To those of us who watch soap operas there are two distinct camps, those who like Eastenders and those who prefer Coronation Street. Of course there are few that watch both, a few that watch neither and a couple of oddballs who watch Emmerdale instead.
I am an Eastenders man, I always have been and I always will be. I have never been to the North West of England (although my in-laws do hail from there) and therefore have no desire to watch the daily grind of working at t’mill, pigeon fancying and ending the day with a pint of ale and a hotpot. Not interested at all I’m afraid, apparently Corrie did have a huge tram crash last year, and that about sums it up for me - a tram crash, how very 1907.
Eastenders has had me hooked since, as a child, I heard Dirty Den say, “it stinks in ‘ere dunnit?” back in 1985. Episode 1, the dead body of Reg Cox is discovered - boom! Hows that for an opening 5 minutes? No “lets meet the characters” just straight in with a corpse - fantastic.
All soaps rely on the baddies and Eastenders has had some very good ones. Generally the measure of an effective villain is if they have a prefix, Den Watts was dirty, Nick Cotton was nasty and Dicky the market inspector was tricky. Add to these the Mitchell brothers, Janine Butcher, Dr Yussef Kahn, Andy Hunter, Johnnie Allen and the domestic demon trio of Lucas Johnson, Archie Mitchell and Trevor Morgan and it’s been like the seventh circle of hell in Albert Square for over 25 years.
Now the soap has got a brand new bad guy, Derek Branning, and for me he’s my favorite so far!
Played brilliantly by Jamie Foreman, Derek is like a mixture of Del Boy, Monty Python’s Piranha brothers and Ray Winstone. The best thing about Derek is that, for a villain, he gets so many funny lines which are always punctuated with what I like to call “the face”. The face in question is a cross between a bulldog sniffing a fresh turd and a 5 year old with a proper sulk on with two beady eyes piercing from under his thickened brow. The face alone has me fully rotflmao four nights a week.
Derek Branning’s emergence could be an opportunity to have a character with real menace, villain enough to topple Phil Mitchell and impose authority over the square
The lines themselves are equally hilarious, in a recent episode David Wicks has come to Derek to plead for a truce, the response is fantastic and should be Youtubed by all readers of this article. I’ve likened Derek to Ray Winstone (latterly of Cockney hard man fame, now more likely to be showing you the latest betting odds on your screen for Bet365) already but for evidence you really should should see the 2000 gangster/comedy film Love, Honour & Obey where our man Ray plays Derek before Derek was even invented - a standout line from this performance was “shaddup, you’re fat and I’ll throw you in the river”, if this can be included in Derek’s script in coming weeks I will be hugely impressed.
Aside from being a comic genius our man Derek is also a wannabe gangster number one. So much so that I am surprised Eastenders has not snuck in a cheeky cameo from Danny Dyer trying to interview him for his latest series of Most Dangerous Men. I can picture Dyer giving it the full mug to camera whist claiming that Derek is part of a “small, but pwopah nawty firm” all the while smoking a Benson & Hedges in the muggy manner that only Danny Dyer can.
There have been glimpses so far that Derek has the potential to be another iconic villain for the show. He’s already hit his sister, hounded David Wicks out of the square within a week of his arrival, handled increasingly random stolen goods, been thrown out of several homes and pretty much finished off old Fat Pat. I certainly hope Bryan Kirkwood and the other Eastenders bosses give him some juicy story lines and keep him around for the long term.
Derek’s brand of villainy - a smile, a joke and a knife to the kidneys are just what the show needs at the moment after years of thuggery and schemers. Phil Mitchell, who is looking increasingly like a child smashing the place up after not getting a train set for his birthday, is getting a bit dull and should probably disappear of to join his brother Grant. The remaining bad eggs in the soap recently have all been manipulative schemers who are just short of breaking the third wall, tapping their fingers together and mumbling “excellent” a-la Mr Burns. Yuseff Kahn was the worst of these, but now he’s gone we still have Michael Moon (who increasingly reminds me of Kaa the snake from Disney’s Jungle Book), Janine, Ben Mitchell and Lucy Beale.
Eastenders has, as part of its remit, got to tackle real issues and always seems to do this quite well, but it needs more jokes and entertainment. Usually it is supporting characters who get these roles, characters such as Lofty Holloway, Huw Bunford, Robbie Jackson, Big Mo and latterly Arthur “Fatboy” Chubb” have been laughed with (or at) since the show began. Derek Branning’s emergence could be an opportunity to have a character with real menace, villain enough to topple Phil Mitchell and impose authority over the square whilst overtly having a bit of a knees up in the Vic the same evening.
Vote violence, vote Derek.
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