There's hardly any realism in soaps, says David Lister

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The Independent Online

I've remarked before how strange it is that no one in EastEnders ever watches EastEnders. That stops it from being a totally realistic slice of life. Normally, of course, when people talk of realism and the soaps they are talking about representation of ethnic minorities, as with Midsomer Murders. This week the producer of EastEnders admitted in an interview with the Radio Times that the programme wasn't realistic. John Yorke, the BBC's controller of drama production, said: "EastEnders' East End and its version of working-class life are very stylised. It's not realistic in that respect, but you look for emotional truthfulness."

He said the programme "may be significantly white compared with the real East End", but it was "considerably more multicultural than it was even five years ago and is easily the most multicultural show on telly now". Radio Times also interviewed Coronation Street's executive producer Kieran Roberts, who said his programme presented "a warm and cosy version of the world" and the ethnic mix was "about right".

Isn't it odd how any discussion of realism in the soaps focuses always on ethnic minorities? In fact, there's hardly any realism. It's not just that the characters in our two leading soaps never watch EastEnders or Coronation Street, they hardly watch TV at all. They hardly ever talk about TV, films or gigs. And why are nearly all the characters in soap operas so uninterested in sport? From Coronation Street's earliest days there has seldom been a heated discussion in The Rovers Return Inn about football. And it's set in Manchester, for goodness sake. Soap operas are not remotely realistic about the areas in which they are set or the people living there. That has only become an issue in recent years with debate about representation of ethnic minorities.

But that misses the point. All programmes should be moving towards colour-blind casting, with the consequent benefits for actors and audiences. That's different than striving for box-ticking realism. For once, a BBC executive has got it right. In drama what counts is emotional truthfulness. It certainly helps if the backdrop to this is recognisable, but in recent years there has been a defensiveness from television executives that has blurred the boundaries between drama and documentary. We need to recognise and relate to characters, situations and emotion. It doesn't matter if there's a lack of football scarves.





Andrew lloyd webber

is 'impossible'

When Andrew Lloyd Webber called on West End impresario Bill Kenwright to tweak his latest show Love Never Dies a few months ago, the result was a resounding success. My own favourable words about the tweaked production are on posters advertising the show: "A good musical has got better."

So it has. But I did wonder what the original director Jack O'Brien made of his work being handed to someone else. Now we know. Mr O'Brien has given an interview in which he says of his collaboration: "It did not end happily. I found Andrew Lloyd Webber impossible to work with. It's either his way or there's no way." Whatever happened to the camaraderie of theatre? Love never dies. Except backstage, where it has spectacularly.





cat lovers

get ready...

Something momentous is happening in the art world. The hanging committee of the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy told me the print room, for the first time in living memory, was devoid of cats. The artists have fallen out of love with their pets. This is a shock. I anticipate a repeat of the scenes that greeted the Sensation exhibition some years ago, when protesters massed outside the doors of the Royal Academy. Cat lovers of Britain will be planning the demo already.

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