EastEnders: It’s Your Party

Friday, August 10, 2001 by

Not harsh, merely, but punitive. The treatment meted out by the BBC towards its once great flagship programme continues to beggar belief. EastEnders‘ slide into total irrelevance and self-parody, hastened with the arrival of a fourth weekly episode, almost inevitably had to be marked with an equally unwanted and misguided “tribute” such as this. It’s Your Party was an atrocious piece of television, 60 petrifying minutes that refused to pass quickly and instead made a point of ensuring Friday night got off to a thoroughly miserable start. It’s hard deciding which was worse – the programme itself, or the damage it did to EastEnders‘ legacy, inflicting more punishment on a series that already suffered a fatal battering during the ill-conceived 15th anniversary shenanigans last year.

There was so much wrong with this show. A dreadful mawkish arrangement of the familiar EastEnders theme tune introduced proceedings – an unnecessarily sickly re-branding of the functional original version. Shots of cast members tottering into Television Centre were more akin to the lead-up to an awards ceremony, though the arrival of Anna Wing (Lou Beale) suggested the prospect of some input from some of the soap’s veteran, most influential personnel. Predictably, we didn’t see another glimpse of her all evening.

What was Jonathan Ross doing hosting this shambles? He co-wrote the script, which apparently had to be edited for some “rude” jokes, but a line about “late night spooning action” and other drab innuendos made the final cut. He added nothing to proceedings. Any mildly experienced host could’ve handled the task of continually picking up the conversations from where they’d been dropped onto the floor by the various actors and actresses interviewed. A couple of times he came out with an improvised gag that lifted the show a million feet into the air. The rest of the while he was mentally counting down the minutes and counting out his salary. He was also dressed as if for a funeral, somewhat appropriately.

The introductory clips package set the mood for the evening. Loads of stuff was taken out of context, and all the famous bits from the early years were rushed through – including, feeling somewhat out of place, a scene from Kathy’s rape by James Wilmott-Brown – to make way for more recent incidents. Then the show fell into an inevitably unimaginative format. A big name star came on, chatted to Jonathan for a few minutes, and then a trio of appropriate “supporting” cast joined the sofa for more reminiscences. Jonathan then cued in another clips package, and the process began again – and again, repeated to fill out the hour. This was tedious and uninspired. It made for no variance of tone, created a terrible air of monotony (Jonathan trotting out the same questions and ending up using the same line to thank each “group” of stars every single time) and gave viewers various exit points at which to conveniently switch over, or more likely switch off.

There were no former cast members interviewed whatsoever. Everyone Jonathan talked to was still in the show – because of course to do otherwise would be to betray the fact the programme’s not a patch on what it once was. Wendy Richard was, predictably, the first guest, but Jonathan restricted her to talking about present storylines and more general aspects of her character, including – inevitably – cardigans (“I haven’t worn one for over 10 years” she snapped, unpleasantly). She set the template for the guests that followed her – all resolutely on-message – “Oh yes, I’m very proud to be involved …” – and frighteningly willing to answer questions in character. Why does this have to happen? If we wanted to know about character and plot development, it surely would’ve been better to have the scriptwriters and story liners on the sofa rather than the mostly ill-informed, inarticulate stars.

Jonathan was often no better, constantly asking guests about their respective character’s motivations. He seemed taken with the occasion – “It’s like another world,” he sighed at one point, but none of the guests were given any time to expand in detail on life on or off camera. It was no help that three of the long-term characters deemed suitable for interview were awful ones: Pauline, Ian, Pat, a trio of the dullest, most lifeless creations to have ever peopled Albert Square. Most frustrating of all was how the clips packages were leavened with very brief glimpses of other, far more interesting characters – a montage from Ian’s life included a shot of Paul and Trevor throwing confetti over a pissed-off looking Cindy. But there wasn’t time to begin to wonder how long ago those two left the programme, or what the actors might be doing now. As for Michelle Collins, she committed the worse crime, recording a video message to Adam Woodyatt – as Cindy! In character!

Woodyatt lived up to his on-screen persona – confessing to keeping props from the show as “they’ll be my pension”. Just as it was cardigans with Pauline, so it was ear-rings with Pat – “Do you having aching lobes when you finish work?” cracked Jonathan, to which Pat professionally replied, “The costume department are wonderful.” It wasn’t until well over halfway through that the soap’s writers were even mentioned, but no specific names or key personnel were singled out and there were no trademark cutaways to the audience to show the faces behind the names.

It came as a shock, during Barbara Windsor’s section, to find her paying tribute to Susan Tully, but only as a director (her 10 years as one of the leading roles on the series conveniently forgotten about). Barbara’s account of her breast cancer storyline was notable for not being in the same bawdy knockabout vein as everything that went before – though she somewhat ruined the mood with borderline tasteless comments about the production team: “It’s a piece of cake – they hand it to you,” before she too lapsed back into character.

The programme ended after an extended section paying tribute to Letitia Dean, with room for some I Love the Eighties-style subjective laughing at her early fashions. It was amusing seeing Jonathan and guests moving rather awkwardly over the subject of Martin Kemp’s impending departure to ITV, but Martin himself was all over Letitia on the sofa, which was just not what we wanted to see. On Kemp’s enduring image of life on the road in Spandau Ballet – “watching EastEnders on video, eating a Chinese …” – Jonathan brought it all to a close. There was just time for a dreadful This Is Your Life style gathering on the stage, but only of those “important” enough to have been interviewed, and again, those still in the show today.

The credits gave it away – the same team who made this also make Parkinson. This was a shocking excuse of a tribute, not in the least bit entertaining or exciting, a tawdry effort at trying to pull in viewers for the actual episode that was to follow afterwards. As a piece of television it was, simply, crap: extremely poorly scripted, with some clumsy editing and overall botched production.

Sure, it meant Top of the Pops got pushed back to the night before, Thursday, at 7pm, where it clearly belongs – but at what a price.


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