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Character Analyses

Mating for Life: Pauline Fowler and Charlie Slater

By Michael McCarthy

A man, a woman and a boy stand in front of a pigeon coop on a tenement rooftop, overlooking the Hoboken docks. The man, Terry Malloy, the woman, Edie Doyle. He hands her a pigeon’s egg. Terry tells Edie that pigeons mate for life. Pigeons are better than people, says the boy. Like the docks in On the Waterfront, Albert Square has its share of pigeons, and people are in no short supply, either. The equation gets trickier when you come up against Pat Evans Harris Beale Wicks Butcher, who certainly fails to qualify as a pigeon.

That leaves us with Pauline Fowler, no pun intended. A devoted parent, mother to Michelle, Mark and Martin, she’s carried on after the death of her spouse and soulmate Arthur. Pauline’s flame still burns brightly for the only man she will ever love. The only other man in her life is a school friend, Derek Harkinson, Gay, he has been as close a friend of the live-in kind as is possible, braving every obstacle the formidable Pauline threw up in his wake.

The actress who inhabits this dynamo of a woman is the late, never less than great, Wendy Richard. There’s an old saying that goes, don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs. At one point, against all logic, the writers decided that Pauline should remarry. After so many years of living on Albert Square, Wendy Richard held firm: Don’t be ridiculous, she said. Any writer fortunate enough to work with such a gifted actress should learn to say: Right you are.

A bird of another colour, no less faithful in his way, is the Square’s cabbie, Charlie Slater. Our Charlie has a brood of females, beginning with his feisty, lawbreaking mother-in-law Mo Harris; daughters Belinda, who managed to get under Ricky Butcher’s gear shift; Kat, a vivacious bundle of sexual energy playing hide-and-seek with Alfie Moon; Little Mo, happy and safe with Billy Mitchell; Lynne, always in a tug of war with husband Gary; and Zoe, trying to make a go of her stall in the market.

Charlie still keeps the flame burning brightly for his one-and-only love, his wife, Vivienne.

We have only the catch in his throat and his eyes tearing up to tell us, since Charlie came to the Square already a widower. But Viv is so much a constant presence that we too feel the loss of her, through the sheer force of empathy that the marvellous actor Derek Martin stirs in us. Through the betrayal of his brother Harry’s rape of the teenaged Kat, the deception of Zoe believing she was Charlie’s daughter and the wrenching emotional toll all this took on his family, Charlie, nonetheless, prevailed.

That such devotion lives on in the hearts of Pauline Fowler and Charlie Slater for their mates, is a reaffirmation that love continues even after death.

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