EastEnders is a popular BBC television soap opera which was first broadcast on February 19, 1985. In February 1983, two years before EastEnders hit the screen, the show was nothing more than a vague idea in the mind of a handful of BBC executives, who decided that what BBC1 needed was a popular bi-weekly drama series that would attract the kind of mass audiences ITV was getting with Coronation Street.
The first people to whom David Reid, then head of series and serials, turned were Julia Smith and Tony Holland, a well established producer/ script editor team who had first worked together on Z-Cars. The outline that Reid presented was vague: two episodes a week, 52 weeks a year. Smith and Holland went away scratching their heads. Why did the BBC want to fill the already-full schedules with a new soap (little did they know just how popular it would become)?
There was anxiety at first that the viewing public would not accept a new soap set in the south of England.
Smith and Holland were both Londoners - Holland was from a big East End family, but when they researched Victoria Square they found massive changes in areas they thought they knew well. However, delving further into the East End, they found exactly what they had been searching for. A real East End spirit - an inward looking quality, a distrust of strangers and authority figures, a sense of territory and community that Holland and Smith summed up as 'Hurt one of us and you hurt us all'.
The target launch date was January 1985 when BBC1 was planning a major revamp in its schedules. Julia Smith and Tony Holland has just 11 months in which to write, cast and shoot the whole thing. However, in February 1984 they didn't even have a title or a place to film. The project had a number of working titles - Square Dance, Round the Square, Round the Houses, London Pride, East 8. It was the latter that stuck (E8 is the postcode for Hackney) in the early months of creative process.
After they decided of the filming location (Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire), Smith and Holland set about creating the 24 characters needed in just 14 days. Once they decided on these they returned to London for a meeting with the BBC. Everyone was in agreement, East 8 was to be tough, violent on occasion, funny and sharp - and it would start with a bang.
Through the next few months, the set was growing rapidly at Elstree, and a composer and designer had been commissioned to create the title sequence. Simon May (music) and Alan Jeapes (visuals) created it, and it remains one of the strongest title clips in television.
The BBC1 relaunch was delayed till February 1985. The press were invited to see Elstree and meet the cast and see the lot - and stories immediately started circulating about the show, about a rivalry with ITV (who were launching their own market-based soap, Albion Market ) and about the private lives of the cast. Anticipation and rumour grew in equal measure until the first transmission at 7pm on 19th February 1985. Both Holland and Smith could not watch, they both instead returned to the place where it all began. The next viewing figures were confirmed at 17 million. The reviews were largely favourable, and viewing figures remained high. Press coverage, already intense, went into overdrive. Within weeks the headline they had all dreaded had appeared - EASTENDERS STAR IS A KILLER - setting the tone for relations between the Albert Square and the press for the next 20 years. By Christmas of 1985, the papers couldn't get enough of the show. 'Exclusives' about EastEnders storylines became a staple of the nation's daily reading.
But the real story, of 20 years of accelerating production, of characters' highs and lows, of controversial storylines and off-screen scandals had only just begun...
It is set in and around the fictional Albert Square, ostensibly located in the equally fictional London borough of Walford in London's East End. Much of the action revolves around the street market and the nearby public house, the Queen Victoria. There is also a launderette, a cafe, a mini-supermarket and a nightclub.
Walford has a fictional London postal district, London E20, and a fictional tube station, Walford East, which is located on the EastEnders tube map in the position normally occupied by the real Bromley-by-Bow tube station.
It is actually filmed at Borehamwood to the north-west of London.
EastEnders is currently broadcast in the U.K. at the following dates/times on BBC One:
- Monday - 8:00 PM
- Tuesday - 7:30 PM
- Thursday - 7:30 PM
- Friday - 8:00 PM
- Sunday - 1:30 PM (omnibus)
EastEnders is usually repeated on BBC Three at 10:00 PM. Old reruns are usually broadcast on UKTV Gold.
The opening episodes had explored social-realist type storylines: unemployment, poverty, racism, family and social problems. In the early years stories frequently focused on the families of Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard) and her brother Pete Beale. Pauline's husband Arthur (Bill Treacher) battled unemployment, financial hardship, and his tough mother-in-law Lou Beale (Anna Wing). An opening story was the unplanned pregnancy of Pauline. Lou died in 1988. After much tumoil and two stints in prison for theft, Arthur died in 1996.
As the series progressed it slowly became less realistic with greater emphasis on sensational audience-grabbing stories. Storylines increasingly focused on secret partner-switch type affairs concerning closely-related married couples in the show. Brothers Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden ) and Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp) each had affairs with each other's partner, Bianca Jackson had an affair with her mother's fiance. Today Pauline Fowler and Pete's son Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) are the only characters to have remained in the series its entire run. Another enduring presence is Pete's ex-wife, the monumental Pat (Pam St Clement) who has been in the series since 1986. Initially a hard bitch, Pat has now softened and is a much more sympathetic character.
The Queen Victoria, or the Queen Vic as it is known to its customers, is the primary meeting place for the show's characters and is the site of many of the show's major storylines. The first known landlord, Dirty Den Watts (played by Leslie Grantham), endured an acrimonious divorce from his wife Angie (Anita Dobson), only to be shot and presumed killed by gangsters. A subsequent landlady Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor) emerged as a leading character in the 1990s, enduring breast cancer, marriage to the roguish Frank Butcher (Mike Reid) who ultimately cheated on Peggy with his ex-wife Pat, and coping with the on-going problems of her adult sons Phil and Grant.
The highly popular Slater family were introduced in September 2000 and quickly began to dominate storylines. The Slaters were father Charlie, his adult daughters Lynne, Kat, Little Mo and the teenaged Zoe, and Charlie's mother-in-law Mo Harris and Lynne's fiance Gary Hobbs. After several months it was revealed to viewers that Zoe was not Charlie's daughter; she was actually the daughter of her "sister" Kat, born after Kat had been raped by Charlie's brother when she was just 14. The Slaters have also endured the family partner-swap plotlines, including Kat and Zoe both having intense love affairs with local Doctor Anthony Trueman. Lynne Slater's fiance Gary had also had a secret crush on Kat (when the characters first appeared in the series it was hinted that they had already had an affair, though this angle was not subsequently developed by scriptwriters), and would later have a one-night-stand with Ian Beale's wife Laura. Much to everyone's displeasure this incident produced a baby son just as Lynne herself was trying but failing to conceive. Other sensational storylines with little basis in realism included the Who Shot Phil Mitchell story in 2001, and the shock return from the dead of Dirty Den Watts in October 2003.
Background and Popularity
The show started airing on the first night of a major ident change for the channel, with the show representing the "new face" of the BBC. Critics first derided the new offering, as it was clear that BBC wished to bridge the gap between the network and its competitor, ITV. One news source went as far as to accuse the channel of only having the guts to air the soap after Patricia Phoenix, England's premier soap diva, left Coronation Street.
It was the brass at BBC who had the last laugh, however, as EastEnders became wildly popular and displaced Coronation Street from the top of the ratings for the remainder of the 1980s and 1990s. In the Christmas of 1986, it attracted a massive 30 million viewers who tuned into see Den Watts hand over the divorce papers to wife Angie. This remains the highest rated programme in British television history.
While the show's ratings have fallen since its initial surge in popularity, the programme continues to be largely lucrative for the BBC.
EastEnders is one of the more popular programmes on British television and used to regularly attract between 15 and 20 million viewers. Its main rival for ratings is usually Coronation Street on rival station ITV. In order to maximise ratings the BBC and ITV are usually careful to avoid scheduling clashes between their flagship soaps. In 2001 however, the soaps clashed for the first time. EastEnders won the battle with 8.4 million viewers (41% share) whilst Coronation Street lagged behind with 7.3 million viewers (36% share).
On 20 September, 2004 Louise Berridge, the then executive producer of the show quit following massive criticism of the show. The following day the show received its lowest ever ratings (6.2 million) when ITV scheduled an hour long episode of its usually less-popular soap, Emmerdale against it. Emmerdale was watched by 8.1 million people. However, EastEnders was at a disadvantage as Emmerdale had began half an hour ealier, and viewers were becoming bored with implausible and ill thought out storylines. Kathleen Hutchison who had been the producer of hospital drama Holby City, was announced the new executive producer. And within a few weeks later the producers announced a major shake-up of the cast with the highly-criticised Ferreira family, first seen in June 2003, set to leave at the beginning of 2005. Kathleen Hutchison went on to axe Den Watts, Andy Hunter, Juley Smith and Derek Harkinson. Whilst she was there she set about reversing the previous executive producers work, perhaps best signified by the closure of 'Angie's Den'. A night club run by the Watts family, the importance of the name was told by Pauline Fowler "Angie always said if she had a club, she'd call it 'Angie's Den'". It indicated a new and fresh start for EastEnders after declining ratings in 2004.
But in early February 2005, after just six months it was the end for Kathleen Hutchison. John Yorke who lead EastEnders through one of its most successful periods in 2001 returned to the BBC as the head of drama. Meaning his responsibility was to oversee the running of EastEnders. With him he also brought long serving script writer Tony Jordan back. It is reported that the cast and crew did not get on well with Kathleen Hutchison as she had them filming up to 12am in the morning. She is also said to have torn up many of the scripts that were planned and demanded re-writes. This was one of the reasons storylines such as the 'Real Walford' football team were suddenly ignored. But through her short reign she lead EastEnders to some of its most healthy viewing figures in months.
John Yorke immediately stepped into her position until a few weeks later when Kate Harwood was announced as the new executive producer. Since then the three of them have set about returning EastEnders to its roots.
EastEnders has generally carried a reputation for hard and gritty storylines. However it has generally remained a populist series and has generally avoided the even tougher storylining and dramatic heights of Brookside, which tackled issues in a more direct way. Brookside was decommissioned in 2003 after a twenty-year run, due to declining ratings. Brookside lead the way for more conservative soaps to follow: EastEnders, whilst gritty, required the creative input of Brookside's creators such as Mal Young to maintain its ratings.
Viewing figures throughout the years
Ever since it began in 1985, EastEnders has achieved some of the highest audiences in British television history.
15.4 million people tuned in to see Walford's first Christmas in 1985.
Den wanted a divorce but Angie wasn't giving up that easy, she dropped the bombshell that she had six months to live. That of course, was a lie but attracted 14 million viewers in October of 1986. And in December of this year an amazing 30.01 million people tuned in to see Den hand Angie the famous divorce papers, this remains a record for British television. A year later 16.7 million people tuned in for the Christmas day episode of 1987.
In 1988, 15.8 million people watched as Michelle told Den exactly how she felt about him. And 15.9 million watched 2 weeks later as Michelle aborted Lofty's baby. 24 million saw Den apparently shot by a man with a bunch of daffodils by a canal in 1989.
In 1994, 18.4 million viewers watched the revelations of 'Sharongate' between Sharon Watts, the Mitchell brothers and Kathy Beale.
In 1996 17.6 million people watched as Cindy Beale hired a hitman to sort her husband, Ian Beale, out once and for all.
As Frank Butcher returned to watch his son, Ricky marry Bianca so did 17.8 million viewers in April of 1997.
1999 saw 20.8 million people tune in to see Mel Healy marry Ian Beale, however this was shortlived and 2 years later in 2001, Mel was marrying Steve Owen. This was seen by 22.5 million viewers.
In 2000, Sonia was in for a shock as she gave birth. This attracted 19.3 million viewers. Her grandad, Jim Branning also married Dot Cotton watched by 16 million people.
In 2002, Sonia said an emotional goodbye to her boyfriend Jamie Mitchell with 21 million people, as he died in his hospital bed.
2001 saw Zoe Slater tell Kat "You can't tell me what to do, you ain't my mother" Kat replied "Yes I am" and indeed she is. 16.9 million tuned in for this.
September 2003 saw the return of one of the greatest soap icons, 'Dirty Den' who had been presumed dead by the residents and the viewers, 17 million of them. And in February of this year,(2005) 14.34 million watched as Den was killed by wife Chrissie Watts.
It is aired around the world in many English-speaking countries, including New Zealand and Canada. The show aired in the United States until BBC America ceased telecasts of the serial in 2003, amidst fan protests (although as of 2005, episodes are still shown on various PBS stations in the US). The series was screened in Australia by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from 1987 until the early 1990s. Currently the series is seen in Australia only on cable TV's UK.TV. EastEnders is also shown on BBC Prime.
- Between 2001 and 2002, EastEnders was the 10th most searched-for TV show on the Internet.
- EastEnders was the 2nd most popular UK search term in 2003.
- EastEnders was the 4th most popular UK search term in 2004.
- EastEnders holds the record for highest rated TV programme in Britain.
- In 2001 EastEnders went head to head with Coronation Street for the first time, EastEnders won the battle with 8.4 million viewers (41%) while Coronation Street lagged behind at 7.3 million (36%).
- There is a shop in Walford named Barratt's Bargain Corner, cleverly incorporating the BBC's initials.
- Susan Tully who played Michelle Fowler has directed some episodes since leaving.
Madonna and Guy Ritchie are rumoured to be big fans of the show, with her favourite character being Dot Cotton.
George Michael, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are also fans of the soap.
Robbie Williams has made a cameo appearance on the telephone in the Queen Vic.
- Before the Spice Girls, Emma Bunton was cast as a troubled youth in the soap.
- Researchers, from the BBC, went to the East End and visited 'Fassett Square' in the 1980ís.
- The famous double-handers when only two actors appear in an episode was originally done for speed: while they film that, the rest of the cast can be making another episode.
- Leslie Grantham originally auditioned for the part of Pete Beale but was thought too good looking so was instead cast as Den Watts.
- The War memorial on set features names of people involved in EastEnders along with past stars.
Oxfam was the main outlet used for the actors costumes when the series was first made.
- A vocal version of the theme tune called 'Anyone can fall in Love' reached number 4 in the charts in the summer of 1986 and was sung by Anita Dobson (Angie Watts).
- The Queen visited the set in 2001 and was shown around by actresses Wendy Richard and Barbara Windsor.
Soon to depart
Soon to return
Richard Reeves (Ethel's Little Willy)
- Joseph Kpobie (Juley Smith)
- Ameet Chana (Adi Ferreira)
- Nabil Elouahabi (Tariq Larousi)
- Raji James (Ash Ferreira)
- Ray Panthaki (Ronny Ferreira)
- Pooja Shah (Kareena Ferreira)
- Jemma Walker (Sasha Perkins)
- Stephen Churchett (Marcus Christie)
Jessie Wallace (Kat Slater)
Hannah Waterman (Laura Beale)
Letitia Dean (Sharon Watts)
Leslie Grantham (Den Watts)
- Scarlett Johnson (Vicki Fowler)
Barbara Windsor (Peggy Mitchell)
- Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell)
Jill Halfpenny (Kate Mitchell)
- Dalip Tahil (Dan Ferreira)
- Doug Allen (Nathan Williams)
- Nicholas Bailey (Anthony Trueman)
Lucy Benjamin (Lisa Fowler)
Hywel Bennett (Jack Dalton)
- Charlie Brooks (Janine Butcher/Evans)
- Dean Gaffney (Robbie Jackson)
- Michael Greco (Beppe de Marco)
Brooke Kinsella (Kelly Taylor)
- Elaine Lordan (Lynne Hobbs)
- Ashvin Luximon (Asif Malik)
- Colm O. Maonlai (Tom Banks)
- Robyn Moore (Shirley Benson)
- Judi Shekoni (Precious)
- Bindya Solanki (Nita Mistry)
- Lucy Speed (Natalie Evans)
- Joe Absolom (Matthew Rose)
- John Altman (Nick Cotton)
- Howard Anthony (Alan Jackson)
Nick Berry (Simon Wicks)
- Leila Birch (Teresa di Marco)
- Paul Bradley (Nigel Bates)
- Corrine Skinner Carter (Audrey Trueman)
Todd Carty (Mark Fowler)
Michael Cashman (Colin Russell)
- Tony Caunter (Roy Evans)
- Desune Coleman (Lenny Wallace)
Michelle Collins (Cindy Beale)
- Lindsay Coulson (Carol Jackson)
- Peter Dean (Pete Beale)
- Daniela Denby-Ashe (Sarah Hills)
Anita Dobson (Angie Watts)
- Craig Fairbrass (Dan Sullivan)
- Leonard Fenton (Dr Harold Legg)
Alex Ferns (Trevor Morgan)
Frankie Fitzgerald (Ashley Cotton)
Gretchen Franklin (Ethel Skinner)
- Michael French (David Wicks)
- Michelle Gayle (Hattie Tavernier)
- Carol Harrison (Louise Raymond)
- Mark Homer (Tony Hills)
Louise Jameson (Rosa di Marco)
Martin Kemp (Steve Owen)
Ross Kemp (Grant Mitchell)
- Sophie Lawrence (Diane Butcher)
- Andrew Lynford (Simon Raymond)
Martine McCutcheon (Tiffany Mitchell)
- Michael Melia (Eddie Royle)
- Jimi Mistry (Dr Fred Fonseca)
- Tamzin Outhwaite (Melanie Owen)
- Sid Owen (Ricky Butcher)
Patsy Palmer (Bianca Jackson/Butcher)
- Caroline Paterson (Ruth Fowler)
Mike Reid (Frank Butcher)
- Gavin Richards (Terry Raymond)
- Jack Ryder (Jamie Mitchell)
Nadia Sawalha (Annie Palmer)
- David Scarboro (Mark Fowler)
- Gillian Taylforth (Kathy Beale/Mitchell)
- Edward Savage (Steven Beale)
Roberta Taylor (Irene Raymond)
Bill Treacher (Arthur Fowler)
Susan Tully (Michelle Fowler)
Daniella Westbrook (Sam Mitchell)
- Shaun Williamson (Barry Evans)
Anna Wing (Lou Beale)
- Steve Nicholson (Gavin Sharp)
- Sophie Stanton (DCI Marsden)
- Leanne Lakey (Belinda Peacock)
Clifford Price (Angel)
- Tara Lynne O'Neill (Joanne Ryan)
- Gary Beadle (Paul Trueman)
Christopher Parker (Spencer Moon)
Michael Higgs (Andy Hunter)
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46