British soap celebrates 25th birthday with live whodunit

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The Independent Online

EastEnders, one of Britain's longest-running soap operas, celebrates its 25th anniversary on Friday with a live edition promising to reveal the answer to a cliffhanger whodunit.

The hugely popular show, screened on the BBC's overseas channels and sold to countries around the world, is set in the fictional Albert Square in east London where drama and violence are seemingly never more than a few minutes away.

To mark its quarter century, producers pledged to reveal at last who killed Archie Mitchell - a member of one of the show's main families - in the Queen Victoria pub on Christmas Day, bludgeoned with the bust of the pub's royal namesake that has sat on the bar for 25 years.

Even the actors were kept in the dark until the last moment: scriptwriters have written 10 different endings, the real one to be revealed to the cast only half an hour before showtime Friday evening.

The show will be the first live performance in its 25 year history. The soap was launched in 1985 and rapidly became an early-evening must for everyone from students to housewives.

Its widespread appeal has been helped by the ethnic diversity of its characters - including the Masood family - compared to its longer-running soap rival Coronation Street, set in a suburb of Manchester, northwest England, screened on ITV.

The show's viewing figures peaked over Christmas 1986 when 30 million people - more than half the population - watched "Dirty" Den Watts hand a divorce letter to his wife Angie.

The soap, which airs four half-hour episodes per week, still pulls in around 10 million viewers.

Critics like to poke fun at the surfeit of conflict in its storylines, but others just enjoy the show, from its jaunty opening theme tune to the dramatic so-called "duff duff duff" drum-break moment which closes each episode.

Possible culprits for the latest whodunit include matriarchal Queen Vic landlady Peggy Mitchell and Ian Beale, the longest-running character.

The secret will only be revealed when it airs live at 8:00 pm (2000 GMT) Friday.