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SHELLEY VISION: To be Perfectly Frank, it stank.

Byline: JIM SHELLY

PREVIEW tapes of EastEnders' Frank Butcher- spin-off, Perfectly Frank, were unavailable, though it was nice of them to try and spare us.

Not that it made any difference. Anyone who saw last year's equivalent - in which Peggy attended Frank's (unfortunately faked) funeral would have known how appalling it was going to be.

And, besides, deja vu is rife in EastEnders right now as the soap has become over-run with old storylines being regurgitated.

Lisa's back - intent on shooting Phil (again). Vicki's back - Cockney LA accent still unimproved. And next Monday, Dirty Den himself is back - this time from the dead. Not that they're desperate or anything. Martin and Pauline, Billy and Sharon, Phil and Dennis... We've seen it all so many times, Walford's become like Ground'og Day.

Anyway, Perfectly Frank revisited the (mis)adventures of Frank Butcher, allowing Mike Read to reprise his Follow the Bear routine.

Last year's Eldorado-esque escapade saw him topping up his tan in Spain, sporting a Seth Armstrong-style moustache and operating under the persona, "Fair Deal Frank." (The life-size cardboard cut-out of Fair Deal Frank actually gave a better performance than Read did.)

Nowadays (if any of you could actually care less), Frank is running a lap-dance club (Frank's Empire Club) and selling dodgy motors by the seaside.

"It's a braaaaand new Jaaaaaaaaag-u-ar," he would shout turning his trademark grin up to 11.

Basically, the idea was that Frank was still ducking and diving; still a lovable rogue with a heart-of-gold. He owed money, frequented the company of gangsters, and behaved like a genial farver figure to a boy on probation (Kevin) and a dim girl who kept quoting Climb Every Mountain to him (a career-ending performance by Caroline Hayes).

"Hold right on a minute, pal!" seemed to have replaced "You are getting right up my bugle!" as his mantra. The MDF set and the standard of acting meant it looked like Crossroads in rehearsal. The dialogue was execrable ("Now, we wait," declared a policeman on a stakeout). One extra couldn't even pronounce "reputable." We knew we were meant to be by the coast because authentic-sounding seagulls cried loudly over every scene - even the ones indoors.

The hollow echo of every noise or footstep suggested it was shot in a recently refurbished hotel foyer. The storyline was sub-Fools & Horses/sub-Bergerac, though to call it a storyline would be to exaggerate.

If I tell you it involved Frank and his bar staff disposing of a dead council officer who wasn't really dead by carrying his body down the pier in a rolled-up rug as a favour for a gangster, you'll have actually no idea how bad it really was.

It seemed that scriptwriter Tony Jordan (soap's former King of Pain) had concocted his plot based around the songs on his local pub's jukebox.

When the dead body was discovered in the boot of the gangster's car, The Beatles burst into "Help! I need somebody". Murder On The Dancefloor, Mack The Knife and I Believe In Miracles followed. Tarantino it wasn't.

The inclusion of a discussion of Carlito's Way and Sea Of Love was less audacious than just ludicrous.

It ended with Frank emerging from his caper as the hero ("LOCAL BUSINESSMAN FOILS DRUG SMUGGLER" screamed the local paper) and on good terms with the gangster - who bizarrely escaped the law. Frank's useless, empty lap-dance club was saved.

"I saw it, I heard it but I'm not sure I believe it," his trusty barman said, speaking for us all.

"It's what is commonly known," Frank grinned, "as a Frank Butcher Experience."

Why we had to suffer it too is anyone's guess. The powers that be at EastEnders still seem to be clinging to the idea that Frank Butcher is a popular character/loveable old rascal when in fact he is neither. In fact, he's a thoroughly loathsome individual - a deeply flawed husband and father, adulterer, inveterate con-man, and, having set fire to a sleeping tramp when he had the car-lot torched, a murderer.

Given EastEnders' propensity for unlikeable minor villains, presumably we can expect him back any day now.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 23, 2003
Words:689
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