Saturday, 19 March 2011

Interview 24

Larry Jaffee is editor and publisher of the Walford Gazette - an American fanzine for the British television soap opera EastEnders. He recently published 'Walford State of Mind' - a collection which brings the 'best of' essays previously published in the fanzine.

Please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a fan of the British TV soap opera, EastEnders.

I've been a professional journalist for over three decades,
published in the likes of The New York Times and Rolling Stone early in my career, and later edited media and marketing trade magazines and websites. Although no one in my family is British, I’ve always been an anglophile, to which I attribute listening to Beatlemania and the British Invasion on AM radio in the 1960s, and ingesting large amounts of Monty Python humour during my impressionable teenage years.

I first
watched EastEnders in late 1987 on a public TV station in Washington,DC, which didn't yet have cable TV so there were few programmes that interested me. Tracey Ullman introduced EastEnders as the great new thing out of Britain. From that first episode I was hooked, and especially loved the look on Den Watts' face in the Vic when he realized that there was blood on his crisp white Oxford shirt after breaking up the fight between Nick and Ali.

Can you tell us about how you became the American champion for this
British TV show and whether you think fandom has a role to play in keeping shows like this on air.

I started the fanzine on a whim, and had no idea that I would
still be publishing it 19 years later. It was two or three years into it that I realized we wielded some power with the BBC in New York – that they took us seriously when we started protesting plans to cancel the show. Incredulously, The Times of London picked up the story in 1995 (quoting the Gazette’s co-founder) and ran it on page 2 next to an article about the United Nations inspecting Iraqi arms!

The actress and star of EastEnders Michelle Collins (who played the
character of Cindy Beale) has remarked that 'the Walford Gazette is obviously far more than your typical fanzine...' Can you perhaps talk a little about why Collins (and others) might consider it more than a 'typical' fan publication.

I think the cast members have responded to it positively is that we treat them with respect, and unlike the tabloids, don't delve into their personal lives. In the case of Michelle, I think she's amazed how devoted we are to analyzing the intricacies of Cindy Beale. A succession of executive producers and other members of the creative team also praised the Gazette's approach to writing about the show.

Who is your favourite character in the soap and why?

That is a tough question. I used to think it was Mark Fowler because
he represented sort of the soul and conscious of the show. He was the only character with whom I could picture myself being a mate. I always appreciated the Humphrey Bogart-like swagger of Den Watts. Dot Cotton is always good for comic relief, but she can also bring the highest drama.

Can you please recommend one or two other fan publications we should read?

Neither is sadly still in print. They both debuted in 1990 and sort of served as models for what I wanted to do with The Gazette. 'Wrapped In Plastic' was dedicated to 'Twin Peaks' and all things David Lynch for 75 issues through 2005. They spun off a book, which impressed me greatly.

'8-Track Mind' published its
100th and last issue in 2001. It was a fun fanzine with cut corners like an 8-track tape, perfectly capturing the subculture of collecting a dead medium that just recently was rewarded with a museum in Dallas! I also was contributing editor to a great Bob Dylan fanzine called 'On The Tracks' that published from 1998-2005.