On Christmas day, EastEnders will be broadcast for the first time in stunning high definition on BBC One HD. In celebration, we’e got some exclusive photos and fascinating inside facts about the preparation of the shows HD premiere.
The biggest changes were on The Queen Vic, the setting of the unforgettable Christmas day storyline in which Dirty Den served his wife Angie a set of divorce papers. The jaw-dropping moment has been etched into viewers memories since that day 24 years ago in 1986 and is now synonymous with Christmas the same way turkey and mistletoe are.
To make the Queen Victoria ready for her appearance in HD, beer labels on bottles and the pumps on the bar were redesigned with sharper graphics alongside the beer mats on the pub’s tables. The ambience and background music of the pub will now play out in surround sound thanks to the HD audio and the chitter-chatter of bar will be clearer than ever before ensuring no gossip goes unheard
The fire of the Queen Vic, pictured above, which tore through the entire pub, was written into the storyline so the set could be rebuilt and ready for a series of high definition close-ups. Some of the set design was 25 years old and has now been updated with a modern new-look, keeping the distinctive Queen Vic image.
The fire scenes were shot in two completely different studios involving over 40 crew and, along with the death of Tiffanyand the return of Dirty Den, the scene will go down in EastEnders history.
The houses in Albert Square are made of improved plaster brick that’s coloured in to look real. With HD cameras catching every detail, crevice and nook & cranny, a new material called GRP (glass reinforced-plastic) is used for small areas of construction. From now on, artificial buildings are being replaced brick by brick around the square by a team of builders to ensure each shot looks as realistic as the last. That means in the past few months, before EastEnders gets its HD airing on your HDTV, 15,000 square meters of ‘bricks’ have been replaced!
Another classic location on the set is the Launderette, a place for airing dirty laundry and then talking about it. The industrial look of Dot Cotton’s iconic workplace is perfect for HD with its worn down surfaces and grubby walls. Apart from building a new room at the back of the wash-shop, no changes were made.
Eagle-eyed fans may notice slight changes going on in the background as HD renovation takes place. The set is in constant use whilst filming so upgrade work has to be done around production. If you look closely, you’ll see iconic parts of the set being worked on as the weeks go by and you’ll witness construction on places such as the railway bridge and its prominent arches. The fictional London Underground station, Walford East, has had a downgrade because the tiles were too clean and due to the lack of real trains running through it, looked too white.
Inside the houses of Albert Square, more changes had to be made to make the living rooms as realistic as possible.Pat Butcher’s prefab was kitted out with new wallpaper designed by an interior specialist to keep with the original pattern. Over on the other side of the Square, Zoe Lucker’s move into the Branning household ensured a complete refurb to erase any traces of Max’s ex-wife. This is another great example of clever storylines being written in to the plot for the arrival of HD.
It’s not all building work, painstaking colour matching or redesign by arson, Ian Beale’s brickwork in his back garden was simply covered up by a bit of Winter Jasmine. But don’t tell anyone we told you that.
The first episode of EastEnders premiered on 19 February 1985 and has continued to be the channels number one primetime show. With 30 births, 55 weddings and almost 80 deaths, the soap’s success looks set to continue through the years following its upgrade to HD.
EastEnders airs on BBC One Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with an omnibus every Sunday. The first ever HD episode will premiere on Christmas day on BBC One HD at 8pm.