Throughout his multiple tenures as boss, John Yorke has overseen some of EastEnders biggest ever storylines, including Who shot Phil? and Kat Slaters revelation that Zoe was her daughter. Loyal viewers will know that John understands the soap in a way that very few others do, which is why he was the right man to call when EastEnders needed help.
In 2017, EastEnders was going through a bit of a bad patch. The soap was struggling in the viewership department, and many fans were disgruntled by the overall shift in the tone of the series. The era had gotten off to a rough start, after mainstays Ronnie and Roxy Mitchell were controversially killed off.
Unfortunately, many things needed improvement, as several of Albert Squares finest began to behave out of character (namely Mick Carter), melodramatic storylines took precedence, and then there was that odd recurring story about the bins not being emptied. This was far from the EastEnders that viewers knew and loved. The soap was in need of a saviour. In short, it was in need of John Yorke.
John came on board to help EastEnders get back on track. Knowing what hed accomplished during his previous tenures on the soap was a comfort to many fans. It didnt take long for fans to start noticing his influence. The controversial Willmott-Brown story was wrapped up quickly, and characters had once again started to behave like their old selves. Speaking of which, one of the first things that he did was restore Mick and Linda to the unbreakable couple that Dominic Treadwell-Collins had designed.
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Micks near-relationship with Whitney was something that a lot of viewers (myself included) found hard to buy into since it was so out of character for the Carter patriarch to betray his wife. With Mick and Linda back together, and the whole affair storyline more or less retconned, it was clear that John knew what he was doing.
Thats not to say that EastEnders magic was restored right away, because it wasnt. There were a few teething problems, specifically in regards to the Aidan Maguire storyline and the New Years Day heist, but this was to be expected considering John was brought on last minute. The soap was moving in the right direction, and thats all the mattered.
In spite of sticking around longer than hed initially planned, John was only ever meant to be a short term fixture for the soap, which meant he had to work hard to get things back on track — and thats exactly what he did. His greatest accomplishment is undoubtedly the improvement in the quality of storylines. From the return of the Slaters, to Who Shot Stuart?, he has truly brought EastEnders back to its roots by focusing on strong female characters and faaaaaaamily-centric narratives.
Strong matriarchal figures have always been EastEnders bread and butter, and we can date this all the way back to the beginning when icons such as Angie Watts and Lou Beale ruled over Walford.
John has continued on this tradition with characters including Linda, Sharon, Carmel and Karen, all of whom received substantial storylines over the past year — something which significantly improved the standard of the soap. He has also overseen the return of Kat, Jean, Ruby and Mel.
John has always had a penchant for long form stories, which you might think is a disadvantage in an era where Netflix and streaming services encourage immediate gratification. This isnt the case for me, it just means that soaps have to be clever in keeping their viewers coming back for more.
Take the Mel Owen storyline, for example. When Mel returned, she was portrayed as an ice queen with no heart, and no redeemable qualities. Fans were quick to brand the character pointless and non-relatable on social media, without realising that groundwork was being laid for something bigger. Months down the line, we learned that Mel had been burned by her ex, Ray Kelly, one too many times and therefore built up walls, putting on a frosty facade as a defence mechanism.
Suddenly, everything about Mels characterisation made sense. The payoff was superb. Also, by having viewers learn of this information while she was about to commit to Jack allowed us, for a brief moment, to believe Mel would get a bit of happiness, but Rays interruption ruined that possibility.
This conflict is the type of stuff that soaps thrive on — and need to survive. Take Ronnie Mitchell, for example, who lost her daughter Danielle mere moments after reuniting with her. Its tragic, and yet poetic. Characters like this could never be truly happy, as such happiness would dilute their tragedy. Snatching away Mels happy ending is what keeps us tuning in, as well continue to hope that one day shell get it back.
In addition to compelling storylines, John has also made sure that EastEnders hasnt shied away from important topics. The knife crime storyline, for example, is one of the soaps most harrowing to date. EastEnders is at its best when it tackles hard-hitting topics, many of which are aimed at educating the audience — and thats exactly what this story managed to do.
It not only shone a light on the dangers of carrying a knife, but also highlighted the pain that comes with losing a loved one to violent crime. We experienced this not only through the real-life footage in the groundbreaking funeral episode, but also through Carmels grief, which was made all the more powerful by Bonnie Langfords stunningly raw performance. For the first time in years, everyone was talking about EastEnders.
As we prepare to move into a new era of EastEnders with Corries Kate Oates at the helm, its hard not to fondly reflect on Johns work. He restored EastEnders to its former glory, making it unmissable once more. For that, as an EastEnders fan, I couldnt be more grateful.