It’s Diederick Santer’s turn in the Spotlight
What does he have to say as he prepares to bid farewell to Walford?
Unless you’ve lived in a black hole for the last couple of years, you should know that Diederick Santer is the current Executive Producer of EastEnders. Diederick is about to leave and hand the reins over to Bryan Kirkwood.
Charlotte took the time to interview Diederick this week before his departure.
First of all the live episode has been a huge success. You must be thrilled to be going out on such a high?
The live episode and the audience’s response to it has been everything I could have hoped for. The cast and crew were terrific - it was a brilliant piece of writing, wrapping up a great storyline, executed by a hugely accomplished crew, showcasing a number of top notch performances. And most of all, it fulfilled our ambition of creating a national event for our 25th anniversary. I’m completely thrilled, and I leave knowing that we totally nailed it.
So Stacey was Archie’s killer. What does this mean for the character of Stacey?
I think it’s very interesting for Stacey. Certainly what we have planned for the next few months will be fascinating. This week we are issuing a ’two hander’ script between Max and Stacey which we’ll complete very quickly, dropping into the running order fairly soon. It will explore the motives behind what Stacey did, and be a big test for Max. Can he forgive Stacey for what she’s done, even though it led to the death of his son? Will he turn her over to the police? One thing that we’ll be keen to show is that Stacey was lucid at the time of Archie’s death; striking him with the Queen Vic bust was not a function of her bipolar. She had sound reasons to be angry with Archie - he took advantage of her, he ruined her second chance with Bradley, he caused the chain of events which killed her best friend, he even effectively ran her beloved brother Sean out of town. All of this will be explored, as will the question of whether she really meant to kill him. For now, it stays a secret between two people, but who knows whether Max can keep it a secret forever?
Looking back over your time on the show, are there any storylines or decisions you regret making and would have liked to have done differently?
Some decisions I wish I’d made sooner. I think in my first year I was a bit timid about getting rid of characters which weren’t working. I think part of that was my feeling that the show had undergone such instablility and change in the three years prior to my arrival that I wanted to build a sense of confidence and continuity among the company. But I soon snapped out of it and did what needed to be done. Quite honestly, I don’t regret any of the big decisions. Smaller details like the execution or pacing of a particular episode or storyline bug me loads, but nothing big. And so often your hands get tied on those things. Just as a story gets interesting we have to look away because those actors are on holiday or we’ve run out of licensing hours for the kids. That happens all the time.
What has been your proudest moment at EastEnders since becoming Executive Producer?
I felt pretty proud on Friday 19th February, steering the show to its biggest peak in seven years. I was also very proud of the reaction to the Whitney/Tony/Bianca climax. There was real value in that story, and I think we did it justice. I remember my phone waking me up at about 9.30 on Boxing Day 2007 as a very enthused BBC head of scheduling called me to tell me we’d got 14m for Christmas Day, the Max/Stacey reveal. This New Year’s Day with Syed and Amira’s wedding and the success we had with those episodes was pretty cool too.
Do you like it when the show takes risks or are there times where it’s important to play safe?
I love it when the show takes risks and I hate it when the show plays safe. One of our responsibilities as a BBC show is to be distinctive and original. That’s quite a tall order after 25 years and 4000 episodes, but we have to strive for it. I want the audience to come to their favourite show and that familiar world with familiar and much-loved characters, but then to be surprised and shocked and delighted and teased. I want watching EastEnders to be a stimulating, active, involving, infuriating, rewarding experience. And the only way to do that is to take risks. The downside of risks is that sometimes they go wrong, but if you don’t ever take them all you will acheive is mediocrity.
The Masood’s have been such a success story but many fans have missed Shabnam not being part of the families recent drama. Do you think we will see Shabnam again at some point either by recasting or by Zahra returning? and with Amira leaving do you think the family would benefit from further female additions. Zainab is pretty outnumbered!
Do people really miss Shabnam? What would she have added to the recent drama? She would, I think, have diluted it by taking screen time away from the main players. I think Zahra is a fine actress and I quite liked the character, but I can’t say I miss her or am troubled by her absence. It’s nice, I suppose, to feel that a family is intact and at full strength on screen, but I feel that her departure has been the making of both Masood and Tamwar. She overlapped in some ways with each of those characters. (The quiet authority, the family subversive, respectively.) With Amira gone, though, there may indeed be a need to refresh the dynamic among the Masoods. I don’t know, though. They seem to be doing pretty well as they are.
Since being at EastEnders there have been quite a few returning characters. Are there any others you wished you could have brought back? Sharon is always a popular choice amongst our forum members if it helps!!
Sharon is a great character, but I always worried about a potential overlap with Roxy and Ronnie, so we never pursued that. I was very keen to get Simon Wicks back at one stage, but it wasn’t to be. I’d love to see Cindy and Kathy back, but I vowed never to revive dead characters!
What has been your all time favourite EastEnders storyline?
As a viewer, I got really involved with Michelle Fowler and her pregnancy and the who’s the daddy thing. Firstly her dilemma at what she should do about getting pregnant interested me, and then the mystery story excited me. Tony Holland was a brilliant storyliner, and it’s interesting to think of the range of material he managed to generate from that one pregnancy. Perhaps this has led to me doing my fair share of pregnancy storylines...!
What will you miss most about working at EastEnders?
I love the people here - they are committed, funny, creative, professional, risk-taking, hard-working. I love feeling needed - people ask me my opinion about stuff the whole time and that’s really rewarding. It’s also amazing to work on something that has such a strong and regular relationship with its audience, something the audience care passionately about . I’ll miss that for sure.
Any hints or teasers you can give us on upcoming storylines?
The Jack Branning shooting isn’t a whodunnit, as reported in some places, but is rather an interesting story about the choices you make in life. Things get pretty big for the Masoods before too long - secrets don’t stay secret forever! Max and Darren meet an interesting pair. Fat Boy gets wheels. Peggy and Pat find themselves in competition. Charlie plays darts. Something spooky happens in a forest. Ben tries to be more like his dad, and Shirley tries to be a mum. A wormhole to another dimension is discovered in the Queen Vic. Some clowns do a show. (I made the last two up.)
Finally, what question would you have liked to be asked, and how would you answer it?!
Do you ever look at the Walford Web Forums?
I do, every now and again, perhaps most often after a big episode or storyline. It’s important to me to know what the audience think, and fan forums are one way of getting a sense of that. I love the passion and the arguments and the conspiracy theories on the boards. I love how an individual’s opinion or conjecture one week somehow becomes a hard and fast fact by the next. I’ve read many brilliant and really perceptive insights on the forums too. I always have to keep in my head, though, the fact that people who are committed to and engaged with a show to the extent that they go online and talk about it are in the vast minority. So I always take anything I read as AN opinion rather than THE opinion, even if it appears to be the consensus online. Reading Walford Web Forums you’d think, for example, that Jack and Ronnie are the least popular pairing on the show. (The mass audience of course tells us a different story.) Or that Mrs Patel had the potential to be an interesting character. (She did not.) It’s all part of the wonderful and contradictory swirl of passion and opinion that EastEnders generates and that I’ve revelled in for the last (nearly) three and a half years.
Thank you very much for your time !
Thanks for yours.