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Soaps Interview

Diederick Santer (Executive Producer, 'EastEnders')

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Diederick Santer (Executive Producer, 'EastEnders')
In November, it was announced that EastEnders exec Diederick Santer is to step down from his post after almost three and a half years in the chair and be replaced by former Hollyoaks boss Bryan Kirkwood. We recently caught up with Diederick to chat about his reasons for leaving, his proudest moment since taking office and how the handover period with Bryan will work.

What spurred your decision to leave?
"I love doing this job and I've really, really enjoyed it. I don't think I'll ever do another job that gives me this much stimulation and instant reward. I know that I'll miss it, but it'll have been nearly three and a half years. I'll be the longest-serving producer on this show since Julia Smith and I just need to jump off. I haven't lost it yet, but another year or so and I might! At the moment, the fact that it's such good fun and so rewarding outweighs the huge workload and burden of responsibility that it actually is. I wouldn't want that burden to take over my life so it's time to reacquaint myself with friends I haven't seen for years! I also think that a lot of my stories will be peaking at the time of the 25th anniversary, so creatively, I feel that it's good for the show to have another mind - and someone with a different agenda - working on it. I always said to myself that I'd do this job for two or three years and once I could see the anniversary in sight, I kind of tweaked my plan. I've stayed longer than I thought I would, actually."

Are you proud to be going into EastEnders history as an EP who really turned the show around for the better?
"I'm really proud because I think we've achieved such a lot. I always say that it's the team's achievement, not just mine, and my team have made it very easy. The fact that I've had Dominic Treadwell-Collins, Simon Ashdown, Lorraine Newman and Sharon Batten working with me consistently through this period has been brilliant. Much of the success and stability of the show is down to them. And almost all of the ideas are theirs, too. I co-author the programme with a number of people and it's true to say that much of my sensibility is expressed in the show, but it always gives me a slight chuckle when every little aspect of the show, its story, its tone and its character, is attributed to me and my agenda.

"The show is run much more efficiently than it was three or four years ago. Not everything's perfect, but I certainly think that our hit rate is good. We have an incredible cast and amazing bunch of characters. We also reflect London, and Britain better. One problem we do have, though, is that we have too many good characters vying for space in the show. The consequence of that is that sometimes, certain stories or characters can get squeezed. It's a nice problem to have, but that has been one downside of our strength."

What's been your proudest moment since being there?
"One moment that I was incredibly proud of was the response we had to the climax to the Whitney/Bianca/Tony storyline. That was a great day for us. We realised that we'd tackled this issue in the way that we'd planned. Another slower-burn achievement for me has been the creation of the Masoods. That's something that I'm so proud of. They're a beautifully played and characterised Asian family - something that EastEnders has struggled to do over the years and we've nailed it."

Are the reports that Bryan's going to 'sex up' the show true?
"I remember reading that I was going to sex the show up three months before I started, too. I think I actually did, though!"

Is there anything you hope he retains?
"I really can't think like that. It's not for me to suggest what he should be doing - it's up to Bryan what he decides is working, what's not working, what we're missing, what we do too much of and what we do too little of. He won't need me to tell him what those things are."

When does Bryan take your office at Elstree?
"I'm still here for the next three months, clinging onto my little empire! Bryan doesn't take over until well into the New Year and I'm happy to say that he's in a privileged position to be taking on a show that's in pretty good shape. It's great for the show because Bryan's a great appointment. I've long been a fan of his. I'm relieved in a way that they've got someone really good because what nobody wants is to step away from something and for it to all fall apart. I absolutely know that the show's in safe hands with Bryan and that he'll take it on to bigger and better things."

How will the handover period work?
"There'll be a little bit of an overlap. I'm running the show until the end of February. Monday, March 1 is when Bryan gets my office and that's when I'll be gone. Through January and February, we'll be doing something of a handover, but I'll be spending quite a bit of time during February working on the live episode, so I'll be only too pleased to hand over by that point. I'll collaborate with Bryan on the storylining through that period and then when I'm going at the end of February, he gets the special bunch of keys."

Would you ever do what Bryan's done and jump ship to another soap?
"In my career, I've been very lucky. I've done contemporary series with Cutting It, period drama with Jane Eyre, slightly weird drama with those Shakespeares that I did… I've always jumped around in genre and I'm looking forward to getting back to playing some more shorter form material. I'd never rule out another soap, though. It's such a rush, the pace you go at, and the people you work with. It's also challenging personally because you have to make instant decisions and they have to be right."

This 'cast exodus' as everyone's calling it… Are Barbara Windsor, Charlie Clements and Josie Lawrence going because you're going?
"The thought that they're going because I'm going is flattering but I'm not sure there's exactly an exodus, any long running show will have a constantly evolving cast. It's a delightful thought for my ego, but it's not true. Barbara will be an enormous loss to the show, but it's not so surprising when a lady of 72 says that she's thinking of taking her life a little easier. I've known about Barbara's plans since well before my announcement , so these things are definitely all independent. Charlie and Josie all have their own reasons for moving on, as they've described in their statements."

> Click here to read Diederick's look back at 2009 in his Producer Perspective
> Click here to read what's coming up for your favourite EastEnders characters in 2010 Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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