EastEnders is one of Britain’s most popular soaps. It has graced our television screens almost every weeknight since 1985 and now, after nearly 4000 shows, the crew and cast are preparing to broadcast live for the very first time.
In celebration of the show’s 25th anniversary, Friday’s live episode will be the culmination of the most talked about storyline of the year. After weeks of speculation, the identity of Archie Mitchell’s murderer will finally be revealed.
The live episode will require intense preparation and organisation. Five camera crews equipped with 20 cameras will film both outdoors in Albert Square, and indoors at the BBC’s Elstree studios.
Viewers have been reassured that a rehearsal has been recorded and will be aired if there are any last-minute technical hitches. However, if the cast have trouble remembering their lines, they will be responsible for improvising their way out of a tricky situation.
Acting live will be a challenge for some of the EastEnders cast. Whilst many of the older cast members have considerable experience in theatre, for some of the younger members this will be the first experience of a live performance.
Bill Lyons is one of the original writers on EastEnders and now writes for rival soap Emmerdale. He said:
“Live television is very different, it’s absolutely terrifying. The cast are used to being able to put things right but that is simply not an option when you are going live.”
A live broadcast is not without precedent. In 1997 the American drama series ER was filmed live in a real hospital ward. Whilst in 2000, Eastenders most fierce rival, Coronation Street aired a one-off live episode to celebrate it’s 40th anniversary.
Despite this, the integration of a live broadcast with a big reveal and a ‘who dunnit’ storyline has never been attempted before. EastEnders’ ambition has been described as a ‘genius stroke’ by the editor of ‘All About Soap’ magazine, Jonathon Hughes. He said:
“When Corrie [Coronation Street] did it’s live episode there was no big reveal. EastEnders has always been more rebellious and this Friday will undoubtably be the biggest moment of the year for soaps. In this sense it is breaking new ground and that is something which is incredibly hard to do in this field.”
The storyline for the 25th anniversary special was masterminded by executive producer Diederick Santer last spring. Since then only he, and a select group of executives have known the identity of Archie’s killer, which has been kept top secret to avoid a leak to the press.
Mr Hughes said: “They have played this very well. It’s a great way of pulling characters together before an anniversary episode and the decision to film live means the secret is kept until the very last minute.”
he went on: “I am very excited because usually I know everything that is going to happen weeks in advance. This week I am just as in-the-dark as everyone else.”
In the dark is exactly what viewers and cast members have been since Archie’s murder on Christmas Day. In a poll on the EastEnders website asking ‘who dunnit?’, there are no less than 23 characters to choose from including, the rank outsider – Archie himself.
Meanwhile reports have suggested that anywhere between six and nine separate endings have been scripted for the live episode, and distributed only to those who are real suspects. The actor or actress who plays the killer will only find out a short time before the live episode begins filming.
In an interview for the show’s website, Diederick Santer revealed there have been ‘three big clues’ as to the identity of the killer, but goes on to confirm that there have been many red herrings designed to throw viewers off the scent.
The amount of speculation since Archie’s death has left viewers in a daze. With half the square being linked to the murder, the guesswork is set to continue as the week drags on.
At this point the only thing that is certain is that the climax to Friday’s anniversary episode is going to be gripping and more than likely, very explosive.
By Nick Higgins
The live episode of EastEnders can be seen on BBC One this Friday at 20:00 GMT