BBC Records: The EastEnders (When It Was Good) Files

RESL160 EastEnders/Julia's Theme - Simon May

Launched in a blaze of publicity in February 1985, the BBC's new twice-weekly soap opera EastEnders was a huge gamble and one that, initially, did not seem to be paying off. Press reception was hostile and viewing figures were low, and its brash and visually drab combination of intentionally mundane drama, multiculturalism and boisterous East End humour did not seem to be finding an audience. Arguably the one factor that it had working in its favour was Simon May's naggingly catchy - and cleverly arranged - theme music, released as a single to coincide with the series launch. Perhaps reflecting the initially muted reception, the single did not chart but within months EastEnders was on an upwards ratings trajectory and subsequent singles spun off from the show, as we shall see, would enjoy much greater success. Named after the series' formidable producer Julia Smith, the b-side was a slower alternate arrangement occasionally used for 'landmark' episodes.

RESL168 Killin' Time/Winner Takes All - Barry Blood

One early indication of how huge EastEnders was about to become was the fact that this rock ballad, heard in the background of a key scene in which early characters Oscar Carpenter and Angie Watts were revealed to be having an affair, was considered a suitable prospect for single release. Former Glam Rocker Barry Blood – whose 1975 single Poor Annie has since become a cult favourite – was a regular contributor to soundtrack and library work around this time.

RESL191 Anyone Can Fall In Love - Anita Dobson/Julia's Theme - Simon May

Following a shaky start, EastEnders had grown steadily in popularity during its first year on air, and to the surprise of many had quickly become one of the most popular shows on air. Such was the feverish public interest in the show and its cast that many of the stars were asked to make records, regardless of musical ability. Most of these releases were for other labels and had little chart success, but BBC Records – noting the recent success of Always There, a hit single featuring Marti Webb singing lyrics to Simon May's theme from BBC drama serial Howard's Way (which itself had recently been a sizeable hit single) – had the shrewd idea of asking May and veteran soundtrack composer Don Black to put lyrics to a new arrangement of the theme, and then enlisted Anita Dobson, who played Angie Watts in the series and had a solid background in musical theatre, to perform it. Despite being the subject of much ridicule, Anyone Can Fall In Love was a top five hit, and inspired an album REB594 Simon’s Way which collected newly-arranged suites of music from May’s work on EastEnders and Howard’s Way. Less imagination was shown in the b-side’s re-use of the b-side from the original EastEnders theme single, and even less still by the 12” which also included the original single version of the theme.

RESL203 Something Outa Nothing/Time Square - Letitia Dean & Paul J Medford

EastEnders' popularity soon exceeded all expectations and for a time it was the single most popular programme on UK television by some considerable distance. This encouraged the show’s producers to experiment with a number of attempts to expand its popularity into other media, including – largely at the instigation of theme composer Simon May – the formation of a pop band by some of the teenage residents of Albert Square. Varying their name between Dog Market and The Banned, the five-piece outfit were seen to enter talent contests and bicker over stage prominence across several months’ worth of storylines that failed to connect with their intended younger audience and their musical ambitions came to an abrupt end. However, enough time and money had been invested to make this single – ostensibly written by keyboard player Simon ‘Wicksy’ Wicks, though actually by May – commercially viable. Credited solely to the performers who played Sharon Watts and Kelvin Carpenter, it actually managed a quite respectable number twelve on the singles chart. The 12” featured extended versions of Something Outa Nothing and the instrumental b-side.

RESL204 Every Loser Wins/Every Loser Wins (Instrumental) - Nick Berry

And it doesn't end there. Partway through the storyline, 'Wicksy' left The Banned in acrimonious circumstances, venting his frustration by regularly performing his other composition – or, to be more accurate, Simon May's other composition – on the piano in the Queen Vic. The slightly mawkish ballad then became a major plot point, played endlessly on a cassette by barman George 'Lofty' Holloway as he descended into a nervous breakdown. Quite a few viewers seemed to like it without suffering any ill-effects, and the result was this rush-released single (in the shops with such haste that they had to use a photo of an unshaven Nick Berry on the cover) which ended up topping the singles chart for three weeks. Along with So Easy, the extra track on the 12", Every Loser Wins would later appear on REB618 Nick Berry.

RESL212 It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time/Too Close To Heaven - Nick Berry

Judging from the interviews he gave around this time, nobody was more surprised by the success of Every Loser Wins than Nick Berry himself, who speculated that it wouldn’t have been a hit without the relentless exposure afforded by a primetime TV show. The lack of a chart placing for this single – again taken from REB618 Nick Berry - would seem to have proved him correct. As a result, Berry became a regular sighting on lists of One Hit Wonders, though that all changed when he wound up singing in an ITV show...

Can't Get A Ticket (To The World Cup), a non-BBC Records And Tapes single by early cast member Peter Dean (Pete Beale), is featured in the edition of Looks Unfamiliar with broadcaster Bob Fischer which you can find here.
Top Of The Box, the story behind every single released by BBC Records And Tapes, is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.