Cast-Autographed Street Sign and VHS Tape Collection

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Own an autographed piece of Albert Square: A regular tradition at EastEnders is to get the entire cast autograph a street sign like the ones seen on the show. The signs are often contributed to charities and auctioned off to fans to raise money for a good cause.

That’s how the individual in South England who recently contacted me obtained his Albert Square sign, which he’s now willing to sell to a fellow fan. If you’re interested, please contact me at walfordgazette@gmail.com and I will put the two of you in touch. An offer is already in from a Walford Gazette subscriber willing to pay $700 plus shipping.

Signatures include some of the series’ biggest stars: June Brown (Dot), Steve McFadden (Phil), Wendy Richard (Pauline), Patsy Palmer (Bianca), Natalie Cassidy (Sonia), Todd Carty (Mark Fowler), and Shaun Williamson (Barry). Email me at walfordgazette@gmail.com for the complete list of actors who autographed it.

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Secondly, another fan and sometime Walford Gazette contributor Mackenzie Wood is looking for a good home for her six bins of VHS videocassettes of EastEnders’ first 10 years or more. Mackenzie has lived in England for over 10 years now. The tapes were recorded when she lived in the US.

All that Mackenzie wants if for the individual to cover financially the postage and packing of the tapes. Contact her at mlambertwood@gmail.com for more details.

Martin Kemp: ‘Peggy’ a Complete Kray Ripoff

Spandau Ballet Press Shots
Martin (on far right) with bandmates, courtesy of Sundance

Thirty-two years since Spandau Ballet called it a day – and six years since its return – the Not So New Romantics just wrapped up a brief North American tour finding numerous baby boomers anxious to relive the 1980s and smooch sessions to “True.”

Refreshing to find a decades-old band in reunion mode with its original lineup intact, the Spandaus also are promoting a feature-length documentary, Soul Boys of the Western World, which chronicles their rise, demise and revival.

Soul Boys of The Western World photo by Lynn Goldsmith

Spandau Ballet takes Manhattan, 1980s-style, Kemp second from right, photo by Lynn Goldsmith

Spandau bassist Martin Kemp, fondly remembered by EastEnders fans as the dashing gangster Steve Owen last seen blown to bits in a car explosion before handing off an infant to nemesis Phil Mitchell, shared some tidbits in his hotel lobby a few hours before taking the Beacon Theatre stage.

Was EastEnders’ Peggy Mitchell based on Violet Kray?

“Totally. It was a complete ripoff,” Kemp tells the Walford Gazette in an exclusive interview.

“I think it was Barbara [Windsor] who suggested [to the EastEnders producers] I play Steve Owen. I thought Barbara was fantastic. We used to talk a lot about Reggie Kray (whom Kemp played in the 1990 film The Krays). She knew him really well, and went out with him at one point. We spoke a lot about that. I love Barbara. Among entertainers, she’s one of the most beautiful women. We come from the same part of town. Whenever I meet up with her, it’s like meeting up with an aunt.”

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Larry Jaffee & Martin Kemp, Beacon Hotel lobby, 2 May 2015

Earlier this year, Kemp co-starred in Assassin with Danny Dyer, whose Mick Carter “is probably the best character they’ve had in a long time. Recently the show has gone to strength to strength.”

Kemp admits he’s not a regular EastEnders viewer these days, although he watched last Christmas and got caught up in the “Who shot Lucy?” drama this past February coinciding with the show’s 30th anniversary.

“I was lucky enough to be in EastEnders when the cast was really incredible. Myself and Tamzin [Outhwaite] – certainly Walford’s best looking couple, says the Walford Gazette], we turned into something special in a short period of time.”

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Read the Gazette’s first interview with Martin Kemp.

The Walford Gazette points out that Steve Owen’s E20 nightclub in Albert Square was later turned into Scarlett by Johnny Allen, played by Bill Murray, whom Kemp cast in his 2010 horror film, Martin Kemp’s Stalker, which he directed and co-wrote.

Did Kemp and Murray ever compare notes on EastEnders even though they missed each other in Walford by about a decade?

“We did, but nothing I’d like to say about it. In entertainment the jobs you have and the friendship you make are all very transient – you pass through. It’s not like an ordinary person you work with every day for six years. You’re new job is always right around the corner. But that’s how [EastEnders] is made, that’s how it’s done. You meet people, they’re your best friends, until the next bunch of best friends.”

On the eighth episode of the first season of the American sitcom Modern Family, a wife hopes to surprise her husband with an anniversary gift with a private concert of “True” by the bass player of Spandau Ballet, a cameo played by Ed Norton, making a rare television appearance.

Kemp wasn’t approached by Modern Family to play the part, even though he toiled in Hollywood following his acting breakthrough in The Krays and prior to his four-year EastEnders stint as Steve Owen.

“I laughed as everybody else did,” says Kemp, who was quite familiar with the Modern Family episode. “What was funny about that was the incredible research they did. When Ed comes through the door, they say ‘This was the bass player in between [original Spandau bassist] Richard Miller and Martin Kemp’. They made up [Norton’s character, Izzy LaFontaine]. Richard was the kid at school when the band first started. What a great compliment. It’s been covered so many times and so many years. Everybody loves to talk to you about it.”

Contrary to Internet lore, Kemp explains it didn’t take him three months to learn his instrument after Spandau manager Steve Dagger (who’s still at the helm) decided Gary’s younger brother must replace Miller because of his good looks.

“That’s a bit of a fallacy, really,” he points out of joining a band for reasons other than musicianship, a la Sid Vicious or Stu Stutcliffe. “I already had a school band that I put together,” explains Kemp.

“We were punk. It was called The Defects. But I played guitar, only three or four chords, because punk opened up the world of music to everybody. Every kid that wanted to be a rock star who couldn’t play guitar, it opened up. People then were listening to Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. To be a musician in a band you had to be brilliant. Punk changed all that. So I learned three or four chords.

“Then Gary and the boys asked me to be in [Spandau]. I picked up bass guitar. I knew how to move up and down the neck of the guitar. So I had to learn 14 songs in three weeks. There are moments in your life when the door opens, you know you have to walk through because if you don’t you’re going to miss out. [If you do,] it’s going to change your life. It’s a crossroads. It was something I knew I had to do.”

Did Martin’s mum urge him to join his older brother’s band?

“No, she urged Gary to let me in. It was Steve Dagger who wanted me to be in it. Getting Gary to agree was a different thing. I’m not sure Gary wanted his younger brother (by two years) in. I think my mum talked him into it.”

Kemp agrees that Spandau might have been in the right place at the right time, as MTV launched in late 1981 and the band was focused on visuals and fashion, a trend quickly dubbed “The New Romantics.” Within a few years, the entire Spandau lineup sang on the chorus of Bob Geldof’s African relief charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (lead singer Tony Hadley had two lead vocal lines) and performing as among the Live Aid headliners at Wembley.

But we also – to a certain extent – created the right place or the right time by becoming the house band of [Steve Strange’s nightclub] The Blitz.”

“In regard to being in the right place at the right time,” Kemp adds, “it wasn’t so much about luck. We created our luck by being the house band of that whole movement, ‘The New Romantics’.”

Soul Boys of the Western World does a great job depicting that cultural scene, and Dagger’s ability to create a media mystique through word of mouth. Before they landed a major label deal, Spandau’s gigs were not advertised yet packed due to the buzz.

In retrospect, performing at Live Aid “was a big moment – you knew how important that day was. Before that, bands never got together. And it was the first bands made money for a cause. We changed the idea of charity. It was a massive day. Everybody – two billion people ¬– watched it around the world that day. It was fun making history.”

Spandau doesn’t dwell on missing royalties never played in the countless proms and weddings that used “True” as its theme song.

“The gig last night in New Jersey was fantastic. Everybody was dancing. But when we played “True” it was like we were kicking it into the National Anthem.”

I tell him I have my own personal memory circa 1984 making out to “True” in my car with my then girlfriend (Are you out there, Lisa?).

“When we put that track together, all of our memories were based on listening to and making out to Marvin Gaye (hence, the soul boys) when we were kids. That [‘True’] line ‘Listening to Marvin all night long’, that’s where it came from. It was our record to make out to.”

Kemp named his 2000 autobiography after the song. “I’ve done a lot of different stuff. In my life and I’m proud of that. On the street there are a few different things that people recognise me for – that’s a nice position to find yourself in.”

Regarding the Kemps starring in The Krays around the same time that the band seemed to have run its course, Martin says. “It wasn’t so much that the band was coming to an end. It reached a sell-by date. The eighties were turning into the nineties. The nineties weren’t so much about pop music as it was about DJ culture. We had been going for something like 12 years, so we ran out course naturally. We never really ever split up. When we stopped playing, it was just the right time. If we carried on another five years, I don’t think we’d be here today.”

How did The Krays project land at the Kemps’ feet?

“The two guys who had made Spandau’s music videos during the eighties bought the script about the Kray twins off Roger Daltrey, and do Gary and I want to play the parts? We had been acting since we were nine years old in [Anna Scher’s famous] drama school. It wasn’t a mad idea. ‘Do you want to be in a film?’ So we took it on. I’m proud of what we did.”

Kemp says he and his brother were offered a couple of other acting projects during the eighties. “But it was never the right time. The Krays was at the right time because I could feel the band was naturally reaching its end. I was looking for a springboard to the next part of my life. It was a safety net for me to kickstart where I was going next. In the end it was a great film. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

The band in the eighties only used Gary’s songs because it was “a winning formula. It was unlikely we were going to change that.”

“We’ve been through a lifetime of ups and downs. When it comes down to it, we’re just a very old-fashioned, five-piece rock band.”

Record Store Day 2015

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In honour of worldwide Record Store Day on the 18th of April, I thought I’d pay tribute to one of my holy grails, the 45rpm, 7-inch single of the EastEnders theme song composed by Simon May b/w “Julia’s Theme”, as in EE co-creator Julia Smith.

No, BBC Records did not re-release it as an official RSD release; that would be too clever with it being EastEnders’ 30th anniversary in 2015. But what do I know?

My RSD purchases included British invasion singles by Jeff Beck and The Kinks.

Happy crate and bin-hunting.

Remembering EE Co-Creator Tony Holland

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By Michael McCarthy

Tony Holland, along with his producing partner Julia Smith, created EastEnders.

A remarkable television writer, Holland was a man for all seasons, in an industry of creation by committee. If left to today’s writers’ rooms, all the king’s horses, his men and his many mistresses would still be floating somewhere in the ether above the cocaine spoon and the sweet drifting smoke of marijuana. No index cards or corkboard for Holland, just a notebook, some pencils and a fertile imagination.

All of the storylines for EastEnders’ first season came from Holland’s fevered brain. He had 14 days to come up with 23 characters, Albert Square, the Queen Vic, the Bridge Street Market, all the council houses, and Arthur’s allotment.

(Editor’s note: Smith and Holland left EastEnders in 1989 after working on the show for five years, reportedly over talk of bringing back Den Watts from the dead, which eventually happened in 2003. They previously collaborated on Z-Cars, Angels, and following EastEnders, they created Eldorado, which only lasted a year. Holland died in 2007 at 67 and Smith in 1997 at 70.)

Every builder knows that you can design whatever structure you choose, be it glass and steel or con- crete and plasterboard, if you lay a truly strong foundation. Within a frame an artist can create anything from an intimate portrait to a still life to a seashore full of summer revelers.

Holland’s idea for the families that would populate the Square – the Beales, Fowlers, Wattses and all the other blue-collar inhabitants – formed a community with an “us against them, hurt one of us, you hurt us all” mentality. Each day is a struggle to put food on the table, there are no guarantees, no handouts, a pride of place. Put it simply, they’re survivors.

Sure, Holland created the silver-tongued devil Dirty Den, but this human mosaic allowed for a future ducker and diver like Big Mo, or the apple of every lady’s eye Alfie Moon, or good-hearted Jane offering practical advice.

Among Holland’s most memorable masterpieces was Den and Angie’s Christmas Day 1986, watched by 30.15 million viewers, more than half of the UK population at the time. He wrote himself those two scripts about Den asking Angie for a divorce.

In his four years as EastEnders co-creator, Holland interestingly penned himself only a dozen scripts (often directed by Smith), but his tenure as EastEnders’ storytelling creative genius was always evident in the rich characters, plots and story arcs.

EastEnders renews itself as it casts off storylines and characters. It’s come a long way since its premiere in 1985. Its writers carried a larger responsibility as it went from two episodes a week to three, and then to the current four.

On any given day the human drama that is EastEnders can suddenly explode, devastating a life, a relationship and sending characters helter-skelter. These episodes represent EastEnders at its very best, and this is why the show constantly surprises.

Thinking about the anniversary a month later

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By Larry Jaffee

If EastEnders’ 30th anniversary proved anything this past 19 February, it was that the series could still grip the nation (that would be the UK) with a whodunit.

Kudos to current executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins and the publicity office for feeding the Internet with a constant barrage of memes (intriguing photos posted on Facebook, Twitter, etc.) in the months and weeks leading up to “EastEnders Live Week,” 17–20 February (also known as “EastEnders: The Week of Revelations”).

Treadwell-Collins described the live week as being “a fantastic opportunity for EastEnders to create a massive national event, and one that will enable us to celebrate 30 years of [the show] in spectacular style.” He didn’t disappoint.

The actual anniversary episode, in which the killer was revealed (no spoiler will be revealed here), peaked with 11.9 million viewers (and a 44.7% share), and was considered a great success. In contrast, “Who Shot Phil?” garnered 22 million nearly 14 years ago. In 2001, social media wasn’t invented yet. More than 30 million Brits watched Den serve Angie divorce papers on Christmas Day 1986, but then there were only four TV channels.

The 19 February show was performed entirely and broadcast live on BBC-1. Live scenes had been inserted into episodes during the week. Superimposed on the screen throughout the week was: #EELive, encouraging viewers to comment via Twitter.

As the murder mystery unravelled, social media records were broken twice. The first episode saw 508,678 tweets sent, while the flashback episode broke that record with 519,359, making it the most tweeted-about UK soap episode. The live broadcasts came off without a hitch, except for one moment when an actress, who shall go unnamed, asked, “How’s Adam?”, when she meant “Ian.”

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Speaking of whom, special kudos to Adam Woodyatt for his amazing performance. The London Underground got into the 30th celebration. Passengers travelling via Bromley-by-Bow station on 18 February were treated to special station announcements from Danny Dyer (who plays current Queen Vic landlord Mick Carter) throughout the day. Mick is often found passing through the barriers of the fictional Walford East Station, which in the show replaces Bromley-by-Bow on the map. Putting his own spin on various announcements, Dyer told passengers to stand back from the closing doors and to ensure they’re using a valid ticket.

Stateside, the Los Angeles Times ran a nice essay from a London writer about why EastEnders is so important. “You’re forced from an early age to watch it, in a way,” TV critic Emma Bullimore was quoted as saying. “You see them grow up as you grow up. They’re kind of part of your life.”