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29.1.10

EastEnders

It's the day after the first episode, and the Sun gives EastEnders the thumbs up, 20/2/1985. Created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland, EastEnders, like Brookside, was a real kick up the backside for staid, tightly permed soap operas.

Sun writer Charles Catchpole opined:

Ethel is what they call a Character. But she's a cardboard cut-out compared with loud-mouthed Lou Beale. Gravel-voiced granny Lou makes Hilda Ogden look like Mary Poppins.When she lashes out at her friends and family, she makes Ena Sharples sound like Mother Teresa.

Meanwhile, the rest of Albert Square is seething with sex, spite and savagery.

The main man in Albert Square was Dennis "Dirty Den" Watts - landlord of the Queen Vic, husband of Ange, adopted father of Sharon and lover of Jan.

Daily Mirror, 27/2/1985...

There's no doubt that articles like the one above did the show no harm at all. The consensus of opinion was that Leslie Grantham had served his time and there was no reason why he shouldn't be in EastEnders. But the actor's background somehow added something to the character of Den Watts. To many viewers, the boundaries between fiction and reality became blurred.

Emotionally topsy-turvy Angie Watts coped with her pig of a husband by hitting the bottle. She was well used to putting on a brave face behind the bar at the Queen Vic, where she said things like, "Wot can I git ya, darlin'?" and, "yew, yew, aht - go on, git aht."
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It's hard to imagine, but Anita Dobson was a last minute appointment to the EastEnders cast, and the role of Ange had very nearly been played by somebody else!
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Tom Watt made a terrific job of playing gawky, spiky-haired misfit Lofty Holloway, who seemed far too naive and vulnerable to be roaming Albert Square.

Tony Carpenter was a cheerful soul, crying out for cheerful situations, but the scriptwriters gave him miserable son Kelvin and nagging wife Hannah instead.

Oscar James, the man behind Tony, was unhappy with the Carpenter family:

"The Carpenters were always arguing and at each other's throat. Having a black family in a top TV show should have been a wonderful method of educating the nation to treat each other as individuals, not according to their colour. That is the way to world peace. EastEnders has done a lot of good. It's just that the BBC could do so much better - and recognise that the ethnic minority in EastEnders deserves better."
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Dr Harold Legg was the Square's affable Jewish doctor. He'd practiced there for years and had been a confidante to many - including local hubble, bubble, toil and trouble merchant Lou Beale.

Leonard Fenton, the actor behind the good doctor, had appeared in television shows such as Z Cars, Secret Army and Shine On Harvey Moon before becoming Dr Legg - the TV role that made him a household name.

Lou Beale said what she thought to her family or anybody else and there's no doubt she was absolutely right.

As far as she was concerned.

Actress Anna Wing on her interview for the role:

"I knew the producers were looking for the real thing, so I turned up at the interview for the part with my birth certificate, my gran's picture and a family album. You see, I was born in Hackney, the daughter of a greengrocer, and although off-screen I talk with a proper English accent I still have an East End accent in my heart."

Lou was a memorable creation who certainly stamped her mark on the Albert Square saga. Sadly, the character was killed off in 1988 when Anna Wing left the show.
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The photograph above, signed by Anna "from Lou with love", is my favourite '80s Actual EastEnders item.
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Wendy Richard - saucy Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served? - made the leap to dowdy Pauline Fowler in EastEnders in 1985. Wendy was an exception to producer Julia Smith's rule not to use established stars in the show.

Pauline struggled with monstrous Mum Lou and a new baby on the way. She also served up some awesome dollops of grey mashed spud.

BT laid on a special "catch-up" service for fans who missed an episode. By dialling 01-482 4042, they could hear Wendy Richard/Pauline explaining what had gone on in the previous episode.
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The way we talk in my neck of the woods isn't that different to the east-end cockney accent, and whenever I watched EastEnders back in the '80s, I liked to shout questions and advice at the characters on screen and "tork the lingo".
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September 1985 found me saying:
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"Awright, 'Chelle, wass goin' on 'ere? You're up the duff, tha's plain, an' I wanna know oo the father is. I've gotta right - I pay me licence fee!"
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The BBC kept us guessing as young EastEnder Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully) discovered she was pregnant and arranged to meet the father by the canal.
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Was it Ali from the cafe?
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"Surely not, 'Chelle - bloke's a loser an' you wait till 'is missus gets 'old of you..."
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Was it soppy nurse Andy?
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"Bit of a wimp, 'Chelle - that Debs walks all over 'im..."
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I was pretty sure it wasn't Tony Carpenter...
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And what about...
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Several men were seen leaving Albert Square at the time Michelle was making her way to keep the appointment with the father of her child. Who would it be?
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A certain Dennis Watts of the Queen Victoria public house, Albert Square, Walford, E20, joined Michelle by the canal.
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"HIM?! Oh Gawd, 'Chelle," I howled at the telly, "what 'ave you done?!"
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Ethel Skinner was Albert Square's very own mistress of the malapropism, and also a friend to many. But her number one priority was always her little Willie.
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Gretchen Franklin, the actress behind Ethel, once said:
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"I think she was popular because she was simple, kind, generous and brave. But the only thing she and I really had in common was our height."
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"'Ere, I'm just poppin' over to see Lou..."
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Dot Cotton arrived in EastEnders in episode 40 - broadcast in July 1985 - and was soon to become one of the show's most popular characters. Hot flushes, fag after fag, 'orrible Charlie (her ever loving) and nasty Nick (her git of a son, who had first appeared in episode one) - Dot's lot was not a happy one.
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She moaned.
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She gossiped.
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She smoked for England.
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And we loved her.
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I well remember the time she won a personal stereo in a competition and went round the Square with her headphones on upside down, listening to James Last.
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Classic.
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June Brown, the actress behind Dot, was actually born in Suffolk, not the East End of London. But you'd never guess, listening to her on EastEnders!
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For more EastEnders fun and info, click on subject:
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