EastEnders pays tribute to show beginnings in special way on 39th anniversary

EastEnders has been on air for a whopping 39 years today (February 19), and what better way to celebrate than by paying homage to some of the show’s original cast and storylines?

Back in 1985, the cast was a lot smaller than it is today, with the show only going out twice a week, as opposed to the four episodes we get now. Imagine how long we’d have had to wait for the Christmas murder reveal if they’d carried on going at that rate!

Over the years, we have seen characters come and go, witnessed countless births and deaths, and even a few resurrections.

While only three characters original characters still remain on screen today – four if you count iconic barmaid Tracey (Jane Slaughter) – previous characters are often mentioned, with viewers being given an insight into what they’re up to now.

In tonight’s anniversary episode, a subtle scene which saw Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth) sitting alone in the Albert paid tribute to the history of the show by recognising some previous characters and events.

Kathy has been trying to get hold of Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean) ever since she fled to Australia after Keanu’s murder. In tonight’s episode, she sent another text to Sharon, hoping to finally get a reply.

‘How’s Michelle? Wish Albie a happy birthday. I miss you x’, she wrote.

Viewers will know that Sharon is currently staying with original character Michelle Fowler, who recently underwent a hysterectomy.

EastEnders picture shows a mobile phone with a text message reading 'How's Michelle? Wish Albie a happy birthday. I miss you x'
Kathy’s short text was full of deep EastEnders history (Picture: BBC)

Michelle and Sharon were best friends from the very first episode, and have remained in contact over the years, even after both moving away from the Square.

Not only has their friendship stood the test of time, but also huge challenges that many friendships in EastEnders history have failed to endure – including the revelation that Sharon’s adopted dad Den Watts was the father of Michelle’s daughter Vicki.

Not only did Kathy’s text recognise the history between Michelle and Sharon, but also between Sharon and Kathy.

There has been plenty of tension between the two characters over the years – need we mention Sharongate? – but at the heart of it, Sharon has always been the daughter of Kathy’s best friend, Angie Watts.

Michelle, Sharon, Phil and Kathy gather in the Vic in EastEnders
There is a rich history between Sharon, Kathy and Michelle – and Phil, for that matter!  

Only a few episodes ago we saw Kathy telling Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) that she’d promised Angie she would look after Sharon, which just highlights how important the legacy of these characters really is in a show with a history as extensive as EastEnders’.

With Sharon being one of three legacy characters left, alongside Kathy and Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt), it was certainly fitting that she would finally get back in contact during the 39th anniversary episode, and with Kathy of all the members of The Six.

In her text, Kathy also mentioned Albie’s birthday – yet another important milestone of EastEnders history.

Kathy putting a hand on pregnant Sharon's shoulder as she goes into labour in EastEnders
Kathy helped Sharon deliver baby Albie  

Albie was born during a dramatic week for EastEnders’ 35th anniversary, which saw the same series of events told from different perspectives each night.

One such event involved Kathy delivering baby Albie in the funeral parlour, after Sharon was held hostage there by Ben Mitchell (Max Bowden). The episodes also resulted in the death of Sharon’s son Denny, and brought an end to her affair storyline with Keanu.

With so much going on storyline wise in EastEnders currently, and such a rich history to reflect on, tonight’s episode did a great job at subtly paying tribute to its humble beginnings, as well as highlighting how much has changed in 39 years.

As well as showcasing legacy characters like Kathy and Sharon, one scene in the episode showed Suki Panesar and Eve Unwin (Balvinder Sopal and Heather Peace) sharing a kiss as they celebrated Valentine’s Day together – something that would have had a very different reaction 39 years ago.

Colin and Barry kiss in EastEnders
Colin and Barry’s kiss made history for UK soaps  

Viewers will remember how the show made history by airing the first kiss between two gay characters during Colin Russell and Barry Clark’s storyline in 1987, but faced significant backlash from viewers at the time.

39 years on, EastEnders still refuses to shy away from tackling LGBTQ+ issues and has garnered hundreds of hardcore fans as a result.

Amid all of this, one thing that hasn’t changed over 39 years is the soap’s famous boozer being at the centre of the action.

Tonight’s episode revolved around two significant storylines which have both seen the Queen Vic take centre stage – Keanu’s Christmas Day murder and George Knight’s (Colin Salmon) discovery about his childhood.

To have the majority of the action of tonight’s episode take place in the Queen Vic was the perfect tribute to its rich history within the show.

And of course, that huge twist at the very end had us all gasping at the telly in true EastEnders fashion – because what’s EastEnders without an unexpected surprise?

After 39 years, the show is stronger than ever, with the passion of the cast and production team shining through in every episode. Happy birthday, EastEnders.

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