Kat (Jessie Wallace) and Ronnie (Samantha Womack)
A current storyline in the BBC's popular soap opera - "EastEnders" - has attracted over 8000 complaints... and one message of congratulation from the author of this post. I praised the writers, the crew and the actors involved. Frankly, I'm flabbergasted that so many people could have found this gripping storyline worthy of complaint and wonder if the complainants are able to distinguish between drama and real life.
The makers of "EastEnders" have always been scrupulous about seeking out and applying specialist advice when developing scripts around tricky subjects such as living with HIV, marital abuse or drug addiction.
The current controversial storyline saw two baby boys born just before New Year's Eve. Their mothers even buy them identical baby-gro outfits with the logo "Daddy's Boy" across the front.
As Baby Tommy Moon sleeps in his cot upstairs in "The Queen Victoria" public house, the other baby, James Branning, is alone in the bedroom of his parents' flat. Meanwhile, his mother, Ronnie Branning falls asleep on the couch. When Ronnie wakes up, she goes to check on James to find that he has passed away, the victim of cot death or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Ronnie is beside herself with shock and grief. She bundles James's body up in a blanket and in an unthinking, zombie-like state wanders off to "The Vic" just as staff and customers are ringing in the new year. She enters through the back door and goes upstairs to the bedroom where Tommy is sleeping. It isn't as if she has really planned it. It just sort of happens. She swaps the babies and returns home with her new bundle, still in some sort of emotional daze.
Although later she has the urge to return Tommy and admit what she has done, circumstances militate against her and she feels obliged to continue with the lie. Naturally Tommy's family and especially his mother, Kat Moon, are utterly distraught. When Kat goes to see her dead child in hospital, she breaks down, screaming "That's not my baby!" but others just think it's her hysteria speaking.
For the last twenty five years, I have been a huge fan of "EastEnders" and refute the common suggestion that it's all "morbid" or "depressing". Such judgements are invariably made by people who don't watch the show or may have watched half an episode out of context. On Christmas Day, "EastEnders" attracted the country's biggest TV audience so I surmise that I am not alone in my advocacy.
As I say, I am still baffled as to why the current storyline was subject to so many complaints. The writers were certainly not belittling the tragic nature of cot death. In fact if the moaners had been patient, they would have seen that dramatic exploration of the challenging issue was only just beginning. It's funny though isn't it, in various areas of life we seem to give too much credence to complainers when sometimes it would be more honest and just to say - we've listened to your remarks and utterly dispute what you're saying. Instead, the BBC have agreed to curtail the cot death storyline, rather than developing it through the several weeks that were at first planned.