Created by Julia Smith & Tony Holland
EastEnders is a British television soap opera, first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 19 February 1985. EastEnders storylines examine the domestic and professional lives of the people who live and work in the fictional London Borough of Walford in the East End of London. The series primarily centres on the residents of Albert Square, a Victorian square of terraced houses, and its neighbouring streets, namely Bridge Street, Turpin Road and George Street, and which encompasses a pub, street market, night club, community centre, charity shop, cafe and various small businesses, in addition to a park and allotments.
The series was originally screened as two half-hour episodes per week. Since August 2001, four episodes are broadcast each week on BBC One, with each episode being repeated on BBC Three at 22:00 and an omnibus edition on BBC One at weekends. From 1985 to 2012 the omnibus aired on Sunday afternoons, but was moved to a Friday night/Saturday morning slot from 6 April 2012.
It is one of the UK's highest-rated programmes, often appearing near or at the top of the week's BARB ratings. Within eight months of its launch, it reached the number-one spot in the ratings, and has consistently remained among the top-rated TV programmes in Britain. The average audience share for an episode is currently between 35 and 45 percent. Created by producer Julia Smith and script editor Tony Holland, EastEnders has remained a significant programme in terms of the BBC's success and audience share, and also in the history of British television drama, tackling many controversial and taboo issues previously unseen on mainstream television in the UK.
EastEnders has won six BAFTA Awards, as well as ten National Television Awards for "Most Popular Serial Drama" and ten awards for "Best Soap" at the British Soap Awards. It has also been inducted into the Rose d'Or Hall of Fame. It has also won eight TV Quick and TV Choice Awards for 'Best Soap', six TRIC Awards for 'Soap of The Year' and four Royal Television Society Awards for 'Best Continuing Drama'.
The central focus of EastEnders is the fictional Victorian square Albert Square in the fictional London Borough of Walford. Albert Square was built in the late 19th century, named after Prince Albert (1819–1861), the husband of Queen Victoria (1819–1901, reigned 1837–1901). Thus, central to Albert Square is The Queen Victoria Public House.
Fans have tried to establish the actual location of Walford within London. Walford East is a fictional tube station for Walford, and with the aid of a map that was first seen on air in 1996, it has been established that Walford East is located between Bow Road and West Ham, which realistically would replace 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, E19. The E stands for Eastern. In 1917 the current 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 current postcode district for Walthamstow. Fans have tried to pinpoint the location using this postcode, however, in reality 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 March 2011, Royal Mail allocated the E20 postal district to the 2012 Olympic Park. In September 2011 the postal code for Albert Square was revealed in an episode as E20 6PQ.
An Albert Square exists in the East End of London in Ratcliff, and a further such square exists just beyond the East End in Stratford, but 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 the BBC Television Centre, the Queen Vic on the old pub at the end of Scrubs Lane/Harrow Road NW10, 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 area's own Hackney Gazette.
EastEnders is built around the ideas 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 himself from a large East End family, and such families have typified EastEnders. The first central family was the Beale and Fowler clan consisting of Pauline Fowler, her husband Arthur, and teenage children Mark and Michelle. Living nearby was Pauline's twin brother Pete Beale, his wife Kathy and their son Ian. Pauline and Pete's mother was the domineering Lou, who resided 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, and there has also been a focus on the Moon family since 2010. 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!" 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 the Branning clan 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."
Some families feature a stereotypical East End matriarch. Indeed, 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 Pauline Fowler, Mo Butcher, Mo Harris, Pat Evans, Peggy Mitchell, 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.
As is traditional in British soaps, female characters in general are central to the programme. These characters include 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 Mitchell, Sharon Rickman, Pat Evans, Denise Fox, Tanya Jessop and Ronnie Mitchell. 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 and Lisa Fowler. 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, Tiffany Mitchell, Kat Moon, Stacey Branning and Roxy Mitchell .
A gender balance in the show is maintained via the inclusion of various 'macho' male personalities such as Phil Mitchell, Grant Mitchell and Jack Branning, 'bad boys' such as Den Watts, Dennis Rickman and Michael Moon, and 'heartthrobs' such as Simon Wicks, Jamie Mitchell and Tyler Moon. 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 Derek Branning, Steve Owen, Jack Dalton, Andy Hunter and Johnny Allen. 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 characters that have appeared throughout the serial are 'lost girls' such as Mary Smith, Donna Ludlow and Zsa Zsa Carter, delinquents such as Mandy Salter, Stacey Branning, Jay Mitchell and Lola Pearce, villains such as Nick Cotton, George Peters, Trevor Morgan and Yusef Khan, bitches such as Cindy Beale, Janine Butcher and Lucy Beale and cockney 'wide boys' or 'wheeler dealers' such as Frank Butcher, Alfie Moon, Kevin Wicks and Arthur Chubb.
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, and Poppy Meadow and Jodie Gold. 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 and Stella Crawford, 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 and Polish 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 differing 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". On 24 February 2009 for the first time in the soaps history, an entire episode was screened consisting entirely of Black actors. EastEnders have 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.