(Did you know that that iconic episode-ending drumbeat, called the duf-duf, has a history all its own? Read on...)
Who knew there was this phenomenon called 'duf-duf'??
Sure, I'd noticed that the writers of the BBC's official fortnightly EastEnders e-mailed newsletter always signed off, 'duf-duf', but I just thought it was one of those charmingly British ecentricities that make absolutely no sense (like prawn flavoured crisps).
Turns out it's a lot more than that. At dinner with Troy Titus-Adams (Nina the Vic barmaid), we came to find out that the duf-duf is a highly prized honour. So prized, that upon receiving a new script, EastEnders actors will quickly look to the last page to see who gets the duf-duf.
And the Fleet Street wags will always query, 'Did you get a duf-duf?' This made me wonder: What are the origins of this duf-duf phenomenon? Has anyone ever studied this? It turns out that a team from the BBC has been investigating the issue, and has found that the duf-duf predates EastEnders by thousands of years.
It all started to become clear a few years ago, when British anthropologists were called to Lascaux, France, to assist the French in their ongoing study of the Cro-Magnon-era cave paintings. To their surprise, a newly discovered cave painting looked remarkably like Dot holding a fag. (Duf-duf.)
Intrigued, these scholars fanned out across the globe and began searching for evidence of the duf-duf throughout history. Here are just a few examples of what they found:
* At Oxford University, the BBC team consulted with a doctoral candidate whose dissertation had been held up for years while this perennial student agonized over the meaning of a particular text by Nostradamus. The text in question read, 'Sauntering publican; beware the approaching daffodils. Bang. Splash. Duf-duf. Resurrection'.
The student's questions have now been answered, and with medication, she has been able to move on with her life.
* At Yeshiva University, a recently updated (and more accurate) translation of the original Aramaic text of the Torah shows that the duf-duf appears there as well - a multitude of times. For example, Abraham is holding the knife aloft, about to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, when he hears the voice of
God say, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa Abe, lighten up! I was just messing with you.'
Abraham freezes, looks skyward (close-up), and Isaac sighs heavily (close-up). Duf-duf.
Torah scholars are nonplussed over this revelation, as evidenced by the reaction of young Talmudic student Avi Friedman, whose only question for the BBC investigators was, 'Do you think you can get Madonna to come to my bar mitzvah?' Duf-duf.
* In an attic in Trenton, New Jersey, the new owners of an 18th century farmhouse found a diary hidden in the eves. It belonged to one Jonah Able Attux (1752-1810.) Mr. Attux was a volunteer in George Washington's army; apparently a Minuteman (this, according to Mrs. Attux's diary). Duf-duf.
In one poignant excerpt, Mr. Attux describes a rare first-hand account of Washington crossing the Delaware. Until now, it had been thought Washington bravely led his troops to surprise the British army, however we now know they were just going out for a pint.
The diary excerpt reads, 'We rowed, and rowed our tiny boat; our hands frozen; the biting cold, choppy water splashing into the boat and drenching our tattered uniforms but the promise of free drinks pushed us onward. On several occasions we almost capsized due to the stance of General Washington.
Finally, a private in the back could take no more and called out, 'Oy! George! Sit down you drama queen, you're rocking the boat!'
But General Washington did not sit. He merely looked pained, as if he'd gotten another splinter in his lip, and muttered, 'Someday our new republic will offer a free dental plan for all'. Duf-duf.
*The British royal family has been connected with the duf-duf ever since Tudor times when Anne Boleyn rebuffed the gift of a new chapeau from her husband King Henry VIII, (who most scholars believe is the antecedent to Phil Mitchell). Anne is reported to have said, 'You know, Hank, I'm really not a hat person. Do you think you could get me something shiny?'
The resulting thwack was followed by the predictable duf-duf (as well as Henry's mother harping loudly about the way he treats his famerlee, and his dawning realization that he had, once again, lopped the head off the wrong woman). Duf-duf.
So, by these examples, we see that, when we watch EastEnders, we are part of a long and distinguished history, which was oft forgotten until historian Simon May sought to remind us with a catchy tune. Duf-duf...
©Deborah Gilbert, 2004