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29.5.11

EastEnders: Roly The Poodle

Remember Roly Watts, the poodle who scampered around the Queen Vic, upstairs, downstairs, in and out of the ructions between Den and Angie in the mid-to-late 1980s?

I loved Roly. So interested in him was I that I remember wondering if his name was actually Roland? Surely Roly was always short for Roland? But the love of my life (that week) convinced me that such thoughts could lead to madness - he was Roly, he was a dog, so normal rules didn't apply, and I didn't actually write to the BBC to ask as I had intended.

And I'm glad I didn't - the official EastEnders cast card above, which I discovered recently, seems conclusive evidence that he was actually simply called Roly.

Roly was a real star of the show. He listened with apparently higher intelligence than most of the locals to conversations around him, caused poor Naima to prang Ali's taxi when she was out for a driving lesson with her husband, joined forces with Ethel's little Willy to scoff down the meat intended for the Vic's pub grub pies, and did Pauline and Arthur Fowler a tremendous favour when he tore up the dreadful knitted robe Ethel had concocted for Martin's christening.

Angie rather disgracefully tried to blame Roly for the noises Sharon heard when Ange was "entertaining" Tony Carpenter in a "sauce for the goose" get-back at Den moment. Roly had been very restless that night, she porkie-pied. Sharon was not convinced.

Angie could be a bitch at times, describing Roly as a "mangy, half-wit mongrel" and a "shag pile on wheels", but the fact that, in the story-line, Roly had been a present from Den to Sharon shortly before the series began might have coloured her feelings somewhat. She and Den were fighting a bloody battle for Sharon's affection, each trying to win their adopted daughter's love.

And sympathy.

Actually, it concerned me for a while that Sharon appeared to be unduly influenced by Roly when it came to her hairstyle, but taking a quick look around me at the real world, I encountered such a battery of weird and bad taste barnets (including my own) that I decided it was just a coincidence. Sharon didn't actually aim for the Roly look, although there were times when her "best friend" Michelle Fowler, in the on-going battle for Kelvin Carpenter's affections, thought that Sharon was a right dog anyway.

Roly was in the limelight when the mystery of the father of Michelle's baby was finally solved. Michelle arranged to meet the man down by the canal, and several locals were seen receiving telephone calls and hurriedly leaving the Square. But it was Roly jumping out of Den's car that finally gave the game away.

On-screen, Roly was the complete professional. Gretchen Franklin, who played Ethel Skinner, once commented that he wasn't a strong dog, and couldn't do as much as Ethel's little Willy, but there was no evidence of this when the camera was rolling.

Den and Ange were originally to have had an Alsatian called Prince, but finding a pooch of that type lightly coloured enough so as not to blend in with the pub's colour scheme and the other dowdy interior sets proved very difficult indeed.

Then Janimals, a company which specialised in providing and training animals for television and films, called EastEnders producer Julia Smith with the news that they had a seven-month-old apricot standard poodle and it would take them three weeks to train him.

The poodle, dear Roly, got the part, became the property of the BBC, complete with his own I.D. card, and went to live with Julia.

The 1987 book, EastEnders - The Inside Story by Julia Smith and Tony Holland reveals that Roly and Willy were regarded as EastEnders cast members, not props.

Roly in the mid-1980s, pictured with his fictional home, the Queen Victoria public house, Albert Square, London, E20, and his real life landlady, EastEnders producer Julia Smith.

The canine character outlived the 1980s. He was killed off in the early 1990s, run over in the Square.

In real life, Roly was not in the best of health and died in 1995.

He remains my favourite EastEnders canine of all times (sorry, Willy, loved ya too, but!) and, in fact, probably my favourite telly dog as well.

Those '80s days with Roly, Den, Ange and Sharon at the Queen Vic still make great viewing.

And, somehow, the idea of Den and Ange having such a dog (an Alsatian called Prince would have been so much more appropriate) added a delicious touch of the absurd and slightly surreal to the proceedings.

The explanation that Roly had been bought for the already poodle-haired Sharon was convincing, but he still didn't blend in with his dog rough surroundings, and seeing macho man Den out walking him often reduced me to giggles!

1985 - Den (Leslie Grantham) and Angie (Anita Dobson) slug it out whilst the wonderful Roly looks on. I often wondered what he was thinking at times like that...

24.5.11

EastEnders: From The Albertine Wine Bar To Albert Square - Well Heeled Left Wing Preaching To The Masses

1980s EastEnders could be wonderful - the picture above reflects some of the show's triumphs. But it could also be patronising propaganda straight from a bunch of well-heeled left wing scriptwriters.

As we know, Julia Smith and Tony Holland were determined that EastEnders was to be set in the 1980s, uncompromisingly (their word) in Thatcher's Britain.

Uncompromisingly? Implies disapproval, doesn't it?

Much as I loved early EastEnders, having just watched a slab of episodes from 1985, I ended up wanting to smash the TV screen.

I mean, bloody hell!

As Julia Smith and Tony Holland made plain in their book, EastEnders - The Inside Story (1987), the Albertine Wine Bar was an important hang-out for them during the show's early stages. And they cleared orf to Lanzarote to write up the EastEnders characters.

I couldn't afford to go there, but I did manage to rent a video recorder and liked the flash side of '80s life (the C&A and Tracey's Nite Spot version, that was!).

The trouble with 1980s EastEnders is a tendency to preach which occasionally comes through to sledge hammer effect. Anti-Thatcher comments sparkle like diamonds, but it's the tendency of the well-heeled (in comparison to the real life Arthur Fowlers and Sue Osmans) production team to clumsily deliver patronising propaganda story-lines that really gets up my nose on watching 1985 episodes again after all these years.

And when one follows hard on another, I really want to be very ill indeed.

Take Andy and Debs - she upwardly mobile bank clerk, he children's nurse. After a burglary, they were deprived of their TV set, record player, newly acquired video recorder and other household sundries.

So devastated were they, they went all limp and pathetic, before before being told off by Tony Carpenter - they were two young people with their health, jobs and a whole house to themselves. They should be thankful!

Meanwhile, another victim of the "consumerist society" was Punk Mary, fed up with living in one room (her treatment was so unlike any single mother I knew in the '80s), and seeing adverts for nice things, things she was apparently supposed to want, she went shop lifting and got "had up" in court. £50 fine and the story vanished - point made. The consumerist society was BAD.

Meanwhile (again), the Square was suddenly afflicted by a power cut. Fault of the government, someone suggested? Eh, we were in 1985, weren't we, not the 1970s?

Meanwhile (yet again!), nurse Andy suggested to Debs that he brought a little boy - a patient - home from the hospital. Debs was horrified, but Andy pointed out it was always happening because of the cut-backs and nursing staff turning a blind eye.

As somebody involved in care/nursing work during the same era, I never saw it. Cut backs, yes, but things were never so bad we took patients home.

What on earth was that little story-line based on?

Reality from Planet Zog?

EastEnders was of the '80s - every bit of it. But unfortunately it represented a very prevalent and highly biased view of working class life as seen by those who hung out in wine bars and got inspiration in places like Lanzarote. As, unfortunately, did a lot of BBC left wing propaganda back then.

At the time, I applauded every second of it, but now it makes me angry.

That's not to say that all early EastEnders was bad. Far from it. It was - and is - in the main - wonderful to view. In my humble opinion, of course.

But the views of leftie BBC "haves" being foisted on to licence paying "have nots" is not an attractive scenario in retrospect.

It was so bloody patronising - and often so grim as to be totally unlike life as thoroughly working class me and my friends lived it back then!

And yet it's taken my years to get things into perspective enough to be able to see it.

11.5.11

EastEnders: Were Andy and Debs Yuppies?

Shirley Cheriton as Debbie Wilkins. Was Debbie one of those swaggering, ostentatiously rich yuppie people?

An interesting e-mail from "80s TV Lover":

You write quite a lot about EastEnders on here, but I'm not sure you've done the show justice, considering its impact and intial revolutionary soap techniques. Please, Please, PLEASE can we have more 1980s EastEnders stuff on here, and can I ask a pressing question? Were the characters of Andy O'Brien and Debbie Wilkins yuppies? Shirley Cheriton has described Debbie thus in recent years, but I never saw them that way at the time. Upwardly mobile, yes, but not yuppies!

Well, 80s TV Lover, I'm currently writing more EastEnders articles, intended to focus on Ali and Sue Osman (Nedjet Salih and Sandy Ratcliff) and Debbie Wilkins and Andy O'Brien (Shirley Cheriton and Ross Davidson) so I hope you will continue reading!

Certainly, I have made mention of the show's gritty story-lines and groundbreaking approach, along with Brookside, which saw soaps venturing into previously "No Go" territory.

As for Andy and Debs being yuppies, well, I know that Shirley Cheriton has commented that Debbie was, and the use of the "yuppie" word became quite nebulous after its early 1980s coinage. But I don't think Ms Wilkins and Mr O'Brien were actually yuppies, and didn't at the time. Upwardly mobile, yes, but not yuppies, as you say.

Consider this from The Times, October 1987, in the wake of Black Monday:

"I've lost my shirt today as well as the money of a lot of other guys," said one stereotype of the Yuppies who swarmed to the financial world to reap the benefits of the Reagan boom.

The term was originally American, and a yuppie was somebody who sought to make all they could out of the Reagan/Thatcher era, anybody could attempt to make it big, and yuppies sought to become ostentatiously rich.

Yuppies were associated with upwardly mobility, of course, but upwardly mobility was a much older concept. The yuppies sought to make all they could out of the favourable dosh-making conditions wrought by the Reagan/Thatcher era. The upwardly mobiles were usually far more modest, aspiring to a home of their own car, foreign holidays, nice car, etc.

As the '80s continued, usage of the yuppie word was applied to just about anybody who seemed to have done remotely well, often resentfully by those who hadn't (like me!), but in the strictest sense, you couldn't consider a nurse and a bank clerk (the occupations of Andy and Debs) to be yuppies (a nurse is particularly nonsensical). Nor, indeed, Colin Russell (Michael Cashman), a graphic designer who made Albert Square his home. My father-in-law was a graphic designer, but in no way could his upwardly mobile success be described as propelling him into yuppie status.

As an aside, I was a great fan of the Andy and Debs characters, I thought they were well-acted and made a fascinating contrast to the other EastEnders characters, but were absolutely wasted by the show's writers. I'll write more about that soon!

Read all our yuppie material here.