Come on Down? Popular Media Culture in Post-War Britain

By Dominic Strinati; Stephen Wagg | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

From the East End to EastEnders

Representations of the working class, 1890-1990

Kathryn Dodd and Philip Dodd

What kind of thing do you imagine when you are promised a film, TV drama or a book which deals with ‘traditional’ working-class experience? Have you been schooled to expect the world of the Hovis advert with unemployment thrown in: cobbled streets, hunched figures, northern accents, children in oversize cloth caps and a brass band playing somewhere in the distance? Perhaps you carry around gendered images, either of male working-class labourers, coal miners, ship builders, steel workers—or of the working-class housewife, beloved of northern comics, with or without teeth, on the doorstep in her pinafore, having a laugh with her neighbour. Or coming south, it may be the world of Minder or EastEnders that comes more immediately into focus: the labyrinthine street-world of east London, small-time crooks, cockney wit or ‘er indoors.

What is the power of this repertoire of representations? Why is the working class so relentlessly discovered in the same places—up north and in the East End? Are there no working-class people worth representing in Suffolk or Somerset, in Leicestershire or Cornwall? One response to these questions is to show that the working class of, say, Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, or of the BBC’s EastEnders, to take two classic representations, bear scant relationship to the actual working class of, respectively, Wigan in the 1930s or the East End in the 1990s. This demonstration ‘proves’ that the works do not reflect the ‘real’ working class, and are therefore to be condemned. The assumption hidden in this position is that works reflect the world beyond them, and ought to provide untroubled access to it. 1

A related and more sophisticated response to this one relates the varying cultural representations of the working class to wider

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