I haven’t watched EastEnders in 20 years and to be Frank, I don’t regret it
PUBLISHED: 21:25 10 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:23 11 November 2019
It would take Nick Richards three months of non-stop viewing to catch up on 20 years of missed EastEnders episodes. Here’s why he stopped watching it two decades ago
Cast your mind back two decades to November 1999 and the impending end of the century.
Norwich City were struggling in the second tier under Bruce Rioch and were about to exit the FA Cup before Christmas at home to Coventry. Tony Blair was prime minister and Cliff Richard's Millennium Prayer was about to top the charts.
All around there was fear of the Millennium Bug bringing down computer systems, left, right and centre and, as we nosedived towards the end of the century, I was trying to streamline my life in the new hi-tech digital word. I made a momentous decision that has since saved me time, anguish and a whole lot of sofa-based boredom in the 21st century.
I stopped watching EastEnders.
I'd been a fan since the first episode in 1985 and was there right through the glory days even though I hadn't even started high school when I, along with 30.15 million other people watched Den serving Angie those divorce papers on Christmas Day 1986 (still the most watched TV show of all time in the UK).
I was there for all the big moments - Arthur and the Christmas Club money, Kathy getting raped in the Dagmar, the Mitchell brothers when they had hair, the on/off saga of Bianca and Ricky and of course when Big Ron was asked to mind Pete's stall for 10 minutes so he go for a quick pint of Churchills.
It was a massive show - incredibly five EastEnders episodes between 1986 and 1992 are in the top 10 most watched TV programmes in the UK - of all time!
I hardly missed an episode for that first decade and it was only when I went to university in the mid-90s and didn't have a telly for a couple of years that my interest started to fade. But in the late 90s I was hooked on Albert Square sagas once again, but could see the end in sight.
The plots became farcical - it was the time of Ian's marriage to Mel and Steve boshing Saskia over the head with an ashtray which left me shaking my head with each episode, plus it was on three nights a week and that would soon be four, which was too much of a commitment for me.
And my all-time favourite character, Frank Butcher, so brilliantly played by Mike Reid was involved in behind the scenes rows which would see him leave in early 2000.
I loved Frank - for me he summed up what was best about the show - those V-neck jumpers with nothing underneath apart from a bit of chest hair and a medallion, those tinted glasses borrowed from some mafia crime lord and the bit when he put his thumb and finger in the middle of his forehead and said: "For crying out loud".
And as for that scene when he greeted Pat upstairs in the Vic with nothing on but a cheeky grin and a spinning bow tie - pure TV gold.
I stopped watching on December 31, 1999. So, for me, Shane Ritchie is just a TV host, Danny Dyer makes films and Dot's surname is still Cotton. I've not seen more than 20 minutes of it over the last 20 years and don't think I've really missed out.
Well, I say I stopped watching it 20 years ago, but I have recently discovered that TV channel Drama broadcasts Classic EastEnders in the early afternoon and when I get the chance I do tune in.
Right now it's 1990 when the show was at its brilliant peak. Mark's telling everyone he's got HIV, Cindy and Wicksy are shacked up together much to Ian's dismay and we've got villains galore with the Mitchell brothers and Nick Cotton involved in dastardly capers.
And of course Frank is stealing every scene. The other day he threatened to punch Pete's lights out, had a blazing row with Pat and gave Wicksy a piece of his mind all before opening up the Vic for Dot's first Bloody Mary.
I've calculated that since stopping watching EastEnders at the end of 1999 I've missed around 4,150 episodes or 124,800 minutes. I've essentially handed myself back three months of time which I am thrilled about.
I did catch a trailer the other day on the BBC for the show, which celebrates its 35th birthday in February, which showed the lead up to Sharon's 50th birthday and some kind of car chase. It looked like a scene from Hollyoaks, not the gritty urban drama it once was.
And it doesn't look I'm alone either in waving goodbye to Albert Square. From regular audiences of upwards of 20 million per show week in week out in the 1990s, figures have dropped to less than three million per show over this past summer.
So now if people ask if I watch EastEnders I just tell them I'm going to wait for the series to finish and buy the DVD box set.
Have you watched the show for the whole of the last 35 years? Let us know what's kept you hooked by writing to The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk
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