A week later, I am still coming to grips with Pam St Clement permanently hanging up her earrings, or more accurately, the infamous, diverse collection of jewellry that hung from the ear lobes of her character Pat for 25 years on EastEnders.
Being in the States watching EastEnders episodes on 'public TV' (more than seven-and-a-half years behind what's broadcast in the UK by BBC1), I'm living in an EastEnders timewarp. For example, the night before last on WLIW, the station here in New York, Pat was the centre of attention in two back-to-back episodes, during which she coerced Janine into confessing that she was responsible for Barry's death.
Melodrama at its best, the episode also contained Pat trying to get Janine to ease up in her harassment of unlucky Laura, who 10 minutes later ends up leaving little Bobby motherless after an accidental fall down the stairs. Pat was the only person in the Square who showed any compassion to Laura, and naturally she took charge of informing everyone who needed to know of her friend's death. In that episode, Pat realises how evil Janine has become, even way beyond what she thought was possible.
That's why it was so strange to see Janine and Pat - in the scene at Pat's deathbed - proverbially bury the hatchet, even though Janine's plan was to evict the dying woman and her extended family from the house. Obviously the barely conscious Pat had other things on her mind (i.e., the afterlife). Meanwhile, Janine underwent a complete personality change in a split second. Well, just chalk it up to occasional soap slip-ups. Could it have really been her pregnant status that made Janine a human being, at least for a minute?
In the past, Janine laughed at death in her face (i.e., Barry) and she would have relished being at the bottom of the staircase where Laura met her plight. I could hear her say, 'Oops... Laura, you cow ... You're so clumsy!' (Hey, I should be writing for the show, Elstree.) More often than not, EastEnders' kitchen-sink realism wrenches the guts of the converted. Why do we care about these fictional characters? But we do.
[In the interest of full disclosure, I occasionally sneak an online peek at what's playing in the UK for a monumental storyline, such as Pat's death, as we Stateside fans wait for the official launch of the iPlayer, for which we're going to have pay monthly about US$8. It was announced in the summer that it would be available in the fall, but still no signs of it.]
Back to Pam, who was interviewed twice by Walford Gazette contributor Tim Wilson - once in 1995 (reprinted on page 67 of my book Albert Square & Me: The Actors of EastEnders) and again in 1999. WG contributor Suzanne Lafrance stayed at her New York hotel when the actress was in town 13 December 2000 to help fundraise to keep EastEnders on the air at WLIW-TV, out on Long Island. That's where I first met St Clement. Unfortunately, it was the same night that Al Gore decided to concede the presidential election, so contributions weren't as good as they could have been. We can blame George W. Bush for that too, in addition to bankrupting the global economy.
A few months later, I unexpectedly met Pam again on a happier night in Manchester at Granada's studios when we were both booked for a taping of the talk show Soap Fever, whose presenter was EastEnders alumnus Nadia Sawalha (Annie Palmer). I was planted in the audience, and Nadia introduced me as 'the editor of the world's only EastEnders fanzine', prompting me to ask Pam a question. I nervously bellowed, 'Who was Wicksy's dad?!?' Pam must have been asked that same question a thousand times, but responded with a quick quip: 'A lady never tells, Larry'.
EastEnders will sorely miss the moral compass that Pat Beale Wicks Butcher Evans - whom we fans no doubt took for granted - held for a quarter century as Albert Square's streetwise elder stateswoman. At least I have more than seven years to come to cherish her importance.