10 May 2011

EastEnders: Were Andy and Debs Yuppies?

Shirley Cheriton as Debbie Wilkins. Was Debbie one of those swaggering, ostentatiously rich yuppie people?

An interesting e-mail from "80s TV Lover":

You write quite a lot about EastEnders on here, but I'm not sure you've done the show justice, considering its impact and intial revolutionary soap techniques. Please, Please, PLEASE can we have more 1980s EastEnders stuff on here, and can I ask a pressing question? Were the characters of Andy O'Brien and Debbie Wilkins yuppies? Shirley Cheriton has described Debbie thus in recent years, but I never saw them that way at the time. Upwardly mobile, yes, but not yuppies!

Well, 80s TV Lover, I'm currently writing more EastEnders articles, intended to focus on Ali and Sue Osman (Nedjet Salih and Sandy Ratcliff) and Debbie Wilkins and Andy O'Brien (Shirley Cheriton and Ross Davidson) so I hope you will continue reading!

Certainly, I have made mention of the show's gritty story-lines and groundbreaking approach, along with Brookside, which saw soaps venturing into previously "No Go" territory.

As for Andy and Debs being yuppies, well, I know that Shirley Cheriton has commented that Debbie was, and the use of the "yuppie" word became quite nebulous after its early 1980s coinage. But I don't think Ms Wilkins and Mr O'Brien were actually yuppies, and didn't at the time. Upwardly mobile, yes, but not yuppies, as you say.

Consider this from The Times, October 1987, in the wake of Black Monday:

"I've lost my shirt today as well as the money of a lot of other guys," said one stereotype of the Yuppies who swarmed to the financial world to reap the benefits of the Reagan boom.

The term was originally American, and a yuppie was somebody who sought to make all they could out of the Reagan/Thatcher era, anybody could attempt to make it big, and yuppies sought to become ostentatiously rich.

Yuppies were associated with upwardly mobility, of course, but upwardly mobility was a much older concept. The yuppies sought to make all they could out of the favourable dosh-making conditions wrought by the Reagan/Thatcher era. The upwardly mobiles were usually far more modest, aspiring to a home of their own car, foreign holidays, nice car, etc.

As the '80s continued, usage of the yuppie word was applied to just about anybody who seemed to have done remotely well, often resentfully by those who hadn't (like me!), but in the strictest sense, you couldn't consider a nurse and a bank clerk (the occupations of Andy and Debs) to be yuppies (a nurse is particularly nonsensical). Nor, indeed, Colin Russell (Michael Cashman), a graphic designer who made Albert Square his home. My father-in-law was a graphic designer, but in no way could his upwardly mobile success be described as propelling him into yuppie status.

As an aside, I was a great fan of the Andy and Debs characters, I thought they were well-acted and made a fascinating contrast to the other EastEnders characters, but were absolutely wasted by the show's writers. I'll write more about that soon!

Read all our yuppie material here.

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