Stranger in A Stranger Land: Living EastEnders 24/7
By Sherry Chiger
When I moved from the suburbs of New York to a seaside village in
England's West Country in June, I knew I was in for some changes.
The taxi drivers actually speak English, the computer keyboards
place the "@" symbol where the quotation-mark key is on U.S.
keyboards, and you can't get a decent bagel, let alone sushi.
But once I figured out how to turn on the telly in my hotel room
(you have to flick the standby switch on the wall socket first), I was
looking forward to settling in with some familiar faces the
characters of EastEnders.
But what was this? Being a devoted reader of the British tabs
online, I knew that a number of key players had left the show. But I
didn't know who all these new faces were.
That surly teenager who sold clothing in the market was she
related to Tiffany or Janine? She bore a resemblance to both, albeit
much crankier. Who was the red-haired, red-faced lad who called Dot
"Grandma"? Those blonde preteens can't possibly be Ian's twins, can
they? And who are all those people living in Pat's house?
In fact, few of the faces on EastEnders were familiar. Ian is the
only original cast member left, though Dot and Pat from the show's
first era are still around as well. I'm relieved, as they were among
my favourites (yes, I like Ian I feel he's more sinned against than
sinning, and besides, someone's got to like him).
And Peggy's back, tottering around the Vic on her high heels once
more, just as Phil remains as shiny-faced and phlegmatic as ever.
But just as I was adjusting to prawn-and-salad-dressing
sandwiches (not bad) and shopkeepers saying "Thank you" not only when
I paid but also when I gathered my bags and once more as I headed to
the door, so I've been able to get used to the new residents of Albert
It helps that I'd arrived during a high-profile storyline
involving Phil, an unlikely fiancιe, and Phil's son (a plain,
bordering-on-unattractive kid who could not possibly be the result of
Phil's and Kathy's DNA, and who is portrayed by one of the worst child
actors I've ever had to watch). It also helps that while many of the
faces have changed, many other things have stayed the same: the caff,
the launderette, the Queen Vic (although it was getting refurbished
when I rejoined the story), Pat's earrings.
What's been more difficult to adjust to is seeing one-time
Walford residents in other settings. I tuned in to Coronation Street
one night and was startled to see Tricky Dicky at the Rovers (Corrie's
local), with grey-streaked frizzy hair and the dodgiest sideburns this
side of an Elvis impersonation contest. His character, Vernon, is more
thicky than tricky, and actor Ian Reddington does a marvellous job
inhabiting him, but when I watch him I can't help but think back to
Dicky's lady-killing ways.
Then there was the night I put on medical drama Holby City and
saw that Nigel had become a doctor some sort of specialist, in fact.
(Even more shocking for Young Ones fans: Vyvyan has become a
doctor too. Then again, he was pre-med at Scumbag U, if I recall
Dr. Nigel no, that's not the character's name, but I didn't
catch what it is has better taste in clothing than Nigel the video
store manager, but he's just as unlucky: His son has gone missing and
he's being accused of discrimination by another doctor.
Like Ian Reddington, Paul Bradley gives his latest character
different mannerisms and a different demeanour from his EastEnders
character there's something vaguely Talmudic about the Holby City
doctor but it's still disconcerting seeing someone I'd grown
accustomed to having in my home in one set of circumstances now in my
home in another guise.
In fact, terrestrial telly here in Britain is as thick with
one-time Walford residents as the skies of my seaside village are with
There's Zoe Slater involved with a modern-day Dr. Jekyll;
there's Joe Wicks cruising for sex in a London suburb; there's Pauline
talking about her least favourite contestant on this summer's Big
Brother (obviously it's Wendy Richard, not Pauline, who's commenting
on Big Brother; Wendy, who is apparently a fan of the show, dislikes
only one of the contestants, whereas Pauline would loathe them all).
The worlds of EastEnders and Big Brother collided in another way,
inside the Big Brother house itself.
The eventual winner, sweet but dim Brian, was gobsmacked when
another contestant told him that Walford and Albert Square didn't
That's true, of course, but as a stranger in a strange land,
alone here as I waited for my husband and daughter to join me at the
end of the summer, the past and present citizens of Albert Square have
been the closest I'd had to familiar faces as I settled in.
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