Belfast Telegraph

Why dismissing power of soap operas simply won't wash with me

By Jane Graham

I've been thinking about soap operas this week. Sometimes you have to. They're a bit like institutionalised religion - the world would probably be better off without them, but there are times their powers can be used for good.

And when those times come along - when the Pope embraces gay teenagers, the Archbishop of Canterbury attacks the Government for letting down the poor, or Danny Dyer lets slip a sensitive tear in sympathy for womanhood - rather than mock them for being late to the human decency show, we should shout Hallelujah!

Because, unless you're the President of the United States, the head of the World Bank, or Harry Styles, they're reaching more people in two minutes than you can dream of reaching in your lifetime.

The death of Anne Kirkbride last week brought this home. Not a Corrie follower, I was initially baffled by the seismic outpouring of grief from the public.

Such tumult, clearly genuine and deep, not just for a woman they had never met (and, due to her keenness on privacy, knew little about), but for fictional Deirdre, suddenly lost to them, without a fond look, or a gentle goodbye, to mark her parting.

The more I listened to viewers' tributes, the more I understood. Anne/Deirdre had been part of their lives for decades, in their living rooms more often than most of their friends and families, her story punctuating and pegging their own life landmarks.

As kids, they remembered their mums banning them from talking while Deirdre admitted her affair with Ken. As New Labour dreamers, they recalled an early pang of doubt when Tony Blair cried "Free the Weatherfield One!" in parliament.

As parents, they hugged their knees when Tracy Barlow, filled with cruel teenage glee, made Deirdre cry.

And now, without warning, Deirdre had gone. Forever. An unwelcome reminder that life can send you a stomach ache of a curveball any time it fancies.

Meanwhile, audience grumbles may have provoked a shake-up of the world's most famous radio soap. BBC boss Tony Hall, when asked about that increasingly implausible Radio 4 perennial The Archers, said: "I hope the team will be thinking about what is happening and making sure that we don't lose what is precious."

He knows Radio 4 listeners might forgive the odd dud fact on the Today programme, but they won't swallow the notion that obnoxious oaf Tony turned into a salt of the earth, ruddy, bloody good bloke while he was in a coma.

On the other hand, EastEnders, so often a viper-savaging viewing experience, drew up to its full height to make an outstanding contribution to the enlightenment of the feather-brained regarding the issue of sexual consent this week.

The episode, in which Linda Carter's trembling report of her rape to the police was juxtaposed with her rapist's "explanation" of the event to his anxious mother, was written and acted with great sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and, ultimately, a commitment to a crucial truth.

The parallel 'confessions' revealed that when she felt sympathy, he read attraction; when she was embarrassed, he read coy. At that stage, the idea of an awkward misunderstanding was conceivable. But then she said no, and he heard nothing at all.

For thousands of unheard women over the country, that was the moment EastEnders earned its stripes.

Equally well-played was the moment Linda had to tell her children what had happened. The horror-stricken silence of two previously stony teenagers made soft, vulnerable, unhappy flesh must have chimed with many viewers.

They're not always harbingers of quality or cheer, but this week a soap opera did a big important thing and for that, I salute EastEnders.

Holmes hits right note with movie

David Holmes has long been one of the brightest lights in Northern Irish culture. One of the first superstar DJs, he hosted legendary Belfast club nights before making a series of outstanding albums, including 2008's profound Holy Pictures.

In his spare time, he provided knockout soundtracks for smash-hit movies like Ocean's Eleven and indie gems like Steve McQueen's Hunger.

He's always had a strong love and feeling for movies and now he's finally made his own, I Am Here, a short, elegiac gem about the death of his brother.

Like everything he does, it is honest, moving and fuelled by personal emotion and integrity. Catch it when you can.

Period drama no cause for shame

Hurrah for Heather Watson for admitting her poor performance at the Australian Open was due to "girl things".

Few things made me laugh more this week than squirming male 5Live presenters trying to discuss this issue - the blushes were audible; one actually whispered "periods".

It's just silly that society cannot deal with a simple biological fact which affects more than 50% of its population and often has a real influence on relationships, work and health. One wonders, if men had periods, would comparing blood flow ("Bet it's twice yours") be a matter of macho endurance, rather than a cause for shame and whispers?

Belfast Telegraph


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