As EastEnders draws to a close until, probably, September, and we’re left only with the prospect of classic episodes and documentaries about the long-running drama, perhaps Immediate Media should repeat the comic strip from Fast Forward in Radio Times, too?
Not to be confused with the eponymous 1980s Australian cassette magazine, the ongoing award-winning SF Bay Area publication written by high school students, or the magazine published by Chichester film and video makers, the BBC’s Fast Forward was launched in September 1989 to compete with ITV’s Look-in. A weekly magazine in a similar format to its rival, aimed at seven- to 14-year-olds, it was published until September 1995.
Heavily promoted by the BBC in TV, something the Corporation could not do today, it enjoyed strong sales for much of its run, initially covering only BBC shows and personalities in its features, but it widened its remit after the deregulation of the TV listings market in March 1991.
Alongside its features covering pop stars of the day, TV shows such as Maid Marian and more, like its predecessor, the short-lived BEEB, published by Polystyle, also featured a number of comic strips, including “EastEnders”, “Bread” (drawn by Andy Hunt), “Byker Grove” (drawn by Bill Titcombe) and “Grange Hill” (drawn by Nigel Parkinson).
Another strip, “TV Centre“, featured BBC personalities of the day on bizarre adventures. Strips also featured in the Fast Forward Year Books.
Although the “EastEnders” strip was published by the BBC, Colin Brake, who worked in the show’s script department for most of the time Fast Forward was published, doesn’t remember it ever being mentioned to them.
“I got given all Hugh Miller’s “EastEnders” novels to read/approve but I don’t remember the comic strip coming my way,” he says. “Of course, it was a long time ago…!”
A number of artists worked on the EastEnders strip, but the first artist to work on the strip was Brian Williamson, better known today for his stunning illustration work for national newspapers and his strip work for Marvel UK and, more recently, the Doctor Who and Torchwood comics published by Titan Comics.
Brian revealed some years back that working on the strip was not his best creative experience.
“For my sins I was the original artist on that bloody ‘Eastenders’ strip, it was the first work I picked up after moving to London, other than my regular ‘Ghostbusters’ stuff. The money was terrible (£100 for two colour pages) and the script was worse.”
One major problem for the strip was that its storylines were outstripped by developments on the show itself.
“In the same week a character was being a drug-addicted homeless person, our script had her becoming a model,@ Brian recalled. “The actor likenesses were a nightmare to get approved, frequently coming in hours before deadline.
“Eventually I had enough and phoned the Ed to say I was leaving the strip, so they should find someone else. Later that afternoon a bike courier delivered a letter to my studio saying I’d been fired!”
By the way, if you think there are quite a few Fast Forward publications vying for attention on the web, imagine the consternation of BBC Enterprises when it discovered another publisher was set to launch a title with the same name as their magazine back in 1989.
Mighty World of British Comics Facebook group members Neil Jackson recalls he was working with a guy who was about to launch a hi-fi mag based on “music on the move”.
“They had a great title: Fast Forward!” he relates. “So they announce it in UK Press Gazette and within minutes of it landing, he gets a call from a frantic BBC Enterprises ‘But we’re launching a mag called Fast Forward!’.
“The two companies came to some agreement (without lawyers I believe). The BBC mag was called Fast Forward, the hi-fi title became FFWD.”
Do you remember Fast Forward, or work on the title? Let us know, below!
With thanks to Jon Carpenter, Phil Rushton, Shaqui Le Vesconte and Brian Williamson