s have two children, Tom and Emma, they never appear in the show, although Emma often phones her parents and can be heard to be rattling off a message at three hundred words per second! She eventually marries her live-in boyfriend Peter and the couple have a little boy named Guy after his great-grandfather. William and Hester’s son-in-law and baby grandson do make a few appearances – but without Emma.

My memories of Fresh Fields when I was a child are very vague because growing up I only ever caught glimpses of the show. The only episode that rang any bells was the one where William had to rid the house of a spider as Hester was terrified of spiders. Comedies were a big deal in our household as my parents, especially my father, were huge fans of the genre but I don’t recall them talking about Fresh Fields as often as they talked about the other sit-coms of that time. But I’m glad that I got reacquainted with the show in adulthood because I think it’s a fantastic sit-com and now that I’m older, I can appreciate it more.

There was so much I liked about the show that I don’t know where to begin. I loved the feel-good theme tune by Harry Stoneham. I also loved the chemistry between Rodgers and McKenzie. It was an amazing bit of casting as the two work very well together as a credible, married couple. I also adored their home in Barnes. By today’s standards it may appear dated but I could so see myself living in a place like that. And I thought it was sweet that Hester had such a close bond with her mother that she wanted her living with them. How many people could tolerate having their mother live with them? The supporting characters, which included Sonia’s husband John and William’s trusted secretary, Miss Denham played by Daphne Oxenford, were all a little eccentric in some way and they worked brilliantly together. Sonia proved to be extremely popular and in one episode, the studio audience even gave her a round of applause when she appeared.

 

But the show was also something of a shock to the system as it highlighted just how much times and society have changed in the last thirty years – which for me seems like only yesterday! I absolutely loved the Fields’ house but how many of us can afford a house like that today, complete with a granny flat for our dear old mum? How many of us even know who our neighbours are let alone socialise with them? A great fuss is made about the fact that William and Hester’s daughter is ‘living in sin’ with her boyfriend and gets pregnant before getting married but of course in the twenty first century, nobody would bat an eyelid. And Hester’s excitement when she gets a new cordless phone delivered had me in stitches! She and Sonia reminded me of a couple of kids who’d stumbled across a great source of magic. Goodness knows what they’d have made of the state-of-the-art mobile phones we can’t live without today. To be honest it’s a bigger surprise for me knowing that someone actually has a landline! Furthermore it’s refreshing to see a TV show with a happily married couple and no trace of infidelity – a rarity nowadays!

Strange as this may sound but Hester’s use of the word ‘housecoat’ took me back to my very early childhood when Mum had a black and white floral housecoat with bell sleeves and was very pretty. I don’t think anyone uses the word housecoat today as it would most definitely be a dressing gown or a robe. And incidentally the housecoat Hester wore was stunning – a beautiful blue number with angel sleeves I would love to get hold of for myself. Who said the eighties was the time that style forgot?

 

I’ve read reviews in which the show has been labelled ‘middle-of-the-road’ and a ‘good schedule filler’. Well I don’t know any schedule fillers which lasted for four series, won an international Emmy award and where the lead actress won the TV Times award for best female comedy performance for five consecutive years. Not bad for a ‘middle-of-the-road’ sit-com! Most of the show’s fans found Fresh Fields to be humorous and entertaining however, I do understand that during the early eighties, there was the emergence of an alternative brand of humour with shows such as The Young Ones and Not The Nine O’ Clock News which I think the younger generation of the time would have been more geared towards.

But there’s no denying that Fresh Fields was great family entertainment. Some of the highlights for me were Hester having to change literally en route to her daughter’s wedding; Sonia hosting a wine-tasting event at the Fields’ home where Hester runs into her glamorous blonde rival; William helping Hester with the catering at an event and having to hide from his clients; Hester’s run-ins with the law while delivering meals-on-wheels, and the final episode where Hester celebrated her forty-fifth birthday. And the episode where Emma’s parents-in-law invite themselves to stay over at the Fields’ actually made me cry – with laughter! I’m just sorry there weren’t more series of Fresh Fields. I’m even more sorrier that thirty years later it’s not mentioned as often as some of its contemporaries here in the UK as it’s such a brilliant bit of comedy. But I know it’s still remembered quite fondly in Australia and the United States.

 

But now that I’ve rediscovered it, I will most definitely watch it again. Boxed DVD set, here I come! And Happy thirtieth to you, Fresh Fields!

 

 
 

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Video

When The New Kids Rocked The Super Bowl…

 

America has been football crazy for a while now (and that’s American football crazy not European soccer!) and the atmosphere must be absolutely electric right now as they are just hours away from the Superbowl. Whether the Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos will emerge victorious is yet to be seen. The only thing I know for sure is that I am well on my way to becoming a Super Bowl widow!

 

Of course being a Londoner, the Super Bowl wasn’t exactly a big deal in our household although it was for one of my uncles who’s a huge sports fan. However, it’s something that Hubby grew up with so he will most definitely be watching all the action as it unfolds tonight.

But I was thrilled to come across a clip of the best-boy-band-in-the-world’s half-time performance at the Super Bowl way back in 1991. For those who don’t know who the best boy band in the world are (and shame on you!) it is of course New Kids On The Block – my first crushes; my first loves; the first group I ever took a real interest in, and a band who were around when pop music was actually pretty darn good! It’s too bad we knew nothing about the American sport back then – I can just see my sister and I sneaking downstairs to wait for the New Kids at half-time even though it would have meant falling asleep in class the next day!

Although it was my first time watching this clip it still nonetheless managed to stir a lot of memories. I loved the New Kids. Their music; image; choreography; performances etc. etc. were awesome and I was convinced I was going to marry that Jordan – and nothing anyone would say could convince me otherwise! It also brought back a lot of memories of the early 1990s and my childhood at that time. Things were all so simple back then. Too bad no one told me that!

So enjoy the clip of the Boston quintet’s Disney-themed performance. What I wouldn’t give to be one of the kids perched on laps of the New Kids…

 

 

 

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Streets Apart is Streets Ahead.

Ever recalled something so fleeting from your childhood that years later you wondered if you had imagined it?

Well for a while I did wonder if I had dreamt up Streets Apart before realising that it did in fact exist! This  BBC sitcom, written by Adrienne Conway,  was first shown in 1988, starring the late James Hazeldine and a virtually unrecogniseable Amanda Redman, as childhood sweethearts, Bernie and Sylvia, who reunite twenty years later only to discover that their lives have taken completely different paths: Bernie is now a black cab driver and widowed father of two, while Sylvia, having worked hard to escape her East End roots, works as a successful literary agent and has a plush central London home. So I set about watching all twelve episodes of Streets Apart again – and I’m so glad I did.

Th show's writer, the lovely Adrienne Conway

The show’s writer, the lovely Adrienne Conway

Only two series of this superb comedy were made and I don’t believe they were ever repeated again on BBC1 (who says the Beeb are famous for a never ending string of repeats?) despite, from what I understand, the show pulling in between ten to twelve million viewers per week. Streets Apart used to be shown on Wednesday nights (I think!) and although my memories of the show were quite hazy, I’m amazed now by how many OMG!-I remember-that moments I encountered while watching the show again. I even had flashbacks to my mum and aunt commenting on Sylvia’s hair and wardrobe virtually every episode. Oh the eighties!

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Streets Apart again twenty five years later and laughed out loud at some extremely hilarious moments: Bernie picking up a fare who wanted to go to Torquay but pronounced it ‘Turkey’; Sylvia talking seductively over the phone to her bewildered assistant Tiffany in an attempt to make Bernie jealous; Cliff’s sister making a play for Bernie – who only had eyes for Sylvia. The first time i watched the show, I felt quite  sympathetic towards Bernie’s daughter, Mandy, even thought she came across as quite bratty. Watching for the second time as Mandy conspired to keep Bernie away from a-far-from-maternal and seemingly stuck -up Sylvia, I still sympathised with Mandy as I watched her determination to hang on to family life as she knew it.

Spoilt and snooty some of the characters may have appeared but all the characters are likeable in their own way and there is something quite touching in the close bonds that are formed between Bernie and Sylvia and their respective best friends Cliff and Jenny as the latter two provide the necessary support and encouragement that their friends need in order to resume their relationship.

Watching Streets Apart again and feeling that connection to my childhood and the 1980s struck such a chord with me. I could also relate to Sylvia’s desire to make something of herself and of her love of the literary world. There was so much that was familiar to me that I actually wanted to climb inside my TV set and be transported back to the 1980s. If only it were that simple.

It’s such as shame that only two series of Streets Apart were made before the show was cancelled. There was so much that could have been done in in terms of storyline and character development. Viewers were left hanging after watching the penultimate show; deliberately intended, I’m sure, just in case a third series should be commissioned. However, I’m optimistic enough to think that Bernie and Sylvia did make it work despite their differences. It would have been worth commissioning another series if only to hear that bittersweet theme tune sung beautifully by Neil Lockwood.

Despite being moving, funny and very well written by the very talented Conway, with stars Hazeldine, Redman and Desmond MacNamara all achieving a great level of fame, Streets Apart never reached the same iconic comedy status as Only Fools and Horses or the equally short lived but extremely popular Fawlty Towers and I cannot understand why as more than two decades later it’s still very watchable and nowhere near as dated as you may think. I’d like to think that it’s streets ahead of a lot of the drivel that passes for comedy today. They certainly don’t make them like that anymore.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Conway

 

 

 
8 Comments

Posted by on January 20, 2013 in Comedy Shows

 

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