It can’t be easy writing episodes for soaps. You have to take over a plot designed by a committee and steer your characters through the storyline as plausibly as you can. Sometimes you have to get rid of them, a procedure known as ‘killing off’. You mostly don’t have to actually do them in, you can just send them miles away. But rather more often than in real life, in order to rule out the prospect of the character’s reappearance under any circs, you have to murder them, often foully.
EastEnders is the soap responsible for killing off more characters than any other – so much so that the cast will soon be joined, appropriately enough, by a full-time undertaker, Les Coker.
A fortnight ago, Holby City killed off a young nurse, Bonnie Wallis. The scriptwriters knocked her down with a lorry. Outrageously implausible, but essential to tell viewers: she ain’t coming back.
The following week the cast was given the invidious task of going through the motions of grieving. Who’d be an actor? Who’d be a scriptwriter?
In the event, they made a good fist of it, especially the scriptwriters. In the non-denom chapel at the hospital a memorial event was led by (who else?) lovely, cuddly Eliot Hope, senior CT surgeon. He began in the appropriate, formal, biographical style:
“Our colleague, our friend, Bonnie Wallis, ermm, was a truly great spirit. She was loved by her family, who tell me she overcame great obstacles—”
He broke off and said this:
“Sorry, um, these are someone else’s words. I suppose I was so afraid of insulting her memory. But, the truth is, it’s too soon – it’s too soon for her to go. Give me a year and I will write her a cracking speech. But right now, how can I possibly talk about her life in the past tense? I keep expecting her to come through that door.”
A little later, sitting on the ‘altar table’, Eliot is seen regaling the mourners with anecdotes about Bonnie:
“I remember one day Bonnie had to give an elderly patient a bath. She’d just removed his gown and he looked down and said, ‘Have you ever seen anything so big?’ So, slightly embarrassed and red-faced, she said, ‘Very impressive.’ And he said, ‘I was talking about my boil.’”
It was well and sensitively done because it identified a problem with funerals and memorial events. Timing. When’s the right time to have a funeral or a memorial service? Most funerals, especially for people who have killed themselves, happen too soon – too soon for anyone to be able to make any sense of what happened, too soon for people still just beginning to get their heads around what happened. The same with tragic, sudden deaths, especially those of young people.
“Give me a year … right now, how can I possibly talk about her life in the past tense?”