Funeral director Les Coker finally came clean in tonight’s episode of EastEnders when he revealed to wife Pam that – for the last 60 years – he’s been been privately interested in dressing in women’s clothes. The revelation that Les has regularly donned garments designed for the opposite sex will rock the Cokers’ marriage in the episodes to come. But can Pam come to terms with her husband’s big secret?
Here, actor Roger Sloman reveals how he first discovered that Les had this hidden side to him, the research he did in the run-up to the episodes being filmed, and how exactly the Cokers will face the future now that the truth has been told…
So, what was your reaction when you were first told about the storyline?
Well, I went up to see our executive producer Dominic [Treadwell-Collins] and I thought the whole cast was seeing him one by one to talk about upcoming storylines. But no – he wanted to pitch this plotline to me and I said yes to it immediately. He asked me whether I wanted to think about it and I said that no I didn’t. I wanted to do it. I love an acting challenge, so I didn’t have any hesitation.
Were you wondering, though, about how the twist was going to be received?
Certainly, yes. Obviously, there is a certain amount of prejudice out there. And some people who might not understand it. People may associate me with Christine, but that’s fine.
Could you tell us more about how Pam will adjust to the news?
Well, the problem – apart from the fact that he wears women’s clothes – is that it’s a huge secret in his marriage. And, of course, as you saw, Pam’s initial reaction is shock. But we’ll then see her trying to come to terms with it. The way I see it is that there isn’t a relationship out there that doesn’t have its difficult areas, but this is going to be a huge challenge to theirs. If you marry somebody of a certain gender and then they announce that they like to dress up in the opposite gender, then that is a huge thing to try and accommodate.
Psychologically speaking, where does all this stem from for Les?
From quite an early age he became interested in the way that girls dressed. And he realised that he had a feminine side. It’s a question of degree – some men would hold their hands up in horror if they were told that they had a feminine side. Well, every man has, to a greater or lesser extent. This is my take on it, but for someone like Les, that dial is turned up a little bit. To the extent where he’s comfortable putting on women’s clothes.
From what we’ve seen, Les treats Christine as a completely separate person – how does that strike you?
I think that’s psychologically correct. As part of our research, we met a married couple. And when they came to talk to us, the guy was in his female mode. He had a name for her and he did talk about her as being somebody different from his male self. And what he said was that men who like to wear women’s clothes find it quite relaxing. In a way, it’s a place to go where you don’t have the stresses that you do as a man. And that is a general theme that I discovered through my research.
So how did you go about doing the research?
There is a huge amount online. Testimonials that you can read, plus discussions between men who wear women’s clothes as they share their experiences. There’s a lot to be found on YouTube. And there’s footage of friendship groups where the wives go along and all the husbands are dressed up in their female modes. Some of what you’ll see is quite surprising: some men go to the extent of having a voice coach, for instance. And the size of their wardrobes can be amazing. We’re talking walk-in rooms with racks and racks of clothes that they’ve been collecting for years.
But, as I discovered, it’s a very broad church and there are lots of variations. As far as Les’s story is concerned, he’s quite happy with his gender. He’s never been unhappy being a man, he’s happy in his marriage – except that there is this secret. And he’d like Pam to accommodate it, but it’s a big ask.
So this is definitely going to test Les and Pam’s marriage?
Oh yes. It’s a bumpy road that they’re on. And it’s not going to be easy, I can say that much.
And I suppose a community like Albert Square could be quite small-minded. If this secret came out, it could presumably threaten his business and his standing in Walford?
Both of those things, definitely. Les is very serious about his business. He’s obviously going to be wondering, ‘if this secret gets out, how much business am I going to have left?’ Some people might not mind, but there are certainly some who would. It’s a small community and, in his mind, he thinks there’s going to be a certain amount of prejudice. If it got out, he’s going to be looking to see who’s on his side.
Because, on soaps, we get to follow characters over a number of years, this is a good way of challenging our preconceptions of somebody like Les…
Yes and it’s a big challenge for me as an actor. You get to know your character very well because you’re put into a lot of different situations. And then something like this comes along and you do think, ‘oh my goodness. If Les has got a female mode, then who is she?’ There are some YouTube videos out there of some pretty glamorous guys in female mode. And I was thinking, ‘no, that wouldn’t be Les’. But I was left wondering who Christine would turn out to be…
So what is Christine like when we get to meet her?
Modest. Not flashy. Quite demure, I think. And, you know, not over the top in any way. She’s quite gentle. The preconception of Pam and Les is that they’re a happily married couple – they like going to a party and they have a laugh together and work together well. And then you realise that they do have pain in their lives because their son died. Then comes the realisation that Christine is also in Les’s life. So, I guess, the fact that Pam has to now try and absorb this news is made all the more painful because we’ve seen how happy her marriage to Les is. It’s going to be very difficult for both of them.
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