Sunday, 22 February 2015

Who Did it?

More properly pronounced WHO Did It?, British soap opera writers have proved again this week that they can not only write well but write believably and shockingly.

Bobby Ewing only qualified on one of those three fronts (waking up, indeed) but Bobby Beale has hit the soap bingo jackpot with all three (not to mention earning a shed-load of brownie points by being the creature responsible for eliminating one of the other most annoying characters).

Of course, I'm only assuming the murderer turns out to be young Bobby. I mean, I wrote this back on Thursday afternoon, yes? Er, on the 20th, I mean the 19th...

Even for us amateurs (I'm pretty sure none of the cast read this - especially through well-deserved hangovers) the 'live' exercise was a tough call - but one that the cast and crew rose to magnificently. Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett (Ian and Jane, of course) are seasoned veterans (sorry, Laurie - not so sorry, Adam) but even so, their performances were both flawless and packed with believable emotion. The likes of young Bobby (Eliot Carrington - yes, really Carrington), an almost as young Cindy junior (Mimi Keene) and Mick and Linda Carter's (Danny Dyer and Kellie Bright's) on-screen near-teen daughter Nancy (Maddy Hill) all gave similarly flawless performances as the cameras shared their thoughts and feelings with twelve million others.

I - and everyone I've spoken to so far - thoroughly enjoyed the live show(s) and the manner in which the denouement was unraveled. As I said at the top of this piece, the story had a very believable slant, no matter that the outcome was so unexpected by so many of us (I thought it was the Latvian market inspector, Alex Shirovs, or possibly Tanya Branning (Jo Joyner) but she wouldn't be coming back would she...).

I must admit that it did give me an opportunity to post a rather rude Tweet which seemed to please a few people (" I wonder how many little old ladies watching @bbceastenders tonight just said 'f%*&' for the first time in their lives?")...

Even the normally conservative (or possibly Conservative) Daily Telegraph seemed to like it if their Saturday review is anything to go by (Telegraph Review).

The shows not only provided the ultimately satisfying conclusion to the 'who killed Lucy' story-line, but they also managed to introduce some new stories-within-story.

That brings me back to Tanya Branning, briefly, who was a welcome sight after so long away (even if she did think that Adam's character was actually called Adam rather than Ian - and as she said herself on Twitter, '#leastyouknowitwaslive') and Christian Clarke who was equally welcome after a year or two away. Jo Joyner and John Partridge, the actors playing the characters, fitted their parts seamlessly ('Adam', excepted) into the whole and there was no change to their roles in terms of characterisation - no easy feat for both actors and writers, and another plus for 'Live Week'.

But then, of course, in true EastEnders style was the sight of a ghost from the past, and a very welcome apparition at that. Gillian Taylforth reprised her role as Kathy Beale/Mitchell despite us being told that she had died in a car accident almost a decade ago. Ian and Ben's mother - and Phil's ex - first appeared in the show back at the very beginning and remains one of the most believable of all the show's many hundreds of characters. So how come 'she comes back from the dead'? Well unlike the revelation of the identity of Lucy's killer I have no clue as to the  reason the scriptwriters will offer - but I would point out that her death has only been reported to the rest of the characters by Mr Honesty himself, Phil Mitchell, who is already trying to deny her a return (it would, after all, prove him to be the liar that Steve McFadden's character so patently and ominously is).

Back in 1996, we were treated to the sight of the the first of no less than five actors who have played the part of Ben Mitchell in less than ten years, But that in itself is not so unusual as child roles develop into teenage ones (and older if they unusually survive) - Hetti Bywater was the fourth Lucy Beale and her onscreen twin brother, Peter, has been played by no less than six different actors since their introduction in 1993.

Adult characters are different as a rule, though and if Ian and Ben's mother, Kathy, is to return (and little birds are now saying she will) then who better to play her than Gillian T? Back in the day she was a fiery East Londoner with far too much patience for her tiresome son and a predilection for romantic entanglements with the most obnoxious characters. Or 'very believable' in other words.

There were fireworks to end the live show, but I have a feeling that we'll be seeing plenty more within the script when Kathy confronts her past and new present.

Then there's the demise of Nick Cotton and a superlative performance from his on-screen mother played by June Brown who was 88 last week, no less.

But that's really the joy of such a show. Young and veteran, the cast is strong - maybe stronger now than it has ever been before in its thirty year life - and the current crop of writers and the producer (who gave a lovely nod to the show's original creators Julia (Smith) and Tony (Holland) in the final moments of the live show) are highly creative and bring much-needed believability to the set. The producer himself, Dominic Treadwell-Collins, saw the whole 'Who Killed Lucy' storyline as a three year project - in among other long-term tales - and must be applauded for his patience and attention to detail.

Everyone involved should also be applauded, in fact, for keeping the secret where it was known - for months in the cases of Laurie Brett, Adam Woodyatt and Ben Hardy (Jane, Ian and Peter, respectively) who have apparently been keeping the secret under extremely effective protective wraps for many weeks. And even new storylines were kept very quiet - to the point where Gillian Taylforth asked her children to watch the live show without telling them why, and they didn't bother (!). Then there's a whole new 'did he/didn't he' sub-plot as no one seems to know what happened between Mick Carter and his sister's... ok, his mother's...  obnoxious (other) son Dean (Matt Di Angelo).

And just what will happen to Dot? Do we have a new Nick Cotton lurking about the place? What will become of the new Carter baby - and who will his father prove to be? Will Stacey find peace? Will the Moons get back together? Just who is the new guy who seems to know the Mitchell girls? What will happen to the Masoods? Will Bobby's dire act remain a Beale secret? Will Ronni make a full recovery? Will.... and so it goes.

I've watched the show (on and off until recently) since the start. The whole concept of something set 'just down the road' from where I grew up (the name Walford is a mix of my hometown Walthamstow  where Tony Holland lived and Julia Smith was born, and Stratford) fascinated me - although I can't honestly say it had any influence on my decision to go back and live in Walthamstow for a few years in the 1990's.

People have complained that it's nothing like the real East End of London - but quite apart from the fact that it's a drama not a documentary, it actually is rather lifelike. Many of those complainers simply haven't lived in the area for decades and, like the show, the area has evolved as times have changed. And the soap has always been careful to move with the times and incorporate the news of the day into its stories. Who would have thought back in the 1980's that we would see a gay wedding, for example? Or an East European as a lead? Or the death of a major character?

Okay, that last one was a given really. But a child as the murderer?

I consider myself lucky that I now have thirty years of memories of the show and in what has been a hectic work-week for me, it was an especial joy to escape there these last few evenings. Mostly though I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for a series of episodes that lived up to their carefully-manicured billing.

I very much doubt I will live long enough to see another three decade's of EastEnders intrigue, but for as long as I can manage it I'll tune in and try to second-guess the storyline twists and turns. And if I'm ever treated to another week like 'Live Week' again, I will consider myself very lucky indeed.

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