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.