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It’s a classic from EastEnders


It’s a classic from EastEnders

It’s a trip back to when EastEnders was worth watching tonight on BBC Four.

The soap, now very much on a rope thanks to Jon Sen and his strange ideas about continuous serial, used to pull in massive ratings and please its audience with every minute of ‘Enders action. These days even the long-standing fan accounts on social media for EastEnders have begun to mock the lack of anything worth celebrating – so tonight transport yourself back to 1989 when the show was (even with an Omnibus added to its ratings) pulling in millions of viewers.

Picture it, Walford, Albert Square, the end of the eighties. We’re in a world where ‘Aids’ is scaring the uneducated and ill-informed, the tabloid newspapers are using terms to negatively describe gay men such as ‘bender’ and ‘shirt lifter’ with no fear of getting a rebuke or as Piers Morgan declared in the tabloid (in an article suggesting the show should be axed) ‘yuppie poofs’.

At the heart of the programme is socially aware Tony Holland and Julia Smith who with EastEnders wanted to show all human life and all human emotions leading to this episode featuring British TV’s first kiss between two gay men. Men who just happened to be gay, the rest of their lives was as mundane and generic as anyone elses.

There had been a gay couple on TV prior to the arrival of EastEnders, with Southern TV’s daytime soap Together, (1980-81) penned by Phil Redmond later of Brookside fame, but there had never until EastEnders been scenes of great intimacy. There had also been a gay partnership in Peter Ling penned radio serial Waggoners Walk, (1969-1980) but their smooches could only be heard, not seen…

Colin and Barry saw EastEnders branded as ‘EastBenders’ by The Sun

The original storyline featuring Colin and his lover Barry had led to The Sun running the headline EastBenders in 1985. Oh, how the editor laughed – and sadly, at the time, so did a large population of Sun readers. Ignorance was bliss. But not for the BBC Elstree saga – who put front and centre storylines to not only entertain, but make viewers question their views on everything from unmarried mothers, underage sex and, later, aids and HIV – to name only a few of those topical, and controversial, subjects EastEnders would tackle with tact and fact. And maybe along the way open people’s eyes to a world where we could all be a little more accepting.

In this edition from January of ’89, written by Gillian Richmond, Colin (Michael Cashman) has moved on from Barry (Gary Hailes), and gets friendly with Guido (Nicholas Donovan). Such was its ‘just part of everyday life’ the all of two seconds kiss moment wasn’t even the cliffhanger ‘duff duff’.

See how they used to do it, and maybe only weep for what the show has become from what it once was.

Classic EastEnders, BBC Four, 8.30 pm

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