19 NOVEMBER 1994, Page 69


Bring back the bounce

Nigella Lawson

Embarrassed watchers of soap operas, keen not to be seen subsisting on a diet of prolefeed, nervously protest that 'really, you know, Coronation Street at its best is as good as Alan Bennett' and that EastEnders, `is, at moments, sheer Pinter'. I suspect that these nervous apologists for the soaps have never actually seen Bennett or Pinter, but just feel somehow that they have.

EastEnders is my soap of choice, and although received wisdom has it that it's miserable and bleak and depressing, it has always seemed to me to have a dynamism that Coronation Street utterly lacks. True, it says perhaps a bit too exhaustingly, and exhaustively, that Drama is Conflict, but that provides a useful catharsis of its own, 'I'm going to tear up my donor card.' which must surely be one of the functions of the genre.

Perhaps it has been leaning rather too heavily and too long on the Grant-Sharon- Phil axis (no, I really can't begin to explain), so much so indeed that it really does seem the eternal triangle. But at least it has given Ross Kemp the opportunity for the sort of powerful acting you don't expect to find on a churn-it-out thrice-weekly soap. Except of course, it's not him that's been getting all the attention. Barbara Windsor joined the set last week in the role of Grant and Phil's mother and there's been talk, tabloidside, of little else. Every- one loves Barbara Windsor. Which is why no one has thought to tell the truth and point out that you could put her in a paper bag, then sit back and witness her not being able to act her way out of it.

The strange thing is that whether she can act or not, or has ever been called upon so to do, the one thing she has, usually, is energy, great springy, bouncy amounts of it. In EastEnders she is flat and bloodless and creaky as a newly laid floor. Perhaps she'll improve. I hope so, for the unexpected chill of her performance is a sad disappointment when compared to the obvious warmth of her personality, as charmingly revealed in The Obituary Show (Channel 4, Tuesday 9 p.m.). The format of this programme is a good one, or would be if all of the contrib- utors remembered the conventions and talked of Miss Windsor in the past rather than the present tense. I could have done without a pudgy-faced film lecturer, called Mike or Neil, with an ear-ring in one ear telling us that she was 'aware of the ridicu- lousness of that kind of sexpot image' and was therefore no doubt an ironic commen- tary on ... and so forth; but I admit he is part of the fun. As was Derek Jameson who appeared on the early part of the progamme describing her as 'cheeky, cocky, chirpy — a real cockney sparrer' and made a later appearance sympathising with her and 'how very hard' it was for her always to be described as a 'cockney spar- rer'. Olive from On the Buses spoke admir- ingly of her and how she had coped with the 'heavy scenes' in Dick Whittington. Many bemoaned the cliché-bound image of Barbara Windsor, and lamented the limita- tions placed on this fine dramatic actress, which might have held more water were her performances on EastEnders not being currently broadcast.

Arthur Mullard drily cut through much of the showbiz gush: 'She was a bubbly girl and she knew what she had and sold it' But throughout, unlike in her films, Bar- bara Windsor had the best lines. Talking about the myth of her bosominess she revealed that, as is evident to any of us, she is not so busty in real life. 'Did you wear falsies?' someone once asked her. 'No,' she replied, it's acting dear.'