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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 June 2006, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
World Cup fever hits Walford
By Stephen Robb
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

A World Cup party is held in Albert Square in EastEnders
EastEnders decided "very early on" it would reflect the World Cup
As World Cup fever builds around the world, something extraordinary is happening in the fictional east London neighbourhood of Walford - the EastEnders are getting as excited as anybody.

Garry and Minty are hatching plans to get to the tournament, Ian is organising a World Cup party, and the Queen Victoria pub is decorated with England flags.

In contrast, the inhabitants of Coronation Street and Emmerdale seem unaware the tournament is under way - let alone that their countrymen are considered genuine contenders.

Soap operas have often been groundbreaking in their treatment of contemporary subject matter. But with episodes being written and filmed weeks in advance of broadcast, they generally operate in a vacuum from real world events.


"They try not to touch them with a bargepole because it will mean huge re-editing," says GMTV soap expert Tina Baker.

"Who knows what's going to happen in the World Cup? It's really difficult to edit stuff like that in."

Our characters would be so caught up in the World Cup that we couldn't ignore it
Kate Harwood
EastEnders executive producer
Soaps have featured events like Royal weddings and jubilees which can be reflected in general sequences filmed in advance.

In 1997 Channel 4's Brookside inserted a short scene mentioning the death of Princess Diana, which the makers had felt they could not ignore.

And the World Cup has registered before - the 1998 tournament in France saw Coronation Street characters preparing to watch the final, while EastEnders followed characters visiting Paris.

Alternative scenes

This year the BBC One soap has filmed two sequences reflecting possible results of England's group match against Trinidad and Tobago, one of which will be dropped into a subsequent programme.

And a scene will be written and filmed just hours before next Wednesday's episode about the previous night's match against Sweden - England's final group game.

We don't have the time to revisit and alter episodes
Tony Hammond
Emmerdale script producer
Ms Baker says it is the first time a soap has incorporated such an event into its storylines to such an extent.

EastEnders executive producer Kate Harwood admits some members of the production team had joked they did not want England to progress in the tournament because of the work involved.

"Technically for us it's quite a big deal - you have got to limber up a whole crew," she says.

"It's not something we would do terribly often. It just felt that our characters would be so caught up in the World Cup that we couldn't ignore it."

Scriptwriters also face a challenge making the topical scenes fit with the programme's ongoing stories and overall tone, Ms Harwood says.

"A show like ours has to be a bit careful - they can sometimes call attention to themselves and you almost lose the audience."

'Fluid beast'

True soap fans are a bit fed up with football anyway
Tina Baker
GMTV soap expert
Ms Baker thinks EastEnders' World Cup elements have "blended in quite well", but she does not envisage soaps attempting this more often in the future.

"I think it's too hard work for most soaps, I don't think it will set a precedent," she said.

Emmerdale script producer Tony Hammond says: "We don't have the time to revisit and alter episodes that were filmed approximately a month before."

Manchester-based Coronation Street did incorporate the city's Commonwealth Games in 2002, with character Norris Cole volunteering at the event.

But an ITV spokesman says this was because the storyline did not depend on what happened at the games.

Coronation Street character Norris Cole at the Commonwealth Games
Coronation Street felt it could not ignore the Commonwealth Games
"The results-driven nature of the World Cup makes it such a fluid beast it becomes impossible to incorporate into the scripts," he adds.

The soap is also different stages in various countries worldwide, and episodes incorporating the tournament could seem dated when eventually broadcast.

Whether soap fans whose favourite programmes have been kicked around the schedules by the World Cup even wish to be reminded of the event is doubtful, adds Ms Baker.

"True soap fans are a bit fed up with football anyway, without seeing it on the screen in a storyline."

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