In case you are unfamiliar, EastEnders is a highly popular and long-running British soap opera that has been on-air since 1985. The television show follows residents of fictional Walford on the east end of London as they go about their everyday lives. The show has received several awards such as nine BAFTA awards and twelve National Television Awards for most popular serial drama.
With so much critical acclaim and fans worldwide, you’d think fans would know just about everything there is to know about the show, right? Not entirely. We are about to introduce you to some little-known facts about the show and why it remains one of the most intriguing soap operas to date.
Are you a huge EastEnders fan? Don’t go anywhere, you may just learn a thing or two about your favorite British soap opera! Hit ‘Start Slideshow’ for some interesting and fun facts about the show!
EastEnders always has the exact same timeframe per show: Approximately 27 minutes and 15 seconds long. You will never find an episode that is either longer or shorter – they are all the same. It may seem that some episodes run longer than others, especially when dealing with hard-to-cover topics, but the show stays true to its air time.
Even with over 5,000 shows, the timeframe remains consistent, although television commercials naturally makes the air time closer to 30 minutes in total. You’ve got to make sure to save time for advertising, after all!
The city of Walford might be a made up town, but the creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland wanted to incorporate pieces of themselves within the town’s name. Their respective birth towns, Walthamstow and Stratford, were fused to create the town we all know and love today: Walford.
Both the cities of Wathamstow and Stratford are located in the greater London area, so it only made sense that the city of Walford be located on the East End of London. Who would have known that this town was created by the same brilliant minds that brought this ever-popular show? The more you know!
Den was Almost Jack
One of the most popular characters on EastEnders, Den Watts, was almost named Jack. In the beginnings of the show, producers were toying around with the names of a few characters. Initially, Den was going to be called Jack, Angie was going to be named Pearl and Sharon was going to be called Tracy.
Imagine not having a “Dirty Den” in the show? Ultimately, the name Den stuck, resulting in that character we all grew to know and love … or sometimes hate. Imagine trying to get a “Joking Jack” or “Jumping Jack” to sound as sinisterly great as “Dirty Den.” It just wouldn’t have worked out.
EastEnders could have been Called London Pride
Can you imagine? EastEnders could have been called London Pride, E8, Square Dance or Round the Square. These were some of the most mulled over suggestions that would have changed that great, catchy EastEnders title forever.
The major push for the show to be called EastEnders happened once the creators, Tony Holland and Julia Smith, realized they had been calling casting agencies for month asking the same question, “Do you have any real East Enders in your books?” After writing it down, they decided Eastenders didn’t look right, so they capitalized the ‘E.’ Hence that catchy name, EastEnders.
The Olympic Torch was a Guest Star
In the July 23, 2012 episode, “Billy’s Olympic Nightmare,” the actual Olympic torch was on the set of the show. Billy Mitchell was responsible for carrying the torch across the set as he crossed several famous TV landmarks. According to the actor, Perry Fenwick, it was a bit nerve-wracking to be responsible carrying the actual Olympic torch.
He said he just wanted to make sure he did what he was supposed to do correctly and make everyone proud. In the episode, residents cheered Billy on as he successfully trotted through the town with the torch unscathed. Way to go, Billy!
Dot’s Wardrobe was all from Second Hand Stores
Dot Cotton’s wardrobe was almost entirely found in second hand and consignment stores. Mother of criminal in the show, Nick Cotton, Dot’s charm oozed into everything she owned – including her wardrobe. There was a certain style that Dot had and even though her clothes were found in second hand shops, it was figured that this is exactly what Dot would have preferred anyways.
The clothes for the character had plenty of stories and charm – much like Dot. It’s no wonder the clothes seemed to fit her so well and stay true to the mother hen attitude Dot had in the show.
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, or Goodbye, Pet, is a British comedy-drama series centered on migrant construction workers. Why is this relevant to EastEnders fans? Well the building site featured in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet is exactly where Albert Square in the city of Walford is.
Albert Square is the Victorian East London location which features a square of houses and a pub on the corner of Bridge Street, The Queen Vic. Albert Square is where we find all our lovable EastEnders characters, most visiting The Queen Vic quite frequently. The square has seen quite a lot of EastEnders characters over the years, and the square is easily recognizable by the garden in the center.
Pickaxes were Needed Onset
In order to make the set’s exterior look older, pickaxes were used to poke out chunks of the buildings in order to give that old town feel. The Queen Victoria in particular was meant to look much older than it was, so crews had to come in to do the job.
The set was built new, so naturally, all the buildings looked too new for the look the producers were going for. So, just so you know, if you ever have a building you need to look more run down, pickaxes seem to do the trick pretty well.
Traditional Christmas Dress
It was already stated early on the Dot Cotton’s dresses, the character portrayed by June Brown, were found in thrift stores and consignment stores throughout the city, but did you know that June Brown’s traditional dress was not only found in a thrift store, but it was also the oldest dress on set?
Every Christmas, Dot Cotton would wear this dress, making the gown almost 30 years old. To this day, it remains the oldest garment in the wardrobe department. Talk about taking care of your things. Dot Cotton was frugal, and definitely knew how to have nice things.
Quiet on the Set!
The cast of EastEnders know how to hustle. About 25 to 30 scenes are filmed each day. For anyone familiar in the film business, or anyone who’s not, that’s a pretty long day for cast members, crew, producers and even the makeup person.
In order to film 25 to 30 scenes a day, you’d have to arrive on set pretty darn early and leave pretty darn late. The dedicated cast and crew have been doing this since the show’s inception in 1985. That’s what dedication and a lot of cups of coffee can do.
The Queen Victoria seems like a relatively large pub within in the city of Walford. In reality, on set, if you were to go into the pub, you’d see that the “bar” is really only a mere corner within the entire building. The rest of the building just acts as an empty building.
The full interior of The Queen Vic is actually located in another set stage entirely. Kind of funny when you think about it – so many scenes are shot in a stage not even close to the standing pub we all see and know. That’s the magic of the studio for you.
An Earring for Every Occasion
The character of Pat St. Clemens or Pat Butcher owns over 125 sets of earrings for her character. Since she is constantly changing up her earrings and is constantly looking for unique pairs, the set allowed fans of the show and her character to mail in earrings.
Fans were excited at the fact their pair of earrings may appear on the show. With this many earrings constantly coming in, it’s highly doubtful that Pat wears a pair of earrings twice. That might make for an interesting game – who can spot the same earrings twice?
Cindy Beale could have been Mary Smith
Michelle Collins who played Cindy Beale on the show, initially auditioned for the part of Mary Smith. Mary Smith was the punk in the show – a single mom with a rough past. It’s hard to imagine the character of Cindy Beale being portrayed by anyone other than Michelle Collins, but this happens often in the course of auditioning.
Several other actors also went in portraying other characters, but found their niche within the audition process. For example, Lacey Turner who portrays Stacey Slater went in auditioning for a small part and her role of Stacey was crafted just for her.
Who is Chrissie?
The character of Chrissie Watts is the second wife of Den Watts, which is actually a lot of responsibility on the show. Den was considered one of the most enduring characters on the show, so naturally, he’d have to have a pretty tough (second) wife to keep him in check.
The character of Chrissie Watts is portrayed by Tracy-Ann Oberman, but actors such as Patsy Kensit, Cheryl Baker and Joanna Lumley were all in the lead the get the part. Chrissie was a sought after role, but at the end of the day, could you imagine Chrissie being portrayed by anyone other than Tracy-Ann Oberman?
The Ultimate Binge
EastEnders has been airing since 1985. If you were to sit and watch every single episode of the long-running soap opera, you’d need about 104 days to do so. The show just released their 30th anniversary box set, so they’re all there waiting for you when you decide to go on your next show binge.
I don’t even think teachers who get longer summer vacations could squeeze in 104 days of constant EastEnders glory. But you know, maybe there is a big enough fan to do so. Maybe it’s time to give Netflix a break, after all.
Barb almost wasn’t Peggy
So we stated earlier in the slideshow that many characters went in auditioning for other roles, but some prominent cast members almost weren’t cast members at all. Barbara Windsor, famous for her portrayal of Peggy Mitchell in the show almost wasn’t cast at all. She was actually the fourth choice for the role of Peggy.
Can you imagine if Peggy had been someone else in the show? Once you get to know the characters and see how well they mesh with other characters, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role of one of your favorites. Thankfully, Barbara Windsor won everyone over in the end and she even won a British Soap Award in 1999 for Best Actress. You go, Barb!
Guess We’re Sticking to Beer
The beer in The Queen Victoria pub is real! As in most bar sets, the alcohol is substituted for something else, as actors getting sloshed all day is typically frowned upon on a television set … typically. In EastEnders, however, all the beer being poured (and drank) is entirely real.
The whiskey is typically water with burnt sugar added for coloring, the gin is just plain water and the white wine is diluted apple juice – but the beer is as real as you or I! If you happened to be a beer drinker on the set, you were always in luck. Bottoms up!
Now that’s a Commitment
Ian Albert Beale, portrayed by the charming Adam Woodyatt, is the oldest remaining character on the show. Ian has been on every show since the show’s beginning in 1985. He is one of four original EastEnders cast members – the other three being Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth), Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully/Jenna Russell) and Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean).
Ian also remains the most married character within the show, having had five marriages and two almost marriages. Ian is certainly one of the staple characters on the show and is one of the remaining reasons why the show has continued to be so popular over all these years.
Since the show is filmed at least 12 weeks in advance to keep up with airing times and schedules, all the weather throughout the town of Walford is fake. Set designers will bring in colored leaves to add to the trees for fall or plastic flowers to stick into the frozen ground for spring.
Of course, this only applies to times the filming is being done in the open set and not a closed set, but it’s the tiniest details that matter most if the soap opera is to remain true to life. No one wants to see frost on the ground in the middle of summer.
The Tracks are Safe
In the show, all of the trains seen rushing about the set are completely fake. In fact, CGI (computer-generated imagery) has been used to create the trains since 2010. Since EastEnders is filmed on a closed set, you couldn’t necessarily have a live train come rushing into the set easily.
With CGI, the trains can easily and effortlessly dart across the town with absolutely no disruption to filming. You’d be surprised how many elements or scenes in your favorite TV shows or movies are mostly, if not fully, created by CGI. Maybe it’s better if you don’t find out to keep that illusion running.
The Sound of Silence
On November 11, 2005, Armistice Day, EastEnders was the first British drama to air a two-minute silence in respect of the day. Armistice Day is the day that makes the armistice signed between the allies of World War I and Germany in France. This all took place “on the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918.
Today, we honor this day every November 11 as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day and Veterans Day. EastEnders was highly commended for honoring this day on a live broadcast, setting the tone and expectation for many other British dramas at the time.
A Royal Visit
The Queen and Prince Philip actually visited the set of the show in 2001, specifically, inside The Queen Vic pub. Being a fan of the show herself, the Queen visited the set of the show to see how the set was made and take a tour. Of course, EastEnders has remained one of the most prominent British dramas on television, so it only makes sense that the Queen would have a particular interest in it.
The Queen got to see the houses, the gardens and even had a beer inside The Queen Vic pub. Okay, we can’t confirm she had an actual beer inside the pub, but it’d be super great if she did.
Dot Goes Solo
Dot Cotton, portrayed by June Brown, was the only British soap star to have an entire episode of a show dedicated just to her. Within the episode, Dot is making a tape of memories for her husband, Jim, in 2008. Her performance was so great and powerful, she was nominated for a BAFTA award due to her solo performance.
Her performance show was one of 18 two-hander shows within the entire running of EastEnders. Many TV shows prefer not to have a character have a single episode all to themselves due to depth and time. In Dot’s case, she was eloquent and full of substance.
Rest in Peace
Over the course of the show, there have been about 95 deaths in total. The death count includes Sugar, the dog within the show. Since the British soap opera is one of the longest running shows in history, it comes with the unfortunate reality that people just die.
Cast, crew members and everyone involved in the creation of the show, unfortunately, are still all human and deaths will naturally occur. Considering the show has been around since 1985, it’s almost surprising there aren’t more deaths on record, as many cast and crew members have remained loyal to the show since its inception.
Over the course of the filming of the show, hard truths and real issues within society were often brought to light. For example, in 2001 within the episode of Kat Slater and her uncle Harry, the episode surrounded the hard truths of child abuse. After the episode the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Children had calls jump up to 60 percent.
Coincidence? I think not. The show has been notorious for shining lights on some of the more unfortunate and serious problems within the world. The child abuse case is just one of those examples of EastEnders bringing awareness to issues that matter.
Highest Rated Episode
The Christmas episode in 1986 remains one of the highest rated soap opera episodes of all time. The episode saw over 30 million viewers! Within the episode, Dirty Den gives Angie divorce papers for Christmas. In case you didn’t already know that Dirty Den was, in fact, dirty.
A rather dreary episode for the Christmas season, you’d think there would have been less viewers than normal, but nope. People tune in to EastEnders because of the show’s sometimes gritty humor surrounding all these interesting characters. That just makes for good TV, after all.
Inspired by American Crime Dramas
The creators of EastEnders wanted the show to mimic many of the popular American crime dramas on TV. The grittier, seedier version of a soap opera, EastEnders was meant to encompass that same draw within the harsher story lines, colorful characters and plenty of pitfalls.
The set itself was darker and gloomier than most British soap dramas at the time, and the set was actually inspired after creators watched a few episodes of American police drama, Hill Street Blues. Darker elements and even seedier characters were found to work in the backgrounds of busier scenes to create this darker illusion.
Is that Robbie Williams?
Robbie Williams, English singer, songwriter and actor, was such a huge fan of the show that he had an extra special cameo in an episode of EastEnders in 1995. In the episode, very young Robbie was seen in the background using the pay phone to make a phone call inside The Queen Vic pub.
Although his character was given no real attention or fuss, it was fun for the cast and for Robbie to see how many fans could pick him out from the usual Queen Vic crowd. In reality, not too many people realized the pay phone user was, in fact, Robbie Williams.
A Woman of Many Talents
Susan Tully, who famously played Michelle Fowler on EastEnders, grew to be a producer herself. In fact, she was produced several TV dramas and shows apart from her time on EastEnders. Michelle was the character within EastEnders that had the ever-popular secret pregnancy debacle.
She has acted on several other TV dramas and movies along with her credits from EastEnders, but the once soap opera actress has now delved her skills into producing. Talk about talent! Highly versatile women in television and movie production are on the rise! Tully eventually left the show in 1995 to pursue more creative endeavors.