Albert Square is the only place in London where the housing market appears to be stable and there is a plentiful supply of homes for anyone separating from a partner or being kicked out of their last place. Phil Mitchell and Ian Beale appear able to buy homes in the Square at will, normally with the relevant amount of cash.
The show normally prides itself on its ‘gritty realism’ and its research into controversial topics, trying to get the facts right, and frequently advertises help lines when distressing stories are being broadcast – for example, around the cot death of Ronnie Mitchell’s son James or Whitney Dean being forced into prostitution.
However they never seem to concern themselves with housing. Last week no help lines were advertised when Janine illegally evicted Roxy with no sign of a legal procedure, just walking in and removing her stuff. In previous weeks, the landlady attempted forcible entry and clearly harassed poor Roxy and her small child. Parents might also be perturbed at the rather cavalier way a children’s officer took Roxy’s daughter off her and gave her into the care of Jack Branning under what was said to be a Temporary Residence Order. Shades of Cathy Come Home.
When we talk about rogue landlords we would do well to keep Janine Butcher in our mind. Not that Roxy deserves much sympathy, having done similar things to previous tenants of her own before she squandered her inheritance from her Dad, the beautifully evil Archie Mitchell. (It’s also a mystery as to why Janine refers to Roxy as a Chav when her Dad was a successful rich criminal who lived in a very large house on the south coast before moving in with Peggy, but I’ve gone off at a tangent).
Another recent storyline, involving young squatters, seemed well out of touch with reality as the property seemed to be transformed magically into a care home of some sort, by an amazing stroke of luck the squatters got to live there (I admit I may have missed an episode and misunderstood something here, or I may have happened upon the E20 spin-off, but the same principles apply).
Unfortunately, Walford Council is never much help. They do not appear to have a housing advice or tenancy relations service, and it looks like the CAB has never made it to Walford either. The council only ever appears in a bad light, run either by corrupt or otherwise unhelpful and stupidly bureaucratic officials with the single policy of doing whatever annoys the residents of the square. I do have a distant memory of one storyline when (I think) Michelle Fowler went off to work in the housing allocations department of the council, where there were strange goings-on. It didn’t end well.
So, here’s a plea to EastEnders producers and the BBC. When there is an illegal eviction, please remember that this is an experience many people in this country have every day. And just as you do for other difficult storylines, putting Helpline information on the screen at the end of the show is the minimum you could do.
It would be even better if a charming Housing Officer come along to prevent the eviction, accompanied by a Police Officer willing to make an arrest.