An EastEnders HD future ... is change really needed?
Matt Conder takes a light-hearted look into how any set revamp for HD could be incorporated into storylines.
High Definition Television has enabled us to see some of the world’s most beautiful locations in stunning picture quality; the Rocky Mountains, the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids and perhaps soon even Beale’s Plaice.
Walford Web recently reported that after years of speculation about a possible move to Pinewood Studios among other places; EastEnders was to stay at its Elstree base for the “foreseeable future”. Also of note is the plan that most of us have already heard of; which is to film and broadcast EastEnders in HD format.
Although no official date for EastEnders HD transmissions has been set, according to recent industry press reports EastEnders production has signed contracts for a five year deal with BBC Studios and Post Production (S&PP) to refresh technology used on the set in preparation for HD. S&PP have said that any old standard definition cameras that are “past their economic life” will be replaced by new tapeless HD cameras.
Of course it’s not as simple as just changing the camera equipment. HD shows things in greater detail and because of that the BBC has been told it needs to smarten up its sets in preparation for the transfer to filming in HD. Now that we know Elstree Studios will continue to be used instead of a brand new set at another location it means some serious face lifting is needed for Albert Square.
There are bullet holes in the R&R, greasy chip papers in Turpin Road, and so many have cried at Arthur’s bench over the years it needs painting again.
Built in the early 1980s the set of Albert Square was designed by the late Keith Harris – a senior designer on the EastEnders production team. Consisting mainly of plywood the set was never really meant to be a permanent fixture, but despite all that has happened on the Square over the years it has remained mostly intact since the very first episodes aired in 1985.
Temporary repairs have been made where possible but over time it has become apparent that things can’t keep being repaired and more permanent solutions are needed.
Indeed it is testament to the hard work of the EastEnders crew that you rarely see any major set defects on screen (apart from the odd wall moving when Ian and Phil get together for a ‘nice little chat’).
How the set would be revamped to accommodate HD remains to be seen. It may even have to be written into a storyline - which wouldn’t be unusual as it has happened before. According to a report in the Times newspaper, scaffolding had to be written into the storyline when essential work to repair a building had to take place around filming schedules. I can hear Dot now: “sorry Heather I can’t stay, I’ve got some high definition men coming round to redecorate my hallway after tea”.
Maybe the residents will be roped in to help redecorate and repair Albert Square. Peggy & Pat can start painting the Vic, Christian can wallpaper the…oh wait a minute, perhaps best if he stayed away from wallpaper for a while. Walford residents have already made an effort to spruce up the Albert Square gardens in the area around Trina’s tree. Unfortunately thanks to the devious Lucas attempting to cover his tracks all their hard work was lost. Let’s just hope for his sake they don’t bring the JCB’s in and start digging. Perhaps they could even bring back Paul Priestly from Leeds to do some building work, (blimey I bet that takes you back!) or if Ground Force was still going there could be a great opportunity for another Harvey Freeman type storyline - but with Peggy and Pat fighting over Tommy Walsh instead!
EastEnders has already started to embrace special effects technology. Since February CGI trains have been used to create a more realistic background effect as they trundle over the bridge into the tube station. (Rumour has it Charlie Slater nips out with his notebook and a jam sandwich to watch them go past now and then). The use of CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) effects in this way is not a new idea; rival soap Coronation Street has had CGI trams for some years now. Perhaps we should all start using CGI trains - it would be much better for the environment.
Of course the question many ask is do we really need an HD version of EastEnders?
Some would say that HD is only really made for movies, sport or documentaries and such technology would not be necessary for a soap opera. But with Freeview HD launching in some areas of the UK already it seems certain that HD is going to gradually replace standard definition programming in the foreseeable future.
Perhaps it’s best to leave things as they are. One day we might find EastEnders is broadcasting in super cinema surround sound…Rickaaay! - But then again hopefully not.
© 2010 Matt Conder.