EastEnders goes live but ‘whodunnit’?

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.

EastEnders is set in Albert Square in the fictional London borough of Walford - photo http://www.longpier.com

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.”

‘Genius stroke’

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 plot

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.

Archie Mitchell was murdered in the Queen Vic on Christmas Day - photo http://www.longpier.com

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.”

Mystery

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

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The right to die…

The recent case of Kay Gilderdale, the mother who helped her daughter die after she had suffered for 17 years with Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME), has reignited a complex ethical debate which has been bubbling below the surface for some years.

Last night the annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture saw fantasy author and Alzheimers suferrer Terry Pratchett support the case for assisted death in a very emotionally charged speech entitled ‘Shaking hands with death’.

Terry Pratchett on a visit to Poland in 2004 - Artur Machlowski

Due to Terry Pratchett’s condition, his speech was read by Tony Robinson, better known as Baldric from the historical sitcom Blackadder. It was a speech which reached out of the screen and pulled me in. It was captivating, it was balanced, it was convincing and it was inspirational.

The speech detailed how Pratchett’s particularly rare form of Alzhimer’s disease has taken hold since he was diagnosed in 2007, aged 59. The words coveyed real meaning and struck a nerve with me as i’m sure they did with many of the 2.1 million others who tuned in to watch it.

Terry Pratchett’s desire was to put forward a case for a Euthanasia tribunal, which would give people with severe or terminal illnesses the right to choose exactly when they die. He did this by referring to his own disease and making public the circumstances in which he himself wishes to die.

His desire to die at his own request ‘before the disease took him over’ was detailed. It was poignantly stated that Terry Pratchett wishes to die sitting in his own armchair, or in his own garden with a glass of brandy, whilst listening to English composer Thomas Tallis on his iPod.

‘Complex ethical debate’

This simple wish conjoured up strong images in my mind and left me convinced that assisted death was not only wholly acceptable, but left me questioning why this issue has not been addressed before now.

Naturally I began thinking about my own death and the particular artist I would want to listen to on my iPod should that time come. I came to no solid conclusions before also beginning to think about the situations in which my relatives may meet their end and what circumstances they might wish for.

I must stress I do not wish to oversimplify this very complex ethical debate and there are still many questions which must be considered. For example, the distinction between severely ill and terminally ill is one which deserves particular attention if a change in the law is to be discussed.

With that said, on a basic level, I don’t see any reason why people who have been in considerable pain for a  number of years, sometimes the majority of their lives, cannot have the right to decide when they want to die. Perhaps more important is the conscious decision of the circumstances under which they wish to die.

Personalising death

Terry Pratchett’s detailed description of how he envisages his own death seems, on a personal level, to make perfect sense. In essence that personal level is what this debate boils down to. It is about giving people the right to personalize their own death. It’s about giving people, who are in constant pain, the right to avoid spending their last remaining days in an alien and uncomfortable environment such as a hospital ward. An environment where they are surrounded by men and women in white coats who insist on keeping them alive and in the process prolong their pain.

I don’t proclaim to know how it feels to have a terminal illness. However, I do know that if I did, I would at least like to have the option of choosing to apply for assisted death if I so desired.

The possibility of this debate being addressed by Parliament before this year’s General Election is  very unlikely due to it being of an ethical nature and not a party political one. However, do not be surprised if it crops up in the new term of Parliament this summer.

‘The Richard Dimbleby Lecture’ can be seen on BBC iPlayer until 8th February 2010

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Radical Muslim group banned under UK terrorism laws

This is a story written as part of ‘reporting week’ for my MA. The opportunity to interview Anjem Choudary was unexpected, but a great experience.

The radical Muslim group which planned a march through Wooten Basset has today been banned under UK Terrorism laws by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson.

The group, Islam4UK has appeared under many names including Al-Muhajiroun. Mr Johnson’s ruling makes it a criminal offence to be a member of Islam 4 UK and also applies to the various other names under which the organisation is known. If someone is found to be a member of the group they could face up to ten years in prison.

Anjem Choudary is the leader of the group in the UK

Mr Anjem Choudary, the head of Al-Muhajiroun in the UK said the group will not take action to try and get the ruling overturned: “its a great honour and privilege to be banned by this oppressive regime. The people who are supposed to give us freedom and democracy are doing the exact opposite.”

Although the ban means membership of the group is now a criminal offence, Mr Choudary does not see this as a problem. He said: “We won’t use the names. I’m going to continue doing my duty and working for the good of the Muslim community.”

‘The Terrorism Act (2000)’

The groups were banned under the 2000 Terrorism Act. under this act, a group can be banned if it: “commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for, promotes or encourages terrorism or is otherwise concerned in terrorism”.

Mr Choudary refused any link with terrorist organisations saying: “calling for Sharia law and exposing the British government’s lies and deceit in their foreign policy does not make me a terrorist.”

Islam4UK has criticised the government on a number of occasions. Their aim is to highlight the plight of Muslims under the law in this country and promote the introduction of Sharia law. The group recently planned a march through the Wiltshire town of Wooten Basset to highlight the number of Muslim casualities in the Afghanistan war and to draw attention to the government’s ‘biased’ foreign policy.

The proposed march was called off after the group claimed they had acheived their goal of gaining publicity.  Reports they were planning to carry 500 coffins through the Wiltshire town were denied on a statement on the group’s website: “If we were to do that the parade of bodies would probably reach all the way from Wootton Bassett to London”

By Nick Higgins

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Good riddance Big Brother

The current series of Celebrity Big Brother has two contestants with links to Harrow and the surrounding area. UK grime artist Lady Sovereign was born down the road in Wembley, whilst ex-footballer, turned film-star and all round hard man, Vinnie Jones began his footballing career at Wealdstone in 1984.

Vinnie and ‘Sov’ will be the last celebrities to live in the house as the programme is set to be scrapped by channel 4 after it’s eleventh regular series this summer. The question is, will anybody actually miss the show when the doors close behind the winning contestant for the last time?

When it first aired in the UK in 2000, it was immediately apparent that Big Brother would become the Marmite of British television. You would either love it or hate it. However, as the series’ have dragged on and the ratings have fallen, one gets the impression that most people would sooner eat a whole pot of Marmite in one go, than take an active interest in the show.

A common excuse for being a fan of Big Brother is that you can watch it once and become addicted. On that premise it should be regarded as dangerous as heroin. People wind up watching it religiously every night hiding behind the simple excuse: ‘I’m just addicted’. Strangely, these people never seem to want to be addicted and never have withdrawal symptoms after the series finishes.

‘Random and pointless’

The most striking evidence that nobody will miss Big Brother is the fact that the winner of the show, the public’s favourite out of all the contestants, fades into immediate obscurity once the doors close and the cameras are turned off.

The only time you might actually hear or see ex-housemates is when they appear on one of Big Brother’s countless ‘sister shows’ which seem to be on constant repeat on E4. One of these shows is Big Brother’s Little Brother. It consists of pointless games and quizzes which are only vaguely related to happenings in the house.

An example of just how random and pointless this program can get was seen on Wednesday when presenter George Lamb conducted an investigation into the size of celebrity housemate Ivana Trump’s earlobes. In essence these shows take up valuable air time and serve a very small audience.

It is not just Big Brother’s sister shows which are a waste of airtime. If you want more than your scheduled daily dose of ‘reality’, rest assured you can always watch your favourite housemates sleeping on live coverage throughout the night. Most would agree that watching people sleep is not only unnecessary, but, more importantly, just about as boring as television can get. On that premise, this particular aspect of the show will certainly not be missed when Big Brother finishes for good later this year.

‘Mind-numbing nonsense’

Some of the happenings in the house are just completely maniacal. Just this week viewers were made to endure footage of two naked ‘celebrities’ childishly giggling whilst kicking snow at each other in the Big Brother garden. ‘Great TV’ you might say, but it is never long before you stop and realise that this is, in fact, just mind-numbing nonsense. At that point you are filled with a feeling of disturbing guilt as you realise you will never get those ten minutes of your life back.

The ‘noughties’ was the decade of reality television but it seems the ‘glory days’ of Big Brother have all but disappeared. Reality television is still a successful concept, but the continued success of programmes such as the X factor and Strictly Come Dancing shows that people are now more interested in watching something which requires, at the very least, a little talent.

When a programme has been running for ten years you might expect it to live long in the memory of the viewing public. However, I do not think anyone will be surprised when Big Brother quickly fades into a distant memory of a time that once was.

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Revealing celebrity desperation is a useful purpose for reality TV

Boy George (courtesy of Usuário Idril)

It has been revealed today that the High Court has refused Boy George permission to appear on the final series of celebrity Big Brother which is set to start on 3rd January.

In May, the former Culture Club singer was tagged and sentenced to a 15 month curfew after assaulting a male escort in his East London flat. This is the reason why the Judge has denied Boy George the opportunity to appear on the reality show from which he was set to earn a reported £200,000.

The circumstances surrounding this case should not be surprising. After all, as I mentioned in my last post, many have come to know reality television as humiliating and degrading. For this reason and the fact that, in my opinion, Big Brother typifies this particular view of reality television, it is in no way surprising that Channel 4 has attempted to lure a man in such a position as Boy George onto the show.

What is surprising however is that Boy George is so keen to take them up on their offer. Although he would be the top earner on the show and one could argue he has got nothing to lose, it cannot be denied that participants rarely escape the confines of the Big Brother house with dignity intact.

In many ways Boy George’s enthusiasm to appear on the show typifies the sad reality that many celebrities face as their career’s wind down and work stops coming in. It is worth noting though, that the only reason we know this sad reality exists is through the production of such programmes as Celebrity Big Brother. Without these programmes we would not be able to watch these ‘has beens’ 24 hours a day for a whole month and we subsequently wouldn’t know how desperate ageing celebrities can actually get.

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This decade’s best reality TV moment

This decade has seen the continual rise of reality television and so it seems fitting to pick out the greatest reality TV moment of the last ten years.

When Susan Boyle walked onto the stage on Britain’s Got Talent in April 2009 and proclaimed to ‘want to be like Elaine Paige’ there was an audible groan inside the theatre. The audience turned to one another and sniggered at the 47 year-old, unemployed scot as she stumbled over her words.

I have to admit, I was one of these people. I thought it was simply going to be another instance of a member of the public being humiliated by a reality TV show and laughed off the stage.

Susan Boyle’s first audition

However, Susan had barely finished singing the first line of ‘I dreamed a dream’ from the popular musical Les Miserables when the entire crowd rose to their feet in recognition of how incredibly moving it was.

It was an inspirational moment and the beginning of a cindarella story which has seen Susan Boyle break the all time record for pre-release sales on the retail website Amazon for her album, ‘I dreamed a dream’. It is therefore no surprise that Susan tops the album charts in both the UK and America this Christmas.

Given that reality television is often described as corporate rubbish designed solely to humiliate people and put money in the pockets of a few, Susan Boyle’s story shows that this may not always be the case. Her incredible story since that magical first audition shows that reality TV should not always be regarded as  ‘tat’.

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Best of the decade: ‘Best comedy film’

As we come towards the end of the first decade of the new millennium I will use this Christmas period to highlight what I think has been the ‘best of the decade’. Today I start with the best comedy film.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

The ever hilarious Anchorman sees Will Ferrell star as Ron Burgundy, a legendary news anchor from San Diego. When a woman joins the news team and threatens to replace Burgundy as the news anchor, Ron and his Channel 4 news team struggle to readjust from their male-dominated work environment . Aside from comedy genius Will  Ferrell, Anchorman has a cast stuffed full of comedy stars including, Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers), Paul Rudd (Knocked Up), Luke Wilson (Old School) and even a cameo from Ben Stiller (Zoolander) as Arturo Mendes, the anchor of ‘Spanish speaking news’.

A short clip from Anchorman:

The most intriguing thing about Anchorman is that most of it is improvised from a very loose script. When watching the film with this is mind it becomes all the more impressive. The improvisation results in an endless array of comical quotes which don’t often make a lot of sense. It is these quotes which add something entirely fresh to previous comedy films and subsequently justify Anchorman being named ‘comedy film of the decade’. Indeed I think the legacy of this ground-breaking classic will extend well into the next decade.

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