The Sun

The Pope of Soap

Matt's worked on a host of TV classics
Saturday July 18, 1998
EASTENDERS boss Matthew Robinson has vowed to take BBC1's soap back to the top of the ratings. And who better suited to the job than the man who has worked on more soaps than any other executive producer in British television history. The acknowledged Pope of Soap has spent more than 30 years in the business. In 1985 alone he was involved with six episodes of three different soaps in one week. He directed two episodes each of Coronation Street and EastEnders and wrote two for the now defunct Crossroads.

Matthew, 53, who was appointed executive producer of EastEnders five months ago, says: "It was incredible. I was on the credits as director of two of the most popular shows on television and as a writer on another soap. I wrote 30 episodes of Crossroads and it was the best-paid job I ever had - and that includes the present one. The shows were only 18 minutes long but they paid 50 pence for every word in the script."

"I'd be writing and include the direction, 'He walks into the kitchen' and I'd think to myself ... 'that's another £2.50'. Crossroads probably had the most crammed scripts ever. And the slight tackiness of the sets and the slightly sloping scenery were all part of the charm."

This is Matthew's second stint on Albert Square and he reckons his new scripts will be better than ever before. He says: "I had great fun before, but working on EastEnders is like coming home for me. I was one of the directors when EastEnders started in 1985. I've even got a picture of myself and the first TV camera in Albert Square. The biggest audience I've ever had was for an EastEnders Christmas episode in 1987. We went on before the Queen's speech and got 24.5 million viewers.

"What the viewers didn't know was that Jonathan Powell, then Controller of BBC1, had seen the episode and decided it wasn't Christmassy enough. "It was about ten days before Christmas, so Julia Smith, the show's creator, called me in. "Directing was easy in those days and we filled it with Christmas bells, carols and Angie and Den eating mince pies and drinking brandy. "There wasn't a huge storyline in it but the fans liked the Christmas feel to it."

Matthew, the eldest of four children, was brought up in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. His younger brother Tom was the first in the family to find fame. Tom topped the charts during the 70s with hit singles including 2-4-6-8 Motorway and War Baby.

Now Matthew is is the famous one and is bringing together all his years of experience to boost EastEnders.

He says: "I'd like to take the best of the other shows and put them into EastEnders. For instance, Emmerdale's sense of place. We are now expanding outside the Square a little to try to get a sense of the EastEnders' area. Coronation Street's strength is they are able to create good drama and keep warmth between the characters.

"EastEnders has concentrated on the aggro rather than the warmth. I do think we have to give the impression that the characters care about each other. And Brookside has the Liverpudlian sense of humour. East End humour is very different and less dry. There is humour in EastEnders but you have to search quite hard to find it."

"The viewers will start to notice that EastEnders is changing before their eyes." He adds: "We will be running major stories in EastEnders about gay and bisexual characters, but that is part of life. "I would never put anything in for effect. It comes out of the situation, the location, the characters - a group of people living in the East End."

Matthew still has the energy and enthusiasm he had when he entered television 32 years ago. He says: "It's the greatest job in the world. One minute I'm saying hello to Barbara Windsor, a British movie legend, and the next I'm in casting with sets of adorable twins who want the role as baby Courtney. And the BBC, through the drama department, really takes EastEnders seriously. It's their most important show and they pour resources into it. Investing my time and energy into making it Britain's top soap is the least I can do in return."

HERE are just some of the shows Matt has worked on:
1966: On The Braden Beat.
1973: Directed King Of The Castle.
1974: Directed Z-Cars.
1975: Directed Softly, Softly.
1976: Directed Emmerdale Farm.
1977: Directed Coronation St.
1980: On nurses drama Angels.
1981: Worked on short-lived soap Together
1983: Worked on Brookside.
1984: Directed episodes of Doctor Who.
1985: Started a four-year stint at EastEnders.
1986: Worked on District Nurse.
1987: Howard's Way.
1988: Bergerac.
1989: Producer-director of 150 episodes of Byker Grove.
1998: Appointed executive-producer of EastEnders.

THE SUN, Saturday July 18, 1998