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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Eastenders LIVE: Billy's chance to shine

When you think of the London 2012 Olympics you imagine happiness, hope and community spirit. Similarly, when you think of Eastenders… Oh, wait…

In fact, when I think of the fictional London borough of Walford, I mostly think of misery, dead-end jobs and constant bitching. So clearly it makes sense for the Olympic torch to head to Walford for a live appearance on the British soap, seeing as how the two concepts have so much in common (sense the sarcasm). And who better to carry the Olympic flame through Albert Square than Walford’s very own local Hero- the brave, noble, sporty and community-minded… Billy Mitchell, Ladies and Gentlemen (there’s that sarcasm again)!

It’s obvious that the torch committee aren’t the biggest fans of the East London Soap. If they were, surely they wouldn’t have picked the square’s most scrawny, clumsy and accident prone resident. What am I thinking? Of course they would. Because no one can quite deliver the same level of anxiousness, irritation and utter despair to an audience as the wonderful Perry Fenwick.

Perry has played the part of Billy for the past 14 years and in that time has provided us with more ridiculous scenarios, ill-fated judgment calls and near misses than the rest of the cast put together. So were we surprised when, in the first of last night’s two episodes, Billy and the rest of the Old Vic football team got stuck on the tube with only minutes to spare till the Torch relay hit Walford? Of course we weren’t. We let out a ‘here we go again’ sigh and settled down with a cup of tea to see how it would all pan out in episode 2.

After twenty minutes of classic Billy moments- he’s almost arrested, gets locked out of his flat with his Olympic tracksuit stuck inside, he mistakenly orders pink slippers instead of new trainers (only Billy!) and is unaware he’s missing the birth of his great-granddaughter right across the street- we are finally taken from pre-recorded nonsense to live coverage of the square with a cheeky wink to the camera from the Torchbearer himself.

A quick dash to his start point and Billy (or Perry – as it’s live, it’s hard to tell which of his alter egos is actually in control) is ready to do Walford proud. Members of the relay team take their positions, smug smiles creeping across their faces as they realise this is the one and only time they’ll be live on one of Britain’s best loved soaps.

Cut to Lola, Billy’s granddaughter, on the floor of a fast food restaurant, about to go into labour and looking several shades darker than she had only a few minutes earlier in the pre-recorded section of the show. I mean, you’d have thought the producers would have told her to refrain from going on any exotic holidays/sunbeds in the few weeks between the pre-record and the live segment.

Nevertheless Lola’s labour may be one of the most convincing I’ve ever seen on television and it was done completely live, proving just how talented young Danielle Harold is. The girl is going to go far.

Billy arrives just in time to see his granddaughter, Lola, give birth

Perry however, needn’t have worried about his acting abilities in the live section of the show as his real nerves and excitement were just as palpable for the audience as they would have been had we all been in the square ourselves.

The tone of Walford’s festivities was only momentarily lowered when we were forced to witness Kat Slater’s vulgar behavior (is it ever anything else) and angry ‘lipstick on the mirror’ message to whomever it is she’s supposed to be doing the dirty with. Have the writers decided that Kat is to now have no happiness or empathy left in her? It would seem that unless she’s trying to get a vodka down her neck or a bit of bedroom action with anyone other than Alfie, she’s not worth writing lines for.

Angry pub landlady and crazily tanned, pregnant teenager aside, the festivities in the square were ever increasing as Perry, or Billy, whichever you’d rather, was handed his torch and relay number and I felt almost as excited and proud as when I watched my friend, Ben, carry the torch through our hometown last week. Because, for all his ridiculous decisions, his blunders and the fact that he’s about to be a great-grandad in his 40’s, Billy Mitchell is a man we all (claim to) know and love.

Credit should go to the Director and camera crews not only for pulling off a seamless transition between the recorded and live segments of the show, but also for their expertise in capturing the torch’s entire journey round the set at Elstree Studios. Sure, there were a few out of focus shots of Billy legging it through the famous streets, but that only made it seem all the more live and exciting.

Billy carries the torch past the iconic Queen Victoria Pub

The atmosphere in the square though was what really made this episode. That, and the fact that half the cast managed to make it across the set after the flame had travelled through to witness Lola ‘giving birth’ just as her famous ‘Pops’ arrived.

So congratulations to all involved, for a unique and memorable episode! Although I still can’t believe that a group of people who spend so much time moaning about their lives, fighting in the pub and sleeping with people they shouldn’t be, can come together to create one of the best examples of community spirit ever to grace our tellys.  

I guess that’s just the Olympic spirit for you.

Eastenders gained an average audience of 7.32 million for its second episode at 9pm.

Contributed by Vicki Greenfield.

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