Next year the BBC will be celebrating 30 years of its long-running and iconic soap, EastEnders.
Modern Art in Albert Square: magnificent stained-glass window at Beale’s Restaurant 2013 (c) BBC
This seems the perfect occasion for my glossy coffee-table book Eastenders Interiors. I’m quite serious here. So much care goes into dressing the Eastenders sets, and taken in sequence through time they’re like a Jeffrey Museum of modern domestic taste. Eastenders Interiors would celebrate this amazing, living resource, and the people who’ve created it.
From spaces like this, crammed indifferently with the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life – note the fridge shoved into the chimneypiece
The Fowlers’ Kitchen 1986 (c) BBC
to the arrival of capital D Design, with a handsome stainless steel range, set – like its cast-iron Victorian predecessor – into the beautiful stone chimneypiece.
The Beales’ kitchen 2014 (c) BBC
The Fowlers’ kitchen in 1986 has a wooden Art Deco electric clock on the mantel, like this one, from Ebay.
This is the sort of clock you put bills behind.
The Ebay seller says that they bought their clock ‘as part of the house contents in 1977.’ And this is the genius of the EastEnders set designers. Of course they’re alive to what houses look like now. Here is the Carters’ living-room above the Queen Vic, with parrot wallpaper, an extreme example of the 2010s feature wall.
A tense moment upstairs at the Vic 2014 (c) BBC
And here is the flat in Stoke Newington where Stacey was hiding out in disguise; note the floating shelves and the very retro ’50s print wallpaper. This is still produced by Sandersons and was used to give instant period feel to Showtime’s 1950s drama Masters of Sex where Dr William Masters has it for office curtains. It rings a vague bell and I’m sure Winter’s the haberdashers still sold rolls of it when I was a boy in the ’70s.
All is revealed to Kat Slater 2014 (c) BBC. (This image comes from soapstyle.co.uk, which allows you to source the clothes that characters wear in this and other programmes. soapstyle’s aims wouldn’t conflict with EastEnders Interiors, though both might in time be able to answer one viewer’s online query: ‘where can I find Max Branning’s purple wallpaper?’)
But the designers are also aware of what these interiors looked like in the decades before the programme is set, and at the beginning how little many of them had changed in 40+ years. The Fowlers’ living-room – I can’t find a picture of it – was stuck in the 1930s, like Jimmy’s parents house in Quadrophenia. Give or take a fridge and a TV, these rooms are still stuck in the world of Brighton Rock. This is the ambience that people try to recreate now, with mirrors hanging on chains like this, again from Ebay:
For the most part, time has moved on in Albert Square, but there are still forgotten worlds of past taste, like the dated glam of Carol Jackson’s house, whose ground floor is filled with the ghost of Pat Butcher – textured once-white crocodile-skin wallpaper in the hall, faded 1960s ‘Parisian girl’ portrait and hanging Venetian masks in the living-room. In the days when there were still optics at the corner bar this was the sort of house The Sweeney would have raided.
Dot Cotton’s house is a goldmine of forgotten things – standard lamps for a start – but my favourite is this painting behind the door in her hall.
Dot Cotton’s hallway 2014 (c) BBC
This is Robert Wood’s October Morn 1957. My parents had this on canvas board when I was very young. I loved it. I used to think it was an actual painting of Whichford Woods in Oxfordshire – still one of my favourite most magical places – and this was probably the reason Mum and Dad bought it in the first place.
(c) Jeffrey Meek http://jeffreymeek.net
Robert Wood (1889 – 1979) had a remarkable career. He was born in Sandgate in Kent, son of the Victorian painter WL Wood, but he emigrated to America as a young man and travelled the country, riding freight trains and selling his paintings for food. He became a very accomplished – and rapid – painter and made a good living touring the country with his wife, the painter Caryl Price, painting landscapes, frequently in the open and often one a day. October Morn was his most widely-reproduced work, running to a million copies. Ours ended up in the garage, alongside other relics of my parents’ life as young-marrieds, like Hornsea Heirloom greenware, home to cobwebs and stiff old paintbrushes. I haven’t seen Hornsea in Albert Square, but it must be very popular in nearby Hackney and Hoxton.
(c) Ebay, still for sale.