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Live EastEnders ends in tears … and Stacey’s shock confession

Finally, we’ve reached the end of a storyline that was first dreamed up a year ago. Now we know the truth. It was Stace who dunnit. Dun wot? You know, killed Archie

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Killed who? You might well ask.

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It’s just as well a giant poster with his image on it is still dominating Albert Square, like some Cockney Banquo’s ghost, because the mystery has been going on so long there was a danger we’d all forget who he was in the first place. After all, he’d only been in the programme for 18 months.

Archie Mitchell, remember, was the lovable rogue/malicious liar who told his daughter her own daughter was dead when she wasn’t, took advantage of Stacey at her most vulnerable, and married Peggy so he could get his greedy mitts on her pub. And on Christmas Day he ended up clobbered with his own petard -- aka the hefty bust of Queen Vic herself.

There have been so many suspects with plausible motives that you’d be forgiven for thinking the producers had dreamed up a screenplay of Cluedo. Phil, Peggy, Ian, Janine and Bradley have all been on the brink of being thrown in the clink. Then, on Thursday, two new possibilities were planted, in the form of Stacey’s dodgy pal and Janine’s dodgy flatmate. By late yesterday, even little Ben Mitchell was the bookies’ favourite.

No wonder they all looked scared to death. Only seven insiders had known the identity of the murderer until producer Diederick Santer told the actress it was her just half an hour before last night’s episode -- the first in the show’s history to be broadcast live.

To protect against the story being leaked, scriptwriters had devised 10 possible endings, with each of the different suspects rehearsing their scene unaware of which would make the show. The tension was enough to render even its most seasoned actor a nervous wreck. “I could feel the adrenalin pumping and my heart was beating faster,” said actor Adam Woodyatt, who plays Ian Beale.

The pre-show hype was almost understandable. The BBC soap’s bete noire has always been ITV’s Coronation Street. Hopes would have been high that last night’s denouement, the culmination of a week of special episodes to celebrate EastEnders’ 25th birthday, would send viewing figures skywards of last week’s 10.33 million average.

Mind you, they had quite a way to go to match the 30 million achieved in 1986, when Dirty Den handed Angie that divorce letter.

Corrie managed 17.5 million viewers for a live 40th birthday episode 10 years ago, meaning that much of the nail-biting last night was down to speculation about how many will watch when Corrie reaches the climax of its 50th birthday year in September.

Meanwhile, those who were glued to EastEnders had to endure 30 minutes of cheesy dramatic counterpoint before the final revelation. The wedding reception was the jollybackdrop to the drama.

Shirley stood at the police station threatening to spill, while Phil went on the rampage, Ian ran for cover, Janine descended into a panic and Peggy and Ronnie bonded in a heap as more revelations about Archie emerged.

Viewers may not have noticed the ropey lighting and poor sound effects. But they will still have heard a very hoarse Stacey tell Max that it was her.

The doofs came just in time: the poor thing was almost overcome by the unusual experience of telling the truth.

Will Archie’s replacement, Alfie, to be played again by Shane Ritchie, have the same devastating effect? Last night, all bets were off.

 

  Eastenders by numbers...

1 The number of live episodes filmed in the programme’s history

 

16 Number of violent deaths

 

25 Number of years the soap opera has been running

 

30 Number of births

 

70 Number of deaths

 

82 The age at which June Brown (who plays Dot Branning) got the first Bafta nomination of her career

 

3,952 Total number of episodes shown to date

 

10.33 million The average viewer figures for the first week in February 2010

 

30 million Viewer figures for the 1986 episode in which Dirty Den handed Angie that divorce letter

 

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