Rudolph Walker’s name in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list to receive an MBE was a very welcome nod for a great actor. Walker has been a backbone of the EastEnders rosta for a good few years now as Patrick Trueman, when the comings and going in the Square have been getting silly. It would be easy to say he received the MBE for having to endure Patrick’s ridiculous affair with Pat (surely the most hideous soap sight since the last time Ken and Deirdre had a good snog up). But that’s too flippant and easy – Walker has been a face on British TV for years, always able to turn some fairly workaday lines into a credible performance (witness The Thin Blue Line for starters).
Patrick Trueman aside, Walker is still best known for a role that still divides cultural commentators to this day (although audiences at the time didn’t need much persuading to tune in in their millions). As Bill Reynolds in Love Thy Neighbour, he underwent a weekly dose of racist outbursts from next door neighbour Eddie Booth (Jack Smethhurst). Love Thy Neighbour has long since been banished to the land of TV taboo, but I always wonder how many of its detractors have sat through an episode…
For some bizarre reason, the caretaker of my building has an entire run of Love Thy Neighbour on DVD, and thought I might like to borrow them. For fear of causing offence, I took the proffered box set, intending to keep them for a couple of weeks, unwatched, but found myself later that night drawn to firing the DVD player up. And I was surprised – not pleasantly, because it is awful in the way that only 1970s sitcoms can be. And yes, the dodgy expressions of racism are all present and correct. But this aside, as a product of its cultural backdrop, it’s very well written, and Walker does not play the oppressed minority. His character is just as posturing, macho and narrow-minded as his nemesis and frequently comes off looking just as stupid. It is the wives of these idiots, played by Kate Williams and Nina Baden-Semper who know exactly how things are in the world and are portrayed as intelligent, forward thinking women. For the 1970s, that’s pretty progressive. And if you want to see an example of what people wrongly accuse Love Thy Neighbour of being, try and seek out a copy of the thoroughly hateful and risible Curry and Chips.
So to Mr Walker, a tip of the hat, a raise of the glass, for a MBE well earned. And when critics try to tell you Love Thy Neighbour is something that it wasn’t, just smile knowingly and nod.