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Why I Have Loved EastEnders for 25 Years
By Mackenzie Lambert Wood
For those of you who have read my pieces in the Gazette over the
years, you will know that I have been an Anglophile since birth; so
much so that I married a Brit and now live in the U.K. It would be no
surprise that when a friend of mine told me about a new show in
England called EastEnders, I was more than excited about it. That is,
until I found out that it wouldn’t be shown in the Dallas area, where
I lived at the time.
It was, however, being shown in Virginia, where my parents lived,
my father was kind enough to start taping it for me when it began
airing on WETA. I received the first tapes and from the very first
episode, I was hooked. I was addicted, waiting for my fix in the form
of tapes arriving in the post every few weeks until KERA in Dallas
Mackenzie Lambert Woodstarted running it. I still taped every show and
though I have movedacross the pond, I still have boxes and boxes of those video tapes
with only a couple of years’ gap when I moved to an area in the U.S.
that wasn’t showing EE in their PBS line-up.
I just loved the feel of the show from the start. The other big soap
in the U.K., Coronation Street, was brightly lit and colourful (it ran
briefly on the cable channel USA in the States in the early ’80’s),
and along with the drama there was/is a lot of comedic tones to it.
EE, by contrast, was stark and gritty and seemed more real. It was a
taste of life in a part of England at the time. As Tracey Ullman said
in her introduction to the series, it didn’t shy away from tough
subjects, and for me, someone who had never lived in the U.K., it just
felt compelling and captivating.
From the earliest episodes, I had my favourite and least favourite
characters…. The entire Fowler family, Den and Angie, Ethel and Mary
made a real impression on me, while bratty Sharon, bitter Sue, and
pseudo- posh Debbie all made me want to reach into the television and
give them a smack upside the head. It was a show that brought out real
emotions in me, and because, in the beginning, I could watch several
(up to 12 half-hour shows per tape) episodes in a row, I could
submerge myself in the world of Walford. Even on my worst days, and we
all have those now and then, when nothing seems to be going right, I
could pop in a tape and be taken to a world where lives were
definitely harder and more complicated.
Watching the show in the U.S., you also have the advantage of not
knowing what will happen next, so when the father of Michelle’s baby
was revealed and when Den handed Angie the divorce papers, it was a
total surprise. (As was his first exit from the show, along the
canal.) I remember gasping in surprise at some of the twists and turns
in the show over the years and enjoying the anticipation of what would
happen next. But here in the U.K. now, you can’t walk by a news-stand
selling TV guides and soap magazines without being assaulted by
headlines and posed photos revealing the next big shocking episode in
all of the U.K. soaps. Even reading the newspaper here or surfing the
net, you are bound to stumble on a major spoiler. I do my best to
avoid the spoilers as much as possible, and my darling husband will
toss the weekly TV guide we get with the weekend newspapers before I
can see the cover. But it still is annoying that the press spoils the
fun of seeing a storyline unfold on the screen without hearing about
And what storylines! From teenage pregnancy to the East End mobsters –
never a dull moment in Walford. Some of the storylines were quite
tragic and, at least in the early days, well based in reality. Who can
forget Sue and Ali’s little son succumbing to cot death, Arthur’s
breakdown over the stress of joblessness, Mary’s struggle to provide
for her baby and herself, and of course the ongoing marital antics of
Den and Angie? As you watched the drama unfold in your living room
over the years, some of the characters started to feel like old
friends and some like annoying neighbours that you have to put up with
because you like the area.
My life has taken a lot of twists and turns, changes and relocations
in the past 25 years. EastEnders has always been there, in the
background, changing, twisting and turning, too, allowing me an escape
when things were bad, and pure entertainment when things were good. I
am very happy to now be able to watch the show as it airs here in the
U.K. It was always a show I loved to watch and is now a part of my
evening telly viewing, four nights a week. A lot of the characters
have come and gone, but as in real life, people change and move on.
But the backbone of the show, the Queen Vic pub and the Square itself,
the caff and the Arches are still there, and I can’t wait to see what