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Albert Square in the 1980s.
EastEnders is a long-running, popular British television soap opera, first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 19 February 1985. It currently ranks as one of the most watched shows in the United Kingdom.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 Endmarker of Londonmarker. The series primarily centres around 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, cafe and various small businesses, in addition to a park and allotments.

The series was originally screened as two half-hour episodes per week. Today, four episodes are broadcast each week on BBC One (each episode is repeated on BBC Three at 22:00) and an omnibus edition screens on Sunday afternoons. 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 remained, almost consistently, among the top-rated TV programmes in Britain ever since. The average audience share for an episode is currently between 35% and 45%. 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 five BAFTA Awards, and has won the Inside Soap Award for 'Best Soap' for ten years running, as well as eleven National Television Awards for 'Most Popular Serial Drama' and seven awards for 'Best Soap' at the British Soap Awards. It has also been inducted into the Rose d'Or Hall of Fame. It's also won six TV Quick/TV Choice Awards for 'Best Soap', three TRIC Awards for 'Soap of The Year' and three Royal Television Society Awards for 'Best Continuing Drama'.

Setting

EastEnders is set in the fictional London Borough of Walford. However, the central focus of the show is that of fictional Victorian square named Albert Square. The fictional Albert Square was built around the early 20th 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 Roadmarker and West Hammarker, which realistically would replace Bromley-by-Bowmarker.

Walford has the postal district of E20. The postcode district was selected as if it were part of the actual E postcode areamarker which covers much of East Londonmarker 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 Walthamstowmarker. Fans have tried to pinpoint the location using this postcode, however, in reality London East postal districts stop at E18; the show's creators opted for E20 instead of E19 as it was thought to sound better.

In reality, at least two Albert Squares do exist in the East End of Londonmarker, one in Stratfordmarker and the other in Ratcliff, E1. However, the show's producers actually based the Square's design on the real life Fassett Squaremarker in Dalstonmarker. Ridley Road Market is a short pedestrianised road that features a daily market and established street vendors, that includes Fassett Square at one end and Walford Road at the other. The postcode for the area, E8marker, 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 Walthamstowmarker and Stratford—the areas of London where the creators were born. Adding to the realism of the setting is the local newspaper, the fictional Walford Gazette, mirroring the area's own Hackney Gazette, in which local news events such as the arrests or murders of characters appear.

Characters

EastEnders was 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 all 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—EastEnders in the 1980s having been largely dominated by the Wattses, while the 1990s focused heavily on the Mitchells. Peggy Mitchell, in particular, is notorious for her ceaseless repetition of such statements as "You're a Mitchell!" and "It's all about family!" The 2000s saw a new focus on the largely female Slater clan, before the return of an emphasis on the Watts and Mitchell families. Key people involved in the production of EastEnders have stressed how important the idea of strong families is to the programme. From 2006, the Branning family became an increasing focus of many of the show's storylines, the family an extension of the popular Jackson family of the 1990s.

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 and Zainab Masood. 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. 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 and Pat Evans. 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 and Stacey Slater.

A gender balance in the show is maintained via the inclusion of various 'macho' male personalities such as Phil and Grant Mitchell, 'bad boys' such as Den Watts and Dennis Rickman and 'heartthrobs' such as Simon Wicks and Jamie Mitchell. 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 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 and Lofty Holloway. Other recurring characters that have appeared throughout the serial are 'lost girls' such as Mary Smith and Donna Ludlow, delinquents such as Mandy Salter, Stacey Slater and Jay Brown, villains such as Nick Cotton and Trevor Morgan, bitches such as Cindy Beale and Janine Evans and cockney 'wide boys' or 'wheeler dealers' such as Frank Butcher and Alfie Moon.

Over the years EastEnders has typically featured a number of elderly residents, who are used to show vulnerability, nostalgia, stalwart-like attributes and are sometimes used for comedic purposes. The original elderly residents included Lou Beale, Ethel Skinner and Dot Cotton. Over the years they have been joined by the likes of Jules Tavernier, Marge Green, Nellie Ellis and Jim Branning. Focus on elderly characters has decreased since the show's inception. The programme has more recently included a higher number of teenagers and successful young adults in a bid to capture the younger television audience. This has spurred criticism, most notably from the actress Anna Wing, who played Lou Beale in the show. She commented "I don't want to be disloyal, but I think you need a few mature people in a soap because they give it backbone and body... if all the main people are young it gets a bit thin and inexperienced. It gets too lightweight."

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, and Garry Hobbs and Minty Peterson. 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.

EastEnders has a high cast turnover and characters are regularly changed in order to facilitate storylines or refresh the format. The show has also become known for the return of characters after they have left the show. Sharon Rickman has so far completed six separate stints on the programme, as did Frank Butcher, and writers stunned viewers by bringing back Den Watts 14 years after he was believed to have died. Speaking extras, including Tracy the barmaid (who has been in the show since 1986), have made appearances throughout the show's duration, without being the focus of any major storylines. The character of Nick Cotton gained a reputation for making constant exits and returns since the programme's first episode.

Pauline Fowler's death in December 2006 means that, as of 2009, Ian Beale is the only character to have been in EastEnders from the first episode without officially leaving. Other long-running characters include Dot Branning who joined in July 1985 but had a four-year break in the mid 1990s, Pat Evans who first appeared in 1986 and has never officially left and Nick Cotton, who appeared in the first episode but has had several breaks.

Production

Production team

Filming

EastEnders is filmed at the BBC Elstree Centremarker in Borehamwoodmarker, Hertfordshiremarker. An aerial photo of the set can be seen here. Four episodes are filmed per week. When EastEnders went to four episodes a week, more studio space was needed. As a result, Top of the Pops was moved from its studio at Elstree to BBC Television Centremarker in April 2001.

The episodes are usually filmed about eight weeks in advance of broadcast; however, during the winter period, filming often takes place up to 12 weeks in advance, due to less daylight for outdoor filming sessions. This time difference has been known to cause problems when filming lot scenes. On 8 February 2007, heavy snow fell on the set, and filming had to be cancelled as the scenes due to be filmed on the day were to be transmitted in April.

Although episodes are predominantly recorded weeks before they are broadcast, occasionally, EastEnders includes current affairs in their episodes. In 1987, EastEnders covered the general election. Using a plan devised by co-creators Smith and Holland, five minutes of material was cut from four of the pre-recorded episodes preceding the election. These were replaced by specially recorded election material, including representatives from each major party, and a scene recorded on the day after the election reflecting the result, which was broadcast the following Tuesday. During the 2006 FIFA World Cup, actors filmed short scenes following the tournament's events, that were edited into the programme in the following episode. Last-minute scenes have also been recorded to reference Barack Obama's election victory in 2008 and the death of Michael Jackson in 2009.

Several times a year EastEnders is filmed on location, away from the studios at Elstree. These episodes have a practical function and are the result of EastEnders making a "double bank", when an extra week's worth of episodes are recorded at the same time as the regular schedule, enabling the production of the programme to stop for a two-week break at Christmas. The famous two-handers (when only two actors appear in an episode) were originally done for speed; while a two-hander is being filmed, the rest of the cast can be making another episode.

Online, fans are able to watch filming on the EastEnders webcam, which is on the official BBC EastEnders website. It shows updated stills of Albert Square, Turpin Road and George Street. The page also displays which episode is currently being filmed, the date it will be broadcast, and an extract of the script from that episode.

For its 25th anniversary in February 2010, a live episode of EastEnders will be broadcast.

Social realism

EastEnders programme makers took the decision that the show was to be about "everyday life" in the inner city "today" and regarded it as a "slice of life". Creator/producer Julia Smith declared that "We don't make life, we reflect it". She also said, "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".
In the 1980s, EastEnders featured "gritty" storylines involving drugs and crime, representing the issues faced by working-class Britain. Storylines included the cot death of 14-month-old Hassan Osman, Nick Cotton's homophobia, racism and murder of Reg Cox, Arthur Fowler's unemployment reflecting the recession of the 1980s, the rape of Kathy Beale in 1988 by James Willmott-Brown and Michelle Fowler's teenage pregnancy. The show also dealt with prostitution, mixed-race relationships, shoplifting, sexism, divorce, domestic violence and mugging.

As the show progressed into the 1990s, EastEnders still featured hard-hitting issues such as Mark Fowler discovering he was HIV positive in 1991, the death of his wife Gill from an AIDS-related illness in 1992, murder, adoption, abortion, Peggy Mitchell's battle with breast cancer, and Phil Mitchell's alcoholism and violence towards wife Kathy. Mental health issues were confronted in 1996 when 16-year-old Joe Wicks developed schizophrenia following the off-screen death of his sister in a car crash.

In the early 2000s, EastEnders covered the issue of euthanasia (Ethel Skinner's death in a pact with her friend Dot Cotton), the unveiling of Kat Slater's abuse by her uncle Harry as a child (which led to the birth of her daughter Zoe, who had been brought up to believe that Kat was her sister), the domestic abuse of Little Mo Morgan by husband Trevor (which involved rape and culminated in Trevor's death after he tried to kill Little Mo in a fire), Sonia Jackson giving birth at the age of 15 and then putting her baby up for adoption, and Janine Butcher's prostitution, agoraphobia and drug addiction. The soap also tackled the issue of mental illness and carers of people who have mental conditions, illustrated with mother and daughter Jean and Stacey Slater; Jean suffers from bipolar disorder, and teenage daughter Stacey was her carer (this storyline won a Mental Health Media Award in September 2006). Stacey went on to struggle with the disorder herself. The issue of illiteracy was highlighted by the characters of middle-aged Keith and his young son Darren. EastEnders has also covered the issue of Down's syndrome, as Billy and Honey Mitchell's baby, Janet, was born with the condition in 2006. EastEnders covered child abuse with its storyline involving Phil Mitchell's 11-year-old son Ben and lawyer girlfriend Stella Crawford, and child grooming involving the characters Tony King and Whitney Dean. David Proud, who plays the character of Adam Best, is the first wheelchair-using actor in the soap's history.

Aside from this, soap opera staples of youthful romance, jealousy, domestic rivalry, gossip and extramarital affairs are regularly featured, with high-profile storylines occurring several times a year. Whodunnits also feature regularly, including the "Who Shot Phil?" murder storyline in 2001 that attracted over 19 million viewers and was one of the biggest successes in British soap television.

History

The idea for a new soap opera on BBC1 was conceived in 1983, by BBC executives, principally David Reid, the then Head of Series & serials, who was keen for the BBC to produce a new evening soap opera. They gave the job of creating this new soap to script writer Tony Holland and producer Julia Smith, famous for their work together on Z Cars. They created twenty-four original characters for the show, based upon Holland's own family, and people they remembered from their own experiences in the East End.

They cast actors for their characters, and began to film the show at the BBC Elstree Centremarker in Borehamwoodmarker, Hertfordshiremarker. Alan Jeapes and Simon May created the title sequence and theme tune, and the show with a working title of East 8 was renamed EastEnders, when Smith and Holland realised they had been phoning casting agencies for months asking whether they had "any real East Enders" on their books. Julia Smith thought "Eastenders" "looked ugly written down", and capitalised the second 'e', and thus the name EastEnders was born. The show was first broadcast on 19 February 1985, and became wildly popular, often displacing Coronation Street from the top of the ratings for the rest of the 1980s.

Scheduling

Since 1985, EastEnders has remained at the centre of BBC One's primetime schedule. It is currently broadcast at 19:30 on Tuesday and Thursday, and 20:00 on Monday and Friday. The omnibus is broadcast on Sunday afternoon, though the exact time differs.

1985–1994

Originally, EastEnders was shown twice weekly at 19:00, however in August 1985 it moved to 19:30 as Michael Grade did not want the soap running in direct competition with Emmerdale Farm; the BBC had originally planned to take advantage of the 'summer break' that Emmerdale Farm usually took in order to capitalise on ratings, but ITV added extra episodes and repeats so that Emmerdale Farm was not taken off the air over the summer. Realising the futility of the situation, Grade decided to move the show to the later 19:30 slot, but to avoid tabloid speculation that it was a 'panic move' on the BBC's behalf, they had to "dress up the presentation of that move in such a way as to protect the show" giving "all kinds of reasons" for the move.

1994–present

EastEnders output then increased to three times a week, on 11 April 1994.EastEnders then added its fourth episode (shown on Fridays) on 6 August 2001. This caused some controversy as it clashed with Coronation Street, which at the time was moved to 20:00 to make way for an hour long episode of rural soap Emmerdale at 19:00 The move immediately provoked an angry response from ITV insiders, who argued that the BBC's last-minute move—only revealed at 15:30 on the day—broke an unwritten scheduling rule that the two flagship soaps would not be put directly against each other. In this first head-to-head battle, EastEnders claimed victory over its rival.

In early 2003, viewers could watch episodes of EastEnders on digital channel BBC Three before they were broadcast on BBC One. This was to coincide with the relaunch of the channel and helped BBC Three break the one million viewers mark for the first time with 1.03 million who watched to see Mark Fowler's departure. In February 2005, there were reports that the EastEnders schedule was threatened due to production problems. Newspaper reports indicated that the show faced being taken off air for a fortnight after a storyline shortage. However, this was denied by the BBC. In March of the same year, as Peter Fincham became the BBC One controller, rumours were sparked that EastEnders could be broadcast in a new time slot.

Repeats

EastEnders is usually repeated on BBC Three at 22:00 and there is an omnibus on BBC One on a Sunday afternoons, which replays the previous weeks' episodes in a block. Repeats are also available on-demand through BBC iPlayer for seven days after the original screening. From February to May 1995, as part of the programme's 10th Anniversary celebrations, Episodes from 1985 were repeated each morning at 10:00, starting from episode one. Selected episodes from 1985 and 1986 were also repeated on BBC1 on Friday evenings at 20:30 for a short while.

Old reruns used to be shown on UKTV Gold. However, when the channel was rebranded as the dedicated comedy channel G.O.L.D. in October 2008, EastEnders was removed. The EastEnders reruns resumed from 5 January 2009 on the newly formed Watch TV channel and commenced from the point that they ended on UKTV Gold.

Spin-offs

In 1998, EastEnders Revealed was launched on BBC Choice (now BBC Three). The show takes a look behind the scenes of the EastEnders and investigates particular places, characters or families within EastEnders. An episode of EastEnders Revealed that was commissioned for BBC Three attracted 611,000 viewers.

As part of the BBC's digital push, EastEnders Xtra was introduced in 2005. The show was presented by Angellica Bell and was available to digital viewers at 20:30 on Monday nights. It was also shown after the Sunday omnibus. The series went behind the scenes of the show and spoke to some of the cast members. A new breed of behind-the-scenes programmes have been broadcast on BBC Three since 1 December 2006. These are all documentaries related to current storylines in EastEnders, in a similar format to EastEnders Revealed, though not using the EastEnders Revealed name.

In October 2009, a 13-part Internet spin-off series entitled EastEnders: E20 was announced. The series was conceived by executive producer Diederick Santer "as a way of nurturing new, young talent, both on- and off-screen, and exploring the stories of the soaps' anonymous bystanders." E20 will feature a group of sixth-form characters and will target the "Hollyoaks demographic". It was written by a team of young writers and will be shown three times a week on the EastEnders website from January 2010.

YouTube

On 2 March 2007, BBC signed a deal with Google to put videos on YouTube. A behind the scenes video of EastEnders, hosted by Matt Di Angelo, formerly Deano Wicks on the show, was put on the site the same day, and was followed by another on 6 March 2007. In April 2007, EastEnders became available to view on mobile phones, via 3G technology, for 3, Vodafone and Orange customers. On 21 April 2007, the BBC launched a new advertising campaign using the slogan "There's more to EastEnders". The first television advert showed Dot Branning with a refugee baby, Tomas, who she took in under the pretence of being her grandson. The second and third featured Stacey Slater and Dawn Swann, respectively. There have also been adverts in magazines and on radio.

International screenings

EastEnders is broadcast around the world in many English-speaking countries, including Australia and Canada. The series was broadcast in the United States until BBC America ceased broadcasts of the serial in 2003, amidst fan protests. It is shown on BBC Prime in Europe and BBC Entertainment, since 1 September 2008 in Africa and is approx, six episodes behind the UK EastEnders. It was also shown on BBC Prime in Asia, but when the channel was replaced by BBC Entertainment, it ceased showing the series. It is also shown on BBC Canada.

In June 2004, the Dish Network picked up EastEnders, broadcasting episodes starting at the point where BBC America had ceased broadcasting them, offering the serial as a pay-per-view item. Dish first broadcast two weeks' worth of shows each week to catch up. In approximately February 2005, the programming reached the point of being one month behind the new shows being broadcast in the UK. At that point, Dish stopped its double-helping schedule, and now maintains the schedule of broadcasting the new programmes consistently one month behind the UK schedule. Episodes from prior years are still shown on various PBS stations in the US.

In the United States, the PBS station KOCE-TVmarker in Los Angelesmarker ran the show one episode per week from 1990 to 1993, and currently shows two episodes weekly on Friday at 12:30 and 13:00 but has now ceased broadcasting. Their last repeat is on Sunday. Houstonmarker's KUHTmarker runs two episodes every Sunday night at 22:00 and 22:30. Similarly, WLIWmarker in New York Citymarker schedules two episodes on Fridays at midnight with a recap of last weeks episodes. North Carolinamarker's public television outlet, UNC-TV, runs two episodes per week, and receives generous financial support from the fundraising efforts of the North Carolina EastEnders Fan Club. Except on one occasion where public support dried up, KTEH-TVmarker of San Jose, Californiamarker, has run the series, between two to four episodes weekly, since the early 1990s. Twin Cities Public Televisionmarker (Minneapolis/St Paul) broadcasts two episodes every Friday evening. Miami's PBS station WPBTmarker broadcasts two episodes every Saturday morning at 11:00 and 11:30 and two episodes on Mondays at 02:00 and 02:30. WLVTmarker in Allentown, Pennsylvaniamarker, airs two EastEnders episodes on Sundays at 23:00 and 23:30. Most PBS stations are nearly five years behind in the storyline, and those showing fewer than four episodes weekly are falling further behind.

The series was screened in Australia by the ABCmarker from 1987 until the early 1990s. Currently the series is seen in Australia only on pay-TV channel UK.TV, Monday-Thursday at 7pm, where it is 3 months behind the UK. In New Zealand, it was shown by TVNZ on TV One for several years, and then on Prime each weekday afternoon at 1425(NZT). From May 4, 2009 EastEnders moved to UKTV screening Monday to Friday at 19:00 with a repeat on Saturdays and Sundays at 17:30. Episodes are currently ten months behind the UK.

In the Republic of Irelandmarker, Eastenders first aired on TV3 from 1998 by the early 2000s it moved over to RTÉ One where it remains today and airs the same episode as aired on BBC One, which is widely available in the Republic, either directly, or via cable or MMDS. When broadcast on RTÉ, the channel completes the broadcast of an episode before the BBC (usually only by a few seconds, or minutes at most). This is due to the same scheduled start times for the episodes (also differs by several seconds or minutes), but different advertisement formats which causes one to always marginally finish before the other.

EastEnders is also shown on the British Forces Broadcasting Servicemarker's main TV channel, BFBS1, to members of HM Forces stationed around the world.

Popularity and viewership

EastEnders proved highly popular and Appreciation Indexes reflected this, rising from 55–60 at the launch to 85–95 later on, a figure which was nearly ten points higher than the average for a British soap opera. Research suggested that people found the characters true to life, the plots believable and, importantly in the face of criticism of the content, people watched as a family and regarded it as viewing for all the family. Based on market research by BBC commissioning in 2003, EastEnders is most watched by 60–74 year olds, closely followed by 45–59 year olds. An average EastEnders episode attracts a total audience share between 35 and 40%. Aside from that, the 10 p.m. repeat showing on BBC Three attracts an average of 500,000 viewers, whilst the Sunday omnibus generally attracts 3 million. EastEnders is one of the more popular programmes on British television and regularly attracts between 7 and 12 million viewers and while the show's ratings have fallen since its initial surge in popularity and the advent of multichannel digital television, the programme continues to be largely successful for the BBC. EastEnders two main rival's are ITV soaps Coronation Streetmarker and Emmerdalemarker. EastEnders generally rates lower than Coronation Street, and has been beaten by Emmerdale on numerous occasions. In 2001, EastEnders clashed with Coronation Street for the first time. EastEnders won the battle with 8.4 million viewers (41% share) whilst Coronation Street lagged behind with 7.3 million viewers (34% share).
The launch show attracted 17 million viewers in 1985; this was perhaps helped by the amount of press attention it received, something which continues today.

On Christmas Day 1986, EastEnders attracted 30.15 million viewers who tuned in to see Den Watts hand over divorce papers to wife Angie. This remains the highest rated episode of a soap in British television history.

2004 Ratings decline

On 21 September 2004, Louise Berridge, the then executive producer, quit following criticism of the show. The following day the show received its lowest ever ratings at that time (6.2 million) when ITV scheduled an hour long episode of Emmerdalemarker against it. Emmerdale was watched by 8.1 million people. The poor ratings motivated the press into reporting viewers were bored with implausible and ill thought out storylines. Since then, Emmerdale has managed to beat EastEnders in the ratings many times, establishing itself as a serious contender for the second most popular UK soap. Kathleen Hutchison, who had been the executive producer of hospital drama Holby City, was announced as the new executive producer. Within a few weeks, she announced a major shake-up of the cast with the highly-criticised Ferreira family, first seen in June 2003, written out at the beginning of 2005. Hutchison went on to axe other characters including Andy Hunter, Kate Mitchell, Juley Smith and Derek Harkinson. Whilst she was there, she set about reversing the previous executive producer's work. It indicated a fresh start for EastEnders after declining ratings in 2004.

In January 2005, after just four months, Kathleen Hutchison left EastEnders. John Yorke who led EastEnders through what Mal Young (the then head of BBC drama) said was one of its most successful periods in 2001, returned to the BBC as the head of drama, meaning his responsibilities included the running of EastEnders. He also brought back long serving script writer Tony Jordan. It is reported that the cast and crew did not get on well with Hutchison as she had them working up to midnight and beyond. She is also said to have rejected several planned storylines and demanded re-writes. This was one of the reasons storylines such as the Real Walford football team were suddenly ignored. But through her short reign she led EastEnders to some of its most healthy viewing figures in months. John Yorke immediately stepped into her position until a few weeks later when Kate Harwood was announced as the new executive producer.

2005 saw EastEnders go through some of its worst ratings in its 20 year history. ITV continued to screen hour-long episodes of Emmerdale against it, in which Emmerdale continuously remained victorious. On 1 March 2005 EastEnders recevied its second lowest ratings at that time, when both EastEnders and Emmerdale aired one-hour episodes starting at 7pm. The episode of Emmerdale, which saw the exit of one of its most popular characters Charity Tate, attracted 9.06 million viewers, leaving EastEnders with just 6.2 million viewers.

Two weeks later on 17 March 2005 EastEnders received its lowest ever ratings at that time, when ITV screened another hour-long special of Emmerdale to mark the show's 4000th episode. Emmerdale was watched by 8.8 million viewers, whilst EastEnders was watched by 6.2 million viewers. In the autumn of 2005, EastEnders saw its average audience share increase. This was thanks to a succession of ratings-grabbing storylines which included the arrest of Sam Mitchell for the murder of Den Watts, the marriage of Sharon and Dennis Rickman, the return of the Mitchell brothers, Chrissie Watts being arrested after she was discovered to have been Den's real killer, and the death of Dennis Rickman at the hands of a mysterious attacker. Weeks after this, ITV again scheduled episodes of Emmerdale against EastEnders, in which Emmerdale came out on top for a few times. One episode of Emmerdale, which saw the departure of long serving, popular character, Zoe Tate, attracted 8.3 million viewers, leaving EastEnders with 6.5 million for the funeral of Den Watts. However, this indirectly helped increase the audience of digital channel BBC Three as 1 million (10% share) tuned in to see the second showing. However, the battle between EastEnders and Emmerdale saw EastEnders come out on top with 200,000 more viewers on 1 December 2005. EastEnders was the top-rated soap on Christmas Day 2005, attracting 10.6 million viewers while Coronation Street got 9.8 million, and Emmerdale got 7.9 million. 12.6 million viewers watched as Dennis Rickman was stabbed by a mystery attacker on 30 December 2005, and the aftermath attracted 12.34 million viewers on 2 January 2006.

Since then EastEnders has beaten Coronation Street in the ratings several times, although Coronation Street continues to average more on a regular basis. Ratings reached an all time low in July 2006 with 5.2 million viewers, followed two days later by only 3.9 million when it was scheduled against an action packed hour long episode of Emmerdale featuring several characters trapped in an exploding show home. Emmerdale was watched by 9.03 million people.
Christmas Day 2006 saw EastEnders as the top rated soap; 10.7 million viewers watched to see the death of Pauline Fowler. In previous two weeks to that, it reached 9.90 and 9.85 million viewers.

In February 2007, the show was criticised for boring storylines and acting. EastEnders was consequently snubbed from the Royal Television Society awards. EastEnders received its second lowest ratings on 17 May 2007, when 4.0 million viewers tuned in to see Ian Beale and Phil Mitchell's car crash, part of the show's most expensive stunt. This was also the lowest ever audience share, with just 19.6%. This was attributed to a conflicting one hour special episode of Emmerdale on ITV1 which revealed the perpetrator in the long running Tom King murder mystery storyline. Emmerdale's audience peaked at 9.1 million. Ratings for the 10 p.m. EastEnders repeat on BBC Three reached an all time high of 1.4 million. However, on Christmas Day 2007, EastEnders gained one of its highest ratings for years and the highest ratings for any TV programme in 2007, when 13.9 million viewers saw Bradley Branning find out his wife Stacey had been cheating with his father, Max. The earlier first half had achieved 11.8 million viewers. The second half of the double bill was the most watched programme on Christmas Day 2007 in the UK, while the first half was third most watched, surpassed only by the Doctor Who Christmas special. When official figures came out a few weeks later, it was confirmed 14.38 million viewers had watched the Christmas Day episode of EastEnders, and that it had the highest UK TV Audience for ANY TV show during 2007.On 24 March 2008, EastEnders attracted a strong audience of 11.4 million viewers a 42.4% audience share, which saw Max Branning buried alive by his wife Tanya Branning. This episode beat the double bill of Coronation Street which attracted 10.9 million viewers at 7.30pm a 41% audience share and 9.9 million viewers a 36.5% audience share at 8.30pm.

2008 Ratings recovery

On Christmas Day 2008 Eastenders attracted 11.5 million viewers, when Sean Slater discovered he was not the father of Amy Slater. It was the most watched soap opera on Christmas Day.

The 2008 New Years Day episode attracted an audience of 9.9 million viewers making it the most watched programme of the day.

On 2 April 2009, a peak of 11.5 million viewers tuned in to see the special hour-long episode, which featured Peggy and Archie's nuptials as well as the controversial death of Ronnie's covert daughter Danielle Jones. This episode marked the highest audience attraction since Christmas Day 2008.

It is currently the second most watched programme on BBC One, behind Strictly Come Dancing.

Popularity rankings

Between 2001 and 2002, EastEnders was the 10th most searched-for TV show on the Internet. It was the 2nd most popular UK search term in 2003, and the 7th in 2004. EastEnders holds the record for the most watched soap episode in Britain. In 2001, EastEnders went head to head with rival soap Coronation Streetmarker for the first time. EastEnders won the battle with 8.4 million viewers (41%) while Coronation Street attracted 7.3 million (36%). Since EastEnders began in 1985, at least one of its episodes has rated higher than any other British soap opera throughout each decade. This includes the 1980s, 1990s and so far the 2000s.

Critique

EastEnders has received both praise and criticism for most of its storylines, which have dealt with difficult themes, such as violence, rape and murder.

Mary Whitehouse argued at the time that EastEnders represented a violation of "family viewing time" and that it undermined the watershed policy. She regarded EastEnders as a fundamental assault on the family and morality itself. She made reference to representation of family life and emphasis on psychological and emotional violence within the show. She was also critical of language such as "bleeding", "bloody hell", "bastard" and "for Christ's sake". However, Whitehouse also praised the programme, describing Michelle Fowler's decision not to have an abortion as a "very positive storyline". She also felt that EastEnders had been cleaned up as a result of her protests, though she later commented that EastEnders had returned to its old ways. Her criticisms were widely reported in the tabloid press as ammunition in its existing rivalry with the BBC. The stars of Coronation Street in particular aligned themselves with Mary Whitehouse, gaining headlines such as "STREETS AHEAD! RIVALS LASH SEEDY EASTENDERS" and "CLEAN UP SOAP! Street Star Bill Lashes 'Steamy' EastEnders".

In 1997 several episodes were shot and set in Ireland, resulting in criticisms for portraying the Irish in a negatively stereotypical way. Ted Barrington, the Irish Ambassador to London at the time, described the portrayal of Ireland as an "unrepresentative caricature", stating he was worried by the negative stereotypes and the images of drunkenness, backwardness and isolation. Jana Bennett, the BBC's then director of production, later apologised for the episodes, stating on BBC1's news bulletin: "It is clear that a significant number of viewers have been upset by the recent episodes of EastEnders, and we are very sorry, because the production team and programme makers did not mean to cause any offence." A year later BBC chairman Christopher Bland admitted that as result of the Irish-set EastEnders episodes, the station failed in its pledge to represent all groups accurately and avoid reinforcing prejudice.

The long-running storyline of Mark Fowler's HIV was so successful in raising awareness that in 1999, a survey by the National Aids Trust found teenagers got most of their information about HIV from the soap, though one campaigner noted that in some ways the storyline was not reflective of what was happening at the time as the condition was more common among the gay community. Still, heterosexual Mark struggled with various issues connected to his HIV status, including public fears of contamination, a marriage breakdown connected to his inability to have children and the side effects of combination therapies. However, in early 2003, when the makers of the series decided to write Mark out of the series, he left Walford to travel the world, and his death was announced a year later.

The child abuse storyline with Kat Slater and her uncle Harry saw calls to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) go up by 60%. The chief executive of the NSPCC praised the storyline for covering the subject in a direct and sensitive way, coming to the conclusion that people were more likely to report any issues relating to child protection because of it. In 2002, EastEnders also won an award from the Mental Health Media Awards held at BAFTA for this storyline.

EastEnders is often criticised for being too violent, most notably during a domestic violence storyline between Little Mo Morgan and her husband Trevor. As EastEnders is shown pre-watershed, there were worries that some scenes in this storyline were too graphic for its audience. Complaints against a scene in which Little Mo's face was pushed in gravy on Christmas Day were upheld by the Broadcasting Standards Council. However, a helpline after this episode attracted over 2000 calls. Erin Pizzey, who became internationally famous for having started one of the first Women's Refuges, said that EastEnders had done more to raise the issue of violence against women in one story than she had done in 25 years. The character of Phil Mitchell (played by Steve McFadden since early 1990) has been criticised on several occasions for glorifying violence and proving a bad role model to children. On one occasion following a scene in an episode broadcast in October 2002, where Phil brutally beat his godson, Jamie Mitchell (Jack Ryder), 31 complaints came from viewers who watched the scenes.

Originally there was a storyline written that the whole Ferreira family killed their pushy father Dan, but after actor Dalip Tahil could not get a visa for working in the UK the storyline was scrapped and instead Ronny Ferreira got stabbed and survived. This storyline was criticised by many as it seemed rushed and no reason was given for Dan's disappearance.

In 2003, Shaun Williamson, who was in the final months of his role of Barry Evans, said that the programme had become much grittier over the past ten to fifteen years, and found it "frightening" that parents let their young children watch.

The BBC was accused of anti-religious bias by a House of Lordsmarker committee, who cited EastEnders as an example. Dr. Indarjit Singh, editor of the Sikh Messenger and patron of the World Congress of Faiths, said: "EastEnders' Dot Cotton is an example. She quotes endlessly from the Bible and it ridicules religion to some extent."
The scene involving Owen and Denise that prompted 128 complaints.
Susan Tully, who played Michelle Fowler from the show's inception until 1995, has caused controversy with fans after refusing to return to the show for important events regarding the Fowler family such as Mark and Pauline's weddings to Lisa Shaw and Joe Macer, respectively, and Michelle's father Arthur and Mark's funerals. The actress rejected offers to return again for Pauline's funeral, and Scarlett Johnson, who played Vicki Fowler, wasn't asked to return. It has been a common practice in the programme for former characters not to return for important events regarding their family members.

In July 2006, former cast member Tracy-Ann Oberman suggested that the scriptwriters had been "on crack" when they penned the storyline about Den's murder and described her 18 months on the show as being "four years of acting experience". Wendy Richard, who played Pauline Fowler for 21 years, has also claimed that she quit the show because of the producers' decision to remarry her character to Joe Macer (played by Ray Brooks), as she felt this was out of character for Pauline.

In August 2006, a scene involving Carly Wicks (Kellie Shirley) and Jake Moon (Joel Beckett) having sex on the floor of Scarlet nightclub, and another scene involving Owen Turner violently attacking Denise Fox, prompted 129 and 128 complaints, respectively. Carly and Jake's sex scenes were later removed from the Sunday omnibus edition.

The birth of Billy and Honey Mitchell's baby, Janet, diagnosed with Down's syndrome, has attracted a lot of criticism. The storyline has been criticised by the Royal College of Midwives, who claim the storyline was inaccurate and unrealistic. They claim that Honey should not have been refused an epidural and should not have been told about her daughter's condition without her husband being present. They also claim that the baby appeared rigid when in fact she should have been floppy, and that nobody opened the baby's blanket to check. The BBC say a great deal of research was undertaken such as talking to families with children who have Down's syndrome, and liaising with a senior midwife as well as the Down's Syndrome Association. The BBC say Honey was not refused an epidural but had actually locked herself away in the bathroom. They were also unable to cast a baby with Down's syndrome for the first few episodes, which is why the baby appeared rigid. The Down's Syndrome Association say that the way in which Billy and Honey found out about their baby's condition and their subsequent support is not a best practice model, but is still a realistic situation. Conversely, learning disability charity Mencap have praised the soap, saying it will help to raise awareness.

The showdown of Rob, Dawn and May's storyline where May stated to Dawn she could give her an elective caesarean (Dawn being handcuffed to the bed) prompted 200 complaints reported by The Sun. The 2007 domestic abuse storyline involving Ben Mitchell and Stella Crawford has attracted sixty complaints from viewers, who found scenes where Ben was attacked by bullies as Stella looked on "upsetting".

In May 2007, it was decided that the ending of a current storyline featuring characters of Dawn Swann, Dr. May Wright and Rob Minter would be substantially rewritten due to the disappearance of toddler Madeleine McCann. The storyline would have seen May ran off with Dawn and Rob's baby shortly after it had been born. The move has attracted some criticism as to how it relates directly to the disappearance of the toddler, but the BBC has defended its actions by stating that "In the current circumstances it was felt any storyline that included a child abduction would be inappropriate and could cause distress to our viewers."

In 2008, the show was criticised for stereotyping their Asian and Black characters, by having a black single mum, Denise Wicks, and an Asian shopkeeper, Zainab Masood.

In March 2008, scenes showing Tanya Branning (Jo Joyner) and boyfriend, Sean Slater (Rob Kazinsky), burying Tanya's husband Max (Jake Wood) alive, attracted many complaints. Tanya was seen drugging Max before she and Sean pulled him out to a van and drove him to nearby woods. They then placed him in an open coffin and filled it with soil before driving away, leaving him for dead. However, in the next episode Tanya did go back to rescue him. The UK communications regulator Ofcommarker later found that the episodes depicting the storyline were in breach of the 2005 Broadcasting Code. They contravened the rules regarding protection of children by appropriate scheduling, appropriate depiction of violence before the 9pm watershed and appropriate depiction of potentially offensive content.

In September 2008, EastEnders began a grooming and paedophilia storyline involving characters Tony King (Chris Coghill), Whitney Dean (Shona McGarty), Bianca Jackson (Patsy Palmer), Lauren Branning (Madeline Duggan) and Peter Beale (Thomas Law). The storyline has attracted over 150 complaints thus far. Over 30 complaints were filed on 25th and 26 September 2008 involving a scene where Tony King hit 14-year old Peter Beale.

In April 2009, there was also a large number of complaints for the tragic storyline of Danielle Jones's (Lauren Crace) death after the revelation to which Danielle confessed to Ronnie Mitchell (Samantha Janus) that she was her daughter. Shortly afterwards Danielle died in the arms of her mother after being run over by Janine Butcher (Charlie Brooks). Diederick Santer, the executive producer, said "We had to give Ronnie that glimmer of happiness and then rip it away" and "Ronnie would fade away if Danielle had lived".

EastEnders also came under fierce criticism for a homosexual storyline involving Syed Masood and Christian Clarke. Santer defended the storyline, which right-wing newspaper the Daily Mail called "sensationalist" and "immoral". by stating it reflected modern day clashes between religion and sexual orientation. The episode in which devout Muslim Syed shares a kiss with openly gay Christian pulled in almost eight million viewers.

Awards and nominations

In popular culture

Since its premiere in 1985, EastEnders has had a large impact on British popular culture. It has frequently been referred to in many different media, including songs and television programmes.

Further reading

Who's Who in EastEnders by Kate Lock.


Many books have been written about EastEnders. Notably, from 1985 to 1988, author and television writer Hugh Miller wrote seventeen novels, detailing the lives of many of the show's original characters before 1985, when events on screen took place.

Kate Lock also wrote four novels centred around more recent characters; Steve Owen, Grant Mitchell, Bianca Jackson and Tiffany Mitchell. Lock also wrote a character guide entitled Who's Who in EastEnders (ISBN 0-563-55178-X) in 2000, examining main characters from the first fifteen years of the show.

Show creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland also wrote a book about the show in 1987, entitled EastEnders: The Inside Story (ISBN 0-563-20601-2), telling the story of how the show made it to screen. Two special anniversary books have been written about the show; EastEnders: The First 10 Years: A Celebration (ISBN 0-563-37057-2) by Colin Brake in 1995 and EastEnders: 20 Years in Albert Square (ISBN 0-563-52165-1) by Rupert Smith in 2005.

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