Leaving Albert Square Behind

Providing context is probably the best place to start. What is the source of my TV addiction? I would consider my Dad the biggest influence in this regard. He was also the person who introduced me and my siblings to True Crime before it became such a mainstream staple at the turn of the millennium.

As a family, we watched a variety of crime based shows since the early 90s. You must remember 999 presented by BBC Newsreader Michael Buerk. There was also Crime Monthly presented by the lesser-known sibling of Johnathan Ross – Paul on ITV (well technically LWT as this was the weekend programming schedule) on usually the last Friday of the month, after the late evening news. However, my first memory of these crime shows goes back to perhaps the late 1980s.

Eric Stanley Taylor MBE would present a show on BBC2 mid-afternoon on a Sunday. In one particular episode, he opened the show with a stark warning if children are watching for the parents (remote control owners) to switch over or switch off. My Dad duly obliged. That left an indelible impression on me – to this day I wonder what topic was covered on a Sunday afternoon show which was considered too graphic for young people to see.

Where am I going on this trawl through my childhood TV history? Well, the only fictional show on the viewing roster was The Bill. We had been committed viewers up to the turn of the century. Thames or ITV or Carlton (not sure who is ultimately responsible between the production company and broadcaster) started messing around with both the theme tune and schedule, so after a week or so we gave up. This was probably just before the influx of soap stars from EastEnders and other soaps across to a role in The Bill once their characters had been written out of other soaps (usually with their untimely death).

By then the entire family including my Mum had become diehard fans of the weekly goings-on in Albert Square E20. When did we reach peak EastEnders? Difficult to pinpoint this particular moment in time. For myself, it would have to be December 2002 (this was during my placement year whereby I lived at home) Jamie Mitchell son of notorious gangster Phil died on 25th December. As you probably know I am not one for spoilers and do everything I can to avoid them. This is not an easy task in our social media, fully connected, always-on world but I endeavour nonetheless. However, as we entered the climactic moments of the episode my dearest sister Samantha had to destroy all the atmosphere that had been created around the hospital bed at Walford General. As the credits rolled, she shouted out “he dies anyway” much to the annoyance of everybody else in the household. I was heartbroken. While it may not have mattered to others, I enjoy watching partly to see things develop not knowing where the next twist and turn will be coming from. The next moment when death would spark pure outrage online would be for Danielle Jones on Friday 3rd April 2009. Some diehard fans publically admitted they would never watch the show again after they wrote out such a beloved character. I did not care enough if I am truly honest. My favourite characters were the dim idiots such as Gary Hobbs and to a certain extent Bradley Branning. The show did also excel at comedy with some moments which had me and my family on the floor. Some I have tried to document on here with a special mention for José from Salsa Magic. Or when a minor character part of a gang has a very familiar-looking name and appearance actually on screen is extremely limited. Or Patrick needs oxygen as Heather Trott heads into labour. Worth mentioning all my screengrabs from television (with full credit provided to copyright owners – predominately the Beeb) are uploaded to a separate FlickR album.

As I turned 40… I was looking at where and how I spend my time. I believe this is a natural consideration as we get older, we are more acutely aware that we have limited time to focus on things and should make the time we do spend worth the effort. Could I truly justify 2.5 hours a week? How much content had I clocked up in almost two decades of dedicated viewership? Many years ago when listening to Clive Bull on LBC when he had an early evening slot, he mentioned dropping the soaps and how much of a big difference it had made to his life. He felt happier and more content. At the time being young and extremely naive I never thought of a scenario whereby I would leave my beloved EastEnders behind. For a second consider the high amount of content the BBC drama has generated for this blog. I even have a tag – Eastenders.

In early December I made the executive decision to drop EE in the new year. I was unable to stop dead on 31st December, much to the annoyance of my dearest wife. But as we started 2022 and I watched the first full week of programmes my interest was well and truly on the wain. It was 6th January my last episode. The doff doof moment I had hoped to be some major storyline but was in fact Suki Panesar (played perfectly by Balvinder Sopal) plotting revenge in the kitchen of her flat. What a way to end my personal association with the show.

I suppose I should go back and look at some of my favourite moments. The show for me was always larger than life but gave me an excellent perspective that as bad as things are they are not as bad as those poor folk living in Walford. The irony of this whole misadventure is that for almost eleven years I find myself married to a true EastEnder (born in Waltham Forest and lifelong resident of the Borough of Newham). Michelle detests the show and is glad I have finally weaned myself off the addiction. She saw at close hand when her own father got sucked into the show in the late 90s but gave up once other commitments such as his dedicated professional role and his family took priority. I suppose ultimately I have come to the same conclusion. I no longer have the capacity to be so selfish (and careless) with my time.

 

 

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