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EastEnders

EastEnders is a British soap opera created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland which has been broadcast on BBC One since 1985. Set in Albert Square in the East End of London in the fictional Borough of Walford, the programme follows the stories of local residents and their families as they go about their daily lives. Initially there were two 30-minute episodes per week but since 2001 episodes have been broadcast every weekday apart from Wednesdays.

Within eight months of the show's launch, it reached the number-one spot in BARB's TV ratings and has consistently remained among the top-rated TV programmes in Britain. In 2013, the average audience share for an episode was around 30 per cent. Today, EastEnders remains a significant programme in terms of the BBC's success and audience share, and also in the history of British television drama, tackling many dilemmas that are considered to be controversial and taboo issues in British culture and social life previously unseen on United Kingdom mainstream television.

As of May 2016, EastEnders has won nine BAFTA Awards and the Inside Soap Award for Best Soap for 14 years running (from 1997 to 2012), as well as twelve National Television Awards for Most Popular Serial Drama and 11 awards for Best Soap at the British Soap Awards. It has also won 13 TV Quick and TV Choice Awards for Best Soap, six TRIC Awards for Soap of The Year, four Royal Television Society Awards for Best Continuing Drama and has been inducted into the Rose d'Or Hall of Fame.

EastEnders

Conception and preparations for broadcast

In March 1983, under two years before EastEnders' first episode was broadcast, the show was a vague idea in the mind of a handful of BBC executives, who decided that what BBC1 needed was a popular bi-weekly drama series that would attract the kind of mass audiences that ITV was getting with Coronation Street. The first people to whom David Reid, then head of series and serials, turned were Julia Smith and Tony Holland, a well established producer/script editor team who had first worked together on Z-Cars. The outline that Reid presented was vague: two episodes a week, 52 weeks a year. After the concept was put to them on 14 March 1983, Smith and Holland then went about putting their ideas down on paper; they decided it would be set in the East End of London. Granada Television gave Smith unrestricted access to the Coronation Street production for a month so that she could get a sense how a continuing drama was produced.

There was anxiety at first that the viewing public would not accept a new soap set in the south of England, though research commissioned by lead figures in the BBC revealed that southerners would accept a northern soap, northerners would accept a southern soap and those from the Midlands, as Julia Smith herself pointed out, did not mind where it was set as long as it was somewhere else. This was the beginning of a close and continuing association between EastEnders and audience research, which, though commonplace today, was something of a revolution in practice.

The show's creators were both Londoners, but when they researched Victorian squares, they found massive changes in areas they thought they knew well. However, delving further into the East End of London, they found exactly what they had been searching for: a real East End spirit--an inward looking quality, a distrust of strangers and authority figures, a sense of territory and community that the creators summed up as "Hurt one of us and you hurt us all".

When developing EastEnders, both Smith and Holland looked at influential models like Coronation Street, but they found that it offered a rather outdated and nostalgic view of working-class life. Only after EastEnders began, and featured the characters of Tony Carpenter and Kelvin Carpenter, did Coronation Street start to feature black characters, for example. They came to the conclusion that Coronation Street had grown old with its audience, and that EastEnders would have to attract a younger, more socially extensive audience, ensuring that it had the longevity to retain it for many years thereafter. They also looked at Brookside but found there was a lack of central meeting points for the characters, making it difficult for the writers to intertwine different storylines, so EastEnders was set in Albert Square.

A previous UK soap set in an East End market was ATV's Market in Honey Lane between 1967 and 1969. However this show, which graduated from one showing a week to two in three separate series (the latter series being shown in different time slots across the ITV network) was very different in style and approach to EastEnders. The British Film Institute described Market In Honey Lane thus: "It was not an earth-shaking programme, and certainly not pioneering in any revolutionary ideas in technique and production, but simply proposed itself to the casual viewer as a mildly pleasant affair." EastEnders, while also featuring an East End street market, would be very different in its approach and impact.

The target launch date was originally January 1985. Smith and Holland had eleven months in which to write, cast and shoot the whole thing. However, in February 1984, they did not even have a title or a place to film. Both Smith and Holland were unhappy about the January 1985 launch date, favouring November or even September 1984 when seasonal audiences would be higher, but the BBC stayed firm, and Smith and Holland had to concede that, with the massive task of getting the Elstree Studios operational, January was the most realistic date. However, this was later to be changed to February.

The project had a number of working titles--Square Dance, Round the Square, Round the Houses, London Pride and East 8. It was the latter that stuck (E8 is the postcode for Hackney) in the early months of creative process. However, the show was renamed after many casting agents mistakenly thought the show was to be called Estate, and the fictional postcode E20 was created, instead of using E8. Julia Smith came up with the name EastEnders after she and Holland had spent months telephoning theatrical agents and asking "Do you have any real East Enders on your books?" However, Smith thought " EastEnders" "looked ugly written down" and was "hard to say", so decided to capitalise the second 'e'.

Initial character creation and casting

After they decided on the filming location of BBC Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, Smith and Holland set about creating the 23 characters needed, in just 14 days. They took a holiday in Playa de los Pocillos, Lanzarote, and started to create the characters. Holland created the Beale and Fowler family, drawing on his own background. His mother, Ethel Holland, was one of four sisters raised in Walthamstow. Her eldest sister, Lou, had married a man named Albert Beale and had two children, named Peter and Pauline. These family members were the basis for Lou Beale, Pete Beale and Pauline Fowler. Holland also created Pauline's unemployed husband Arthur Fowler, their children Mark Fowler and Michelle Fowler, Pete's wife Kathy Beale and their son Ian Beale. Smith used her personal memories of East End residents she met when researching Victorian squares. Ethel Skinner was based on an old woman she met in a pub, with ill-fitting false teeth, and a "face to rival a neon sign", holding a Yorkshire Terrier in one hand and a pint of Guinness in the other. Other characters created included Jewish doctor Harold Legg, the Anglo-Cypriot Osman family, Ali Osman, Sue Osman and baby Hassan Osman, black father and son, Tony Carpenter and Kelvin Carpenter, single mother Mary Smith and Bangladeshi couple Saeed Jeffery and Naima Jeffery. Jack, Pearl and Tracey Watts were created to bring "flash, trash, and melodrama" to the Square (they were later renamed Den Watts, Angie Watts and Sharon Watts). The characters of Andy O'Brien and Debbie Wilkins were created to show a modern couple with outwardly mobile pretensions, and Lofty Holloway to show an outsider; someone who did not fit in with other residents. It was decided that he would be a former soldier, as Holland's personal experiences of ex-soldiers were that they had trouble fitting into society after being in the army. When they compared the characters they had created, Smith and Holland realised they had created a cross-section of East End residents. The Beale and Fowler family represented the old families of the East End, who had always been there. The Osmans, Jefferys and Carpenters represented the more modern diverse ethnic community of the East End. Debbie, Andy and Mary represented more modern-day individuals.

Once they had decided on their 23 characters, they returned to London for a meeting with the BBC. Everyone agreed that EastEnders would be tough, violent on occasion, funny and sharp--set in Margaret Thatcher's Britain--and it would start with a bang (namely the death of Reg Cox). They decided that none of their existing characters were wicked enough to have killed Reg, so a 24th character, Nick Cotton was added to the line-up. He was a racist thug, who often tried to lead other young characters astray. When all the characters had been created, Smith and Holland set about casting the actors for the show.

Final preparations

Through the next few months, the set was growing rapidly at Elstree, and a composer and designer had been commissioned to create the title sequence. Simon May wrote the theme music and Alan Jeapes created the visuals. The visual images were taken from an aircraft flying over the East End of London at 1000 feet. Approximately 800 photographs were taken and pieced together to create one big image. The credits were later updated when the Millennium Dome was built.

The launch was delayed until February 1985 due to a delay in the chat show Wogan, that was to be a part of the major revamp in BBC1's schedules. Smith was uneasy about the late start as EastEnders no longer had the winter months to build up a loyal following before the summer ratings lull. The press were invited to Elstree to meet the cast and see the lot, and stories immediately started circulating about the show, about a rivalry with ITV (who were launching their own market-based soap, Albion Market) and about the private lives of the cast. Anticipation and rumour grew in equal measure until the first transmission at 7 p.m. on 19 February 1985. Both Holland and Smith could not watch; they both instead returned to the place where it all began, Albertine's Wine Bar on Wood Lane. The next day, viewing figures were confirmed at 17 million. The reviews were largely favourable, although, after three weeks on air, BBC1's early evening share had returned to the pre- EastEnders figure of seven million, though EastEnders then climbed to highs of up to 23 million later on in the year. Following the launch, both group discussions and telephone surveys were conducted to test audience reaction to early episodes. Detailed reactions were taken after six months and since then regular monitoring was conducted.

1980s broadcast history

Press coverage of EastEnders, which was already intense, went into overdrive once the show was broadcast. With public interest so high, the media began investigating the private lives of the show's popular stars. Within days, the scandalous headline the producers had all dreaded appeared--"EASTENDERS STAR IS A KILLER". This referred to Leslie Grantham, and his prison sentence for the murder of a taxi driver in an attempted robbery nearly 20 years earlier. This shocking tell-all style set the tone for relations between Albert Square and the press for the next 20 years.

The show's first episode attracted some 17 million viewers, and it continued to attract high viewing figures from then on. By Christmas 1985, the tabloids couldn't get enough of the show. 'Exclusives' about EastEnders storylines and the actors on the show became a staple of tabloid buyers daily reading.

Writer Colin Brake suggested that 1989 was a year of big change for EastEnders, both behind the cameras and in front of them. Original production designer, Keith Harris, left the show, and Holland and Smith both decided that the time had come to move on too; their final contribution coinciding with the exit of one of EastEnders most successful characters, Den Watts (Leslie Grantham). Producer Mike Gibbon was given the task of running the show and he enlisted the most experienced writers to take over the storylining of the programme, including Charlie Humphreys, Jane Hollowood and Tony McHale.

According to Brake, the departure of two of the soap's most popular characters, Den and Angie Watts (Anita Dobson), left a void in the programme, which needed to be filled. In addition, several other long-running characters left the show that year including Sue and Ali Osman (Sandy Ratcliff and Nejdet Salih) and their family; Donna Ludlow (Matilda Ziegler); Carmel Jackson (Judith Jacob) and Colin Russell (Michael Cashman). Brake indicated that the production team decided that 1989 was to be a year of change in Walford, commenting, "it was almost as if Walford itself was making a fresh start".

By the end of 1989 EastEnders had acquired a new executive producer, Michael Ferguson, who had previously been a successful producer on ITV's The Bill. Brake suggested that Ferguson was responsible for bringing in a new sense of vitality and creating a programme that was more in touch with the real world than it had been over the previous year.

Changes in the 1990s

A new era began in 1990 with the introduction of Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) and Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp)--the Mitchell brothers--successful characters who would go on to dominate the soap thereafter. As the new production team cleared the way for new characters and a new direction, all of the characters introduced under Gibbon were axed from the show at the start of the year. Ferguson introduced other characters and was responsible for storylines including HIV, Alzheimer's disease and murder. After a successful revamp of the soap, Ferguson decided to leave EastEnders in July 1991. Furguson was succeeded by both Leonard Lewis and Helen Greaves who initially shared the role as Executive Producer for EastEnders. Lewis and Greaves formulated a new regime for EastEnders, giving the writers of the serial more authority in storyline progression, with the script department providing "guidance rather than prescriptive episode storylines". By the end of 1992, Greaves left and Lewis became executive and series producer. He left EastEnders in 1994 after the BBC controllers demanded an extra episode a week, taking its weekly airtime from 60 to 90 minutes. Lewis felt that producing an hour of "reasonable quality drama" a week was the maximum that any broadcasting system could generate without loss of integrity. Having set up the transition to the new schedule, the first trio of episodes--dubbed The Vic siege--marked Lewis's departure from the programme. Barbara Emile then became the Executive Producer of EastEnders, remaining with EastEnders until early 1995. She was succeeded by Corinne Hollingworth.

Hollingworth's contributions to the soap were awarded in 1997 when EastEnders won the BAFTA for Best Drama Series. Hollingworth shared the award with the next Executive Producer, Jane Harris. Harris was responsible for the critically panned Ireland episodes and Cindy Beale's attempted assassination of Ian Beale, which brought in an audience of 23 million in 1996, roughly four million more than Coronation Street. In 1998 Matthew Robinson was appointed as the Executive Producer of EastEnders. During his reign, EastEnders won the BAFTA for "Best Soap" in consecutive years 1999 and 2000 and many other awards. Robinson also earned tabloid soubriquet "Axeman of Albert Square" after sacking a large number of characters in one hit, and several more thereafter. In their place, Robinson introduced new long-running characters including Melanie Healy, Jamie Mitchell, Lisa Shaw, Steve Owen and Billy Mitchell.

2000s

John Yorke became the Executive Producer of EastEnders in 2000. Yorke was given the task of introducing the soap's fourth weekly episode. He axed the majority of the Di Marco family and helped introduce popular characters such as the Slater family. As what Mal Young described as "two of EastEnders most successful years", Yorke was responsible for highly rated storlines such as "Who Shot Phil?", Ethel Skinner's death, Jim Branning and Dot Cotton's marriage, Trevor Morgan's domestic abuse of his wife Little Mo Morgan, and Kat Slater's revelation to her daughter Zoe Slater that she was her mother.

In 2002, Louise Berridge succeeded Yorke as the Executive Producer. During her time at EastEnders, Berridge introduced popular characters such as Alfie Moon, Dennis Rickman, Chrissie Watts, Jane Beale, Stacey Slater and the critically panned Indian Ferreira family.

Berridge was responsible for some ratings success stories, such as Alfie and Kat Slater's relationship, Janine Butcher getting her comeuppance, Trevor Morgan and Jamie Mitchell's death storylines and the return of one of the greatest soap icons, Den Watts, who had been presumed dead for 14 years. His return in late 2003 was watched by over 16 million viewers, putting EastEnders back at number one in the rating war with the Coronation Street. However, other storylines, such as one about a kidney transplant involving the Ferreiras, were not well received, and although Den Watts's return proved to be a ratings success, the British press branded the plot unrealistic and felt that it questioned the show's credibility. A severe press backlash followed after Den's actor, Leslie Grantham, was outed in an internet sex scandal, which coincided with a swift decline in viewer ratings. The scandal led to Grantham's departure from the soap, but the occasion was used to mark the 20th anniversary of EastEnders, with an episode showing Den's murder at the Queen Vic pub.

On 21 September 2004, Berridge quit as executive producer of EastEnders following continued criticism of the show. Kathleen Hutchison was swiftly appointed as the Executive Producer of EastEnders, and was tasked with quickly turning the fortunes of the soap. During her time at the soap Hutchison axed multiple characters, and reportedly ordered the rewriting of numerous scripts. Newspapers reported on employee dissatisfaction with Hutchison's tenure at EastEnders. In January 2005, Hutchison left the soap and John Yorke (who by this time, was the BBC Controller of Continuing Drama Series) took total control of the show himself and became acting Executive Producer for a short period, before appointing Kate Harwood to the role. Harwood stayed at EastEnders for 20 months before being promoted by the BBC. On Friday 11 November 2005, EastEnders was the first British drama to feature a two-minute silence. This episode later went on to win the British Soap Award for 'Best Single Episode'. In October 2006, Diederick Santer took over as Executive Producer of EastEnders. He introduced several characters to the show, including ethnic minority and homosexual characters to make the show 'feel more 21st Century'. Santer also reintroduced past and popular characters to the programme.

On 2 March 2007, BBC signed a deal with Google to put videos on YouTube. A behind the scenes video of EastEnders, hosted by Matt Di Angelo, who played Deano Wicks on the show, was put on the site the same day, and was followed by another on 6 March 2007. In April 2007, EastEnders became available to view on mobile phones, via 3G technology, for 3, Vodafone and Orange customers. On 21 April 2007, the BBC launched a new advertising campaign using the slogan "There's more to EastEnders". The first television advert showed Dot Branning with a refugee baby, Tomas, whom she took in under the pretence of being her grandson. The second and third featured Stacey Slater and Dawn Swann, respectively. There have also been adverts in magazines and on radio.

In 2009, producers introduced a limit on the number of speaking parts in each episode due to budget cuts, with an average of 16 characters per episode. The decision was criticised by Martin McGrath of Equity, who said: "Trying to produce quality TV on the cheap is doomed to fail." The BBC responded by saying they had been working that way for some time and it had not affected the quality of the show.

2010s

From 4 February 2010, CGI was used in the show for the first time, with the addition of computer-generated trains.

EastEnders celebrated its 25th anniversary on 19 February 2010. Santer came up with several plans to mark the occasion, including the show's first episode to be broadcast live, the second wedding between Ricky Butcher and Bianca Jackson and the return of Bianca's relatives, mother Carol Jackson, and siblings Robbie Jackson, Sonia Fowler and Billie Jackson. He told entertainment website Digital Spy, "It's really important that the feel of the week is active and exciting and not too reflective. There'll be those moments for some of our longer-serving characters that briefly reflect on themselves and how they've changed. The characters don't know that it's the 25th anniversary of anything, so it'd be absurd to contrive too many situations in which they're reflective on the past. The main engine of that week is great stories that'll get people talking." The live episode featured the death of Bradley Branning and the conclusion of the "Who Killed Archie?" storyline, when Stacey Branning revealed she was the murderer. Viewing figures peaked at 16.6 million, which was the highest viewed episode in seven years. Other events to mark the anniversary were a spin-off DVD, EastEnders: Last Tango in Walford, and an Internet spin-off, EastEnders: E20.

Santer officially left EastEnders in March 2010, and was replaced by Bryan Kirkwood. Kirkwood's first signing was the reintroduction of characters Alfie Moon (Shane Richie) and Kat Moon (Jessie Wallace), and his first new character was Vanessa Gold, played by Zöe Lucker. In April and May 2010, Kirkwood axed eight characters from the show, Barbara Windsor left her role of Peggy Mitchell, which left a hole in the show, which Kirkwood decided to fill by bringing back Kat and Alfie, which he said would "herald the new era of EastEnders." EastEnders started broadcasting in high definition on 25 December 2010. Old sets had to be rebuilt, so The Queen Victoria set was burnt down in a storyline (and in reality) to facilitate this.

In November 2011, a storyline showed character Billy Mitchell, played by Perry Fenwick, selected to be a torch bearer for the 2012 Summer Olympics. In reality, Fenwick carried the torch through the setting of Albert Square, with live footage shown in the episode on 23 July 2012. This was the second live broadcast of EastEnders. In 2012, Kirkwood chose to leave his role as executive producer and was replaced by Lorraine Newman. The show lost many of its significant characters during this period. Newman stepped down as executive producer after 16 months in the job in 2013 after the soap was criticised for its boring storylines and its lowest-ever figures pointing at around 4.8 million. Dominic Treadwell-Collins was appointed as the new executive producer on 19 August 2013 and was credited on 9 December. He axed multiple characters from the show and introduced the extended Carter family. He also introduced a long-running storyline, "Who Killed Lucy Beale?", which peaked during the show's 30th anniversary in 2015 with a week of live episodes. Treadwell-Collins announced his departure from EastEnders on 18 February 2016.

Sean O'Connor, former EastEnders series story producer and then-editor on radio soap opera The Archers, was announced to be taking over the role. Treadwell-Collins left on 6 May and O'Connor's first credited episode was broadcast on 11 July Although O'Connor's first credited episode aired in July, his own creative work was not seen onscreen until late September. Additionally, Oliver Kent was brought in as the Head of Continuing Drama Series for BBC Scripted Studios, meaning that Kent would oversee EastEnders along with O'Connor. O'Connor's approach to the show was to have a firmer focus on realism, which he said was being "true to EastEnders' DNA and [finding] a way of capturing what it would be like if Julia Smith and Tony Holland were making the show now." He said that " EastEnders has always had a distinctly different tone from the other soaps but over time we've diluted our unique selling point. I think we need to be ourselves and go back to the origins of the show and what made it successful in the first place. It should be entertaining but it should also be informative--that's part of our unique BBC compact with the audience. It shouldn't just be a distraction from your own life, it should be an exploration of the life shared by the audience and the characters." O'Connor planned to stay with EastEnders until the end of 2017, but announced his departure on 23 June 2017 with immediate effect, saying he wanted to concentrate on a career in film. John Yorke returned as a temporary creative director. Kent said, "John Yorke is a Walford legend and I am thrilled that he will be joining us for a short period to oversee the show and to help us build on Sean's legacy while we recruit a long-term successor." John Yorke initially returned for three months but his contract was later extended to twelve months.

Setting

The central focus of EastEnders is the fictional Victorian square Albert Square in the fictional London Borough of Walford. In the show's narrative, Albert Square is a 19th-century street, named after Prince Albert (1819-61), the husband of Queen Victoria (1819-1901, reigned 1837-1901). Thus, central to Albert Square is The Queen Victoria Public House (also known as The Queen Vic or The Vic). The show's producers based the square's design on Fassett Square in Dalston. There is also a market close to Fassett Square at Ridley Road. The postcode for the area, E8, was one of the working titles for the series. The name Walford is both a street in Dalston where Tony Holland lived and a blend of Walthamstow and Stratford--the areas of Greater London where the creators were born. Other parts of the Square and set interiors are based on other locations. The bridge is based upon one near BBC Television Centre which carries the Hammersmith & City tube line over Wood Lane W12, the Queen Vic on the former College Park Hotel pub in Willesden at the end of Scrubs Lane at the junction with Harrow Road NW10 just a couple of miles from BBC Television Centre, and the interior to the Fowlers' is based on a house in Manor Road, Colchester, close to where the supervising art director lived. The fictional local newspaper, the Walford Gazette, in which local news events such as the arrests or murders of characters appear, mirrors the real Hackney Gazette.

Walford East is a fictional tube station for Walford, and a tube map that was first seen on air in 1996 showed Walford East between Bow Road and West Ham, in the actual location of Bromley-by-Bow on the District and Hammersmith & City lines.

Walford has the postal district of E20. The postcode district was selected as if it were part of the actual E postcode area which covers much of east London although the next unused postcode district in the area was, and still is (as of 2016), E19. The E stands for Eastern. In 1917 the postal districts in London were assigned alphabetically according to the name of the main sorting office for each district. If Walford had been assigned in this scheme it would have been given E17, which is the postcode district for Walthamstow. In March 2011, Royal Mail allocated the E20 postal district to the 2012 Olympic Park. The postal district in EastEnders was entirely fictional up to that point, as London East postal districts stopped at E18 at that time. The show's creators opted for E20 instead of E19 as it was thought to sound better. In September 2011, the postal code for Albert Square was revealed in an episode as E20 6PQ.

Characters

EastEnders is built around the idea of relationships and strong families, with each character having a place in the community. This theme encompasses the whole Square, making the entire community a family of sorts, prey to upsets and conflict, but pulling together in times of trouble. Co-creator Tony Holland was from a large East End family, and such families have typified EastEnders. The first central family was the combination of the Fowler family, consisting of Pauline Fowler, her husband Arthur Fowler, and teenage children Mark Fowler and Michelle Fowler and the Beale family, consisting of Pete Beale (Pauline's twin brother), his wife Kathy Beale and their teenage son Ian Beale. Pauline and Pete's mother was the domineering Lou Beale, who lived with Pauline and her family. Holland drew on the names of his own family for the characters.

The Watts and Mitchell families have been central to many notable EastEnders storylines, the show having been dominated by the Watts in the 1980s, with the 1990s focusing on the Mitchells. The early 2000s saw a shift in attention towards the newly introduced female Slater clan, before a renewal of emphasis upon the restored Watts family beginning in 2003. Since 2006, EastEnders has largely been dominated by the Mitchell and Branning families, though the early 2010s also saw a renewed focus on the Moon family, and from 2013 onwards, on the Carters. The Beales are the show's longest running family, having been in EastEnders since it began in 1985. Key people involved in the production of EastEnders have stressed how important the idea of strong families is to the programme. Peggy Mitchell, in particular, is notorious for her ceaseless repetition of such statements as "You're a Mitchell!" and "It's all about family!" Pauline Fowler is also known for her insistence on family and mentioning her brother and husband to instill loyalty from family members. Her mother Lou Beale is renowned for her family meetings and traditional approach to family. More recently, Derek Branning regularly expresses the importance of a strong family unit. As the eldest sibling, he is constantly asserting his position as head of his family and reminding everyone to pull together in times of trouble. Additionally, Derek commonly refers to himself, Max Branning and Jack Branning as "the Branning brothers."

EastEnders has an emphasis on strong family matriarchs, with examples including Pauline Fowler and Peggy Mitchell, helping to attract a female audience. John Yorke, then the BBC's head of drama production, put this down to Tony Holland's "gay sensibility, which showed a love for strong women". The matriarchal role is one that has been seen in various reincarnations since the programme's inception, often depicted as the centre of the family unit. The original matriarch was Lou Beale, though later examples include Mo Harris, Pat Butcher, Zainab Masood and Cora Cross. These characters are seen as being loud and interfering but most importantly, responsible for the well-being of the family and usually stressing the importance of family, reflecting on the past.

The show often includes strong, brassy, long-suffering women who exhibit diva-like behaviour and stoically battle through an array of tragedy and misfortune. Such characters include Angie Watts, Kathy Beale, Sharon Watts, Pat Butcher, Denise Fox and Tanya Branning. Conversely there are female characters who handle tragedy less well, depicted as eternal victims and endless sufferers, who include Sue Osman, Little Mo Mitchell, Laura Beale, Lisa Fowler, Ronnie Mitchell and Linda Carter. The 'tart with a heart' is another recurring character, often popular with viewers. Often their promiscuity masks a hidden vulnerability and a desire to be loved. Such characters have included Pat Butcher (though in her latter years, this changed), Tiffany Mitchell, Kat Slater, Stacey Slater, Dawn Swann, Roxy Mitchell and Whitney Dean.

A gender balance in the show is maintained via the inclusion of various "macho" male personalities such as Mick Carter, Phil Mitchell, Grant Mitchell, Jack Branning and Max Branning, "bad boys" such as Den Watts, Michael Moon and Vincent Hubbard, and "heartthrobs" such as Simon Wicks, Jamie Mitchell, Dennis Rickman and Joey Branning. Another recurring male character type is the smartly dressed businessman, often involved in gang culture and crime and seen as a local authority figure. Examples include Steve Owen, Jack Dalton, Andy Hunter, Johnny Allen and Derek Branning. Following criticism aimed at the show's over-emphasis on 'gangsters' in 2005, such characters have been significantly reduced. Another recurring male character seen in EastEnders is the 'loser' or 'soft touch', males often comically under the thumb of their female counterparts, which have included Arthur Fowler, Ricky Butcher, Lofty Holloway and Billy Mitchell. Other recurring character types that have appeared throughout the serial are "cheeky-chappies" Pete Beale, Alfie Moon, Garry Hobbs and Kush Kazemi, "lost girls" such as Mary Smith, Donna Ludlow and Mandy Salter, delinquents such as Stacey Slater, Jay Brown and Lola Pearce, "villains" such as Nick Cotton, Trevor Morgan, May Wright, Yusef Khan, Archie Mitchell and Dean Wicks, "bitches" such as Cindy Beale, Janine Butcher, Lucy Beale, Abi Branning and Babe Smith and cockney "wide boys" or "wheeler dealers" such as Frank Butcher, Alfie Moon, Kevin Wicks, Darren Miller and Fatboy.

Over the years EastEnders has typically featured a number of elderly residents, who are used to show vulnerability, nostalgia, stalwart-like attributes and are sometimes used for comedic purposes. The original elderly residents included Lou Beale, Ethel Skinner and Dot Cotton. Over the years they have been joined by the likes of Mo Butcher, Jules Tavernier, Marge Green, Nellie Ellis, Jim Branning, Charlie Slater, Mo Harris, Patrick Trueman, Cora Cross, Les Coker, Rose Cotton, Pam Coker, Stan Carter, Babe Smith, Claudette Hubbard, Sylvie Carter, Ted Murray and Joyce Murray. Focus on elderly characters has decreased since the show's inception. The programme has more recently included a higher number of teenagers and successful young adults in a bid to capture the younger television audience. This has spurred criticism, most notably from the actress Anna Wing, who played Lou Beale in the show. She commented, "I don't want to be disloyal, but I think you need a few mature people in a soap because they give it backbone and body... if all the main people are young it gets a bit thin and inexperienced. It gets too lightweight."

EastEnders has been known to feature a 'comedy double-act', originally demonstrated with the characters of Dot and Ethel, whose friendship was one of the serial's most enduring. Other examples include Paul Priestly and Trevor Short, Huw Edwards and Lenny Wallace, Shirley Carter and Heather Trott, Garry Hobbs and Minty Peterson, Denise Fox and Zainab Masood, Poppy Meadow and Jodie Gold and Peggy Mitchell and Pat Butcher. In 1989 especially, characters were brought in who were deliberately conceived as comic or light-hearted. Such characters included Julie Cooper--a brassy maneater; Marge Green--a batty older lady played by veteran comedy actress Pat Coombs; Trevor Short (Phil McDermott)--the "village idiot"; his friend, northern heartbreaker Paul Priestly (Mark Thrippleton); wheeler-dealer Vince Johnson (Hepburn Graham) and Laurie Bates (Gary Powell), who became Pete Beale's (Peter Dean) sparring partner. The majority of EastEnders' characters are working-class. Middle-class characters do occasionally become regulars, but have been less successful and rarely become long-term characters. In the main, middle-class characters exist as villains, such as James Wilmott-Brown, May Wright, Stella Crawford and Yusef Khan, or are used to promote positive liberal influences, such as Colin Russell or Rachel Kominski.

EastEnders has always featured a culturally diverse cast which has included black, Asian, Turkish, Polish and Latvian characters. "The expansion of minority representation signals a move away from the traditional soap opera format, providing more opportunities for audience identification with the characters and hence a wider appeal". Despite this, the programme has been criticised by the Commission for Racial Equality, who argued in 2002 that EastEnders was not giving a realistic representation of the East End's "ethnic make-up". They suggested that the average proportion of visible minority faces on EastEnders was substantially lower than the actual ethnic minority population in East London boroughs, and it therefore reflected the East End in the 1960s, not the East End of the 2000s. Furthermore, it was suggested that an element of "tokenism" and stereotyping surrounded many of these minority characters. The programme has since attempted to address these issues. A sari shop was opened and various characters of different ethnicities were introduced throughout 2006 and 2007, including the Fox family, the Masoods, and various background artists. This was part of producer Diederick Santer's plan to "diversify", to make EastEnders "feel more 21st century". EastEnders has had varying success with ethnic minority characters. Possibly the least successful were the Indian Ferreira family, who were not well received by critics or viewers and were dismissed as unrealistic by the Asian community in the UK.

EastEnders has been praised for its portrayal of characters with disabilities, including Adam Best (spina bifida), Noah Chambers (deaf), Jean Slater and her daughter Stacey (bipolar disorder), Janet Mitchell (Down syndrome) and Jim Branning (stroke). The show also features a large number of gay, lesbian and bisexual characters, including Colin Russell, Barry Clark, Simon Raymond, Tony Hills, Sonia Fowler, Naomi Julien, Tina Carter, Tosh Mackintosh, Ben Mitchell and Paul Coker. Kyle Slater, a transgender character, was introduced in 2015.

EastEnders has a high cast turnover and characters are regularly changed to facilitate storylines or refresh the format. The show has also become known for the return of characters after they have left the show. Sharon Rickman returned in August 2012 for her third stint on the show. Den Watts returned 14 years after he was believed to have died, a feat repeated by Kathy Beale in 2015. Speaking extras, including Tracey the barmaid (who has been in the show since the first episode in 1985), have made appearances throughout the show's duration, without being the focus of any major storylines. The character of Nick Cotton gained a reputation for making constant exits and returns since the programme's first year, until the character's death in 2015.

As of December 2016, Adam Woodyatt, Gillian Taylforth and Letitia Dean are the only members of the original cast remaining in the show, in their roles of Ian Beale, Kathy Beale and Sharon Watts respectively. Original character Michelle Fowler also appears in the show although recast. Ian Beale is the only character to have appeared continuously from the first episode without officially leaving, and is the longest-serving character in EastEnders. Dot Cotton is the longest-serving female character in the show having served since 1985, whilst Pat Butcher is the longest-serving former character, appearing from 1986 until 2012.

Storylines

EastEnders programme makers took the decision that the show was to be about "everyday life" in the inner city "today" and regarded it as a "slice of life". Creator/producer Julia Smith declared that "We don't make life, we reflect it". She also said, "We decided to go for a realistic, fairly outspoken type of drama which could encompass stories about homosexuality, rape, unemployment, racial prejudice, etc., in a believable context. Above all, we wanted realism". In 2011, the head of BBC drama, John Yorke, said that the real East End had changed significantly since EastEnders started, and the show no longer truly reflected real life, but that it had an "emotional truthfulness" and was partly "true to the original vision" and partly "adapt[ing] to a changing world", adding that "If it was a show where every house cost a fortune and everyone drove a Lexus, it wouldn't be EastEnders. You have to show shades of that change, but certain things are immutable, I would argue, like The Vic and the market."

In the 1980s, EastEnders featured "gritty" storylines involving drugs and crime, representing the issues faced by working-class Thatcherite Britain. Storylines included the cot death of 14-month-old Hassan Osman, Nick Cotton's homophobia, racism and murder of Reg Cox, Arthur Fowler's unemployment reflecting the recession of the 1980s, the rape of Kathy Beale in 1988 by James Willmott-Brown and Michelle Fowler's teenage pregnancy. The show also dealt with prostitution, mixed-race relationships, shoplifting, sexism, divorce, domestic violence and mugging. In 1989, the programme came under criticism in the British media for being too depressing, and according to writer Colin Brake, the programme makers were determined to change this. In 1989, there was a deliberate attempt to increase the lighter, more comic aspects of life in Albert Square. This led to the introduction of some characters who were deliberately conceived as comic or light-hearted. Brake suggested that humour was an important element in EastEnders' storylines during 1989, with a greater amount of slapstick and light comedy than before. He classed 1989's changes as a brave experiment, and suggested that while some found this period of EastEnders entertaining, many other viewers felt that the comedy stretched the programme's credibility. Although the programme still covered many issues in 1989, such as domestic violence, drugs, rape and racism, Brake reflected that the new emphasis on a more balanced mix between "light and heavy storylines" gave the illusion that the show had lost a "certain edge".

As the show progressed into the 1990s, EastEnders still featured hard-hitting issues such as Mark Fowler discovering he was HIV positive in 1991, the death of his wife Gill from an AIDS-related illness in 1992, murder, adoption, abortion, Peggy Mitchell's battle with breast cancer, and Phil Mitchell's alcoholism and violence towards wife Kathy. Mental health issues were confronted in 1996 when 16-year-old Joe Wicks developed schizophrenia following the off-screen death of his sister in a car crash. The long-running storyline of Mark Fowler's HIV was so successful in raising awareness that in 1999, a survey by the National Aids Trust found teenagers got most of their information about HIV from the soap, though one campaigner noted that in some ways the storyline was not reflective of what was happening at the time as the condition was more common among the gay community. Still, heterosexual Mark struggled with various issues connected to his HIV status, including public fears of contamination, a marriage breakdown connected to his inability to have children and the side effects of combination therapies.

In the early 2000s, EastEnders covered the issue of euthanasia (Ethel Skinner's death in a pact with her friend Dot Cotton), the unveiling of Kat Slater's abuse by her uncle Harry as a child (which led to the birth of her daughter Zoe, who had been brought up to believe that Kat was her sister), the domestic abuse of Little Mo Morgan by husband Trevor (which involved rape and culminated in Trevor's death after he tried to kill Little Mo in a fire), Sonia Jackson giving birth at the age of 15 and then putting her baby up for adoption, and Janine Butcher's prostitution, agoraphobia and drug addiction. The soap also tackled the issue of mental illness and carers of people who have mental conditions, illustrated with mother and daughter Jean and Stacey Slater; Jean suffers from bipolar disorder, and teenage daughter Stacey was her carer (this storyline won a Mental Health Media Award in September 2006). Stacey went on to struggle with the disorder herself. The issue of illiteracy was highlighted by the characters of middle-aged Keith and his young son Darren. EastEnders has also covered the issue of Down syndrome, as Billy and Honey Mitchell's baby, Janet Mitchell, was born with the condition in 2006. EastEnders covered child abuse with its storyline involving Phil Mitchell's 11-year-old son Ben and lawyer girlfriend Stella Crawford, and child grooming involving the characters Tony King and Whitney Dean.

Aside from this, soap opera staples of youthful romance, jealousy, domestic rivalry, gossip and extramarital affairs are regularly featured, with high-profile storylines occurring several times a year. Whodunits also feature regularly, including the "Who Shot Phil?" storyline in 2001 that attracted over 19 million viewers and was one of the biggest successes in British soap television, the "Who Killed Archie?" story, which was revealed in a special live episode of the show that drew a peak of 17 million viewers, and "Who Killed Lucy Beale?".

Set

The exterior set for the fictional Albert Square is located in the permanent backlot of the BBC Elstree Centre, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, at 51°39?32?N 0°16?40?W, and is outdoors and open to the weather. It was initially built in 1984 with a specification that it should last for at least fifteen years at a cost of £750,000. The EastEnders lot was designed by Keith Harris, who was a senior designer within the production team together with supervising art directors Peter Findley and Gina Parr. The main buildings on the square consisted originally of hollow shells, constructed from marine plywood facades mounted onto steel frames. The lower walls, pavements, etc., were constructed of real brick and tarmac. The set had to be made to look as if it had been standing for years. This was done by a number of means, including chipping the pavements, using chemicals to crack the top layer of the paint work, using varnish to create damp patches underneath the railway bridge, and making garden walls in such a way they appeared to sag. The final touches were added in summer 1984, these included a telephone box, telegraph pole that was provided by British Telecom, lampposts that were provided by Hertsmere Borough Council and a number of vehicles parked on the square. On each set all the appliances are fully functional such as gas cookers, the laundry washing machines and The Queen Victoria beer pumps.

The walls were intentionally built crooked to give them an aged appearance. The drains around the set are real so rainwater can naturally flow from the streets. The square was built in two phases with only three sides being built, plus Bridge Street, to begin with in 1984, in time to be used for the show's first episode. Then in 1986, Harris added an extension to the set, building the fourth side of Albert Square, and in 1987, Turpin Road was added, which included buildings such as The Dagmar.

In 1993, George Street was added, and soon after Walford East Underground station was built, to create further locations when EastEnders went from two to three episodes per week. The set was constructed by the BBC in-house construction department under construction manager Mike Hagan. The initial build took six months to complete. Most of the buildings on Albert Square have no interior filming space, with a few exceptions, and most do not have rears or gardens. Most areas by the front (and sometimes back) doors are decorated and dressed to match the interior set to allow shots of doors being opened. The grocery shop was originally open fronted, it was turned into a closed front shop, with removable interior walls to allow for filming inside the shop when the set was expanded in 1987. Some interior shots are filmed in the actual buildings, and the café also has some interior decoration so some limited filming can take place by the door. The newer exterior sets including fish and chip shop, video shop and beauty salon had some interior filming space to create a greater sense of realism. As the show is filmed up to six weeks in advance, the trees need to have extra leaves stuck on them during the spring to make them look like they would in summer.

In February 2008, it was reported that the set would transfer to Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, where a new set would be built as the set was looking "shabby", with its flaws showing up on high-definition television broadcasts. However, by April 2010 a follow-up report confirmed that Albert Square would remain at Elstree Studios for at least another four years, taking the set through its 25th anniversary. The set was consequently rebuilt for high definition on the same site, using mostly real brick with some areas using a new improved plastic brick. Throughout rebuilding filming would still take place, and so scaffolding was often seen on screen during the process, with some storylines written to accommodate the rebuilding, such as the Queen Vic fire.

In 2014, then executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins said that he wanted Albert Square to look like a real-life east London neighbourhood so that the soap would "better reflect the more fashionable areas of east London beloved of young professionals" giving a flavour of the "creeping gentrification" of east London. He added, "It should feel more like London. It's been frozen in aspic for too long." The BBC announced that they would rebuild the EastEnders set, to secure the long-term future of the show, with completion expected to be in 2018. The set will provide a modern, upgraded exterior filming resource for EastEnders, and will copy the appearance of the existing buildings. However, it will be 20 per cent bigger, in order to enable greater editorial ambition and improve working conditions for staff. A temporary set will be created on site to enable filming to continue while the permanent structure is rebuilt. As of May 2016, the rebuild has been delayed until 2020 and will cost in excess of £15 million, although the main part of the set is scheduled to be able to start filming in May 2019.

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