EastEnders: Faith, Morality and Hope in the Community
Wednesday 4 September
Speech given at the
for clergy and other ministers in the Diocese of St Albans
sex and violence of EastEnders is undermining a generation."
a full page article in The Mail On Sunday this January last.
are all tainted by this sick soap" it proceeded, "If you wanted
to promote a society in which sexual morals were based upon what you
could get away with, in which the married family was vilified as a nest
of violence and sinister secrets, in which the educated middle-class
and religious believers were dismissed as victims, idiots or crooks,
you might well ensure that a programme such as EastEnders was transmitted
seven times a week."
month I was asked to take part in a radio discussion. The topic once
again was "EastEnders is undermining morality".
was a member of a secular society, but the prosecutors were avowedly
am I here today, in the heart of a Christian Community, talking to you
about faith, morality and hope in Soap Opera? Why am I, charlatan, philistine,
atheist, corrupter of the nation's morals, poking my head tentatively
into the lion's den?
because I'm stupid, certainly because the Bishop was kind enough to
ask me, but most of all because the subject of morality on television
is I believe, central to our idea of society.
On a good
week EastEnders is watched by 16 million people, on special occasions
that can rise to 23 million: on one unique occasion 30.15 million have
watched the show.
can imagine the biggest traffic jam you've ever seen, then imagine that
traffic jam repeated over and over again all over Britain, you get some
idea of the scale of the show.
23 million cars in Great Britain; so on a particularly good week every
single car owner in the whole of the British Isles is watching us.
- and Coronation Street - have the kind of reach and power to captivate
people's imaginations that others can only dream about.
the reasons I was asked here today was because of this.
As I discussed
what I might talk about with the Archdeacon, he asked me whether the
Church could learn anything from EastEnders about communicating with
a mass audience - and perhaps more importantly, the fundamental question
facing the religious leaders in the 21st Century and put so eloquently
in the programme to this event:
does the church communicate good news so that it is heard by people
where they are, rather than struggling to change people so that they
are able to hear good news in the form we insist on communicating it?"
If I claimed
EastEnders could teach the church anything I would be guilty of unacceptable
that has formed our entire world view for two thousand years can almost
certainly teach a 17 year old soap opera, big in only one country, a
thing or two about staying power, reach and success.
some commentators tend to disagree
On Sunday article with which I began certainly did: " A dictator
who wanted to control the minds of modern Britons would use soap operas.
listens to speeches any more, and 50 years of peace have made us immune
to orders barked in commanding voices.
millions of us willingly submit our minds to television, allowing it
to invade and colonise our imaginations, undermine our morals, and rob
us of our individuality".
clearly, is good at communicating with people. But what are we communicating?
Are we really - in the words of one social commentator - "a morally
void cess pit"?
As I took
part in the radio discussion I mentioned earlier the secular woman started
berating the clerical man: "there's far more gratuitous violence
in the bible - and when people aren't busy plucking each others eyes
out, they're either bestowing each other with boils or constantly begetting..."
clerical man argued back, cogently and coherently, I sat back, scratched
my head and began to muse on the subject.
immoral? Are we a bad thing? If so, why do so many people watch us?
Is that why they watch us?
cynically propelling a diet of sex, violence and brutalism in return
for commercial gain? Or does the overwhelming popularity of soap in
this country say something deeper and more profound about what we hunger
for in society?
are the implications of that, both for us and the Church?
I came to surprised myself... I hope they will at the very least provoke
discussion and provide you with food for thought.
is rarely described as a force for moral good. In a recent report Lord
Dubs, the Chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, said the chase
for ratings had influenced the content of soaps, making them more sensational
than ever before.
weeks ago, The Independent, running a full-page piece on page three
of its main paper, came to the same conclusion; lurid plots were taking
over our screens.
attention to EastEnders, it pointed to three incidents in the last year
- a shooting, an exploding car and an attempted murder.
on: "No wonder Charlie Slater's had a heart attack. His daughter
Zoë isn't his daughter, but was conceived when brother Harry raped
another of his girls, Kat. Another daughter, Little Mo is in jail for
trying to kill her husband. Oh, and he's lost his Cab Licence. Still
by Albert Square standards his life is a sea of tranquility".
these stories controversial? Probably. Sensationalist?
more than you'd find in one week in the East London Advertiser.
I would argue absolutely not.
KAT - CONFESSING SEXUAL ABUSE - THE MAN IN THE MOON STORY
of Kat's sexual abuse by her uncle is one of the biggest EastEnders
has told in recent times.
decided to tell it, it was not an issue we embarked on lightly.
reaction when we came up with the idea was actually that no one would
want to watch it. Ironically,
this confirmed our belief it was the right story to tell.
with its huge public profile, its ability to reach millions who don't
read books, don't read newspapers, didn't tell this story, we reasoned,
then we were not fulfilling our obligations as programme makers.
we reasoned, was to reflect society.
we plotted the story out, we talked to The Samaritans, to child psychiatrists
and to the NSPCC.
them said the same thing - this story needs telling - will you please
let people know that this goes on.
wasn't a question of trying to shock or titillate that motivated us,
but rather - on top of telling what we believed was a powerful story
- the desire to explore and inform.
million viewers watched the episodes go out. Afterwards - as we often
do when we tackle controversial issues - we ran an audience helpline,
with a free phone number where people could be referred to further advice.
24 hours after the show was broadcast we received four hundred phone
calls. And when you look at those calls in detail, they tell an extraordinary
of callers who were brave enough to share their experiences were abused
by a family member or close family friend.
cases other members of their families did not believe their stories.
rang to say they'd been a victim of a paedophile ring ran by their grandfather,
another that they'd been forced into child prostitution by their parents.
childhood pregnancy vied with those of fear, guilt and suicidal despair
as all told how the most profound bond - that of trust between adult
and child - had been shattered.
the stories were harrowing, emotional and deeply, deeply distressing.
rang in to thank the BBC for highlighting an issue that is normally
seen as taboo, and for some the Action Line agent was the first person
they had ever spoken to about their experiences.
who had never told anyone that they had been abused as a child wanted
to know whether there was a time limit for reporting a crime.
called wanting to know how to support friends or relatives who were
in abusive relationships or were abused as a child.
survivors of abuse were concerned that they too may become an abuser
and were also looking for help.
however, three quotes from callers sum what the show achieved up:
amazing how this programme has made me look back at my life and address
what happened. This programme will make a lot of difference to many
people's lives. It certainly has made a difference to mine."
am calling to enquire how widespread this issue actually is, as I have
never heard of anyone I know being affected by such an issue. I am overwhelmed
by this and would like to know how many calls you have taken."
have never been so moved by a piece of drama before. (Kat) was absolutely
brilliant and she should be congratulated. I just want to applaud the
programme, the producers, the cast and anyone else that was involved.
- out of nearly four hundred calls - embodying all the traditional Reithian
values - and making everything we do at EastEnders worthwhile.
primary purpose is to entertain - it's absolutely NOT to embark on any
kind of social engineering.
in recent years from groups as varied as The Meningitis Trust, Mental
Health in the Media, the NSPCC, the Police, the National Schizophrenia
Fellowship and the Terence Higgins Trust, seem to show that this is
entertainment that is more than aware of its responsibilities.
like any truly successful programme, is not born of cynicism; its heart
- even if it has sounded a little preachy at times - has always been
in the right place.
So I suppose
in one sense, if we are to define morality as helping others, in exposing
evil, and in giving a voice to the voiceless, I have no hesitation in
defending the show
morals by example
about EastEnders as an example?
of much of the criticism of soap is that it creates a false portrayal
of life in exaggerating the "bad" and ignoring the undramatic
"good", that it passes off extremes as norms and eulogises
darkness and deceit at the expense of the less exciting and mundane.
heroes of the bad, and laughs at acts of the good.
to show you a clip from the programme that goes to the heart of this,
which itself illustrates a dilemma we often face.
OF LITTLE MO HAVING FACE SHOVED IN GRAVY - CHRISTMAS DAY EPISODE.
a pretty scene - even now I find it hard to watch.
it, not only because it makes me uneasy, but also because the Broadcasting
Standards Council recently upheld a complaint against it; and since
their ruling I have struggled myself to work out whether they were right
the story of domestic violence with the same research-based zeal as
we had approached the subject of child abuse.
research we did, the more insidious and distressing we found the facts.
to tell the story, but at the same time we didn't want to tell a story
that we knew would profoundly upset a large section of our audience.
were in a double bind. If we DID tell the story, then we couldn't sanitise
it, we couldn't actually tell people that domestic violence was alright.
I showed you was our compromise.
it now, I'm still ambiguous as to whether we did the right thing - is
it more egregious and offensive to sanitise a husband beating his wife,
or to upset viewers when they're eating their tea?
All I can
offer to you is the fact that our intent was genuine.
talking to women who suffered far far worse than this - we just felt
this story needed to be told.
after this episode attracted two and a half thousand calls.
some were critical of the show, a significant number were from people
who had never spoken of being abused before, and to whom we were the
first point of contact in seeking help.
herself said we had done more to raise the issue of violence against
women in one story than she had done in twenty-five years.
- It's interesting to reflect that we could have got much greater viewing
figures for this than we did.
charge is that EastEnders continually parades sex, violence and gratuitous
sadism in order to grab ratings; it's founded I think on erroneous logic,
for I'm not actually convinced that these stories increase your audience
figures at all.
a famous Hollywood vignette, about a boxing movie called The Champ.
has it that everybody working on the film knew they were making something
special. The only problem was that when they previewed the movie, the
audience hated it.
Thalberg - then Head Of Production at MGM - watched the movie and knew
immediately what was wrong.
original cut, the hero not only loses his final boxing match, he dies
in the process too.
reshot the ending; the Champ remained the Champ to the very end and
the 1931 Oscar winner became one of the most successful movies of its
of the story is, of course, that everybody loves a happy ending.
was really as depressing as people say it is then no one would watch
it -after all, who wants to be depressed?
watch drama by and large because they want to be uplifted, they want
to feel better about themselves, about life. They want to feel joy.
is about one thing, it's about that. It's about the Blitz Spirit, it's
about however bad life gets, however terrible things are, you don't
give in, you don't feel sorry for yourself, you fight back - you support
those around you, you come together as a community and you shout from
the roof tops, life IS worth living, it IS worth fighting for.
course people get depressed in EastEnders - terrible things happen to
them, but they don't wallow - they don't feel sorry for themselves,
they fight back.
we faced with the Little Mo storyline was actually we couldn't say this
and the ratings - for a time at least - suffered.
violence does not have any easy solutions - it's a grim, harsh subject.
find it impossible to leave abusive husbands, blaming themselves; victims
of their own lack of self-esteem.
if we were to be truthful, were not really an option.
Mo did fight back and hit her husband over the head with an iron we
found ourselves with problems.
the audience cheered when she did this, but we knew she'd broken the
trial for attempted murder, we had to find her guilty.
didn't want this, we didn't want this, but we knew we had to show that
however great the torture she endured, she just couldn't take the law
into her own hands.
we also knew that we would lose a huge potential audience who would
be furious that the programme had done such a thing.
exactly what happened. We chose to be true to our research, AND truthful
to the law, and the ratings remained no more than average; for we had
denied them the happy ending they craved.
as morality play
all points too is one inescapable fact. Like it or not, the audience
love morality plays.
course they like to see people being malevolent, just as they revel
in the Satan of Paradise Lost, but they love even more watching the
villain get his just desserts - to see him hurled into his pit of fire.
of heroes is just the same - we want to see good triumph, we need to
believe it, for if it doesn't - what's the point?
life for? Ironically it seems soap operas are successful because of
their morality - because good triumphs over evil.
forget this as they do on occasions; when they fall into the trap of
telling you how bad life is; they tend to flounder in the ratings.
job of all story telling from the Bible to Brookside, is finally I believe,
to be life-affirming.
importance of self sacrifice
said that, heroes need to EARN their happy ending.
imagine if when Moses led his people to the Promised Land, he had a
half hour stroll through verdant fields past bubbling springs on a bright
and clear summer's day?
feel guilty for the ease of his passage, further we might actually resent
him his unjust reward, his easy ride.
we love the story of Moses is that he ENDURES.
trials, plagues and famine; his follower's doubt him, he is thrown back
on his own resources and every inch of his character is tested.
of the story of Moses is that he suffers yet he survives.
tell you a classic EastEnders story.
on the run from the authorities for something he hasn't done, seeks
shelter with a stranger.
two get to know each other in hiding a bond starts to grow between them.
the authorities track the hiding place down.
owner, believing it important for his guest to stay free, falsely admits
to the crime, and takes the man's place in prison.
great story, isn't it? We told a version of it with Paul and Anthony
Trueman, but it's certainly not original.
does it echo the classic narrative structure of Casablanca, it's also,
as many of you will have noticed, a blueprint for the story of St Alban
taps into one of most profound and classic story-structures of all -
that of self-sacrifice.
Michelle for the sake of her child with another man; Steve Owen putting
a baby's fate before his own; Andy throwing himself in front of a speeding
car to save another child; Kat getting Trevor to hit her for the sake
of Little Mo.
tells the story year in, year out.
any degree of rational analysis soon reveals that the story structure
at the root of almost all popular drama - not just in Britain but worldwide
- is that of self-sacrifice.
we most like to see and observe in others is the eternal biblical truth:
""Greater love has no-one than this,
that he lay down his life for his friends."
again in popular drama we see this motif played out.
almost every police hero have a tortuous personal life? Because he is
suffering for us; because it's a more attractive and appealing trait
than if he was deliriously happy at home.
If he or
she were deliriously happy, we'd almost certainly like them less, if
not possibly distrust them.
Tennyson in Prime Suspect to Jack Regan in The Sweeney; from Dickens'
"far far better thing I do.." to Inspector Morse, via Kat
and Little Mo in EastEnders; self-sacrifice is at the heart of every
enduring story in our civilisation.
take a small digression for a second and look at two icons who bestride
popular culture - who have infringed and colonised our consciousness
for better or worse in two unique periods in the last century: Elvis
Presley and Princess Diana.
religious analogies have been appended to the Presley phenomenon, my
favourite among them being that Elvis' song Don't Be Cruel is analogous
to The Sermon On The Mount.
there are a number of inescapable conclusions to be drawn from the story
of the boy born in poverty and wrapped in swaddling clothes who rose
to become the most famous icon of the last century.
journalist Ron Rosenbaum has written that fetishising Elvis' death is
a way for "all kinds of Americans to come to terms with pain and
In a recent
essay to mark the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death writer Nik Cohn observed
that the thousands of pilgrims, who had gone to pay their respects at
the gates of Graceland, "were not cool or hip.
Elvis himself, they come from the great amorphous white millions, who
scuffle to get by, who blunder through lives filled with mess and waste
and odd moments of joy, untouched by changing fashion.
wonder Elvis is their once and future king".
"They love him, not in spite of his excesses and his grotesque
end, but in large part because of them. He suffered so much. He is their
very own martyr."
interesting that the closest the Western World has come to creating
a secular idol, is in aping the story of the crucifixion?
course, I'm sure none of you are a stranger to the "Elvis lives"
phenomenon, the various sightings of "the King" from American
shopping malls to supermarkets in Bradford.
the death, the Resurrection. Isn't it fascinating that the accretion
of stories around Elvis lend themselves so readily to religious form?
this year I wrote an essay for Demos in which I noted how readily the
majority of the British public chose to impose a fairy tale like structure
around the story of Princess Diana; about how we wanted to believe that
she was a tragic heroine who at the moment she found true love was brutally
cut down by a hyena-like mob.
that the truth was actually likely to be more grey and complex than
this - but that the truth became irrelevant when pitted against popular
in which the Diana story has entered our consciousness is exactly that
of a fairy tale because that's what people want to believe.
is with Elvis. Elvis clearly isn't the Son of God. But that truth too
is irrelevant; for a significant part of the population want to impose
a biblical story structure upon him.
is it in our nature that makes us want to believe mythical stories?
Why do we need to ignore grey reality for the far more powerful world
of story? And in particular when the backbone of that story is self-sacrifice?
growth of story structure
reason so many biblical stories emerge again and again in popular culture
is partly, I believe, because of the way the Bible grew into a coherent
scientist and author Steven Rose has cogently summarised the books of
the Old Testament are "accretions of early Mesopotamian and Egyptian
myths and sagas, read into a single and reasonably coherent narrative
in order to provide a history for a particular group of initially nomadic,
later sedentary shepherds and pastoralists."
Louis de Bernieres writes that the "The Book of Job itself has
literary parallels in Persian, Sumerian, Akkadian and Babylonian - and
in the biblical version there also appear to be several allusions to
Ugaritic myth. - the Story is an ancient variant on ancient folk tale."
Testament, though easier to trace in form, stems partly from an older
oral form, with antecedents in Jewish and Hellenistic tradition.
this I believe, is the key to everything I have to say.
anything, the Bible is the central repository of all the great stories
of all our combined cultures and civilizations; it's an elision of all
the myths and stories that are important to us as people, and consequently
the cornerstone of everything that, as a race, we hold dear.
the nature of God as revealed through the life of Jesus contains universal
truths because it is the life of Jesus, or simply just embodies those
universal truths is a legitimate subject for discussion, but does nothing
to diminish the power of the book itself.
it is often said, only seven stories: Orpheus, Achilles, Cinderella,
Tristan and Isolde, Circe, Romeo and Juliet, and Faust.
them are to be found in the Bible, be it in the Faustian nature of the
Tower of Babel, or in Samson's own "Achilles' Heel".
the Bible came into being as a first oral and then written piece over
hundreds of years, the life of Jesus evolved - through story telling
- into an embodiment and archetype of universal truths.
for those truths; for we need those stories to re-affirm us in who and
what we are.
the fact that these stories contain universal truths that they endure;
and it is in the Bible that these stories are first codified and pulled
together into one whole.
dominates our culture because it is a book about truths; and truths
itself should take notice of this more than it does. It's fascinating
to note that as a programme, it's at its most successful when it is
at its most truthful.
volume of stories we tell means that inevitably some stories are more
successful than others.
slept with Grant's wife Sharon (The Tristan and Isolde story) the reason
we got 25 million viewers was because it was true.
when Grant got his revenge by sleeping with Phil's wife, we had far
less success and it reverberated in a much less dramatic way.
certainly because few - and this included much of the writing team -
is absolutely central to story success. The most often used story structure
- and that which is absolutely central to EastEnders - comes from the
Book of Job, in which a hero is cruelly and arbitrarily tested, but
refuses to give in or surrender.
could be more truthful and universal than that?
end of his testing God restores Job to health and fortune, but not the
life of his children or servants. Which is a very EastEnders' ending
Arthur Fowler but a modern day Job - as indeed is his long suffering
son Mark too?
story structures that lie at the heart of EastEnders are based in no
small measure on the stories first codified in the Bible.
it's truth - rather than sensation - that is fundamental to EastEnders
accident that the programme's biggest ever storyline was Den serving
Angie divorce papers - not a kidnap or an explosion in sight - nor is
it any accident that Coronation Street foundered when it tried to introduce
murder, mayhem and violence into a much more profound, but ironically
it's not sensation that gets soap its biggest ratings, it's truth.
and Angie story is of course a variation on the Faust story, and it's
in these fundamental archetypes that the success of soaps lie: David
and Goliath; Daniel In the Lions Den; Samson and Delilah; Sodom and
Gomorrah; The Fall: the same story shapes, all of them present in the
Bible occur again and again and again; and they occur again and again
because they're true, and because they're universal.
about The Gospel of Luke, Bishop Richard Holloway says "We do not
really know who wrote Genesis or many of the other ancient writings
and we need not care, because these great texts communicate truth to
us at a level that goes beyond the artistry of any particular individual.
create archetypes that express the general condition of humanity, and
its sorrow and loss, heroism and betrayal.
is also why the gospels go on touching us long after we have abandoned
the orthodoxies that have been built on them.
do not know who wrote them or when, but they still have power to connect
with our lives today, so that, reading them, we sometimes have to put
them down and look into the distance as their words strike ancient chords
read the Bible until I was asked to talk to you today. I stand here
amazed, bewitched and enchanted by its poetic power, its profundity,
it ability to inspire, teach and touch.
I'm no more religious than I was before, I'm much more aware of an extraordinary
heritage of which EastEnders is a tiny and fairly minor modern part.
no great artistic claims for soap opera. What can't be denied however
is just how much a part of our culture they have become, and only the
patronising would write that off as insignificant.
people watch EastEnders and Coronation Street?
superficially yes of course because of voyeurism, or because they can't
wait to find out who did shoot Phil, but it's also for much deeper reasons
people need stories; people demand narratives that make sense of the
world they live in.
In a fractured
incoherent world, where community no longer means what it did, people
hunger for drama and for universal truths that give them something to
aspire to; something to make them feel better about humanity and about
Richard Holloway writes about Luke, so all drama aspires through its
archetypes to express the general condition of humanity.
is EastEnders but a weekly portrayal of heroism, of loss, of betrayal,
and also finally, of hope?
why, I believe, biblical stories re-appear endlessly in our culture;
and this is why we impose biblical structures on characters such as
we want to believe these eternal archetypes, but communicated in a manner
we understand and which is easily digestible and relevant to us.
first met up with the Archdeacon he spoke to me of a crisis of belief
in European civilisation and half-smiling described Western Europe as
the most Godless place in the world.
asked him what he felt the basic functions of Christianity were in this
day and age when so many don't believe, he replied "to tell the
story of Christ and its implications for the way we live."
own little way soap opera's job is to spell out the implications of
the way we live.
I've conveyed to you my belief that EastEnders is watched largely because
of its morality, largely because of its ability to reflect life in all
its complexity, and because it explores ethical problems.
It is part
of a universal story-telling tradition that helps us to understand our
lives and reflect on the human condition - it works because it connects
with real people's concerns.
departs from real life - as most popular fiction does - in imposing
value judgements on its material.
Parables it offers a hope and a morality where the good are rewarded
and the bad punished - either by death, rapid exit, or Karmically, bound
forever on a wheel of fire.
the twists and turns of the plot all our conclusions are essentially
moral. Good triumphs, evil is punished and the value of human life is
I must answer the question posed by you, which I quoted at the beginning
of this talk - "how does the Church communicate to people where
answer to this is "you already are".
Bible stories are as relevant today - and as popular today - as they
always have been, and they are still the values to which our people
they may be hidden in secular form. When John Donne argued, "No
man is an Island" he was making a religious argument for the sake
is that argument most recently expressed and dramatised?
year's most successful British film - Hugh Grant's About A Boy.
other stories: the power of the resurrection? ET; Moses in the Bulrushes?
Batman and The Penguin...
you look in culture, both high and low, you will see evidence of the
Judaeo-Christian doctrine. As a race it is at the very core of our being.
alone the biblical parallels are manifold and too numerous to mention.
of Albert Square is a saga of free will - where the individuals choose
to be either good or bad, but all within have knowledge of the Serpent.
are rewarded, the bad are punished and individuals are tested to find
out in which camp they belong.
sometimes Albert Square seems an arbitrary and cruel place, I would
argue no more so than biblical Egypt, Israel and the Garden of Eden.
it that Jacob should become the father of Israel, when he performs such
an unjust trick on his brother?
cruelty and bleakness is a biblical speciality.
envy, cruelty, malice, plague, famine - all are biblical staples that
have their own more modest equivalents in the London Borough of Walford.
biblical equivalents our characters are tested, abandoned, betrayed.
this may sound a bit more Old Testament than New, but there are equivalents
here too: our characters are also rewarded, and blessed with the ability
to not only find love but bestow it selflessly on others too.
is Kat, but a modern Mary Magdalene - a repository of goodness and self-sacrifice
where it's least expected to be found?
Holloway, concluding his essay on Luke, wrote of the Parables that they
"continue to connect with us today.
are about our experience of guilt, and our need for forgiveness, they
are about the dangers of tribe and religion, and the way they insulate
us against the needs of our neighbours."
EastEnders essentially tells of the age old struggle between good and
evil and all that flows from that: heroism, suffering, loss, betrayal,
self-sacrifice, the human struggle with moral frailty; the struggle
to bind together as a community; comeuppance and redemption.
Bible; in its own modest way, EastEnders is a show in which we look
for lessons in how to live.
confront the dark side of life - but no more than many of our viewers;
and we certainly don't endorse it.
to end with a clip that I think illustrates that this biblical tradition
is alive and well.
two years ago on EastEnders we told a story ostensibly about euthanasia.
an elderly stalwart of the square and a confirmed atheist, had contracted
cancer and had been given three months to live.
in the afterlife and of firmly humanistic stance she asked her best
friend Dot to help her take her own life.
a good Christian, refused to help, until her love for her friend overcame
her own fear of damnation.
with an intolerable burden of guilt, she felt there was only one person
she could talk too...
DOT TALKING TO JESUS IN CHURCH
never does monologues; indeed the average length of a scene is 40 seconds.
lasts just under four minutes.
and Ethel storyline played out in over four months with many similar
scenes, to an average audience of 16 million viewers.
Dot - the
character the Mail on Sunday claimed we made fun off - explored the
full panoply of religious belief before coming back to terms with her
said to her vicar towards the end of the story, in my favourite line
of EastEnders' entire existence, "I couldn't manage without my
faith, not with the life I've had".
Bookbinder took over as head of religious broadcasting at the BBC he
described EastEnders for the weeks the Dot and Ethel story ran as "the
best religious programme on television" and compared us to Graham
we felt a little uncomfortable in such exalted company, what it did
show is that handled properly an audience is able to engage in, and
relate to profound ethical debate.
a possibly apocryphal story about Michael Jackson - a former Controller
of BBC ONE and Channel 4 who had two posters on his wall - one of Lord
Reith and one of PT Barnum, because he believed it was the duty of his
television network to fall in between those two stools.
be no surprise to you that I love EastEnders for exactly those reasons.
there is hucksterism when we embark on stories like "Who Shot Phil?"
but there is also an essential moral seriousness at its core.
the fact that the Police ring us up to ask for tapes of the Little Mo
and Trevor story because they want to use it to train their officers
in the reality of domestic violence.
proud of the fact that after watching EastEnders victims of child abuse
can discover that they need no longer be afraid, guilty and alone.
the fact that Dot can make a four minute speech about theology and 16
million people can be riveted by her spiritual journey.
of all I love the fact that people want to watch stories that centre
around one pivotal question - how do we, as citizens, in a bad and malevolent
world, live a good life? How do we love?
importantly what should we give up for others?
I have said, the notion of Christian self-sacrifice is at the heart
of all popular drama, it's what most appeals to us, and fascinates us
and makes go back and watch again and again.
it intriguing that a story born 2000 years ago is still the most potent
and fascinating tool in story-telling today?