Television Review: EastEnders

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
TELEVISION, WHICH you would think was the supreme here-and-now medium, is obsessed with the idea that things ain't what they used to be. Everyone is trying to re-create the past. On last night's EastEnders (BBC1), Melanie was trying to recapture the magic with Steve; Ricky and Sam were waxing nostalgic about what everybody seems to agree was an appalling marriage; and Mark was getting misty-eyed over his ex-wife.

Meanwhile, Monty Don was trying to remake a piece of horti-cultural history in Lost Gardens (C4). Don and his team - Ann-Marie Powell, Dr Toby Musgrave and the fundamentally implausible Dr Twigs Way - gave themselves five days to rebuild an overgrown Japanese garden at Gatton Park in Surrey, formerly home to the mustard magnate Sir Jeremiah Colman: Ground Force meets House Detectives.

The house and its grounds had gone to seed after a fire one night in 1934 - which pointed up the wisdom of EastEnders' Ricky Butcher, the Kierkegaard of Albert Square. After he found his sister dead drunk on the beach and on the point of being washed away by the tide, Ricky remarked: "Makes you fink. One night of madness and you can lose everything." (He also observed that as long as you've got people that care about you, you're one of the lucky ones. Pay attention, you could learn something.)

Lost Gardens was a peculiar mix of academic passion and frantic activity. While Dr Musgrave groped through the undergrowth and Dr Way leafed through the Royal Horticultural Society's archives in search of information about the original garden, Powell and her team of diggers, choppers and planters battled against pouring rain, sucking mud and 60 years of vegetable detritus. By the end of the five days, the garden was only just this side of a building- site; but two months on, and cleaned up a bit, it looked pretty good. The whole programme was rather effective - never too slow-moving or too simple-minded to be dull, and with enough unselfconscious enthusiasm to stir the emotions. Still, it did seem an odd way to pay tribute to a more leisured age.

In The 1900 House (C4), the Bowlers, still struggling to lead a late Victorian life in modern, thrusting Charlton, were finding out about leisure the hard way. Forced to rely on the old-fashioned pleasures of conversation and "making your own entertainment", they were going slowly insane. Mrs Bowler - Joyce - began by reading out a passage from Sherlock Holmes about how he resorted to cocaine as a cure for boredom. "I know exactly how it feels to be stuck in a Victorian boring... mind-numbingly boring existence," she told the camera, eyes stretching wide in amazement at the magnitude of the tedium she had encountered.

In line with the programme's commitment to authenticity, she took to injecting a seven per cent solution of charlie, while Mr Bowler reacted against Victorian repression by heading up to the East End to pick up a tart. Well, not really. In fact, he settled for reading an antique copy of the Illustrated London News, while his older daughter, Kathryn, pored over the Girls' Own Paper: "Boring stories. No sex. No drugs. No alcohol. Nothing." I did not think she had quite got the hang of the 1900 mindset.

As a treat, the family trooped off to a Victorian-style music-hall evening, which they thought was fantastic - evidence of how far their wits had been decayed by their monotonous existence. Kathryn was so excited that she and Joyce decided to audition for the music hall themselves, ignoring warnings that going on stage would make them little better than prostitutes.

Perhaps it was fortunate for the family's good name that they failed the audition: the reason given was that their act was "too modern".