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EAST ENDERS

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EAST ENDERS

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									28   August 1985   Marxism Today




                                                                                           rejection of sets. Visual pleasure is not
                                                                                           strong in Brookside - the use of real houses
                                                                                           restricts camera movement and makes the
                                                                                           actors' movements appear awkward and
                                                                                           paradoxically       contrived.     Similarly,
                                                                                           although some of its most memorable
                                                                                           moments have been steeped in emotion -
                                                                                           Marie's visit to George in prison, for
                                                                                           example, or Bobby Grant's moving con-
                                                                                           frontations with his daughter - Brookside
                                                                                           has publicly espoused naturalism, an
                                                                                           attention to surface detail which reveals
                                                                                           rather than forces out the drama of the
                                                                                           plot.
                                              publicity for East Enders, carefully man-
EAST ENDERS                                                                                   One of the main pleasures of East En-
                                              aged by the BBC, dwelt on the fact that the ders, on the other hand, is the sense of
                                              programme was being made at the old film excess - common in Dallas or Dynasty, of
     Christine Geraghty                       studios at Elstree. Papers gave their read- course, but not in British serials. If Brook-
                                              ers sneak previews of Albert Square, com- side's invitation to the audience is to
                                              menting rightly on the major commitment observe reality, East Enders is to enjoy the
We need first to consider the set. An odd the BBC was making to its first continuous contrivance. Albert Square looks real but
place to begin an analysis of East Enders serial since Compact. With the elaborate we know it's a set and the train which
perhaps but an appropriate one since the set go high production values reflected in occasionally crosses the railway bridge
set tells us much about the programme and the large cast, dexterous camera work and serves as the excessive detail which con-
its place among current British serials. a profligate use of storylines. In its first firms the unreality.
Sprawling, lively, aggressively realistic but episodes, East Enders used up stories that      This is not to say that East Enders is not
unashamedly contrived, the East Enders would have kept many serials going for concerned to tackle some of the social
set is best compared not to the Crossroads months. Clearly, the new serial is intend- issues which Brookside has taken on board
motel or the Street but to the studio set ups ing to barge into a difficult market and and Julia Smith's track record as a produc-
of Ealing films of the late 40s - It always present its challenge to Brookside on the er in presenting such issues in Angels'
rains on Sundays or Passport to Pimlico - in one hand and Coronation Street on the other should not be underestimated. The initial
which the camera moved with loving care with a flourish.                                   publicity stressed that the serial was in-
among cockneys shouting their goods in           Brookside, in fact, provides a useful and tending to deal with a whole range of
London street markets. With its railway revealing comparison. It too had the problems typical of an inner city area.
bridge, corner pub and market stalls, the advantage of a long-term commitment, in Housing, health, drugs and unemploy-
East Enders set proudly proclaims the this case from Channel 4. Brookside took ment have provided the basis for stories
ambitious intentions of the BBC's chal- advantage of this to establish itself after a along with the sexual and emotional prob-
lenge to ITV's serial success.                slow start as the serial most committed to lems which are the staple of serial drama.
   The comparison with film is not of realism, a position reflected in its attempt Like other serials, though, East Enders had
course accidental. Much of the advance to tackle political issues and its puritanical firmly set its working characters in small
                                                                                                                August 1985   Marxism Today   29



 businesses - shops, the building trade,         going to be pushed in East Enders. The             End family - they are potentially at least
 minicab driving - which has limited the         response to Hassan's death, for instance,          outsiders through class (Debbie), profes-
 range of stories dealing with work. There       was tentative with different characters            sion (Dr Legg) or most markedly through
 are few references to unions and there is no    offering support out of their own initiative       race.
 equivalent to Bobby Grant whose charac-         rather than as part of a group response -             Nevertheless, East Enders, while draw-
 ter in Brookside opens up the possibility of    Lou Beale sure of the correct behaviour at         ing on an image of cockney London, does
 plots to do with unions and management          a time of death, the others making their           escape its boundaries. Lou Beale carries
 which East Enders shows little interest in      own more uncertain gestures. Neverthe-             considerable moral weight but her re-
 exploring.                                      less, East Enders follows the other British        sponses, though not to be dismissed, are
    In one area, however, there seems to me,     serials in trying to root itself in a particular   often seen as out-of-date and inappropri-
 writing as a white woman, to be consider-       locality, in this case the East End of             ate. The cot death episode in which Hassan
 able potential - the handling of black          London rather than Liverpool, Birming-             died presented us with two different mod-
 characters. The representation of blacks        ham or the Yorkshire Dales. At the core of         es of grief- Ali's and Sue's - and invite us
 on British television needs further discus-     the early episodes was the white working           to be compassionate towards both, in their
 sion but East Enders does seem to be            class Beale/Fowler family, headed though           difference, not in their similarity. The
 attempting to move beyond the position          by no means dominated by the matriarchal           invitation to enter a community is one of
 that race is a problem (with the corollory      Lou Beale. These characters are in some            the great pleasures offered by serials. It
 that it is blacks who actually create the       senses presented as the norm, the                  will be interesting to see whether East
 problem) and the presentation of black          'genuine' East Enders, Cockney characters          Enders can construct a community based
 characters as victims, forced to suffer the     marked by their traditional resilience,            not on the similarities of human nature
 abuses of racism. The sense of excess           good humour and community solidarity.              (the classic fallback position of soap oper-
 referred to earlier works to the program-       The other characters tend to be defined by         as) but on the potentialities of different
 me's advantage here. East Enders certainly      their difference from this archetypal East         cultures.
 benefits from the number of black charac-
 ters led by a challenging performance from
 Oscar James as Tony and from the range of
 races represented - Bengali, West Indian,
 Turkish. No single character is left to carry
 the burden of race as Jonah briefly did in
 Brookside and as Kate does now.
    In addition, the melodramatic relish of
 East Enders allows the black characters to
 take up active and dramatic roles. This
 sometimes occurs when race is not being
 directly presented as an issue. Tony's
 relationship with his son or his brief in-
 volvement with Angie have a striking
 generosity while the tense quarrels and
.reconciliations between Naima and Saeed
 are set against a whole range of successful/
 unsuccessful marriages in the programme.
 On the other hand, when race is at issue the
 melodramatic bent of the programme can
 be to the advantage of the black characters.
 The routing of Nick was one of the few
 occasions on British television when a
 group of blacks (with Lofty inevitably
 tagging along) is seen to make a decision to
 attack a white racist and to carry the
 initiative out successfully. The beating up
 of Nick was a dramatic incident, made the
 more so by his subsequent departure from
 the serial; it remains to be seen whether
 East Enders can build on what seems to me
 to be a hopeful start.
   It was not to be expected, however, that
the handling of race would be unproblema-
tic and there are particular problems when
the black characters are set in the context
of the community as a whole. It is not clear
yet how far the notion of community is

								
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