The Sunday Telegraph

Caravan park soap was first choice before EastEnders


IT HAS given viewers some of British television’s most gripping moments, from Den handing Angie their divorce papers to Peggie discoverin­g she had breast cancer.

But EastEnders almost failed to make the screen, in favour of a soap opera set in a geriatric caravan park.

Michael Grade has revealed that when he arrived at the corporatio­n in September 1984, as controller of BBC One, there had been plans to run a drama series set on a caravan park for the elderly in the North East.

The idea was quickly canned and replaced by the show featuring the gritty lives of ordinary east Londoners, as a deliberate answer to ITV’s Manchester-based Coronation Street.

Speaking to Boom Radio, Lord Grade said: “They had decided they were going to do a soap opera on BBC One. There was one in developmen­t when I arrived, and I asked to see the head of drama series, Jonathan Powell. I said, tell me about this alleged soap opera. And he said: “I’ve only just taken over... the show I’ve inherited is set in a geriatric caravan park in the North East.”

“My face fell. I said, ‘Really? Where is that now?’ He said, ‘I’ve binned that. We’ve got a show called EastEnders, based on a square in the East End of London.’ ‘Oh’, I said, ‘that sounds a bit better than a geriatric caravan park. . . I’ll leave it to you.’”

Lord Grade says he was initially anxious that EastEnders, which has now been running for 39 years and more than 6,820 episodes, might have easily turned out to be a flop – until he was sent the first episode.

“I remember with some considerab­le trepidatio­n. Putting the cassette in the machine and thinking ‘Oh my God, you know, this is a year’s commitment . . this could be horrible,” he said. “And as the music and the opening titles played, I knew it was okay.”

Lord Grade, who went on to become BBC chairman in 2004, said EastEnders was vital for the corporatio­n’s output in the face of commercial television.

“ITV had Coronation Street, which of course was through the roof every night, and Emmerdale Farm, and Crossroads. And the BBC felt that the schedule needed it, absolutely needed it. And, and they were right”, he said.

Open the Box with Lord Grade will be broadcast on Boom Radio at 9pm on Sunday April 21.

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