The Archers and EastEnders: why are fans making such a fuss?

BBC storylines featuring Nigel Pargetter and Ronnie Branning have upset some – but don't they know it's only make believe?

Ronnie Branning
Samantha Womack as Ronnie Branning in EastEnders. Photograph: Planet Photos/BBC/PLANET PHOTOS

There is nothing like soap when it comes to getting into a lather. And with barely a week gone, 2011 has already witnessed two foaming controversies over long-running dramas, both at the BBC.

First there was Nigel Pargetter falling to his death in The Archers, a plot twist that the BBC promised would "shake Ambridge to the core". In the event, Ambridge survived the shock with commendable stoicism, but the same could not be said for many disappointed listeners, who were shaken by the fact that they were not more shaken.

Then came the furore surrounding the cot-death story in EastEnders, with upwards of 6,000 complaints concerning the plotline in which the character Ronnie Branning, played by Samantha Womack, lost her baby James and, in her grief, swapped him for Kat and Alfie Moon's baby, Tommy.

What outraged many viewers was the idea that the EastEnders producers had used the issue of sudden infant death syndrome in a manner that was described by Anne Diamond, whose son died a cot death, as "tacky sensationalism".

At first the BBC thought it was dealing with disgruntled soap addicts who, dismayed by the plot twist, had rushed to a hasty conclusion. So it explained that the scriptwriters had approached the subject with due care and sensitivity, and that this would become obvious as the story played out.

But what the BBC was up against was a concerted campaign of the kind that can now be rapidly organised on the internet. Leading the objections was the influential website Mumsnet, whose chief executive, Justine Roberts, wrote to Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, complaining of "a cynical ploy to make headlines by creating deliberate controversy".

Yes, he might have replied, it's a soap opera, not an educational arm of social services, and that's what soap operas do, make headlines and create controversies. Most estranged wives don't bury their cheating husbands alive, as Tanya did to Max Branning. And most women don't kill their newlywed husbands, as Janine did to Barry, or hire a hitman to do the job, like Cindy Beale. In other words, he could have pointed out that the real world and the soap world are separate entities that bear only the flimsiest resemblance to one another.

Instead reality bled into fiction with the news that Womack was quitting EastEnders – disillusioned by the plot, some said – although the BBC denied that. Now the BBC has apparently opted to truncate the cot-death story in response to the criticism. This may be seen as a triumph of interactive audience participation and a show of sensitivity to grieving mothers who, claimed Mumsnet, had been "stigmatised".

But that would be wrong. What the decision marks is another victory for a burgeoning grievance culture and a new benchmark in the promotion of victimhood. No interest group will now be satisfied until it has succeeded in rewriting a TV plot. It's also the logical conclusion of the BBC's attempts to use soap opera as a soap box, a place in which to take contentious or emotive issues, dramatise them for public consumption and "raise awareness". This is what John Yorke, the BBC controller of drama, called putting "big strong social issues" in a "traumatic wrapper".

That's all well and good, except the BBC prides itself on conveying the right message: understanding, tolerant, improving. Which means that it necessarily exposes itself to the accusation of conveying the wrong message. In trying to stitch right-thinking ideas into a popular genre, the producers have tailored their own dramatic straitjacket.

It may be that the cot-death plot is ludicrous, even offensive. But there is a perfectly sensible method of registering that opinion. It involves turning the TV over or off. Righteous campaigns are best left to the real world, where the scriptwriters could genuinely do with some help.


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  • TrevorMcdonut

    9 January 2011 12:31AM

    you will find that over the years the best challenging drama's such as ee will cause upset and complaints. you could imagine this storyline being in a dickens novel or a jane austen and even the good book. yes it has offended a great many people but has also help and grip many.should this story be aired god yes.if you go down the path of thinkin this story will upset and offend viewers (and it is a small proportion, 11 million viewers, 8 thousand complaints) and should not be broadcast, you will miss a lot of good television. i am a little concerned that the beeb will bow to pressure and curtail this storyline. and should there not be a help line for wifes who's husbands have fallen off the roof and plunging to their death taking christmas decorations down. perhaps there should be an internet campaign for them.

  • Wyvernchick

    9 January 2011 1:56AM

    What I object to (apart from being labeled as part of an organised campaign, which I am not), is that as someone who has been through the loss of the child and who does not watch this soap opera, I can't get away from this story whether I want to or not. It is all over every TV guide, the newspapers are full of the reaction to it, everywhere I go on the Internet I run into it and it was heavily trailed before it started (at least this told me that it would be happening, so I managed to avoid EE on New Year's Eve, which is coincidentally the anniversary of my loss) I know the names of every character involved. The other night, pretty harrowing scenes from this story were even on the evening news. Scenes from a drama were built into a news item. I'm now getting to the point where I don't care how far-fetched the BBC make the story, I just don't want it shoved in my face by the world at large. Once you see one of those tiny white coffins for real, you don't ever want to see another, and now pictures of the funeral are everywhere. Eastenders can do what it likes, because I don't watch it, but I just wish the media wouldn't make such a fuss of these programmes - I can turn off my TV, but I can't turn off the front cover of every magazine I see abandoned on a tube train, every listings guide in the newsagents and every low-brow magazine in the supermarket. I can't turn off the chatter of the people on the bus stop on a morning, or the watercooler conversations at work. And I can't turn off the painful memories that all this is raking up. If this makes me part of a burgeoning grievance culture then so be it.

  • neil112

    9 January 2011 7:46AM

    I really can not see what all the fuss is about....ITS A SOAP..... there are going to be things in life that are going to offend or upset someone that is the world we live in...... I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder from my Army service and have to deal with flash backs and believe me you can not get away from the wars on tv in the papers and on the Internet and it effects me and thousands of other ex and service personal.... why i understand that cot death is an awful thing to happen to any one and i deeply sympathise with those whom have gone through this.... what is on EE is drama, a soap, make believe your brains should register this and separate the difference between them.....
    Murders happen all the time in the world and there are victims and family members left.....but it is OK to have shows like taggart, frost e.t.c with no complaints.....
    It should be down to the tv companies what they want to show and how they do it EE advertised the story line well in advance so that people who maybe affected do not have to tune in....and the only reason it is in the media and all over the papers is because of people complaining about it.... if people had just not tuned in and let it run its course there would not of been the coverage....

    if it offends turn off or turn over...we already live in a big brother state so lets not make it worse...

  • brumell

    9 January 2011 8:03AM

    Cot deaths are a terrible thing but sadly they do happen in real life.

    However the storyline in Eastenders has so far had little to do with cot death and much more with an unstable woman and groups of people who seem unable to recognise that she's ill or, in the case of hospital authorities, check that it's the correct child they're burying.


    The BBC has sensationalised this story and adding telephone line numbers for viewers to call for more information on cot deaths is not fulfilling their charter.
    This storyline is a mistake and as such should be removed forthwith not in the spring, but now.

    As has been stated by Wyvernchick,there is no escape from it and it must be causing unnecessary distress to a considerable number of families. Time for BBC to admit its error and end the story.

  • neil112

    9 January 2011 8:43AM

    Brumell..........

    It is right that the bbc have put the numbers on the end of the show, as cot death is mentioned in the show...they are showing there moral responsibilities......

    IT IS A SOAP

    what is happening is part of a, story line not real life..... why can peoples brains not see and separate this......

    I will say again the story has only been heightened by people with nothing better to do than complain...

    For any one effected by anything on tv, really need to continue counseling as they have not reached a stable point in there life, and the process they have been through......

    The next story line is a Teenage prostitute....bet there is not any complaints about this topic....that also effects thousands of people world wide....

    why is good to complain about one but not the other....

    every day for me is a battle, but i have built up the coping methods to try to counter this, and there is coping methods for everyone....

    If people have been affected by the cot death storyline, then they need to cope in there own way....complaining is not a method to take there pain away...and to be fair you can not live life walking on egg shells...things have to faced before anything can help......like ptsd the loss will never go...but it has to be dealt with...

    ITS A SOAP>>>>>>>>>>

    and the reason the hospital have not checked if it the right baby or not is because it is a story line.........not real life

  • 1johne

    9 January 2011 9:34AM

    I think the present storyline is completely shocking. It is far worse than any x rated cinema film. Where oh where have your standards gone BBC. You must call a halt to this horrible story on Eastenders immediately.

  • neil112

    9 January 2011 9:39AM

    So you are a x rated film watcher then !!!!!!

    As i have said get a bloody life it is a tv show not real life...... the actress is getting hassle in the streets by pathetic do girders who really don't have a clue what they are going on about.. just getting on the band wagon...

    IT IS NOT REAL LIFE !!!!

  • ciaobaby

    9 January 2011 9:48AM

    As a 17 week pregnant lady with a 2 1/2 year old upstairs in bed i found all aspects of this storyline upsetting.

    The way Eastenders makes birth seem like its agony for all women is bad, the fact that they showed two characters pregnancies which BOTH end in tragic circumstances, Kat nearly bleeding to death and Ronnies baby dying, and then Kats baby being snatched - all the worst possible things that could happen to a pregnant lady/mum.

    I read magazines and papers etc and yet somehow i managed to miss the leaks about the up and coming storylines and sat down on new years eve completely unsuspecting that all hell was about to break loose and i was so upset when Ronnie discovered her baby that through floods of tears i had to switch off...

    I am an avid Eastenders viewer and found that the lack of warning before the show, bearing in mind it is on before the watershed was wrong considering its younger viewers and the fact that it said it is trying to bring these tragic issues to light and make people more aware of them, well if thats the case then why was the show not a little more informative and less sensational..

    I did complain both to Eastenders and to ofcom and I am quite capable of separating reality from soap thank you, However I find that there is a difference between Janine Killing off her latest husband and daft overboard stories like that to ones that genuinely effect and touch people everyday like the lady said earlier she has lost a baby and this drags all her feelings and memories up again. I think Eastenders should have known from the staffs reactions to filming the scenes that this story is a very delicate and sensitive subject that should be dealt with with kid gloves and not a sledgehammer.

    Also on the fact that you feel people should not complain but just switch off....maybe if you could opt out of paying for your tv licence and have a choice about it like sky, virgin tv etc maybe viewers wouldn't feel so inclined to complain but as we pay for the bbc to make these programmes i think we have a right to complain as much as we deem fit!

  • RuleBritannia87

    9 January 2011 9:55AM

    1johne

    I think the present storyline is completely shocking. It is far worse than any x rated cinema film. Where oh where have your standards gone BBC. You must call a halt to this horrible story on Eastenders immediately.

    X-rated cinema film? You mean porn?

  • Fingerwag

    9 January 2011 9:59AM

    .Television is supposed to ENTERTAIN viewers. Too many soaps have taken it upon themselves to become messengers of doom and gloom which they see as educating people about the dark side of real life. What they don't seem to grasp is that in today''s well informed society the majority are already well aware
    of cot death, murders, rape, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, muggings, drug addiction and even the strange justice of "cockney law"as practiced exclusively by folk from London's east end. We expect realism if we watch a crime programme or a proper drama, but a large number of people try to avoid thinking about the dark side of life, it's thrust upon us from every quarter and is very upsetting for some people to be reminded of incidents in their life they prefer to forget. Of course they are not forced to watch E/enders, but are they not entitled to expect realistic but discerning entertainment from a soap? There may have been only 6,000 complaints but that's 6,000 too many!
    Unfortunately, Corrie and Emmerdale are just as bad these day's and the latter has already covered cot death and wrong baby handover!. In fact Emmerdale hardly have a single character at the moment that isn't suffering from nightmare problems or tangled affairs!
    It's time the soaps got back to storylines with a heavy dose of humour and ENTERTAINMENT value. We can get misery and stress anywhere!.

  • neil112

    9 January 2011 10:28AM

    If you want humour watch a comedy.......all of you get a life.......
    and i am sorry Birth is painful my wife has been through it 4 times and it is unbearable to watch her in pain..... life can not all be butterflies and flowers....

    if you have complained .......sort your self out.....

  • niklar

    9 January 2011 10:50AM

    the grief we feel when someone we love dies is very Real.
    I know EE is not real, and out of the 11 million viewers still watching, I would say the majority of them know its not real.
    I object to the storyline, ...I dont find it entertaining in the slightest or should be broadcast before the watershed when children watch. EE is meant to be a family soap. This storyline is damaging to the portrayal of bereaved parents. that is what I object to.
    Pregnancy loss and losing babies in whatever circumstances can be extremely harrowing for those who experience it. when a tv drama has got the portrayal wrong, there are going to be those that disagree. we know its not real, but feelings that can resurface are very real.
    the whole thing sickens me to the core, and I want it off the tv now.
    the fact it is viewed to so many viewers appalls me at the thought that the wrong message has been given out. some people think in their ignorance that it is like real life, and thats why Sam who plays the character gets verbally abused.
    There are women all over the country, and men of course, in different stages in their grief for the loss of their precious babies. Anyone insensitive to the suffering of others and has the view we can just switch off, fine, but your missing the point that while its still being aired, people are still getting the wrong message.
    I dont want to watch things that deeply disturb me, i dont even want to hear about them, this story is everywhere. end it now.

  • Liziii

    9 January 2011 10:53AM

    at the end of the day, eastenders can't please everyone, the stats show that since the airing of the storyline, the amount of calls of people who have been affected by SIDS has gone up, therefore it is helping people. Its a soap opera, it is supposed to be a drama, and some people think - such as myself - think that the storyline was very touching and raised important issues. If you don't like the storyline, then the complainers, well done, youve managed to get it cut short, so switch your TV's off until Easter and stop moaning.

  • revamol

    9 January 2011 11:02AM

    I notice Samantha Womack is on "The Magicians" next week. Nice timing. I wonder if they'll have her doing a simple sleight of some kind.

  • holbolrob

    9 January 2011 11:16AM

    I don't think the Eastenders writers are in any way suggesting grieving mothers are likely to steal babies. They're writing about one character: Ronnie, who has been established as unstable. They're giving two accounts of reaction to cot death; the Eastenders crazy extreme of Ronnie but also the (what seems to me to be) much more realistic depiction from Alfie and Kat.

    The story line is sensationalist: true but the reaction is the most sensationalist thing about this story.

  • StuartHX

    9 January 2011 12:13PM

    To me the core of this contraversy is the exploitation of the viewing public in a cynical search for ratings.

    Why exploitation? First, consider what a Soap is... a drama scripted by committee, directed by unknowns who have yet to make a reputation for serious drama and shot and edited in a terrible rush - 2 hours plus screen time every week.

    While there is nothing inherently wrong with this sort of storyline, its very sensitivity requires the best in all fields - a single writer with proven talent (such as Mike Leigh or RIchard Curtis), a director of similar skill (Mike Leigh again or perhaps Michael Apted) and the time to properly rehearse and shoot the material( several weeks for a 2 hour drama). Don't forget a 2 hour feature film takes several months to make.

    Eastenders, by definition, can't offer this quality and time to its drama and therefore should not even begin to consider such storylines. The fact that it has done so shows a deep contempt for the storyline and its audience. That is what I mean by exploitation.

    I think it is this contempt that has generated such a furore rather than the storyline itself. Yes it's 'just' a soap, and yes you can turn it off and choose not watch it... but the fact that it was ever attempted in the first place is really the issue.

    On most other occasions I'd defend to the hilt the BBC's right to screen contraversial drama and would be horrified if it had to be amended simply because of public opinion.

    On this occasion, however, because the quality of the drama is so sub-standard and exploitative I think the BBC has to put its hand up and say 'we got it wrong' and terminate the storyline not at Easter but over the next couple of weeks.

  • marzal

    9 January 2011 12:20PM

    Everyone seems to be missing the point with all of the current "top" soap story lines.Yes!we know that the Downs Syndrome storyline in Emmerdale is fiction,we know that the cot death in Eastenders is fiction and we know that the God awful Kevin Webster and his illegitimate baby from Coronation Street are fiction,but where do we draw the line. It's all very well saying "well you can turn it over"or "get a life,it's not real",that's fine but where are these ridiculous storylines heading. Do we have to witness infant necrophilia or seriel killers mutilating their victims or perhaps a bit of cannibalism. But of course,we can always turn it over ,can't we? These scriptwriters have a responsibility to the viewer keep at least some particle of realism in their work instead of having to meet increased deadlines because producers want shows airing at least once a night. Go back to once or twice a week and give us a show where you don't have to print related phone numbers at the end of each episode for people who have been affected by it's content. Coronation Street managed that perfectly well for nearly forty years with one show a week. I don't remember those shows having such evil characters or such evil storylines,but obviously as I am older than the majority of soap fans so my opinion probably doesn't count (as my children and Grandchildren keep telling me).

  • Bruja

    9 January 2011 12:27PM

    People have a right to react to what they find objectionable. And I don´t think that many people have a problem separating fiction from reality as some as so patronisingly speculated. I can´t watch Eastenders because of the constant screaming at each other parading as realistic interaction. I haven´t complained about this or any other storyline either. It has however been impossible to avoid as newspapers and TV news alike are trying to fill space by commenting on it. Guardian included.

    However, I was horrified by Alibhai Brown´s comments on the BBC last night - she seemed to find it ridiculous and slightly amusing that mums could presume to have an opinion especially as they are not elected members of parliament. What?! I´m assuming she didn´t think before she opened her mouth. Elitist at all?

  • sparclear

    9 January 2011 12:50PM

    The Archers had a weepfest all week.

    I have had enough now. OK to pull all the emotional heart strings from time to time and undo "plodding" storylines from tired writers by launching a dramatic surprise, but never must an audience feel exploited.

  • brumell

    9 January 2011 12:55PM

    Neil112, If you could climb down from your self appointed role as defender of all things Eastenders for a moment you would realise that just because a story is fiction doesn't mean that it's acceptable.
    If the story had been about a cot death without the sensationalism then that would have been justifiable but, in the opinion of thousands, the current story is not.

    Sorry to have to sink a level but if you can't bear to see your wife in pain you know the answer.

  • decembr14

    9 January 2011 1:21PM

    @Fingerwag:

    Television is supposed to ENTERTAIN viewers.

    In part, but not exclusively. Here is the BBC's own mission statement, relatively unchanged since the corporation was first founded:

    To enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.

    Note that "entertain" comes third in that list of three. Those objectives seem quite laudable for a broadcaster, and are not at odds with the notion of injecting something of the "dark side of real life" of which you speak into TV dramas, and yes, even soap operas. If all you seek is warm, cuddly, safe entertainment, you might do better to buy some Morecambe and Wise DVDs.

    @ciaobaby:

    As a 17 week pregnant lady with a 2 1/2 year old upstairs in bed i found all aspects of this storyline upsetting.

    I understand your sensitivity, truly I do. But for anyone in your situation who finds the storyline upsetting, the best advice remains: don't watch it -- just as the easiest way to end the pain of banging your head against a wall is to stop doing it.

    Sadly it seems that there are all too many people who are not prepared to follow Andrew Anthony's simple suggestion of turning the TV off when they find a programme ludicrous of offensive, because they positively revel in being offended, and thrill at each new target of their righteous indignation. It's a psychology I can't understand, but it takes all sorts, as they say. Unfortunately it fuels the burgeoning grievance culture of which the writer speaks.

  • Sidebar

    9 January 2011 1:34PM

    'the real world and the soap world are separate entities that bear only the flimsiest resemblance to one another'

    Your wrong. A glance at Media content, of the deliberate entanglement of politics, celebrity and 'issues' so that they are presented as a coherent whole is deliberate. You might say what a wonderful way of disguising the truth about how we are governed and whose interests are being served by these perversions of the realities of life

  • Barometer

    9 January 2011 1:55PM

    It's a soap, it's a drama. It is not real life!

    The problem with the internet is that a few 'unhappy' people can conjure-up a large enough minority to force a newspaper (who generally speaking are against broadcast media (except Mr. Murdoch's), into creating a 'vociferous mob' apparently large enough to make a sensitive broadcaster into submission,

    For goodness sake. if you don't like it switch off.

    It is a drama!
    It is not, and it does not claim to be
    real life.

  • shiv

    9 January 2011 1:57PM

    Yeah bit is is bleeding mserable. I want something more entertaining to watch. Preferably with strapping young men partially clothed

  • garax

    9 January 2011 2:44PM

    I'd put it down to a massive lack of perspective wedded to an ever growing sense of entitlement.

    I wonder if 10 million people have all been watching Eastenders this week wrapped in a collected disgust - I really doubt it.

    The BBC management need to stop rolling over every time a few people manage to whip up the anti BBC brigade into doing one of it's fairly obvious mass complaining campaigns.

    It's just depressing that we have to live like this, it really is.

  • hoff1000

    9 January 2011 4:07PM

    To those who have suffered from SIDS, my sympathies. I am sure it was truly terrible.

    Fortunately there are only about 300 such deaths a year. Should the (entirely understandable) sensitivities of a tiny minority govern what the rest of us watch on TV?

    There are 800 murders a years. Should the 'sensistivities' of their loved ones count? Goodbye much of TV drama--and just about all crime series!

    Was the treatment on Eastenders tasteless or 'not entertaining' (as many posters complain)?

    Probably. That's soap operas for you. Still, they worry me.

    You mean those posters who didn't complain about an estranged wife burying her cheating husband alive, killing her newlywed husband, or hiring a hitman to do the job, found these storylines tasteful and entertaining?

    God help us!

  • CountessElisabeth

    9 January 2011 4:46PM

    I agree with StuartHX. East Enders is a pisspoor programme even by soap standards and is just the wrong vehicle to explore any serious issues intelligently or responsibly. I can't understand the outrage of so many people - what did they expect?

    And I don't like being told if I don't like a programme then just switch off. This is the BBC and we're all paying them to make this pap.

  • ruralwriter

    9 January 2011 5:31PM

    Of course people know it's only a soap. Of course most rational people can distinguish between the TV and real life. And I personally wince at these whipped up online campaigns which are often led by self appointed moral guardians who seem to enjoy being offended by things.

    Re the Archers though, the thing that exercised most of the unhappy listeners (judging by the messageboards) was that a popular character was killed off for no other reason than to provide 'an event' for the programme's 60th anniversary. No dramatic tension (the event was telegraphed well in advance), lazy scripting (giving characters the most excruciating lines to say) and no real story arc that justified it. Let's just chuck a bloke off a roof so we get some column inches.

    So yes people can just switch off but if media organisations are going to continually bleat that they value our contributions (yeah right) and encourage us to get in touch then they can't really bitch when people take them up on it!

  • pearlygrey

    9 January 2011 6:08PM

    My objection has nothing to do with trivialisation, sensationalism or the like.

    What I, as a viewer have never been able to stomach is sadism and the 'baby-swap' storyline has gratuitously put not one, but two families through the psychological torture of losing a baby.

    This is not informative, educative or entertaining - merely sadistic. As a loyal EE watcher, I'm relieved this storyline will be curtailed.

  • BristolBoy

    9 January 2011 6:35PM

    Seems a lot of people need to get over themselves.

    I dislike East Enders, having decided years ago that the characters were unremittingly unpleasant. So I don't watch it.

    Yes, I do understand that I help fund the BBC, but I do not expect them to tailor every single program to me.

  • CountessElisabeth

    9 January 2011 7:25PM

    Hello Mr Bristolboy. I certainly don’t expect the BBC to tailor its programmes to suit me – how horribly arrogant that would be! I regularly watch and enjoy soaps and popular drama, but East Enders is just a very poor quality programme of its kind and as that’s the one I’m paying for, I feel entitled to expect a better standard.

  • diGriz

    9 January 2011 7:40PM

    Band-wagon moaning aside, art is supposed to promote debate. So as people do seem to have trouble letting go of this fiction, it seems the writers have done their jobs.

    As for Eastenders, I'm aware of what the storyline is and it seems it's about one woman who has lost the plot somewhat. Doesn't mean all women are like this if they are unfortunate enough to experience this loss, it's a story about one person. I'm not sure why one storyline suggests this is stereotypical. Are the general public only able to understand stereotypes and little else?

  • Gemma7

    9 January 2011 7:43PM

    How does anyone know how someone like Ronnie would cope, lets not forget her character was already unstable she had been raped repeatedly as a child by her father had a child taken from her watched that child get killed and lost a baby to cot death, so who is anyone to say how her character would react
    yes its had a record of complaints but a 11 million viewers still watch it.
    Everyone has a right to complain but the big media fuss has gone to far we dont need to see it all over the papers every day its been written its been filmed there gonna end it in spring leave it be now.

  • bisleyJ

    9 January 2011 8:00PM

    @ciaobaby

    Clearly you can't seperate fact from fiction very well.. you were weeping because of an unconvincing storyline in a badly written and badly acted programme.
    Do you think somehow it's "wrong" to show two people giving birth painfully, when this isn't always how it goes in real life? How, exactly? Nothing else about Eastenders is particularly realistic. Perhaps you should stick to watching reality TV?

    Personally I find Eastenders to be depressing, unrealistic and on the most part, quite badly acted. But I don't write in to complain, I just choose not to watch it.
    The BBC has to make programmes to appeal to a wide ranging audience, so unfortuantely this means you won't like everything they make. Get over it.

  • Sunrayvista

    9 January 2011 8:21PM

    Groups have been campaigning for years to get an educated public understanding of the issues that affect families when a baby dies of sudden infant death syndrome. Campaigners have been seeking acceptance from the public that SIDS is real, and that people should not assume that that the mother has murdered her baby because she is mentally unstable. This story depicts a SIDS mother being very mentally unstable. The issue is not just 'dramatic soap opera' but one of tone.

    Any highly emotive storyline that reinforces incorrect and dangerously negative stereotyping will receive a backlash from Campaign Groups seeking understanding and acceptance for mothers facing accusations of mental instability/murder because of their child's death.

    Sadly the actress Samantha Womack has been called a 'murdering c***' by members of the public in front of her real life children. Many people still see cot death as 'suspicious' first. And this is the problem.

    To note the person who compared the stories between the mothers - this comparison is not clear cut. Kat's 'loss' storyline is interesting because the viewer has dramatic irony: the viewer knows her baby is alive not dead. The viewer is not seeing her stable behavior as related to SIDS but as related to kidnapping - the viewer is waiting for her to get her baby back again. This is an extremely clever writing technique from the script writers, e.g. an obvious comparison of loss is being evaluated by your subconscious differently creating dramatic interest, but the difference is reinforcing the negative stereotyping of a SIDS mother.

  • Johnsmum

    9 January 2011 8:54PM

    I find Andrew Anthony's labelled of those who are speaking against the abduction story line as part of the 'burgeoning victim culture', extremely dangerous and insensitive.

    As a cot death parent, I favour almost any means of raising the profile of SIDS, and the excelIent work of FSID in educating society, parents and health care professionals.

    Newly bereaved cot death parents, Mr Anthony, are already innocent and random victims of an unbearably cruel and isolating syndrome, The erroneous prejudice ( perceived or real ) created by the abduction story, is so, so destructive to these individuals.

    I understand a good measure of the quality of a society is the way the most vulnerable are treated. Emotionally, there can be few more vulnerable than those who have suffered the unexplained, recent loss of a seemingly healthy infant.

    The 'switch it off if you don't like it ' lobby seem not to realise that this is all over the media, ( I found out about it whilst coming around from general anaesthetic !).The story is destined to be wound up by spring - so many more weeks yet !

  • Jodie123

    10 January 2011 4:03AM

    I think the issue of 'turning off' has become much more complicated as you said nowadays its increasingly become people who don't watch the show who complain, see Sachsgate, thus I supose they feel they don't have that power. Anyway, brilliant article, agreed with every sentence.

  • cdadiva

    10 January 2011 9:51AM

    I enjoy Eastenders. I find the quality of acting excellent (and do not watch the other soaps corrie, neighbours, emmerdale and similar - no offence to those who do).
    Brilliant acting from 'Ronnie' and 'Kat' too.

    I watch EE as a way of switching off, that does not mean I want bland, inane storylines

    What bothered me was the baby snatch (to compound the cot death) and yes I feel agony for both sets of parents. This agony goes on with each current episode and I know I don't have to watch. If the storyline goes on much longer I will switch off (not over) but I would rather see resolution of the plot soon.

    The idea of the producers sitting round a table and brainstorming for ways of making a cotdeath story sensational is not a pretty one.
    That said, most of the sensational storylines are often somewhat ridiculous but usually entertaining enough to bear watching. This one is not entertaining.

    I welcome the right to complain about a programme. I'v never officially complained about a programme before.
    Everyone who writes on a blog is airing their opinion too.

    Those not bothered about the storyline but bothered about the complaints - maybe it's irritating for you, but you're airing your irritation too.

    Sunrayvista has a point - some viewers may not beable to differentiate.
    Other viewers unfortunately blame the actors.......

    Personally, I'm pleased that the media has taken up the story.

    TV is such a powerful medium, and if 6000 people take the trouble to complain, many more are actually affected but don't go as far to officially complain.

  • TVwriter

    10 January 2011 9:59AM

    @Wyvernchick

    What I object to (apart from being labeled as part of an organised campaign, which I am not), is that as someone who has been through the loss of the child and who does not watch this soap opera, I can't get away from this story whether I want to or not.

    But many many people will always have some personal experience of any traumatic event portrayed in a soap, from rape to murder to bankruptcy to incest to suicide to drug addiction... an endless list. The reason you can't get away from it is that soaps and TV in general have in themselves become news for the press. Even the Guardian will report on the latest news from Big Brother or Strictly Come Dancing. Complaining, especially the sort of Mumsnet nonsense which is partially driven by the commercial interests of that site, only makes things worse. The idea of Mark Thompson taking seriously Mumsnet's chief executive, Justine Roberts, is alarming. Whatever happened to the BBC that would send Mary Whitehouse away with a flea in her ear and tell her not to be so stupid?

    Try reading Charlie Brooker on this to regain a sense of perspective.

  • Scruffyduffy

    10 January 2011 10:26AM

    About 25 years ago I used to watch Coronation Street alongside my then girlfriend. Then one quiet day at work I found myself worrying about someone and hoping they would be ok. To my horror I realised the subject of my concern was a fictional character from the Street and I felt so foolish I have never watched it or any other soap since. TV soaps are designed to appeal to the emotional side of our brains, not the thinking side and those who continue to watch this kind of emotional claptrap are bound to get caught up in the same way. I've now even given up listening to the Archers because I can't stand the bloody whining.

  • ieclark

    10 January 2011 10:53AM

    BBC storylines featuring Nigel Pargetter and Ronnie Branning have upset some – but don't they know it's only make believe?

    Yes we know. But if we listen to and enjoy something like the Archers we have the right to expect the characters to behave in-character and (to mention a random example) for sensible middle aged not to go out on an icy roof, on a windy night in the dark.

    Yes, we can turn it off if we think it's become silly but we'd prefer not to have to.

  • Bratford

    10 January 2011 10:58AM

    The BBC should show some back bone and stand up to the campaigners in the same way they stood up to Mary Whitehouse many years ago.

  • TheIofHarmony

    10 January 2011 11:06AM

    Rather than waste time criticising a storyline in a television drama should we not be more concerned by coverage of real-life events? The way that the murder of Jo Spears has been shamelessly exploited by the tabloids and turned into a real-life soap is appalling. And all because she was young, blonde, pretty and, most important, white, middle-class and English. Had she been an East European prostitute I doubt we would be subjected to the tear-drenched tributes and calls to DNA-screen every man for 100-mile radius. Our country's grief culture is getting out of hand.

  • TheIofHarmony

    10 January 2011 11:21AM

    Regarding the Mumsnet 'campaign', I work in the live entertainment industry and there is nothing more scary or self-righteous or bullying in this country than the modern middle-class Mum. The thought of them becoming an organised campaigning force with influence in our industry fills me with dread.

  • Pagey

    10 January 2011 1:21PM

    What about self-righteous people who've never known the heartbreaking loss of a child? I think THEY need to get a sense of perspective.

    I lost a niece to Stillbirth nearly three years ago - and the pain of that experience will never go away. I can compartmentalise it, but it's always there - I can't "swich it off".

    And speaking as a man, I would NEVER presume to tell a woman how she "ought" to feel about this situation.

  • Wyvernchick

    10 January 2011 1:23PM

    @ TVWriter

    I read Charlie Brooker this morning, as I always do on a morning. It was a refreshing change, and possibly the sanest and least sensationalist piece I've read on the whole thing.

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