British soap opera EastEnders was first broadcast in 1985 has seen unimaginable success. The show set in Albert Square has been running for thirty years and seen many different residents come and go. Eastenders may be highly recognized among fans, but many of them will be shocked to find out what actually lies in one of the most dangerous places to live. The different storylines of the cast is what people are actually hooked by, but the casting process is not one that you would know about. There are so many behind the scenes secrets that will have you watching the soap opera in a completely different light.
Spice It Up
Back in the day, producers had some notable names auditioning for the roles. Patsy Kensit, Cheryl Baker and Joanna Lumley were all in the running to play the part of Chrissie Watts, but it went to Tracy-Ann Oberman in the end.
In addition, Baby Spice, Emma Bunton, auditioned to be Bianca Jackson, before Spice Girls.
Due to Eastenders being filmed between six to 12 weeks in advance, the sets need to mirror the time of year they are portraying.
Fake leaves are placed on the trees and plastic daffodils are put into the ground to show that it is spring, and not winter.
Dot Cotton is one of Eastenders longest running cast members, so in the space of 30 years, it might be acceptable that she has had to re-wear a couple of outfits. In fact, Cotton has worn the exact same Christmas dress every single year since 1988.
The red dress is the oldest costume in the entire show and it looks to go on for as long as Cotton is around. Let’s just hope it was washed a handful of times throughout the years.
When it came to choosing a name for the fictional place Eastenders was set in, creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland decided to combine their hometowns in East London to create a new name. Smith was born in Walthamstow and Holland was born in Stratford, so together, Walford was born.
The name is so widely recognized that many people believe it to be a real place and often come to visit London to see it for themselves, and are later disappointed.
Although many of the cast seem like they were made for their character on the show, a handful of them actually auditioned for different roles. Michelle Collins played Cindy Beale but went in to audition for punk single mother Mary Smith. Similarly, Derek Martin played Charlie Slater but first had hopes of landing the parts of Den Watts and Frank Butcher.
When Lacey Turner went into audition for the smaller role of Demi Miller, producers saw potential in her and specially created the character Stacey Slater.
The Real Queen Vic
Although the Queen Vic is where everything seems to happen on Eastenders, the Queen Vic in real life could not be more different. If you were to walk into the bar, you would notice a completely empty space with a bar in the corner.
In reality, the studio, which is elsewhere on set, is home to the interior of the pub and is where all of the action takes place, not behind the real exterior.
Not only is Adam Woodyatt the longest running cast member, having played Ian Beale since 1985, he is also the most in demand. In Albert Square, Beale has had the most wives and has been married to Cindy, Laura, Mel, Jane, and Jane for the second time.
Coming in a close second is Phil Mitchell, who has been married four times to Nadia, Kathy, Kate and Sharon. With all the marriages and relationships there are in Walford, there are an equal amount of breakups.
Although Eastenders might not be as highly acclaimed as some of the other shows on TV, the cast and crew are one of the hardest working teams on television. The cast and crew film between 25 to 30 scenes a days, each of which produces 13 minutes of filming.
On the other hand, dramas produce only six minutes per scene, making Eastenders twice as demanding. Considering that the show is aired every day except Wednesday, they need a lot of footage to keep up.
Initially, Walford owned the postal code of E20 6PQ, but it was a fictional place and the highest ‘E’ code allowed in London was E18. However, in 2011, the Royal Mail announced that for the London Olympics in 2012, the Olympic Stadium and park in Stratford would be given the E20 postcodes, something that was previously recognized as Walford.
Since 2012, the opening credits of Eastenders have also included London’s Olympic park, but fans of the show will always think of E20 being Walford and not the Olympic park.
Prior to being finalized as Eastenders, there were a number of working titles for the show. Some of them included E8, Square Dance, Round the Square, Round the Houses and London Pride, but were later all thrown out.
It wasn’t until creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland realized that they had been calling agencies for months asking for “any real East Enders,” to come an audition, but Smith thought that “Eastenders looked ugly written down,” so they capitalized the second ‘E.’
There is no denying that every aspect of EastEnders is inherently British, but it turns out that the show was based on American crime dramas. Co-creator Julia Smith wanted to produce a British drama that had elements of dark and gloomy sets, just like the ones in US police drama Hill Street Blues.
In addition, she wanted to add extras who looked the part and were going about their own business in the background. Ideally, she wanted to look as realistic as possible.
Although the interior of the Queen Vic might not be real, there are other aspects of the bar in the studio that are fully functioning. While it is expected that the spirits including vodka and gin were refilled with water, burnt sugar is added to water for whiskey, and diluted apple juice is the stand in for wine, it turns out that the beer pumps actually contain real beer.
Considering how much the cast and crew film in a day, a cold one must be a necessity.
Many of the residents of Walford had pets and plenty of dogs were seen walking around Albert Square, but the longest service dog was Robbie Jackson’s loyal sidekick, Wellard. The Belgian Tervuren Shepherd dog was first seen on EastEnders in 1994 and the acting was shared between three dogs of the same breed.
Jackson’s best friend served on the show up until 2008 when he was killed off. Despite playing a male dog, Wellard was mostly played by females in real life.
Dot Goes Solo
Dot Cotton is one of the longest running and most loved characters on EastEnders and she became the only character in British soap history to have an entire episode dedicated to just her. In 2008, she recorded a whole tape of memories for her husband Jim.
The episode was really a big moment in EastEnders history and June Brown earned a BAFTA nomination for her performance. In the entire series there have only been 18 episodes featuring just two characters.
While many of the actors and actresses landed their roles due to their acting skills, Danniella Westbrook got her role as Sam Mitchell for a completely different reason. When Westbrook auditioned, producers noticed a resemblance between on-screen brothers Phil and Grant, played by Steve McFadden and Ross Kemp so thought that it would be easy to have audiences believe they were, in fact, a family.
Westbrook appeared on and off the show between 1990 and 2017, growing up on the soap.
When choosing a new TV series to get into, it is always useful to choose one where you can catch up quite easily and in a decent amount of time. For anyone looking to watch EastEnders from start to finish, there have been 5,673 episodes since March 2018 and close to 3,000 hours of run time.
That means, fans of EastEnders who have watched every episode from the very beginning have dedicated over 100 days of their lives to following the soap and the residents of Walford.
Making A Real Difference
Although the storylines on EastEnders are created by the writers and completely fictional, there have been a handful of serious topics on the soap that have raised awareness for real life issues.
For example, in 2001, Kat Slater was being abused by her uncle Harry and in response, calls to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children went up by 60 per cent. This then led the NSPCC to praise EastEnders for covering the sensitive topic in a compassionate way.
In the 1989 episode of EastEnders, fans watched on as Dirty Den was shot, but the creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland were furious with the BBC for the way they edited it. The BBC removed a shot of Den’s body in the case that they wanted him to make a return, so that his death did not look final.
Smith and Holland were so against the decision to remove the scene that they pulled their names from the credits that episode, in a protest to the production.
Looks Aren’t Everything
Although Albert Square has been around for as long as EastEnders, the buildings aren’t actually as worn in as you would believe. In fact, the buildings on the set were constructed from scratch and looked brand new.
However, the modern look didn’t exactly go with the surroundings of the soap so they were all chipped at to make them look older. Of course, over a 30-year period there has been some eroding, but it took time for the set designers to get the look they wanted.
Moving With The Times
In order for EastEnders to look like it was a real part of London, in 2010, the tube trains were included in the show and would be running in the background of shots. Instead of using real props, producers opted to use CGI to include the moving trains.
Although the decision was welcomed at first, in many of the episodes later on, fans commented how fake they looked and it was not in-keeping with the soap.
Many of the characters on EastEnders had their signature look, and Pam St. Clements was no different. Pat Butcher was known for her big, bling, earrings on the show and it was claimed that she got through around 125 pairs during her time on the show.
In fact, her fans were have said to like them so much that they began sending earrings to the BBC costume department. Pam was later heard expressing how much she would love to bring out her own line of earrings.
Pushing Out Peggy
Peggy Mitchell was one of the icons from EastEnders, being fiercely protective of her family as well as the landlady of The Queen Vic, and known for shouting “Get outta my pub!”.
Although fans will always remember Barbara Windsor for playing the role of Peggy, only a few will remember that actress Jo Warne was in the role at her first appearance in 1991. Warne went on to star in 10 episodes before Windsor took over until her final appearance in 2016.
Warnings In Walford
After all the life-threatening and harmful events that have taken place in Walford, a scientific study found that it is so dangerous that taking on a job as an oil rig driver or a Formula One race car driver would be a safer option than living there.
In addition, more people have been found dead in The Queen Vic than anywhere else in Walford, so you’re probably better off going for a pint of beer much further away.
Not All Fictional
While the vast majority of EastEnders is fictional, there have been some occasions in the past whereby current affairs and topical information has been inserted into episodes.
For example, events including General Election results, the World Cup, Barack Obama’s US election victory, the death of Michael Jackson, Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the birth of Prince George and the Scottish independence referendum result, have all been included in some episodes.
Inclusive and Accepting Soap
In 2009, Marc Elliot was cast as Syed Masood, the first gay Muslim on EastEnders. The casting was a first for the soap and in 2012, Syed and his partner, Christian, became the first gay couple to have a civil partnership on a soap.
Shortly after this, Elliot announced he was leaving the show to avoid becoming typecast. Nonetheless, he was proud of the impact he made, saying “Playing Syed meant I’ve had loads of letters from people of all religions coming to terms with their sexuality.”
Over 30-years, there has been quite a lot of change and updates to the set of EastEnders, and the set designers need to keep up with it.
Firstly, the amount of paint on the set used could fill half an Olympic sized swimming pool, the art department have used approximately 748.2km of wallpaper since the show aired and they have used enough timber to go up and down Mount Everest around 21 times. It takes a lot of effort to keep the soap’s sets up to date!
Based On The Boss
EastEnders has been running for three decades, so the producers and writers are constantly coming up with new, fictional storylines. However, before co-creator Tony Holland got into the TV business, he worked in a bar in the East End of London.
It was here that he drew many of his experiences that would go into creating EastEnders. In addition, his bosses in the bar were the inspiration for the original Queen Vic couple Den and Angie Watts.
Handpicked For Acting
Many of the cast from EastEnders were actors before the show, but Peter Dean, who played Pete Beale on the soap opera, was spotted in his real life job.
Dean had a fruit and vegetable stand in Islington’s Chapel Street Market, recalling “I was messing about in the wardrobe lorry quoting lines from Shakespeare’s Antony And Cleopatra. Prunella saw me and said: ‘Where did you learn that? You should try acting.'” He then landed the role as the cockney fruit and veg trader.
The Real Albert Square
Although the infamous Albert Square is a made up place in Walford, there is actually a real place in London which it is based on. Fassett Square is located in Dalston area in Hackney, London and all of the houses in the area are known for having 1860s-era merchants’ houses, which face a community square, located near the Ridley Road market.
Many EastEnders fanatics have travelled to the area to take pictures of the place that the soap opera is based on.
There are many popular television shows that have smashed all kinds of TV records, but to this day, none have come close to the numbers that EastEnders drew in on its Christmas special. Back in 1986, the show was just one-year-old but it was the most watched soap opera in U.K. history with a total of 30.15 million people tuning in.
Considering that the Christmas specials often contain a big announcement, shocking surprise or revelation on the show, the majority of people don’t want to miss it.