Belfast Telegraph

Jane Graham: EastEnders loses the plot over shocking dead baby storyline

By Jane Graham

It may be (according to many readers' kind comments anyway) that I'm not particularly in tune with the UK public at the best of times, but there is a gigantic social group - around 11m of the population - whom I find utterly mysterious and confounding. No, not folk who find Michael McIntyre amusing, or who think David Cameron has a 'nice face', but people who watch EastEnders at Christmas.

For many of us, despite the popular UK pastime of whinging about it, Christmas is a time of unrivalled optimism and warmth when we glam up for parties, indulge ourselves with hot baths and pyjama days, and surround ourselves with excited kids and family members we've missed.

If your Christmas has any kind of feelgood quality at all, why would you volunteer to watch a grey/brown paletted drama about joyless, bitter, angry losers who hate each other and suffer more nervous breakdowns/family deaths/miscarriages and abortions/domestic violence/terminal illness than the lowliest peasants in pre-revolutionary Russia?

And if Christmas is a time of sad memories, poverty-based fear or domestic turbulence ... why the hell would you want to wallow in another layer of wretched grief, with added aggression and shockingly bad luck?

Of course, EastEnders was yet again the most watched show on Christmas Day this year, just as the tabloids that revel in crime and sadness sell millions every day, so it seems vast swathes of my fellow natives are fated to remain enigmatic to me.

However, the current EastEnders storyline about cot death and baby-swapping does seem to have provoked something of a backlash even amongst this hardy bunch of gloom-gorgers, more than 3,400 of whom have complained to the BBC that the latest misery pile-up is a car crash too far.

It's not just the double-dip desolation people are finding hard to take regarding this story about a woman whose baby's early death inspires her to swap its corpse with the healthy newborn next door. It's also the amateurish flimsiness of the writing, the ignorance of the sensationalist approach and the cold disregard it shows for the facts behind the kind of upsetting issue Eastenders' editors are always telling us they treat with responsibility and care.

The notion that the first reaction of a woman who has gone through something as horrific as cot death would be to pass the pain on to another new mother is both offensive and nonsensical.

As is the bizarre idea that new parents don't really look properly at their baby, and thus wouldn't notice if it changed its face after a few days.

This is probably why the The Foundation of Studies for Infant Deaths, who gave script-writers information about how social services deal with infant death, have disassociated themselves from the content of the storyline and stated that they don't endorse the actions of Ronnie Mitchell (pictured) as a "typical, or even likely, reaction of a bereaved parent."

It's not exactly a ringing endorsement from the guys the writers were having lunch with a few months ago...

And the official EastEnder's team response to this myriad of questions about plausibility, insensitivity and morality? A form letter sent to the press pointing out that there is a helpline number given out at the end of the show.

Is that really a sufficient get-out clause for any badly executed, crassly written piece of junk they hurl our way at primetime? No, but why would they care - the story has seen audience numbers spike. I guess we get what we deserve.

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