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 Complaints over 'All-black' Eastenders

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Sarah
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PostSubject: Complaints over 'All-black' Eastenders   4th March 2009, 5:10 am

Complaints Over 'All-Black' EastEnders



The BBC has received almost 250 complaints over the first episode of EastEnders to feature an all-black cast. The episode in question centred around Patrick Trueman, played by Rudolph Walker.

A BBC spokesman said 57 complaints were received before broadcast and 183 after the airing of the episode. Only 183 objections? Considering the terrible, cliché-ridden script, I think the writers of EastEnders got off lightly. Apparently, most of the complaints were from people who felt it was "inappropriate" for an episode featuring an all-black cast to be shown.

"It is not unusual for EastEnders to devote a whole episode to a single storyline or set of characters, and this episode was one of these occasions," a BBC spokesperson said. "This was an opportunity to explore in some depth the background and experiences of Patrick Trueman, one of EastEnders' longest-standing and most popular characters. There have been many 'all-white' episodes in the show's 24-year history, and we do not believe there is any reason why an 'all-black' episode should not be included within the series. Some viewers felt it was unnecessary to raise the subject of the Notting Hill race riots. These form part of the character's experience, as well as British history, and we feel it was absolutely legitimate for these characters to discuss them," the representative added.

Focussing entirely on characters Patrick Trueman, Denise Wicks, her daughters Chelsea and Libby and Denise's fiancé Lucas, Patrick was depicted reminiscing to them about London in the 1950s after his arrival from the West Indies. Albert Square's new 'mysterious' guy Theo Kelly (played by Rolan Bell) appears to have dug up something murky in the old man's past and the upshot of all this was a noteworthy 30 minutes. Or at least, that was the intention. The reality, as far as I'm concerned, was an awkward attempt to pack fifty years of recent black history into a half-hour soap. We had the 1958 Notting Hill riots, American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, civil rights protestor Rosa Parks, the language of the time (coloureds, negroes, Keep Britain White, reefers, Teddy Boys etc.)...the only thing missing was the kitchen sink. I wouldn't have minded all that if the writers had been adept enough to make the episode feel more like a slice of life for characters who just happen to be black, and less like a didactic chronicle of race relations.

"They set out quite deliberately to terrorise an entire community," Theo preached to Chelsea (and by extension, the viewers). "It was almost an act of war. They were trying to drive us out," he said, appalled as Chelsea's eyes glazed over and her last remaining brain cell left the building. I have often accused EastEnders of clunky writing with regard to its ethnic minority characters, but this was in a different league. I haven't winced and cringed so much since Britney Spears' X Factor fiasco. If it was up to me, EastEnders writers would have to watch Channel 4's Desmond's before ever attempting anything like this again. Running from 1989-1994, the long-running acclaimed sitcom depicted the goings-on in a Peckham barber shop owned by Desmond Ambrose, brilliantly played by the late Norman Beaton.

If you wanted a representation of a modern black family in Britain, Desmond's was, and remains, it. Effortlessly presenting 20 years ago what EastEnders struggled to convey in 2009, everything about Desmond's felt so authentic, I swear I could smell the jerk chicken and rice and peas through my TV screen. Unlike that truly painful 'very special Enders', the dialogue in Trix Worrell's comedy wasn't stilted - it flowed. What's more, the main players felt like living breathing people, not cardboard cut-outs. The BBC modestly described their EastEnders episode as 'historic'; I'd go as far as calling it 'moronic'. Very little rang true and it all felt like lip service to some kind of misplaced tokenism. A shame really because in Diane Parish's Denise Wicks and Rudolph Walker's Patrick Trueman, EastEnders has two characters who are so well drawn, it's easy to look past their colour and just see them. They deserved better material. And so did we.
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