On Feb 19 1985 BBC One broadcast the first ever episode of EastEnders. Tomorrow, a special 'live' episode centred around the murder of Archie Mitchell will mark the 25th anniversary of the programme.
Contemporary British popular culture is often criticised for its descent into a mix of industrial scale car crash television, Simon Cowell's naff-a-thons, and the rise of bullying dressed as gossip in the guise of tabloid journalism and "magazines" a-la Heat or Closer.
If that may not sound encouraging, it is instead remarkable that one of Britain's most popular television products continues to be a work that, if not exactly realistic, at least prides itself on mirroring real life.
Even around the time of its conception, EastEnders kept well away from the gloss of popular 80's US soaps such as Dallas and Dynasty. Even compared to its Australian contemporary Neighbours, EastEnders' characters were often nasty, grotty and ugly, their teeth far from perfect, while the storylines followed the template of the humdrum social realism of 1950s' British cinema.
It's to their credit that the BBC stuck to that formula. Centred around tales of deception and cheating, domestic violence and addiction, teenage pregnancy and mental health, EastEnders proved incredibly successful with the public, soon becoming the nation's favourite TV programme. Many of its characters have become national institutions: the Mitchell brothers, Dirty Den, Ian Beale, Auntie Peggie, Bianca, Rick-aay and so on.
Sure, critics would say that there are a dozen plot holes and that EastEnders staged more murders than the mafia and more resurrections than Jesus and Lazarus on ketamine. Like, it's not unlikely that tomorrow Archie Mitchell walks in through the back door saying he just hopped to Marbella for a few weeks.
One could also argue that the programme redefined the definition of "agoraphobia", with virtually no character ever venturing beyond Albert Square. No-one ever suggests going for a drink somewhere that isn't the Queen Vic and god forbid if a tea or coffee wasn't consumed in "The Caff". Etcetera.
And yet, no other programme managed to woo the nation's imagination on such a large scale for such a long time, striking the perfect balance between fiction and social realism. Viewers' ratings often top ten million per episode and it's not uncommon for a character's trouble and pain to be granted workplace debates up and down the country the following morning.
The beauty of it, is that - for once - such a major programme is consistently centred around the gritty everyday life of working or low/middle class characters, something that in most other countries would be unthinkable.
Often the stories involved have pushed the boundaries and portrayed real-life debates, prompting a complaint or two over issues such as euthanasia, homophobia, abortion, rape, prostitution - all subject matters that most prime time programmes wouldn't touch with a bargepole.
Also, EastEnders has so far resisted the frenzy of juttery filming, epilepsy-inducing flashes, pop-ups and fast lights that today seems mandatory for each and every TV product, from Dispatches and Panorama to Skins and Champions League Weekly. Otherwise, so it seems, they're not deemed "cool" enough for public consumption.
One can only imagine the devastating effect on the viewer that a fast forwarded Dot Cotton or Peggy Mitchell filmed diagonally to a background of sped-up drum'n'bass would have on the viewer.
Instead, EastEnders is proving that high drama and commercial success don't have to involve hackneyed editing techniques and extreme TV fakery.
And so happy 25th birthday to EastEnders and may the future bring more of the same.