It’s Day #7 in “The Pop Culture Addict’s Advent Calendar”, which means that we’ve been going at it with the holiday spirit for a whole week! And there’s still quite a few days left to go yet!
You know, one thing that I always liked about the holidays is the idea of holiday traditions. I’m a very traditional person when it comes to celebrating Christmas, and I doubt that this will ever change. As much as some people like change and doing different things during the holidays, there’s something comforting about knowing what to expect every year. To me, if there wasn’t a turkey and ham dinner on the table, a Christmas tree set up with hundreds of ornaments, and watching countless holiday specials on television, it just wouldn’t seem like Christmas.
Of course, no matter how much effort one puts into having a one hundred per cent perfect holiday, there are always little things that can make or break a holiday that people simply cannot control. Hams can get overcooked, or even burned. A single bulb blowing out on a string of lights can make the whole holiday display pitch black, and the satellite dish can malfunction with just the right amount of freshly fallen snow.
And depending on the situation, your holiday could end up anywhere from a mild inconvenience, or complete chaos.
Mind you, in many cases, these imperfections in a person’s holiday plans are minor, and although it might take a few months, people can look back on those mishaps and laugh them off, wondering why they got so upset in the first place.
After all, there’s always somebody else out there who has it a lot worse than you do.
And that’s essentially what the theme of today’s blog is all about. It talks about an annual Christmastime tradition in the wonderful place known as the UK, in which millions of people gather around the “telly” on Christmas night to watch other people celebrating Christmas.
The catch? The people on the television are usually having the Christmas season from hell.
Although this goes back to the earlier point that I was making earlier. As bad as your Christmas celebrations may have gone, there is always someone else who is having a worse day than you. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the main reason why so many people watch this particular BBC show on television every Christmas...to feel better about their own holiday mishaps, knowing that they could never be as bad as the drama surrounding their favourite Albert Square residents.
Yes, we’re going to be looking at the BBC dramatic serial, EastEnders. In particular, the many Christmas storylines that the show has done over its twenty-seven year history.
Before we get into that though, let’s have a look at a brief history of the program, shall we?
EastEnders was created by the late Julia Smith and the late Tony Holland in late 1984, and aired its first episode on February 19, 1985. The show itself is set in the East End borough of Walford E20 London (a fictional address since London’s post codes only go up to E18), and depicts the trials and tribulations of the residents of Albert Square.
The best way that I can describe EastEnders is that it is sort of like a daytime soap opera, only the program is much grittier, deals with more controversial subjects, and airs during the prime time schedule.
At the time that EastEnders debuted, it had to deal with some tough competition. The two main soap operas that were on at the time were “Coronation Street” and “Brookside”, both of which were wildly popular in 1985. But by the end of the year, the program was the most-watched program in Britain, and still manages to perform quite well as of 2012. The show is estimated to attract a 35-45% audience share per episode and currently airs four episodes a week (each weekday except Wednesdays unless otherwise specified).
EastEnders is quite popular in its native country, but the show can currently be seen is quite a few countries all over the world. Even some PBS stations are airing episodes of EastEnders (albeit ones from 2004). As a result of me being so far behind, I actually had to do quite a bit of research on storylines that aired after 2004. But, I do it for all of you because I love writing this blog!
Anyway, I mentioned before that the most viewed episodes of EastEnders were the Christmas episodes, and with good reason. You see, if you’re watching a soap opera in the United States, you know that the good storylines will usually air during a “sweeps month”. And in the United States, I would say that May and November are the two months in which you’ll see all the conclusions resolved and all the most explosive storylines and revelations reaching their respective climaxes.
Not so in EastEnders. In fact, a lot of the British based soap operas often air their best material the week leading up to Christmas, which I suppose makes a lot of sense, since many people will likely be spending the holidays at home together.
And while some American soap operas don’t even air an episode on Christmas Day (or if they do, it’s some classic episode from 1989), in the UK, they air brand new episodes, sometimes even lasting 45 minutes instead of the average 30 minute program.
In the case of EastEnders, the idea of people having a very merry Christmas is...well...a rarity.
Okay, so those of you who saw the EastEnders 2003 Christmas episode where Kat Slater and Alfie Moon ended up getting married as being a real heartwarming tale. And it was. But as I said, that is a rarity. And, in all honesty, that episode became a bit of a letdown when you realize that nine years later, they’re on the verge of splitsville.
You see, Christmas in Albert Square usually means one of three things will happen.
- An affair is exposed destroying a family forever
- A lie is exposed which sends a person over the edge
- Somebody loses their life
Yep, those three things can destroy a holiday, don’t you think?
Would you like some examples of what I mean?
Okay, so let’s begin with EastEnders’ first major Christmas storyline.
CHRISTMAS 1986 – “HAPPY CHRISTMAS, ANGE”
Poor Angie Watts. 1986 just wasn’t her year. With her husband Den Watts having a not-so-secret affair with his mistress, Angie was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She even almost commits suicide over the whole mess. When she learns that Den is planning to leave her to be with his mistress, Angie concocted a rather devious scheme...tell Den that she has been diagnosed with a terminal illness which has left her with only months to live. Feeling incredible guilt over the whole thing after hearing Angie’s lie, Den ends his affair and stays with Angie. But when Angie accidentally blabbed her secret out loud and Den overheard everything, he came up with a plan to get revenge...and he did it at the Christmas party at the Queen Vic in 1986. His plan was so devious that you just have to see it for yourself. With over thirty million people tuning into the episode, it remains the most watched soap opera episode in British history.
The epilogue? Den was “killed off” in 1989, brought back to life fourteen years later, and ended up being one of the few EastEnders characters to be murdered twice! Angie meanwhile left Walford in 1988 and died off screen in the early 2000s.
(Also in 1986, Arthur Fowler ended up having a nervous breakdown after stealing money from the Christmas Club which saw him smashing up his own living room. Boy, 1986 was a rather bleak Christmas, wasn’t it?)
CHRISTMAS 1992 – “DRINKING & DRIVING KILLS”
Pat Butcher may have been well known for her no-nonsense attitude, her garish dress sense, and her larger-than-life earrings...but on Christmas Eve 1992, Pat ended up adding another unwanted label to her personality...drunk driver. That Christmas was supposed to be a happy one for Pat. She was in love with her then husband Frank Butcher, and she had just started up her own taxicab business after financial hardships forced them to sell the Walford Bed & Breakfast. Things were turning around for the Butcher family...
...until Pat had one too many drinks and ended up running over a teenage girl in the middle of the street. Paramedics tried to save the girl’s life, but she ended up dying on New Year’s Eve, causing Pat to have a complete breakdown. She eventually served a six-month jail sentence in 1993 before returning to the Square later that year. She died peacefully on the first day of 2012.
CHRISTMAS 2002 – “ONE WEDDING AND A FUNERAL”
If it wasn’t for Martin Fowler, perhaps this heading could have read “Two Weddings and No Funeral”.
It was a happy day for Billy Mitchell and Little Mo Morgan, as the two tied the knot on Christmas Day, 2002 after a whole year of battling Little Mo’s abusive husband. But that happiness was overshadowed by the fact that Sonia Jackson was losing the love of her life.
You see...a week before Christmas, Jamie Mitchell was innocently buying flowers for Sonia unaware that Martin and Spencer Moon were speeding down the streets of Albert Square. Red flag #1 was the fact that Martin had just gotten his learner’s permit, and Red Flag #2 was that Martin was texting and driving at the same time. And this was in 2002, people! Let it be known that texting while driving can kill! Just watch.
This was the end result of Martin’s stupidity.
Even more stupid? Martin and Sonia became a COUPLE two years later! I guess she forgave him for running over her man?
CHRISTMAS 2004 – “KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY”
Technically, Sharon Watts and Dennis Watts weren’t REALLY brother and sister by blood. Sharon was adopted by Den and Angie when she was just a baby. It certainly didn’t stop them from falling in love with each other. One problem. Den was not going to take the news well at all. One more problem. Zoe Slater was in love with Dennis as well, and tricked him into staying with her by telling him that she was pregnant with his child (even sleeping with DEN to try and keep the lie going). But as you’ll see HERE, secrets don’t stay secret for long on EastEnders...
CHRISTMAS 2006 – “THE DEATH OF PAULINE FOWLER”
How do you say farewell to an EastEnders legend after nearly twenty-two years of service? Well, in the case of Pauline Fowler, you turn her into a bitter shrew of a woman who made everyone turn against her after spreading the lie that she was dying of cancer. By that Christmas, everyone had seemingly washed her hands of her. But that suited Pauline just fine, as she really didn’t want to spend Christmas with anyone either. In fact, she was planning to leave Walford to live with her daughter in the United States and never come back. Dot Cotton tried to get her to stay, but Pauline refused. Sonia confronted her with a slap that broke her fruit bowl. And by the end of the episode, Pauline was found dead underneath Albert Square’s Christmas tree. And she didn’t exactly die of natural causes either. She was murdered!
For weeks, everyone suspected Sonia was the perpetrator, but in the end, the culprit was really Pauline’s second husband, Joe Macer, who dealt Pauline a blow to the head which caused a hemorrhage. Joe met his maker in 2007 after being pushed out of a window by...Dot, of all people? Oooh, I say!
CHRISTMAS 2007 – “MAX AND STACEY AND THAT DVD”
Once upon a time there was a boy named Bradley Branning and a girl named Stacey Slater. At first they hated each other, but over time a friendship grew, and that friendship blossomed into romance. By 2007, Bradley and Stacey were one of Walford’s happiest couples. And initially, Bradley’s father Max, and his stepmother Tanya, were supportive of the couple.
But maybe Max was a little bit TOO supportive, as within months he and Stacey embarked on a passionate affair that kept both Bradley and Tanya in the dark. It didn’t even matter that Tanya had given birth to hers and Max’s third child, Oscar...for whatever reason, Max and Stacey could not stay away from each other, and they thought that their secret affair would remain secret.
Well, that is until Max’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Lauren, accidentally recorded a kiss that took place between Max and Stacey. Lauren, feeling disgusted by the whole thing, initially took the video, recorded it onto a DVD, and wrapped it up as a Christmas present for Bradley! She did have second thoughts at the end, and tried to retrieve the gift back...but somehow the package got opened anyway, and well...this is what they saw.
CHRISTMAS 2009 AND 2010 – “WHO KILLED ARCHIE MITCHELL?”
This storyline was so huge that it lasted an entire year! It began at Christmas, and ended the following Christmas!
Everyone in Walford wanted Archie Mitchell dead. Archie after all had raped one character, was indirectly responsible for the death of his own granddaughter, and ended up humiliating Peggy Mitchell, Ian Beale, Phil Mitchell, Janine Butcher, and countless other Walford residents. Is it any wonder that he met his demise on December 25, 2009?
For the next two months, viewers tried to figure out who the murderer was. Was it Ronnie Mitchell? Phil Mitchell? Peggy Mitchell? BEN Mitchell?
Turns out, it wasn’t a Mitchell at all. And when EastEnders aired a live episode on February 19, 2010 to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary, we watched Bradley’s life come to an end as one character confessed all.
Yes, you heard right. Stacey Slater-Branning, the woman who became a widow on her wedding day was the person who killed Archie Mitchell. I mean, if you ended up getting raped by Archie Mitchell, would you not want to get revenge too?
For months, only Max Branning knew the truth about Stacey being the murderer, and life went on as normally as it could. But by September of that year, things were beginning to fall apart.
Stacey ended up accidentally telling Peggy Mitchell that she had killed Archie, and Peggy was about to go to the police with the information. But then the Queen Vic burned down, and Peggy left town, keeping Stacey’s secret, but urging her to plead guilty for burning down the pub (in an effort to protect her own son who DID start the fire). Meanwhile, Lauren ended up discovering the truth about Stacey, told Janine Butcher-Malloy, and Janine, noticing how Stacey was trying to steal her husband Ryan away from her (Ryan actually fathered Stacey’s baby, Lily), revealed the truth about Stacey killing Archie exactly one year after the fact in the very same spot where Archie died.
The story ended when Janine and Stacey got into one last confrontation and Janine stabbed herself in hopes of framing Stacey for attacking her. But with help from Ryan and Max (and with the blessing of Ronnie Mitchell who felt that everyone had suffered enough from Archie’s evil mind), Stacey and Lily got away.
So, there you have it. Christmas on EastEnders. Doesn’t it just make your Christmas celebrations seem a little bit more peaceful?
Coming up on Day 8...we’re going to be celebrating Christmas...claymation style!