The other day, I snuggled down to watch the latest edition of BBC1’s primetime soap EastEnders – something I’ve not watched for more than 25 years. And what a treat it was.
Dot’s preparing for eviction (well, it is the end of the welfare state). Bonny baby Lexi is causing Lola concern by burning with a fever – but only, it would seem, while off-camera. Phil has just about given up escaping an invisible straightjacket.
And the intended post-row discomfort of a mixed-race party only added to the already rigor motis-levels of stiffness that characterises the entire show.
I know it’s supposed to be the gritty East End of London ’n’ all. But, as an east Londoner myself, I can’t remember life there ever being quite so preposterous. Perhaps I just frequented the wrong pubs.
The social-issue plotlines might be created for consumption by a mainstream, mainly bored white audience, but that’s not the point. The question that really bothers me is: why do all EastEnders characters, whether of colour or not, so lack any, er, colour or life?
EastEnders is so removed from life in the East End of London that it could be done for breaching the Trades Description Act. I mean, what if you’d spent several thousand pounds on a family holiday in some exotic location, only to find the place and its people were the cultural equivalent of Happy Shopper coffee? Admit it. You wouldn’t be very impressed, would you?
But that’s pretty much what we were served up here. The black and Asian elements in this already avoidable mix are very pale imitations of the real thing.
Okay, Eastenders has never been great at portraying cultural diversity – or, in fact, white cockney monoculture. It’s probably never really tried, if the truth be told.
And it’s always had token black and Asian roles among the forest of white stiffs, facing a not wholly convincing mix of dramas. But, surely to goodness, they don’t have to be this crap, do they?
Cockney-dalek interface situations
The BBC could, of course, deal with the programme’s authenticity issue at a stroke by simply substituting all the actors with daleks, thereby opening the show up to whole new vistas of emotional range.
Take the social inclusion agenda, for instance. I would love to believe that a dalek could hold down a job, balance childcare responsibilities with an active love life, a series of high-profile burglaries AND a family feud – all while moaning incessantly about rents and the cost of a weekend break in Ilford. It would all be so much more entertaining and convincing than anything EastEnders has going on at the moment.
And just who wouldn’t be intrigued by the whole cockney-dalek interface thing? Such a move could not only boost the BBC’s diversity efforts by portraying East End life in all its lustrous wonder. It would also breathe new life into clapped-out characters from even less plausible TV series.
Yes, the daleks might get a bit obsessive about The Doctor and levitating their way upstairs. But as long as they can create dysfunctional periods of silence, pull the odd pint and sell packs of socks on a market stall, I wouldn’t feel such a need to punch them all in the face.