Is EastEnders fiction? Does it tell us anything about the ‘East End’?

“EastEnders: it’s as recognisable a facet of our culture as awkward silences on the tube, the Royal family and fish’n’chips: the quintessentially Ing-Ger-Lish soap opera, where everybody lives in a cramped terraced house, refuses to pronounce their T’s and indulges liberally in H-dropping. EastEnders is the show by Londoners, for Londoners.” (NewStateman)

EastEnders is a British soap aired by BBC that is set in a fictional borough in East London called Walford, which the name is (according to the telegraph) influenced by the mixture of Walthamstow and Stratford but is based on a ‘real life’ square in Hackney.

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An image of Fassett Square in Hackney, the “model square for EastEnders Albert Square” according to the Guardian.

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Albert Square, the main setting for EastEnders scenes and residents.

Just by looking at the two different images you can see the similarities in housing types and layout however, one image is real and the other a fictional set. Despite this, you could argue that both Fassett Square (“real”) and the fictional scenes of EastEnders play a similar role in producing varied connotations attached to East London. I for one, was extremely disappointed to find out, upon moving to East London, that the Queen Vic featured regularly in EastEnders didn’t actually exist as a physical public place but instead it was just a closed, inaccessible set to the public, built by the BBC.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one that has made the mistake of believing that EastEnders, a soap based on the East End of London and produce “for Londoners and by Londoners”, did actually represent some truths about what East London is like to live in and what type of people live there.

There has been recent arguments that EastEnders, despite being a “recognisable facet of English culture”, doesn’t represent East London as well as it should (indicating that I’m not the only one that thought that EastEnders was a reproduction of the realities of life in East London, or at least should be). The Telegraph recently reported that the BBC Trust Chief thinks that EastEnders is “too white” and does not represent “kaleidoscopic” modern Britain.

I think EastEnders is an interesting media form to look at when trying to identify the characteristics that are associated with East London as the producer of the British television soap grew up in East London, as did a lot of the actors, such as, Queen Vic owner Mick Carter (Danny Dyer), Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor). This demonstrates that despite complaints that EastEnders doesn’t represent how ethnically diverse east London is, it still does a very important role; it produces a watchable, relatable version of how the creators of Eastenders see East London/ London life. Alternatively we may not see East London as a whole to be correctly represented by the soap opera, however, the team producing the show could believe that its a perfect representation. In terms of Raban, EastEnders is justified on the stages present in the theatre that is East London.

“We don’t make life, we reflect it… 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”. -Julia Smith (creator/ producer).

Singh, Anita. ‘Eastenders Is Too White, Says BBC Trust Chief – Telegraph’. Telegraph.co.uk. N.p., 2014. [Accessed: 20 Feb. 2015].

Deans, Jason, and John Plunkett. ‘Eastenders Bosses Promise To Bring Spirit Of Shoreditch To Show’. the Guardian. N.p., 2014. [Accessed: 20 Feb. 2015].

Assoudani, Yacine. ‘Where Did Eastenders Go Wrong?’. Newstatesman.com. N.p., 2013. [Accessed: 20 Feb. 2015].

Posted by: Sheldon

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Is EastEnders fiction? Does it tell us anything about the ‘East End’?

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