Walford Gazette: Murdoch Wants BBC to Divest EE

Murdoch Wants BBC to Divest EE

LONDON -—If media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has his way, the
BBC should be forced to sell off its most popular
programmes, such as EastEnders.

The proposal, which was made recently by Tony
Ball, the chief executive of Murdoch’s satelllite TV
company BSkyB, is the first salvo in the debate over
the BBC’s royal charter renewal in 2006. The charter
sets the terms of the corporation’s budget and method
of funding.

Under the Murdoch, proposal, the BBC would also
be banned from buying imports, including Hollywood
blockbusters like Harry Potter.

The plan was revealed at the Media Guardian
Edinburgh international television festival. BSkyB has
long accused the BBC of squeezing the commercial
sector with a stream of populist programmes.

Murdoch’s plan calls for the BBC to put up for
auction at least six of its most popular programmes
every year to commercial rivals such as ITV or Channel
4. The proceeds would be ploughed back into the
BBC’s budget to replace the lost shows.

British households are required to pay £116
(roughly US$174) licence fee, which annually generates
for the BBC £2.5 billion (US$3.75 billion).

The BBC responded to the proposal: “We are
flattered that Tony Ball should be so preoccupied with
the BBC but his comments have to be seen in the
context of Rupert Murdoch’s long and hostile campaign
against the BBC.
Thankfully for the British public, Mr Murdoch has not
been successful in this campaign.

“This speech clearly reflects BSkyB’s view that
programmes are merely a commodity to be bought and
sold. The BBC—and probably the majority of British
broadcasters and producers—believe programmes are
about creativity, talent and broader cultural and
social issues.”

Besides BSkyB, Murdoch’s media holdings include
the 20th Century Fox film studio, the Fox broadcast
network, The Times and The Sun British daily
newspapers, as well as the New York Post.

Walford Gazette: John Altman on his EastEnders alter ego – Nasty Nick’ ‘99% Rotten COTTON’

John Altman on his EastEnders alter ego

Nasty Nick 99% Rotten COTTON

By Larry Jaffee

NEW YORK — “There were three,” rattles off John
Altman, when asked how many people on EastEnders has
his alter ego ‘Nasty Nick’ Cotton killed since
February 1985 when the series debuted in the U.K.

“Reg Cox, Eddie Royle, and accidentally my son
Ashley [a teenager who hasn’t yet shown up on U.S.
public TV screens]. And don’t forget I tried to poison
[to death] my dear old Ma [the long-suffering Dot
Cotton]. Not too bad, eh?”

In person, Altman turns out to be nothing like
Nick and looks great for his 51 years. He usually
doesn’t reveal his age to the U.K. press, he confides.
Nick’s tattoos, he smiles, were make-up, as were the
needle marks during Nick’s heroin-shooting days.

Altman visited New York in late June on a holiday
to the States with his 16-year-old daughter Roseanna.
Staying at the Long Island home of Paul Bennett, an
expatriate friend he’s known since schooldays, Altman
paid a visit to WLIW to tape a commercial spot to help
them promote on-air the then impending EastEnders
switch to Saturday nights. WLIW’s Matthew Digirolamo
was good enough to tip off the Walford Gazette of
Altman’s local presence and how he might be up for an

“I feel quite lucky to have played Nick Cotton
for so many years,” says Altman. “Some actors never
get anywhere. And every time I’ve been on EastEnders,
they have quite meaty storylines for me. From an
acting point of view, it’s been a good experience.
It’s a bit of a cross to bear sometimes though—him
being so nasty. When they’re casting, I tend to get
overlooked for parts like the warm, loving
father—which as you can see I am in real life.

“It’s [playing Nick] a double-edged sword really
because I’ve been labelled ‘Nick Cotton’ for the rest
of my life. But it’s been great because I’ve been in
and out [of EastEnders] the last couple of years. And
in the theatre I have been able to play Billy Flynn in
an U.K.-touring show of Chicago.”

A BBC reviewer on a Norwich performance last
November wrote: “Altman certainly looks the part, and
his performance as the silver-tongued courtroom
attorney draws on his recent TV experience as Dot
Cotton’s smooth-talking son.”

As far as coming back again as Nick, Altman
says, “They’ve left it open.” They being the various
creative teams that have run EastEnders over the past
18 years. “I think they keep him like an ace card up
their sleeve. When it gets a bit quiet, [time to bring
back] Nick Cotton.”

Indeed, Nick has probably returned to the Square
more than any other character, not to mention that he
was there from the very first episode in February
1985. I tell him how EastEnders fans often vividly
remember the show’s first-ever scene of Den Watts
kicking in Reg Cox’s door; I remember better the last
part of that episode with Den throwing Nick out of the
Vic after getting into a fight with Ali. “And Nick’s
fist comes through the window,” Altman adds, finishing
my thought.

Asked whether he thought that the EastEnders
creative teams ever went too far with his evilness,
such as poisoning Dot, Altman responds, “Not really. I
try to find anything really nice about Nick.” He
thinks a moment. “Well, he gave his leather jacket to
his son Ashley. He did love his son, you know? And
when his son dies, he was actually grief-stricken
looking over at the coffin. I don’t know if you seen
that episode yet?”

I tell him no, and explain the time warp
Americans who appreciate EastEnders find themselves in
and how I didn’t yet get BBC America when that
storyline hit.

Even though Nick was responsible for Ashley’s
death, explains Altman, “Nick’s warped mind still
blames it on Mark Fowler. I don’t know what else Nick
could do really, other than go out like James Cagney.
Personally I wouldn’t want to see him as a nice guy. I
don’t think the viewers would want to either. He’s 99
percent rotten Cotton, yeah.”

On the Nick Cotton scale, Altman comments that
EastEnders’ Trevor was “a good bad guy.”

Altman’s acting credits also include small parts
in the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back and
the 1979 film Quadrophenia, based on Pete Townshend’s
1973 concept album by The Who.

For Jedi, “I was only working on it for a couple
of days. It’s easy to miss me, but I did work on it.
Quadrophenia was [an acting] learning curve for me.
That’s a cult movie in the U.K.”

I point out, “Here too.”
Another major role outside of EastEnders for
Altman was playing George Harrison in a 1979 TV movie
called Birth of the Beatles. A musician in real life,
Altman felt at ease playing Harrison, whom he closely
resembles physically.

Asked whether he ever met Harrison, he regrets
that he never did, but like fellow EastEnders alum
Carol Harrison (who played Tiffany and Simon’s flashy
mum, Walford Gazette, No. 36), Ringo Starr once
recognised ‘Nick Cotton’ in public, remembers Altman.

Of what’s on U.S. telly, Altman comments that “24
is damn good television; there’s so much going on at
the same time.”

He mentions playing one of the leads in a play
called Bouncers, a satire about nightclub life that’s
booked for major U.K. cities through January.

Bouncers, written by respected playwright John
Godber, was first performed in 1977 at the Edinburgh
Fringe Festival and recently enjoyed a successful run
in the West End’s Whitehall Theatre.

The production of the play also stars Terry
Duckworth, an actor in EastEnders’ rival Coronation
Street, in an obvious ploy by the producers to bring
the punters to the theatre.

The four leads in Bouncers play a total of 47
parts—from lager louts to handbag-clutching girls,
reminiscent of the acting trio who comprise the BBC’s
bizarre series The League of Gentlemen (see page 11).

Altman described his Bouncers characters to the
British newspaper The Independent in a recent
interview: “I switch constantly between three
characters: Eric, Maureen and Baz. I was told it would
stretch me! There is Lucky Eric, a bouncer, so-called
because he always finds a fiver on the dance floor.
Maureen, a bit busty, but not a bag, likes a drink and
a bit of a laugh. And a young yob called Baz, fit for
a fight Friday night—get down there, have a skinful,
maybe a Chinese chicken-in-a- basket, and try to pull
a bird. The music will change—different disco
numbers—one minute I’m a woman, then suddenly I’m a
man. It’s quite bizarre.”

Following Bouncers, Altman tells the Walford
Gazette, he’s set to appear in a in pantomime
production of Peter Pan, which he also did last
holiday season. “And after that, who knows?”

With Dirty Den coming back, I mention that
there’s probably an opportunity to bring back Nick yet
one more time given the history (I mention the
gripping prison scenes) and the fact that there’s no
love lost between the two characters. “Yes, that was
when he confessed to murdering Reg Cox, thinking that
Dirty Den would be impressed. I haven’t heard anything
[about coming back]. And I’m pretty booked doing

Walford Gazette: The Public TV/BBC America Timewarp

The Public TV/BBC America Timewarp

By Esta Asteroff

If it’s Wednesday, it must be EastEnders on PBS. No!

If it’s Friday, it must be EastEnders on BBCA.
No, no, no!!! If it’s Sunday, it must be the rerun of
EastEnders on BBC America. No, no!! (Ed. note:
pre-Aug. 4.)

If it’s Monday (circa early 2001), it must be
EastEnders: The Early Years on BBCA. No, no, no,

Like a lot of people, I’ve been fortunate enough
not only to see EastEnders on PBS, but also to now see
current U.K. episodes on BBCA. Little did I realize
that there would be a downside to this: total
confusion as to who is in, who is out, who is back,
who is dead, and who is alive—to say nothing of whose
child is whose, who shot whom, is that a new actress
in that role, and just who is that bloke?

When I moved from New York City to Florida, I
quickly learned that neither of my PBS stations
carried EastEnders. (Many of you would have packed up
again and left!) But I did get current U.K. episodes
every Sunday, with a repeat on Fridays.

To fill in the three-year gap between where I
left off watching in New York and where I am now on
BBCA, I’m getting tapes from a trusty friend. In a few
years, I’ll be about back to where I started. Sort of
like that old song, “I’m my own grandpa.”

Meanwhile, although I was never averse to
spoilers, there was a lot I didn’t know. For example,
since the storyline involving the Slaters was so
complicated, I never paid attention to those spoilers.
Similarly, the whole contretemps of
Saskia/Steve/Mel/Lisa et al, was too daunting to read
about without knowing any of the characters involved.

At the same time, I was forced to wait for weeks
to get caught up on the PBS episodes. My belongings
with my VCR hadn’t arrived, so I couldn’t play any
tapes. I became more behind to the point where I am
now: totally, hopelessly mired in confusion.

At long last, the VCR arrived and I popped in a
tape with PBS episodes. What is happening? Well, Grant
had begun his affair with his mother-in-law Louise;
Tiff was on her massage course; Bianca learns she is
pregnant again; Gianni learns George may be his real
father; Mark and Ruth are having big problems; Melanie
Healey and Lisa first appear. Terry and Irene have not
yet tied the knot; Sonia is living with Bianca and
Ricky; Peggy and Frank are an item.

Oh, I’ve finally met Jamie Mitchell. And all this
has happened in the few short months since I’ve been
out of the PBS loop. Whew!

But there is no sign of Samantha’s or Sharon’s
return; there is no Jim (Carol’s father); there is no
Laura, Nathan, Janine. Steve has not yet appeared
(although I hear it’s soon).

Cut to BBCA. While waiting for my VCR to arrive,
I still had access to a TV and BBCA. So I tune in, and
that’s when all hell broke loose.

All of a sudden there is the malevolent Nathan,
trying to break up Natalie and Barry. (By the way,
when did Natalie return? And with a nose job!) The
whole Steve/Melanie/Saskia storyline is over, and it’s
not even begun on PBS, so I have no idea what went on
there. Where is Michael Rose and family? I know
Matthew Rose has a long sad storyline, but that hasn’t
started on PBS either. So there are huge gaps in my
knowledge. Stories and characters have come and
already gone and I am in the dark.

On top of that, I’m now immersed in the sad
spectacle of the Slaters. Little Mo (a more
appropriate name might be Little Mind) is in jail.
I’ve met the awful Trevor, but I’ve yet to see the
episodes where he abuses her and she attacks him.

Suddenly Sharon and Samantha are back. The new
Sam, and the new Janine, take some getting used to,
but I was shocked to hear Sharon returned because the
wonderful Angie died. I was not prepared for that.
Mostly, though, I never can remember who is still
in or out on either PBS or BBCA.

Why is Lisa hot for Michael when she’s with Mark?
Oh, that’s because it’s PBS not BBCA. And whose baby
is it anyway?

What happened to Sarah Hills? Robbie is back on
BBCA, but still gone from PBS. Yikes. You really need
a scorecard here.

I knew I wasn’t alone in this great confusion, so
I asked some other fans to share their experiences.
I’d hoped to learn something about how to handle this,
and also to help others. Here’s what they have to say:

Jane Pond, of Philadelphia, reports: “It’s
interesting to talk about the cognitive dissonance
between the U.S. episodes and the BBC ones. I found it
most discon-certing when, arriving in the U.K., I
would watch the ‘Omnibus.’ Sometimes I would see part
of a storyline in which I knew very few of the
characters. I think that one I saw several years ago
will be coming up soon, involving a new doctor to the

“In November 2000, I caught the
Peggy/Frank/Pat/Roy episodes. I couldn’t believe my
luck! I don’t usually read ahead, so don’t know what’s
going on. Sometimes, when the episodes would show up
on PBS, I would be reminded of my trips to London.
Those are nice memories.

“Here in Philly, I think every-one who is
currently on (or has just left) from the current
story-lines has showed up. Interesting that some are
more glamorous later on than in the beginning.”

Chimes in Tim Wilson of New York City: “Watching
EE on both PBS and BBCA can be a fascinating
experience because, unbeknownst to both, obviously,
there can be a synchronicity between their EE
broadcasts. An example which resonated most to me
occurred back in September 2000. On BBCA in
EastEnders: The Early Years (reruns of the show which
harkened back to 1986, and discontinued last year),
Ethel and Dot were seen in their famous, brilliant
two-hander episode.”

Reports Doris Evans, also of New York City:
“Well, I have been watching BBCA since about Halloween
time 2001 and I felt giddy for a time shifting back
and forth.

“ The WLIW episodes (with Tiffany’s attempting to
leave Grant) are currently more interesting than the
BBCA current episodes of the extremely
dysfunctional family of the Slaters and the constant
berating of Zoe and Anthony’s relationship; Mark’s
trying to have a family and relationship with
talkative Lisa who is a passive trouble maker; Ian’s
descent into debauchery.

I’m adjusting, so when WLIW is about to come on,
I watch the last 20 minutes of the week before, which
helps centre me to what’s coming, and I travel back in
time and know everything. I just feel lucky to be an
EE fan and enjoy every minute of it.”

Reports Dana Gordon, also of New York City: “I
tape both the PBS and the BBCA episodes (on the same
tape) and then watch them when I have the time. I use
the same tape over and over so not only do I end up
with different time periods, I get storyline shifts
from the same period back to back as well. If I’m not
paying close attention, I can really get

“In any event, I certainly experience that
disconnect you are talking about. I’ve often watched
an episode not really knowing what time it’s from and
being quite startled by a particular character showing
up. Good thing it’s all on tape so I can rewind and
follow the story again, this time with the “right”
time on my EastEnders watch!

“The most interesting disconnect moments
are happening now. The WLIW New York PBS storylines
are about three years behind BBCA, and the gap can be
tricky to fill, especially where the same characters
show up in both times.

“I know that many viewers don’t like spoilers,
but I’m not one of them. I’ve read Tiffany’s Diary
(available for sale through the Walford Gazette) and
Bianca’s Diary books as well as others which include
current U.K.
storylines. “The current PBS stories are just what I
read about a couple of years ago in the diaries. I
have found that it doesn’t matter what I read about a
future storyline—when it actually happens, I’m

“Of course, like many viewers, there’s that other
source of the disconnect: I make up storylines in my
head for my favourite characters, so there’s
been a bit of surprise when something I think “should”
happen happens sort of the way I imagine it. Either
that proves the magic of EastEnders, or it proves that
I am watching far too much television!”

Finally, someone who wasn’t too confused, fellow
New Yorker Donna Peet: “I was so thrilled to finally
get BBC America, that I happily overlooked any
confusion from watching storylines separated by more
than three-and-one-half years—although it is slightly
disconcerting when new characters pop up on the PBS
series that have either been on BBCA for some time or
already left. It throws me a little, and then I get
used to it.

“I just realized one thing that keeps me focused
as to which EE era I’m watching: Peggy’s hairdos.
There are two, but when I see the shorter one, I know
we’re in the new millennium.”

Walford Gazette: Joining The U.K. Soap Press for a Day

Joining The U.K. Soap Press for a Day

By Denise Field

On our trip to England earlier this year, my husband,
Paul Field, and I were invited to visit EastEnders’

We jumped at the chance, seeing it as perfect
opportunity to give our Walford Gazette readers
exciting news and happening of their favourite show,

Upon our arrival, we were delighted with the surprise
of being able to sit on a panel in which many
reporters from leading U.K. soap magazines were
allowed to interview several of the EastEnders cast in
character form. This basically meant that questions
asked were made directly to the character and not to
the actor that portrays them.

The first actor to appear was Dean Gaffney
(Robbie), who strolled in wearing jeans and a Gap
sweatshirt, appearing very comfortable before the
press. He stated that this was his ninth year in the
role of Robbie and that he is delighted to be part of
the wonderful cast of EastEnders.

When asked what was happening in Robbie’s life,
Robbie went on to talk about a blooming romance with a
young woman who has a young son. Dean went on to say
that Robbie was always lonely, and so Willard (the
dog) was created by executive producer John Yorke. He
says he would like to see his character get a girl
that would turn everyone’s heads and have them all say

Dean said his dream role on EastEnders would be a
combination of Ian Beale’s ambition to be “a
successful businessman running lots of businesses, the
comedy of Nigel and entertaining like Barry.”

Dean added that he would love to direct one day.

He also made it clear to all that he is not
“spotty,” as reported in many tabloids, and isn’t
appreciative of the name they have give him of “Spotty
Robbie.” He pointed to his face. “See I have a very
clear complexion,” which this reporter can contest is
true. He added that many things reported by the
tabloids are just not true.

The interview session also gave us a glimpse of
some of the actors who play characters familiar to
EastEnders fans who watch via BBC America but are
still several years away from their introduction on
U.S. public television.

After Robbie left, Nick Bailey, who plays Dr.
Anthony Trueman, strolled in. Dr. Trueman is 31; he’s
smitten with 18-year-old Zoe Slater. He’s black and
she’s white. He went on to say that his character
feels torn with conflicting emotions. Even though Zoe
is not highly educated, they share warm conversations
with each other and he finds her refreshing. Another
complication is that Anthony used to date Zoe’s oldest
sister, Kat, who is not comfortable with the torch
that Zoe has for the doctor.

Anthony also has difficulty with his brother,
Paul, who believes the man sharing their house and
posing as their father is actually a fake.

I promise you, there are great storylines for
this family ahead.
Nick added that on April 12 he would be running in a
marathon for Cancer Research UK, and that he has been
training three times a week to prepare for this
15-mile run. He said that he has a personal interest
in helping find a cure and the prevention of cancer,
as he sadly lost an uncle to the disease.

The next character to be interviewed was Natalie
Cassidy, who plays Sonia, wearing casual pants, sweat
jacket, a white shirt and a baseball cap. She quickly
rushed in as she was running late. She apologized to
all and sat down quickly to answer the questions
bestowed upon her.

The questions began along the line of how it
feels to play opposite one of England’s teen idols,
Jack Ryder, who plays Jamie. She tells us how people
come up to her and can really be pretty mean
concerning her role as Sonia. A lot of young girls are
actually jealous of her. But she says she really
enjoys working with him and that he is a really nice
guy as well.

Natalie went on to talk about the role in which
now Sonia is playing now. She views Sonia as a
mothering figure, always caring for everyone and not
putting herself first.

Cassidy said she loves the part of Sonia and
enjoys being in the spotlight. She describes herself
as “a greedy actress,” who welcomes being put on the
set as much as possible. She finishes by adding she
would love to see a wedding in the future for Sonia.

After that delightful interview, we were
refreshed with the presence of Michelle Ryan, who
plays Zoe Slater. All dressed up in court attire, as
the filming of her on-screen sister Maureen’s trial
had begun taping.

Michelle quietly sat down and asked what was
expected of her from this interview. Once prepped, she
let the questions flow. Right away, everyone wants to
know what exactly is going on with her and the good
doctor Anthony Trueman. She begins to say that with
all Zoe has been put through, finding out her
parentage and the lies that her family has told her
all her life, Zoe now needs a stable person in her
life—a knight in shining armour, so to speak. Anthony
was always there for her, giving her the emotional
support she couldn’t get at home. And now as an
18-year-old young woman, Zoe finds herself dealing
with many emotions. Zoe is on the road to discovering
herself and yearns to make her own happiness.

With her recent ordeal of returning home after
her disappearance, she finds she has matured in many
ways and is ready to take from life what she needs.
Michelle said her character, when she wants something,
usually goes with her feelings and what she wants now
is Anthony.

Even though there will be a lot of opposition and
gossip from those in the Square, Zoe is determined not
to let it get in her way. She has always seen Anthony
as a good friend and now that she is 18, she sees
nothing wrong with what can develop between them.
Discussing the dance he took her to, she added that he
is a really good dancer, and that she just loves
working with Nick, who plays Dr. Trueman.

She also told us how the actors who play the
Slaters all work well together, and that she loves
being a part of this on-screen family.

One of the reporters then asked her, “Are you
comfortable with kissing on the set?” To which she
replied, “Yes, I have no problem with it.”

On a lighter note, she amused us with a story of
how the popularity of her character has slightly
conflicted with her off-screen life. She told us that
now she can’t enjoy the luxury of just going to a
store without being recognized and how one day a girl
just kept following her around a shop staring at her.
She said it made her feel a bit uncomfortable. But she
still enjoys the stardom and loves being in

After Zoe left, we were given the pleasure of
meeting and interviewing the well-known actress Tamzin
Outhwaite, who plays Melanie. As it turned out, it was
Tamzin’s last day of filming. When asked how she felt
at this moment, she said she had mixed emotions. She
was sad about leaving but also very excited about the
new things she will be doing.

Tamzin told us that she had been working on a
six-part series for U.K. television and will be
working on it from April to August.

But immediately after finishing EastEnders, she
will be taking a short holiday in Los Angeles—a trip
for business and pleasure. She mentioned that her
cousin was getting married there, and she was
attending the wedding.

We asked what she thought of Melanie. Tamzin
began telling us that she was surprised that the
audience actually took to her part. She saw her
character as the girl-next-door type, who was a good
mate, and a bit of a flirt. She felt her character
came onto the show at a good time.

When asked what episode was her favourite, with a
chuckle she replied, “The time when Mel and Lisa drank
tequila slammers and got drunk in the Vic.”

She tells us that Lucy Benjamin, who plays Lisa,
brought out the best in her. She spoke highly of the
entire cast and informed us that she will truly miss
this part of her life.

She promised to keep in contact with the cast
members, mentioning so many of their names and
smiling. She added that she was delighted with the
fact that the door will still be open for her to
return to the show.

She summed up by saying that working on
EastEnders was the best two years of her life and the
biggest learning experience. She also learned how to
balance her private and professional lives during
these years on the set.

What does Tamzin have planned for her future? She
would love to learn Italian, take up an instrument and
perhaps do some singing and dancing.

We were able to see how the press gets its
information on the characters and their storylines. A
production assistant named Leslie then let us watch
some filming taking place that day.

We quietly walked through the streets of the set,
making sure we didn’t get in the way or make any noise
that could disturb taping. Filming at this moment were
Dr. Trueman and Jim, walking through the market.

We also watched them filming a young girl
chatting up Winston at his stall, while her friend
helped herself to some CDs and then later went on to
mug Sonia. We caught a glimpse of John Bardon (Jim)
sitting smoking a cigarette behind the scenes. He
seemed like such a gentle man, deep in thought, as he
sat there waiting to be called upon once more.

I remember taking it all in, remembering
everything about the scene so I’d be able to pick it
out when watching it on TV: “I was there, I saw this
being filmed.”

We continued walking through the deserted
exterior sets, seeing many new places that will be on
the Square, and then headed towards the internal sets.

On the way, I saw Perry Fenwick, who plays the
character Billy Mitchell, looking out of the window of
one of the trailers. He noticed me and said hello.

Before heading to the internal sets, we made a
visit to Arthur’s allotment, took a picture and then
just stood for a moment as if to give Arthur a moment

of our silence.
Inside, we had the chance to watch a scene
between Beppe and Phil Mitchell’s lawyer.

On another set, we came across the character Big
Mo trying to wake up Gary, who happened to be sleeping
on a couch. We watched them do several takes until
they got it just right.

We then continued on, just walking through the
empty sets and props used for filming. We took a few
pictures, and then our trip to the internal sets

Our guide took us to her office for some press
photos and a plastic EastEnders bag to put them in. We
couldn’t thank Leslie enough for the wonderful
experience she had allowed us to have.

Our adventure came to an end, but with us we took
many new memories and a day on the set we will never

Walford Gazette: A Chat With New Executive Producer Louise Berridge

A Chat With New Executive Producer Louise Berridge

By Larry Jaffee

You’ve been on the job a little more than two months.
Has it turned out the way you envisioned?

Not at all. It’s been great, but on my very first
day we went into a major crisis with an actor being
ill, which meant we had to rewrite 53 scripts,
including the one we were shooting that day.

That’s part of the buzz of EastEnders. They’re
real people [who work here]. They get sick. They have
real problems. They have real lives. You just have to
react to it constantly. It’s not like you make a
carefully laid five-year plan for the show and that’s
what you follow. The cast behaved superbly. They all
pulled together. You know, the show must go on. The
cameras never stopped filming. Everybody had to work
overtime—the writers, the script editors. Actors had
to cancel their holidays. They had to pull in people
who weren’t scheduled and change their stories on the
spot. It worked out fantastically, but it did make for
a very exciting start. And the audience never noticed
the difference. I’m really proud of that.
You were back there in 1994 and 1995. How have things

It had just gone to three episodes a week. I
started as script editor and became story editor. The
first big story that I did was ‘Sharongate.’ Now we
have four episodes a week. It’s almost just too much
for one script editor to cope with comfortably. It’s
too much for one writer to write all four episodes.
It’s pushed everything just beyond the breaking point,
so we’ve had to add far more personnel than we’ve ever
had to before. When we were doing three episodes we
could do it, only shooting five days aweek with only
one team shooting. That made life really easy in terms
of scheduling.

But four episodes means that sometimes we need to
use Saturdays, and people must work six-day weeks,
which makes them very tired. It also means that four
days a week we have two teams shooting simultaneously,
and that means we’re all fighting over the same sets,
the same actors.

So we have to be really clever how we construct
the scripts, so we don’t have characters talking to
each other who are in different stories. It can be
done, but it’s much harder.

It seems like when a new executive producer comes in,
a large family follows: the Taverniers, the Jacksons,
the di Marcos, the Slaters. What’s in store?

We’re checking each character to see if this one
is getting a bit tired. Are we short of people?
We’re looking at every character to see where we need
new energy coming in. Over the next two years I think
a lot of new people will come in. It’s not focused on
one specific family. There are a lot of areas where we
can have some fresh blood.
What was it like to be back after being away for so

I’m looking at Natalie Cassidy, who plays Sonia.
I knew her when she was a child. I watched her grow

Do you ever dream about EastEnders characters?

Frequently. It happened in ’94-’95, and it took
some months before I stopped doing it. But I’d been
back here a week and it started again. Oh boy, there
goes the rest of my life.

This interview will be continued in the next Walford