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Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Last Night's Eastenders...

If you wanted an object lesson in the disorienting and alienating effect on those of us who were brought up with proper public service broadcasting that today's television can have, last night's Eastenders would be hard to better. The first 10 minutes or so droned on in familiar airbus engine fashion. First, the bizarrely-brow tinted Pat Butcher* (Pam St. Orange-Juice-with-a-splash-of-lemon) telling the first ever baby-wielding Balkan beggar I've ever seen on 'Enders (surely there's more than one in the *real* Eastend??) with, as Jeeves would describe it, some depth of feeling, "No thanks, love" as she tried out her brooding pan-handling routine in the hope that some emotionally retarded bovver boy who'd just found out his baby was Downes Syndrome would hand her forty sobs. Cue** Billy Mitchell - the one man pre-Olympic warning as to what lies in wait for would-be visitors (assuming we ever get any of the facilities built) planning to come and watch the Games in 2012.

Then, already 40 notes to the bad, Billy heads off to find his wife has scarpered from hospital, leaving only a standard-issue, "sorry, I've just fecked off for the hell of it because I can't hack having a baby with a disability" card propped up on her bedside table. So begins Billy's long 20 minutes on a stationary tube of the soul. This was looking as if it was going to turn out to be the most compelling 20 minutes of British prime time TV since the last episode of Second City Firsts in 1979 (or whenever it was..) There it was, staring out at us, an oasis in the midst of the desert of TV dreck - the astonishing sight of......well, nothing much happening at all, really. Possibly because there'd been no script written, or perhaps because whoever was dictating his lines into Billy's earphone had been rushed off for an urgent hernia op. and the rest of the backroom staff were too busy buffing Pat Butcher's earrings to be able to stand in, this continued for quite sometime - Billy stalking the confines of his (for once) almost accurate in its ethnic mix tube carriage like a caged former member of the BNP who can't reconcile his former views with the massive stonker he gets from all those Beyonce posters for her new LP (Bidet? What sort of a title's that, btw...?)

Eventually, now reconciled to the fact that pointlessly slamming the tube carriage windows will only sustain the interest of the great British viewing public for *so* long, Billy and the stocky, besuited type opposite begin to engage in what seems - as near as dammit - in what can only be described as "improv". And it's gripping stuff. The scenario is taut and awkward - Billy spitting out grief-provoked barbs about the ethnically and socially transformed face of the EE, to the extent that the poker faced hijab wearing lady next to him feels she has to move seats (note to TV editors - see, it is possible to suggest that there are awkwardnesses between cultures without inviting armageddon...) The suit has back story, we just know it, but nothing is telegraphed. In fact, it's almost like proper drama - insinuating, exploratory, an interrogation of the characters.

And then, just as it looks as if there's going to be a bit of a barney and the useful-if-he-has-to-be lump in the suit looks to be on the brink of landing one on whimpy wuss-face Mitchell, the former crumples his face just shy of a blub, brandishes his 9/11 remembrance edition of the Standard at the oblivious Billy and ruins it all: "don't you know what day it izzz???"

A shame, because I was really beginning to think that this might usher in a new era of Steptoe-like grittiness in the TV soap drama. Instead, I'd let my 9/11 guard right down and they'd suckered me. Shameful really, because if 9/11 has taught us anything it's precisely that - don't let your guard down.

* Join her fan club here...

** Not "queue" as I originally posted - thanks to Spinny for the heads up. It's a class thing - us working class scum just can't spell is all..

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  1. Sorry Bob I don't watch Eastenders it's all far too depressing. In fact I don't watch any of the soaps, I don't really watch that much telly.

  2. This is really well written Bobster. I used to be an avid fan of EE when I was younger...watched right from episode 1 where they found that old geezer slumped in his chair and cool 'Mary' was in it and Sharon wore bat-winged jumpers. I loved it then...and the old Pat Butcher Fan Club is still running if anyone wants to join.

    But..the way that it represents the working class is pretty iffy now. It touches on moments of greatness...remember Dot's trip to her evacuee home? That was really poignant. And Ethel's death scene. That was in the days when men were men and soaps were gritty.

    Sometimes something trivial can be sublime...but it's not often you hit on that realism/poignancy moment with clarity.

    But...we are all some kind of weird simulacrum of ourselves now. I'm not sure anyone can really identify themselves on television right now. I dunno...there's a philosophical question if ever there was one to be asked!

  3. I quite liked it although it could have been better, parts of it were masterful.

    But when he got home his wife's weird eyes scared me.

  4. 'Queue Billy Mitchell'??

    Er, 'cue' surely?

    Anyhow - spelling quibbles aside - are you suggesting that the god-awful 'Stenders actually showed the tube?

  5. we know why Tim Footman wanted to whisk you off to the Far East to blue pencil for him...*

    Pleasure to be corrected by you Spin - you know, us comprehensive lads need taking in hand every now and then...when we're not eating our own faeces and wanking into he soda sream...

    *(I bet that's not all he wanted you to pencil....)

  6. ...can I just say that the "t" button on my laptop was sticking and that's why there are so may "t"s missing. I've just given it a really good boot with my steel toe cap and that seems to have solved the problem....

    Anger is an energy, as they say...

  7. ..although, that's obviously no excuse for mixing up queue and cue. I'm just illiterate, that's all. And a cunt, patently. But then, most of you knew that anyroad.

  8. Yeah Billster - glad you thought so too. When it was good...

    But she's a cracker that Holly, eh?

    (As I believe the current parlance has it) *Yummers*....

    When are we going to do another live thing, btw?

    And good call on Pavement - kept meaning to say that but have been a bit up in the air of late.

    How was the birthday do, Billsters - did you blog a write up? In fact, don't answer - I'll check it out meself...

  9. Soory Billy, that last one was me only it defaulted to anonymous - I wasn't trying to hide my feelings - honest...

  10. You're not fooling anyone posting all these comments on your own blog you know, Mr Bob.

    PS: Leicester 0, Hull 1. That's the turning point. I will soon be able to hold my head up high again in the Play on Words.

  11. "I will soon be able to hold my head up high again...."

    ...not if The Howes-ster outs you first you won't, SP.....

    I thought we'd seen the last of that good looking bastard with more talent and a gift for the ladies thatn the three of us put together.

    I thought you said you'd sorted him once and for all....

    He'll be wanting me to plug one of his *bladdy* songs next....

  12. Like Molly, I used to watch EE from the begining, but once the Nick Cotton character had left the soap, I never went back to watching it ("...I don't want yer money, Mah..."). All the soaps have become irrelevant to me, even purely as entertainment type fodder. I'd rather watch 'Pimp My Datsun' (copyright RoMo) or listen to one of Howesy's songs.