CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - Getting a jump on EastEnders' 30th anniversary this Thursday night, several dozen Yanks here reveled on all things Walford the afternoon of 14 February in this American city situated in the vicinity of the great 1960s US sitcom, the Andy Griffith Show.
No sheriff was needed to break up any rowdy punters a la Grant & Phil or Nasty Nick.
Since it was Valentine's Day, attendees were encouraged to dress up as Albert Square's all-time favourite couple, Kat & Alfie, and many did. But they're were also other characters on hand, such as Dot Cotton, Bianca Jackson and Den Watts, as you can see from the photos.
North Carolina EastEnders party cake
The ringleader of the festivities was Melissa Berry, of Greensboro, NC, who once gifted a pair of earrings to Pam St Clement so that Pat Butcher would wear them on EastEnders, and she did! Berry, known colloquially as "Mo," tells her story:
"I was determined that our club would have the biggest and best collection of EE memorabilia this side of the pond. At one point in time, my home office became what was jokingly referred to as the NC EE Museum. Autographed posters of various actors were framed and displayed proudly. All those autographs were painstakingly categorized by 'families'. Bookcases soon overflowed with die-cast metal cars with the Queen Vic emblazoned on their sides, scripts signed by Dot Cotton herself, and autobiographies signed by Mike Reid, Martine McCutcheon and Wendy Richard were nudged in between all of the old EastEnders yearly annuals that they used to publish. My cousin Saifa must have spent a small fortune at one time sending me all of the UK soap magazines - bless her! Every Albert Square actor who had ever attempted a music career was on my hit list. If it was remotely connected to Walford, I had to have it.
Melissa Berry As Dot
"Trips back to England served as a way to get some of those one-of-a-kind items that no one in the States could get at the time. Now, thanks to eBay, those items can be found with the click of a mouse.
"All of these 'things' and my being president of the WNC (Western North Carolina) Fanatics offered me the opportunity to add something that is the most priceless in my collection - the memories of visiting the set twice, meeting Anita Dobson (who played Angie in the early years of EastEnders), being on an episode of EastEnders Revealed, and meeting other amazing fans both here and in England. The autographs now number well over 200, the tea towel still hangs in my office (which has long since been down-sized and no longer qualifies as a 'museum'!). And special items such as the teapots are still proudly displayed along with my Luxford and Copley bar mats from the set. Other items were passed on to the fan club when I stepped down as president. But the most prized possessions are still here. If you are ever in North Carolina - look me up! I'll give you a personal tour! teapots."
Part of Berry's collection
Checking the authenticity of the knees-up was Cockney journalist Ruairdh Connelian, whose reportage apparently is headed for one of the UK tabloids this week.
The WNC Fanatics' stellar reputation and their memorable parties precede them. The BBC in 2010 sent a camera crew to Charlotte to film Shane Richie for a Children in Need segment.
This club supports the annual fundraiser for UNC-TV, the public television station that broadcasts EastEnders, one of ten US over-the-air outlets that still show the series after so many have canceled it, with typical management explanations of low ratings - the same excuse coming from BBC America, which took it off the air in 2003.
As the adage goes, apparently the grass is always greener on the other side.