As BBC Head of Continuing Drama and former Series Producer of Coronation Street and Emmerdale Kate Oates knows her soaps. But she says that doesn’t mean she’s afraid to rip up her own rule book – which is why she’s glad the show decided to keep tonight’s death a closely guarded secret to surprise fans at the end of EastEnders 35th birthday week and provide more drama for many months to come.
“The reward that comes with a twist is brilliant,” says Oates. “The audience love it. They really love it. I’ve learned that over the years from the kind of jobs that I have been in. I used to come from the other side of the fence and think you want to reveal stuff because that’s what will hook people in. But actually I think people have had enough of that now.”
Tonight’s victim is the result of many months of storyline planning which Oates and EastEnders Executive Producer Jon Sen happily admit caused much heated debate before they settled on the correct candidate.
“We discuss it in depth,” says Oates. “We actually had a lot of arguments. The story conference room is a vibrant place. But we knew in our hearts that this was the death that would really power us through months and months and months of future story. There is something almost Greek tragedy about this particular person dying. It could be argued that it has been set up for quite some time.”
The thrill for fans of the show this week has been the way that telling the events of one day from the perspective of a number of different clans and families has teased all sorts of surprise cliff hangers.
Mick and Linda Carter in danger of drowning, Ian Beale jeopardising troll Denny Rickman’s life, Keanu Taylor, Phil and Ben Mitchell in a Mexican stand-off, Callum Highway badly injured in a deserted warehouse, Bobby Beale in emergency surgery after a hate-crime attack and Bex Fowler potentially over-dosing on a corrupted batch of pills.
“The real joy of this structure is that we usually know how (anniversary) stunts like this unfold,” says Sen. “You have this big event. Kind of everybody waits for the event and then it’s over very quickly. But our structure allows you to have this real sense of intrigue about what’s going to happen. On each day you’re hooked in to come back for the next episode.”
“In some families’ cases there will be big consequences to this story for a year to come,” says Kate Oates.
For fans the wait is almost over – grab a life jacket and pray for your favourites.
Tonight’s EastEnders is at the later time of 8.30pm on BBC One
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