It may come as a surprise to you that I like East Enders and watch it regularly…
Well, my mother-in-law, a lady of great discernment and taste, was also an avid watcher; but it was only recently that I discovered the pleasures of this TV programme.
For those who don’t know, it’s a UK “soap opera”, set in the fictional Albert Square, in the East End of London, and has been running for many years. It has a fictional borough (Walford), a fictional pub (the Queen Victoria) and even a fictional London Underground station. It chiefly features members of fairly close-knit but intermarried families. It may be that some of the settings, storylines and characters are stereotyped, but well… it’s a soap opera. Isn’t that the point? Given that it’s on for two hours every week, it maintains high standards. It’s quite astonishing that it stays fairly fresh.
Again for those who do not know England (yes, excitingly, there are some among my readers) the East End is a traditional dockland and working-class area, now largely taken over by businesses and expensive housing. The programme portrays a community still largely rooted in the working-class history.
Watching it over a period of time gives some insights. Firstly, I would mention acting standards. These are variable, but I think generally good. There is one actor who steadfastly plays him or her self (I guess) but we’ll let that pass. In some cases- like a half-hour confrontation between a father and a son- there is real class and conviction.
Next, I am particularly interested by the overlapping story arcs, of varied lengths, that a soap opera can use- the stories within the story. It is possible in a soap opera to have really long plot sections and it’s fascinating to see how they develop and interact. Some of these story arcs are years long. Characters leave, return and have existences off screen. For a relative newcomer, like me, this can sometimes be disorientating but fun. Who is Mo? Who is Jean? What do they have to do with Stacey? Why does Phil shut the door on Mo? Looking these questions up leads me to a wealth of information, for example on Wikipedia. I love the idea that these fictional characters somehow do exist, in a strange alternative reality. What I really want, however, is an East Enders character/ family tree guide. It can be difficult to understand and remember relationships.
The morality of East Enders is complicated, or perhaps it would be better to say that the moralities are complicated. There is a surprising acceptance of criminal activity at varying levels, although baddies do often get their just desserts. Recently we have witnessed the foiling of plots by the dastardly Willoughby-Brown to buy up large parts of the Square, and by the dastardly Aidan Turner to use the Queen Vic as a drug dealing centre, among other things. We cheered when they finally were defeated.
If that sounds sarcastic, or ironic, it’s not meant to be. I genuinely like it. Perhaps there’s an element of escapism in my pleasure. My middle-class background in leafy Southern England has given me little knowledge of the East End, so I could not with confidence say how accurate the portrayal is; but I will be watching with interest how the latest twists and turns turn out.
Title picture by Kelvin 101 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Queen Victoria pub by Matt Pearson (Flickr: The Queen Vic) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons