Scriptwriter lost job after giving IRA a role in soap

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The Independent Online
WHEN David Yallop was commissioned to write some scripts for the BBC soap opera EastEnders, he was asked by his producer to slim down the cast. So he wrote some names on a wall chart and put an asterisk beside the characters he intended to kill off.

He should have put one against himself. Although the producer Mike Gibbon was delighted with the hit list and the way the characters were to be written out of the show, other senior producers were not so pleased, the High Court heard yesterday.

They did not mind losing Diane, the runaway daughter of bed and breakfast landlord Frank Butcher, or Pete Beale, a market trader. They did not totally deplore the paralysing from the waist down of Wicksy, the barman at the Queen Vic. Nor did they object in principle to the cause of death being an accidental explosion in the community centre on election night. They just wished the IRA had not become involved.

Sensing a complaint from the Broadcasting Standards Council, not to mention every politician and victim of an IRA attack, the head of EastEnders, Peter Cregeen, decided the scripts showed 'errors of judgement and taste'. He felt the same way about another story line which saw the wife of an Indian shopkeeper, Mrs Ashram, killed in a shotgun raid.

Both story lines, he said, went against a memo produced by Paul Fox, managing director of BBC Television, in which he had warned about the possible targeting of EastEnders by the Broadcasting Standards Council.

So rather than losing, among others, Diane and Pete, EastEnders lost the executioners instead. Mr Cregeen rejected the scripts and demoted Mr Gibbon to associate producer. Mr Gibbon then left the series, and Mr Yallop, author of In God's Name, a book which claims Pope John Paul I was assassinated, lost his pounds 78,000 a year contract after 70 days' work, forcing him to sue the BBC for breach of contract.

Andrew Clarke, representing Mr Yallop, said the author had to decide whether to have 'either a number of slippages from the cast or one cataclysmic event to remove certain members of the cast'. When he came up with the explosion, Mr Gibbon said the scripts had 'a great deal of humour, which is what I wanted, and some tragedy'.

The hearing continues.

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