How we played a part in a soap

Tom Narducci, senior consultant at the NSPCC, on working with EastEnders.

Tom Narducci, senior consultant, NSPCC
Tom Narducci, senior consultant, NSPCC

When the makers of EastEnders planned a storyline on sexual abuse, they approached us at the NSPCC because they knew they were dealing with a difficult subject, to be aired before the watershed, and they wanted to make sure they got it right.

Some people assume they were only chasing ratings. In fact, stories such as this are often chosen on the assumption that ratings will drop slightly, because some people will choose to turn off. It's not the case that they wanted to attach themselves to us to gain respectability; our relationship with them has been one of trust.

We played an integral part in designing both the storyline and the script, and it was very much a two-way process. We think the final product is an accurate reflection of how the characters would feel, drawn from our experiences of working in these situations.

If we had tried to cover the issue in a post-watershed, one-hour documentary, we wouldn't have been able to do it justice. We wouldn't have been able to explain the emotional manipulation and control in detail in the way that we could through a soap.

Choosing stories to cover is a decision for the programme- makers. If a charity targeted a TV show suggesting an issue to be dramatised, most wouldn't touch it. They have their own ideas, and they will decide which is the most appropriate charity to consult. For example, the producers of Hollyoaks must have decided Stonewall had the right expertise when they consulted it on their storyline about two gay characters.

Charities must make it clear that producers can't just use a charity's name without allowing them to be part of the process. If the BBC had wanted that of us, we would have said no. But with EastEnders we had a very good understanding, which allowed us to veto some parts of the original.

For example, one of the early drafts suggested that Tony, the abuser, had a background of being abused. We felt that was inappropriate because it might send out the message that people who are abused automatically go on to become abusers. We also wanted it to be made clear that Tony and Bianca, his partner, still had a sexual relationship because we didn't want to send out the message that paedophiles sleep only with children and not adults.

I hope programme-makers, having seen how well it can work, will approach other charities when developing particular storylines. Charities should be open to these kinds of approaches, but should also be cautious and realise that the process is one of negotiation.

Interview by Rosie Walker.

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