February 2015 will see EastEnders celebrate three dramatic decades on air and to mark the occasion it will be pushing the boundaries by going live. As well as a wholly-live edition of the show, there will also be a series of ‘live elements’ in the other episodes airing throughout the anniversary week.
The special week, beginning Monday 16th February on BBC One, aims to “give a nod to the past and welcome the future” and will feature storylines culminating and big momentous events that will cement the anniversary’s place in television history.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for EastEnders to create a massive national event and one that will enable us to celebrate 30 years of EastEnders in spectacular style.
“With live elements to each episode as well as a half hour live episode, it allows us to have a huge amount of surprises for the audience. It is ambitious and exciting and something I know everyone at EastEnders will excel at as they always do.” – Dominic Treadwell-Collins, Executive Producer
“BBC One will bring the nation together to celebrate 30 years of EastEnders by going live across the anniversary week,” adds Controller of BBC One, Charlotte Moore “Next February will mark a massive event on the channel by creating the ultimate ‘doof doof’ as we finally reveal who killed Lucy Beale.”
While soaps and serials have for over thirty years been afforded the luxury of re-takes and being recorded some weeks in advance, the early days of British serial and soap opera saw productions air live or recorded ‘as live’ to tape with no editing and very few chances for re-takes. EastEnders began after this practice had just ceased to be the norm.
The UK’s first twice weekly medical serial Emergency Ward 10 (also made at the EastEnders’ studios) aired live for a long spell of its run while early episodes of, then twice-a-week serial, Coronation Street went to air live from the studio and the UK’s first half-hour daily ‘soap’ Crossroads recorded five episodes ‘as live’ (and rarely entirely live) for its first twenty years (although in latter years less were screened per week).
For soaps of the sixties and seventies it was a fast turn-around schedule with little time for retakes, if a mistake happened the whole tape had to be rewound and the episode started again, from the beginning. Strikes also saw episodes entirely blacked out. When Emergency Ward 10 relocated to the ATV Elstree Studios the first live episode from the centre was pulled when technicians walked out over pay.
“We used to rehearse on Mondays and Tuesdays, have a dress and studio technical rehearsal on Wednesdays and then record five episodes across Thursday and Friday. If we made a mistake at the end of part one of an episode, we’d have to rewind back to the beginning. If we made a mistake near the end of the episode often we couldn’t rewind as it would cost an extra £2000 of studio time to redo it.” – Jane Rossington, Emergency Ward 10 and Crossroads actress.
“I remember in Emergency Ward during the break we used to dim the studio lights, at times when we went back live with part two the lights failed to come back on in time and we did the scene in darkness! Sets also used to fall down, I recall having an argument in one scene, and swung through the ward door – as it swung back round the other way the entire wall collapsed, we just had to carry on with no scenery.” – Richard Thorp, Emergency Ward 10 actor, speaking to ATV Today in 2011.
Richard also recalled actors could cause much trouble, especially newcomers or one-off appearances, when soaps and serials went out live.
“I was supposed to meet an architect in a bar to discuss the expansion of the hospital. This young actor was fine during our rehearsal, come the live broadcast and he was no where to be found! He had gone and locked himself in the toilet. Thankfully an extra, who was playing the barman, thinking quickly grabbed a script and passed over the information, explaining the architect had to leave in a hurry and had left a note. I could have kissed him, he saved the entire scene.”
EastEnders previously aired a live episode as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations where it was revealed Stacey (Lacey Turner) killed Archie Mitchell (Larry Lamb)
EastEnders has been a staple part of the BBC One schedule since launching at 7pm on February 19th 1985. Initially airing twice-weekly it has increased episode output up to four episodes-per-week in recent years.
Pictured: Top: EastEnders prepare for the live episode in 2010 at the backlot of BBC Elstree, Middle: ATV’s Crossroads ‘as live’ with no-retakes in 1974 at ATV Centre in Birmingham, Bottom: Going live twice a week: ATV’s Emergency Ward 10 from the ATV Elstree Centre in 1961 (now BBC Elstree)