The London borough of Walford, E20, first appeared on our TV screens 20 years ago this week. The now-familiar EastEnders signature tune and swirly map were first broadcast on BBC1 at 7pm on Tuesday 19th February 1985 (although some of you may have been busy watching Whistle Test on BBC2 instead). Within months the show had become the BBC's most successful programme ever, and Albert Square, the Queen Vic, Ali's caff and Arthur's allotment were famous across the country. But where exactly is Walford? The show's creator Tony Holland provided the following clues in the launch week's edition of Radio Times.
Ask any EastEnder for directions to Albert Square, London Borough of Walford, E20, and they'll tell you "Straight down Turpin Road Market, turn right into Bridge Street, and there it is, with the Queen Vic pub on the corner.
Which isn't particularly helpful. There are no Turpin Roads listed anywhere in the London A-Z, whereas there are four Bridge Streets (all to the west of London). And there are no East End postcodes any higher than E17. Anybody would think that Walford was purely fictional.
The biggest clue to the soap's true location came when the local tube station first appeared on the show in 1996. You won't find Walford East on any published tube map, but a close look at the map outside the on-screen station would reveal that WalfordEast is located on the District line between West Ham and Bow Road, taking the place of Bromley-by-Bow. Which is where I live, near enough. I am an EastEnder.
Bromley-by-Bow is one of the poorest council wards in the country. It has the highest unemployment rate in London. Nearly half of local residents are of Bangladeshi origin. Most of Bromley-by-Bow is covered by postwar apartment blocks. Nearly half of the housing is council owned. The area is hemmed in by a screaming dual carriageway, several railway viaducts and a polluted canal. Bromley-by-Bow does have its own shops, caffs, launderettes, pubs and allotments, but not in the way you've become accustomed to seeing on TV. There are no cosy Victorian squares surrounded by gentrified terraces. There are no nail bars where idle wives waste away their empty lives. There are no bigshot gangsters in trenchcoats on every street corner. In particular, nobody around here ever disappears off on a Caribbean holiday and returns six weeks later with an orange suntan.
So, this week I thought I'd take a look at the real EastEnders in the real East End, in and around Bromley-by-Bow. My East End. Walford it ain't. (expect twice-daily updates this week)