Saturday, July 2, 2011

Walford State of Mind - for Eastenders fans everywhere...




I’ve been an avid Eastenders fan for many years. To the point that I even own an Eastenders version of Monopoly! Watching the show on public television when I first moved to LA  (even though it was about 4 years behind). Then being very excited as BBC America launched and they announced they would be airing more recent episodes every week. Then for some reason they decided it to take it off the air and I remember my utter disappointment. Eastenders was supposed to be something I could rely on , it has always been on the telly since I was a teen. I absolutely loved watching the show, as although some people find it too depressing and miserable I always found that aspect actually cheered me up. “At least I am not Janine” or “life isn’t that bad I could be Billy No-mates”.
I wasn’t going to let the Beeb take it away from me, so I jumped on the internet immediately after the cancellation was announced and found an active Eastenders group online called the Walford Underground! People in the group were uploading episodes from the UK, then making them available to download online. Of course this instantly got shutdown, as it is illegal! Then I joined a ‘train’ where someone in England records the show then sends it to someone in the US who has a pool of people to pass it on too. I soon dropped out of the chain as I moved and lost my spot. But I always checked in with Eastenders when I was back in the UK. “Its family innit.”
Skipping forward a few years, I receive an email from Larry Jaffee telling me all about the Walford Gazette, a fanzine of sorts for American Eastenders fans! I immediately requested a copy and was delighted when a few days later not only had I received 2 different issues of the Walford Gazette but a book called Walford State of Mind also by Jaffee.

Shane Richie
Let me start with the newspaper, which is published 4 times a year. The first issue was published in 1991 and was supposed to be a one off. It proved so popular that 2 decades later they are still going strong, and I can see why. Not only does it update you on what all the Eastenders are up to outside of the show, but you learn a bit about what goes on behind the scenes too.  There was a discussion as to where Walford East tube station actually is (it is fictional) , then I read about Shane Richie’s aka Alfie Moon, efforts for Children in Need, as he went Around The World in 80 Days. They also had a whole article on the fab Brit tv show Come Dine with Me. At first I wondered why, then learned that the hilarious narrator Dave Lamb was actually a bailiff on Eastenders back in 2004! There was a lovely article on growing up in the East End, which I found particularly interesting as that is where my mother grew up. It really is an entertaining read and I don’t think you necessarily have to be a fan of the show to enjoy the newspaper.  But if you are, it is a great way to stay in touch with other fans, they even have meet ups occasionally, events often graced by the presence of actual cast members! It also brought to mind a tip from my cockney grandma, of using old newspapers to clean the windows after you have finished with them. Although these are worth saving and passing on to your mates!

Ethel & Willy
The book is a best of the first 18 years of the Walford Gazette, including forewords from Brits in LA members Mal Young and Michelle Collins! I read it over a couple of weeks as it is the kind of book that you can stop and start whenever you have 5 minutes to spare.  There are some brilliant rare photos in it , including a great one of Gretchen Franklin (Ethel Skinner) curled up on the sofa reading the Gazette. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the Albert Square Trespasser who managed to get onto the set and would never reveal how, which really got Elstree’s goat. There are so many different interviews in the book, I had no idea the actors were allowed to ad-lib a little or that if an actor was sick they just completely changed the storyline. I have often wondered how it all worked and now here are all the answers.
I found it fascinating when the book explores the American fans perception of Eastenders and see it as a great drama whereas us Brits look on it as a throwaway soap. Stateside fans are proud to watch Eastenders, but I know I usually keep it to myself, rather like an embarrassing secret.  They are probably on to something as the calibre of the cast is very impressive, from Phil Daniels to Glynis Barber, Hywel Bennet and the scary Larry Lamb. After finishing this book I realized what an amazing show it actually is and how hard everyone works to keep it going. It really is worth a read on so many levels, even just to remind you of some of the mad story lines they have had over the years.  But perhaps don’t mention to anyone that I was a member of the Walford Underground. I am not quite ready to reveal that yet!

If you want to purchase either the book or subscribe to the newspaper please visit the website of the Walford Gazette . 
Makes a great gift to those Brit friends of yours who are missing home, or if you are a British business well worth ordering for your customers perusal.

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