Anthony McNicholas writes on EastEnders as a public service soap opera

1 September 2021
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Anthony McNicholas, director of the CAMRI PhD programme, has this week written for the History of the BBC project about the role of EastEnders as a public service soap opera. In the article, which forms part of the 100 voices that made the BBC centenary celebrations, McNicholas notes while Australian soaps may feature the lives of good-looking young people in comfortable suburbs (Neighbours), American soaps the machinations of super-rich Texas oil magnates (Dallas) or Californian wine growers (Dynasty), when the BBC One launched its first year-round soap opera, viewers tuned in on February 19th, 1985 to a solidly proletarian square in the East End of London.

McNicholas goes on to say that while EastEnders was to be a soap opera, it was to be a public service soap opera and producer Julia Smith and writer Tony Holland and the small army of scriptwriters who worked on the programme over the years “crafted storylines which combined melodrama, multiple plots and (some) humour, deftly interwoven with reference to issues of the day. The opening scene touched on neighbourliness and old age isolation and poverty, while hinting at problems relating to alcohol. Outside in Albert Square, as people gathered to find out what was going on, racial tensions in this multicultural microcosm were evident. As it began, so it continued. One early storyline which captured the imagination of viewers centred on the question of teenage pregnancy. Developed over a number of weeks it began with conversations between two young female characters, Sharon and Michelle, about growing up and boys and sex.”

The full article which charts the history of Eastenders as a public service, can be read on the History of the BBC.

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