01 March 2010

E-mails: EastEnders - 1980s and 2010

The way it was in 1985... Lou Beale (Anna Wing) with Michelle (Susan Tully), Pauline (Wendy Richard) and Arthur Fowler (Bill Treacher). Remember Susan Tully as rebellious schoolgirl Suzanne Ross in Grange Hill in the early years of the 1980s?

Harry has written about the BBC soap opera EastEnders, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary:

It was really strange seeing the clips on Ian's time capsule video of 1985. I had the feeling that EastEnders is now a totally different programme. Don't you think it used to be more true to life in the 1980's? Now, with plots about Archie Mitchell being murdered and Lucas the murderer burying his victim under a tree in Albert Square, I can't help wondering what the residents in the 80's would have made of it all? I was surprised you enjoyed the 25th anniversary episode.

Thanks for writing, Harry. Soaps have changed a great deal. In the 1980s, a new breed of gritty, political soaps emerged. I'm talking Brookside and EastEnders, of course. Left Wing, abrasive, determinedly non-cosy. The name of the game was to portray social issues of the time, and make Thatcher look a cow. But also during the decade the soaps began to turn more towards pot-boiler story-lines, with many characters hiding secrets, waiting to be explosively revealed.

I never watch modern soaps, and I'm sorry the political edge has gone missing. I think soaps now are far more sensationalised than they were in the 1980s. I'm not criticising - it's a simple fact of life.

I watched the EastEnders 25th anniversary episode so I could write about it as part of my series of EastEnders blog posts commemorating the event. I can't say it was to my taste, but I think the cast and production team did brilliantly. This was live TV, and with the high octane emotions portrayed in many of the scenes, I was very impressed.

The show had its faults in the 1980s. I think that the grimmness was a little too unrelenting, the teenagers were far too miserable, and the Left Wing bias was a little OTT. But as a Labour supporter and Thatcher hater in those days, I applauded it. I remember a national newspaper surveying the residents of a real-life East London square around 1987, and discovering that their lives were far less turbulent and miserable!

But I howled with delight when Pete Beale stated that community spirit went out when the Tories came in (it had actually been on the way out long before that - the times I heard my elders bemoaning the lack of community spirit when I was a child!) and Lou Beale told Arthur Fowler that his unemployment was due to "That cow at No 10!" (There had been a big unemployment problem before Thatcher, but in the early 1980s it more than doubled!).

'80s EastEnders was definitely OTT grim. But still compelling viewing. I thoroughly enjoyed the show back then.

I was surprised in the 25th anniversary episode to see the Beales and the Fowlers laughing on Ian's video.

EastEnders characters laughing?!!

I don't remember that!

As for the modern show, I'm not really qualified to comment on the story-lines you mention as I don't watch.

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