Has EastEnders become the drama wing of the cancer charities?

The thought occurs, as the soap moves at almost unseemly haste from the death of one character (Lola Pearse) with cancer to the diagnosis of another (Alfie Moon) with prostrate cancer.

Surely, the viewer deserves a bit of an emotional break?

The soaps have become the place where health and social issues are played out.
They are popular with campaigning organisations and charities seeking to get a message over to the nation. In fact, they seem to be queuing up to be part of a plotline.

This popularity goes back to when EastEnders carried the story of a character (Mark Fowler) with Aids. It was a long-running storyline that was found to resonate with more people than all the government advertising campaigns and warnings to the public about HIV and Aids.

Now, though there are so many cause-based storylines that they are literally bumping up against each other. Cancer, Motor Neurone Disease (MND) eating disorders, miscarriages, stalking, drug addiction, grooming, rape and domestic abuse just to mention a few.
The subjects are usually handled very well, the soaps production department working closely with organisations and victims from the various areas.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Cllr Paul Donovan asks if there is too much tragedy in our soap operasCllr Paul Donovan asks if there is too much tragedy in our soap operas

ITV's Coronation Street did a particularly good storyline about a young boy (Max Platt) being groomed by a far right gang. It picked up on how vulnerabilities are played upon.
Presently, there is a very contemporary theme, as the iconic pub, the Rovers, struggles to survive amid the cost-of-living crisis.

No doubt the soap remains an important medium to communicate such themes.

The concern would be as to whether so many public information themes running at any one time take from the efficacy of the drama. Will people simply switch off if the drama is made up predominantly of these themes?

The soap is a strange dramatic format. Its power to appeal is in the characters ability to entertain but also resonate with ordinary peoples lives. The soaps have become part of the wallpaper of everyday life.

It is why so many seem to think the characters are real. 

That said, you'd be pushed to find anywhere like EastEnders' Albert Square in the East End today or a  Coronation Street in Manchester.

It would be a shame if the soaps lost their appeal due to an over reliance on social problem based plotlines. The predominance of often depressing themes also does little to uplift the audience, as at present it moves from cancer in EastEnders to MND on Coronation Street.

Yes, it is good to cover these important issues but maybe not quite as many, at the same time.

What about the odd good news, uplifting story? The life of working people maybe tough but it is not all about suffering and despair, there are the good times too.

So let's cheer up a bit in those soap-based efforts to entertain and educate the public. Some uplifting  themes, a bit of hope, as well as public information scenarios.

  • Paul Donovan is Labour councillor for Wanstead Village ward, Redbridge Council and a blogger (paulfdonovan.blogspot.com)