22 April 2011

EastEnders: Angie Watts, Her Shaggy Perm And Ever Changing Moods, Sue Osman At The Cafe, Lou Beale In Brighton and "Thatcher Is Killing Us All!"

Good grief - I've just been watching the first eight episodes of EastEnders from 1985, and I'm absolutely stunned! Clearly influenced by the subversive Liverpool saga Brookside, which had begun in November 1982, the Albert Square saga was, however, far more seething, far more "in yer face", far more downbeat.

Obviously the downbeat part was a teensy bit overplayed: there we were, in the mid-1980s, with Thatcher in her second term of office after her landslide of 1983, and many BBC types were out to portray just how grim life was for us plebs under her rule. How I applauded at the time. But it isn't the truth. It wasn't like that for everybody - far from it. And young Punk Mary Smith (Linda Davidson), being moved into a Victorian hovel room, complete with iron bedstead, does not echo the experiences of young single mothers I knew back then. Indeed, many of the older generation were complaining that these young women were given far too much by the State.

Sue and Ali Osman (Sandy Ratcliff and Nejdet Salih) made a memorable couple as they slugged it out in the cafe.

The teenagers, apart from Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean), who appeared good for a giggle, were far too dowdy and miserable, and all-in-all the "Thatcher is killing everything good" vibe ("Community spirit went out when the Tories came in!" "It's that cow in Number 10!") is a little bit laughable.

The Square obviously hadn't begun its tumble downhill in the few short years of Maggie. But, that aside, early EastEnders is compelling viewing: Anna Wing as horror bag Lou Beale ("I've missed me bingo!"), Wendy Richard as a surprisingly chirpy Pauline Fowler ("I need a fag!"), Gretchen Franklin as lovely, dippy Ethel Skinner ("The last time I had beef, we had a different Prime Minister!"), Sandy Ratcliff as miserable, bitchy but somehow touchingly vulnerable Sue Osman ("ALI!!"), Ali Osman, the aforementioned's ever loving ("SUE - pack it in!!") and Anita Dobson and Leslie Grantham as Angie and Den Watts of the Queen Victoria public house ("Seventeen years since our marriage was consummated. Except it wasn't!" "You're barred!") particularly light up the screen for me.

And although Albert Square was rather too grim to be total reality, it certainly made compelling viewing and uncompromisingly pulled many issues of the day out of the closet and shoved them in our faces.

It was a shock.

Favourite characters? Well, my all time favourite EastEnder has to be Lou Beale - what a terrific battle-axe she was! I recall almost bumping into actress Anna Wing outside Boots in Brighton on a very hot, sunny day in the early 1990s. Lou, the character, had been dead since 1988, but suddenly coming face to face with Miss Wing, and being heavily hung over and dazzled by the sunshine at the time, I saw only Mrs Beale, and fully expected to get a terrible mouthful for almost knocking into her. I changed course and stumbled up the steps into Boots, although I'd had no intention of going there originally! With shaking hand, I sought out a hangover remedy and retired back to my hotel for a long lay down!

Number two favourite has to be Angie Watts - Anita Dobson. I know actors are supposed to act, but how on earth did she do it? At the beginning of a scene, we might find Angie crying. Then, suddenly, she was happy, all teeth and smiles. Then she was blazingly angry. Then she was frightened, heavily made-up eyes wide with fear. Then she'd suddenly laugh and turn playful...

Angie's wardrobe and snazzy '80s shaggy perm were also highlights.

And where would we have been without the sneering and surprisingly complex Den?

And Sue Osman - could be quite a bitch, but seemed so insecure I always wanted to give her a comforting hug.

Thoroughly engrossing viewing.

What a shame the BBC doesn't bring out some official DVD releases of '80s 'Enders.

Read what happened when Anita Dobson took to the pop charts and opened a bingo hall in the town where I live in 1986 here.


Pete L said...

I was really touched by Sue Osman's unhappiness and upset by the way she was written out in 1989, at baby Hassan's grave, with Ali snatching their new baby and Sue going mad and into a psychiatric hospital. And that was it - we never saw her again. So, I invented my own ending: a consultant at the hospital fell in love with Sue, and gradually she grew to trust and love him. Now, she's married to the consultant, living in Islington, got three nearly grown-up kids and happy and sorted.

I don't usually do that sort of thing, but I simply HAD to give Sue a happy ending!

Drew said...

Well, nobody's ever up-dated Sue's story on-screen, Pete, so I'll go along with your version of events. I remember being very concerned that Sue should find some luck and happiness. Sandy Ratcliff was simply excellent in bringing the character to life.