A Year of Soap

Wednesday 24 February 2010, 13:38

Robert Seatter Robert Seatter

Tagged with:

dales.jpg
(The original cast of Mrs Dale's Diary, 1948)

So now 16.6 million of us know who killed Archie, alias actor Larry Lamb, in the roller-coaster soap EastEnders! We found out last Friday, on the 25th birthday of the show, as Stacey sobbed her way through the rising doof doofs of the much-loved and imitated theme tune. A live show, a fitting tribute to 25 years of great doof doof moments, and behind it a long, and occasionally chequered history of the BBC soap...

Originally, soaps came from the US - used to promote soap powders, and later a variety of domestic appliances, to American housewives in the 1930s. Being American they were, of course, immediately suspect to the British: bound to be low-brow, sure to be slushy or sensationalist. However, ironically - or perhaps rather cleverly - the first BBC soap was US-facing. Called Front Line Family, it hit the airwaves during WW2 as part of a propaganda push to bring the US into the war. It was followed by a succession of middle-class radio soaps, invariably depicting the stoic British bearing up to life's trials and tribulations. Most famously, the late Queen Mother was an avid listener of the radio soap, Mrs Dale's Diary (see pic above), stating that it was the only way of understanding what actually happened in a middle class family. An early case of royal market research, then...

rickyandpatsy.jpg
However, it's true to say that the BBC has had an ambivalent relationship with the genre. The longest running soap in the world, The Archers - soon to celebrate 60 years of life on air in Jan 2011 - was created with an information agenda: to keep farmers informed about changes in British farming. It succeeded, but also charmed and engaged its listeners with real human stories. Without this, there was merely propaganda; but without real issues and themes, there was merely gossip. Likewise EastEnders, created in 1985 as a competitor to the working class juggernaut soap that was Coronation Street, hit its pitch of melodramatic and domestic in the very first episode (the murder of Reg Cox) and continues to this very day. It takes its audiences very seriously, reflects a world they see and know, delivers a daily cliffhanger - but also grapples with things that matter. As Jean Seaton, BBC Historian, so aptly says: The BBC 'public service' soap may be naughty but nice, may want above all to be popular, but it is also, occasionally, good for you.

One unexpected but actually entirely logical outcome of this is the way that BBC soaps have transformed themselves into vehicles for development broadcasting.

The World Service Trust now uses them to promote important messages on health, civic society, family issues etc all round the world. In fact, by way of a neat connection, Felicity Finch who plays Ruth in The Archers, has worked extensively on such projects in China, Rwanda and Afghanistan. In a recent interview, she spoke proudly of their real social impact, but also underlined emphatically that if they succeed, it's because first and foremost they have great characters and great storylines.

From Albert Square to Afghanistan is a long way, but soap can take us there and back again. If you want to know more about soap - its past, present and future - BBC History has teamed up with the National Media Museum in Bradford to explore all this in a Year of Soap. Check out the BBC History site.



Tagged with:

Comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
 
 

This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Previous
The BBC's Mobile Apps - a press round-up

Thursday 18 February 2010, 16:19

Next
The BBC's Strategy Review - a press round-up

Monday 1 March 2010, 12:16

About this Blog

This blog explains what the BBC does and how it works. We link to some other blogs and online spaces inside and outside the corporation. The blog is edited by Jon Jacob.

Follow About the BBC on Twitter

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

External links about the BBC

Sherlock returns: BBC confirms special with picture of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman back filming (Mirror)

The Reith Lectures explain why doctors fail (Telegraph)
"Dr Atul Gawande delivered an excellent first lecture on the fallibility of medicine, says Gillian Reynolds"

Nine-year-old Katie Morag star on winning BAFTA award and juggling TV series with school lessons (Scottish Daily Record)

Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Same-sex couple dance received positively (Metro)

Doctor Who, Andrew Scott and Sir Ian McKellen up for BBC Audio Drama Awards 2015 (Radio Times)
"Maxine Peake, Marcus Brigstocke and Toby Jones also scoop nominations for their work in audio drama"

Kay Benbow named acting director of BBC Children’s (Prolific North)
"CBeebies controller Kay Benbow is to become the acting director of BBC Children’s while the broadcaster searches for a permanent replacement for Joe Godwin."

Six reasons why Desert Island Discs is the perfect radio programme (Guardian)
"The BBC programme this week celebrated its 3,000th episode, so here’s to a great British institution"

Panorama’s ‘fake sheikh’ documentary watched by 2.5 million people (Guardian)
"compelling investigative journalism"

Bernard Cribbins honoured with JM Barrie award (The Stage)
“one of the greats of children’s television...a brilliant storyteller who has inspired millions of people”

Lancashire’s John Gillmore attempts world record (Radio Today)

BBC tackles MPs for Children in Need (Ariel)

BBC gets four gongs at Creative Diversity Network Awards (Ariel)

One Direction to become EastEnders stars (Yahoo news) 
"The chart-topping band will sing from the set of EastEnders for this year’s BBC Children In Need Appeal show."

Detectorists to return to BBC Four for second series (Digital Spy)
"I'm so pleased that we're going to be able to bring the Detectorists back - it was a perfect slice of BBC Four comedy"

'Winkle' becomes 3,000th Desert Island Discs castaway (Western Morning News)
"What is thrilling for me is to see this Radio 4 jewel of a programme take on new life in the digital world"

BBC Worldwide hires Jonathan Green as head of Store ahead of 2015 launch and iPlayer integration (The Drum)

BBC returns to FA Cup after six-year absence promising a great show (Guardian)

‘Dark’ Doctor Who storyline defended by BBC (Guardian)
"We were mindful of the themes explored in Dark Water and are confident that they are appropriate in the context of the heightened sci-fi world of the show"

Melvyn Bragg: Arts are more popular than football and must not be marginalised (Telegraph)
"The BBC is doing very well…but why don’t they do more?"

BBC One's The Missing tops Tuesday with 5.6 million (Digital Spy)

BBC now has more staff outside London than in the capital (Guardian)
“The saving we are making mean more of the licence fee than ever is going on producing the best quality shows,”

Hancock's Half Hour revived 60 years on (Ariel)

Green Party considering legal action against BBC after being left out of election debates (Independent)
"obviously we would wish to settle this by an amicable route and lines of communication are open with the broadcasters"

Last updated Wednesday 26 November 2014

Blogs from across the BBC

Selected by the About the BBC Blog team.

Safe burials will save lives [Media Action]
Mackenzie Crook on writing, performing and creating BBC Four's Detectorists [Writersroom]
Listener Week [Radio 4]
Who said bears can't fly? [CiN]


MatOf ThDay At 50: onic theme even has a banjo [TV]