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Peggy goes out in a blaze of glory

See that Phil Mitchell? What a man, eh! Practically indestructible, I'd say. Actually, make that definitely indestructible.

Addled with crack, pickled in alcohol, trapped unconscious under a beam in the burning Queen Vic, which he'd set on fire, and he STILL escaped with nothing more than a bit of a cough.

Then again, Phil survived being shot and at another point driven into a river, so why shouldn't he shrug off a mere raging blaze?

This silly implausibility aside, it was great stuff -- one of the most entertaining episodes of EastEnders in a long time and a small reminder of why, back in its Eighties heyday, it was the most compelling soap on the TV.

Though Phil's descent into drink and drugs hell has been too swift to ring entirely true, Steve McFadden's performance this last few weeks has been terrifyingly convincing.

Since Phil rarely gets to do much except shoutily threaten people before punching them, you might think this is faint praise, but it's not.

McFadden was terrific, snarling at monstrous mother Peggy: "Do you wanna know why I'm like I am? Because of you! You drove me to it!"

This, of course, was the beginning of Peggy's exit from EastEnders after 16 years.

To be honest, I won't miss squeaky, one-note Barbara Windsor and her three expressions. The decline of EastEnders began when the dysfunctional Mitchell clan were allowed to dominate the show.

But it was fun to watch the fun the writers are having with Peggy's fiery send-off. With a knowing wink, they let her screech her catchphrase, "Gerroura my paaahb!", one last time.

There was also a slap, without which no Albert Square crisis would be complete, delivered by Pat to Stacey (feels a bit weird typing those words!), who, in a scene reminiscent of the death of husband Bradley in the 25th anniversary live episode, plunged from a ladder. All in all, a cracking -- not to mention crackling -- half-hour.

Alan Davies might be a stand-up comic, an actor and a regular on Stephen Fry's QI, but there's no reason why his teenage years in the Seventies and Eighties, which were lived out in the moneyed end of suburban Essex, should be inherently more remarkable than anyone else's.

There was barely enough material in Alan Davies' Teenage Revolution to fill one episode, let alone three, and a lot of it was ropey and overstretched.

He talked about his heroes, Barry Sheen, John McEnroe, Paul Weller (who signed his old copy of The Jam's All Mod Cons) and, in an infatuation that was as fleeting as it was improbable, Margaret Thatcher); about hating his posh public school, and about his short career as a shoplifter, swiping items from the local bookshop.

It was lightweight and inconsequential, but Davies was on more substantial ground when addressing the casual, and not so casual, racism that blighted Thatcher's Britain and even seeped into his posh school.

"It's not something I'm proud of, but I was as bad as the rest of them at 14," he admitted. He chatted with an Asian former classmate and later tracked down and apologised to Mr Shah, the shopkeeper he used to cluelessly pester and ridicule.

Mr Shah was gracious, but it was an awkward and gimmicky moment.

More satisfying was Davies' interview with Ian, a former member of the notorious Debden skinheads.

Ian talked, a little shamefacedly, about how they used to go (and, please, pardon the phrase) "Paki-bashing" in the Asian community of Brick Lane.

Ian's a Mod now and seems to be a reformed character.

His elderly father, however, who wouldn't look out of place in EastEnders, is a nasty, unreconstructed piece of work who's probably past reconstruction at this stage.

He talked about how the family had left Hackney because there were "too many coloureds" living there.

Davies was quietly dismayed. Ian shuffled with embarrassment.

STACEY'S STARS

Eastenders ***

Alan Davies' Teenage Revolution **


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