Soap Opera EastEnders is one of Britain's most successful television soap operas. First shown on BBC1 in 1985, it enjoys regular half hour primetime viewing slots

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Soap Opera

EastEnders is one of Britain's most successful television soap operas. First shown on BBC1 in 1985, it enjoys regular half hour primetime viewing slots, originally twice and more recently three times a week, repeated in an omnibus edition at the weekend. Within eight months of its launch it reached the number one spot in the ratings and has almost consistently remained amongst the top five programmes ever since (average viewing figures per episode are around 16 million). A brief dip in audience numbers in the Summer of 1983 prompted a rescheduling masterstroke by the then BBC1 controller, Michael Grade, in order to avoid the clash with ITV's more established soap, Emmerdale Farm. The brainchild of producer, Julia Smith, and script editor, Tony Holland, EastEnders is significant in terms of both the survival of the BBC and the history of British popular television drama.

In the increasingly competitive struggle with independent television for quality of programmes and appeal to mass audiences, the BBC claimed to have found in EastEnders the answer to both a shrinking audience and criticisms of declining standards. The programme is set in Walford, a fictitious borough of London's East End, and focuses on a number of predominantly working-class, often interrelated, families living in Albert Square. The East End of London was regarded as the ideal location for an alluring and long-running series as its historical significance in Britain renders it instantly recognisable, and as illustrative of modern urban Britain for possessing a mix of individuals who are, according to Smith and Holland, "multi-racial, larger-than-life characters". Much of the action takes place in and around the local pub, the Queen Vic, traditionally run by the Watts--originally villainous Den and his neurotic wife Angie, and later their estranged adoptive daughter, Sharon. The main characters are connected with the closely-knit Fowler/Beale clan, specifically Pauline and Arthur Fowler, their eldest children, Mark--a HIV-positive market trader, and Michelle--a strong-willed, single mother, together with cafe-owner Kathy Beale and the long-suffering Pat Butcher. Additional figures come and go, highlighting the belief that character turnover is essential if a contemporary quality is to be retained. At any one time, around eight families, all living or working in Albert Square, will feature centrally in one or other narrative.
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EastEnders exhibits certain formal characteristics common to other successful British soap operas (most notably, its major competitor, Granada's Coronation Street), such as the working-class community setting and the prevalence of strong female characters. In addition, a culturally diverse cast strives to preserve the flavour of the East End, whilst a gender balance is allegedly maintained through the introduction of various "macho" male personalities. The expansion of minority representation signals a move away from the traditional soap opera format, providing more opportunities for audience identification with the characters and hence a wider appeal. Similarly, the programme has recently included ...

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