EastEnders 'reflects real life'

It is often criticised for painting a sensational and depressing picture of British life.

But the vices that draw millions of viewers to EastEnders are actually more common in reality, according to a study.

Researchers trawled through 18 years of Albert Square plotlines and compared the behaviour of the characters to what people actually get up to, as revealed in social trends studies.

On average, two per cent of women between 16 and 44 in the BBC soap have been unfaithful to their partners.

In reality the figure is nearer ten per cent.

For men, 1.7 per cent of East-Enders characters have cheated on partners. In real life it is one in six.

The study also found that prostitution - the focus of several major EastEnders storylines - features more prominently in fact than fiction. In the programme, 0.18 men per year pay for sex, compared to 4.3 per cent in real life.

New Scientist magaz i n e expects its research, published today, to surprise many people who believe EastEnders overdoses its viewers with gloom.

Some of the biggest ratings pullers have been stories about men deceived into bringing up children who are not their own. But here again, the creators lag behind reality.

In EastEnders, Ian Beale married his first wife, Cindy, believing her to be pregnant with his child, only to discover later that the boy was Simon Wicks's.

His second wife, Laura, found herself pregnant and told him they were expecting a baby when the child was really Garry Hobbs's.

But cases where a father has been deceived and brought up a child that is not his own are actually more common in the real world.

Nationally, experts say the figure for deceived fathers is as high as ten per cent, and most have no idea their wives or partners have cheated on them.

In EastEnders, the number over the last 18 years is just 5.8 per cent.

As for rape, 0.3 per cent of the population is sexually assaulted each year - only slightly lower than the 0.35 per cent of the EastEnders cast.

Since rapes and sexual assaults are thought to be significantly under-reported, the actual figure is probably higher than in the soap.

There are some areas where scriptwriters are guilty of tipping the balance the other way, however.

Murder victims in the show represent 0.22 per cent of the cast, compared to a minuscule 0.0016 per cent of the real population.

New Scientist says: "Real life is not only like this, it is sometimes even more sordid."

One actress who will be particularly interested in the findings is Jessie Wallace, who has frequently been accused of mirroring her on-screen character, the mouthy, party-loving Kat Slater, in real-life.

As Kat she is currently embroiled in a love triangle with Dirty Den's long-lost son, Dennis, and the landlord of the Queen Vic, Alfie Moon.

In real-life she is due in court in September on drink-driving charges and was reported this week to be dating the police officer who escorted her at a remand hearing.

She has been ticked off by BBC executives after an Asian taxi driver claimed she called him "Bin Laden".

There were also claims that she slapped co- star Hannah Waterman. The actress has denied both incidents.

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