Carmel Jackson

Carmel Jackson

Infobox EastEnders character 2

character_name=Carmel Jackson
actor_name=Judith Jacob
creator=Tony Holland
introducer=Julia Smith
first=5 June 1986
last=24 August 1989
dob=October 1959
occupation=Health visitor
husband=Matthew Jackson (1989-?)
brothers=Darren Roberts
sisters=Maxine Roberts
nephews=Junior Roberts
nieces=Aisha Roberts

Carmel Jackson (née Roberts) was a fictional character in the BBC soap opera "EastEnders". She was played by Judith Jacob. Carmel, a Health Visitor, was introduced in a recurring, minor role in 1986. Producers saw potential in the character. Script writers were asked to develop more promienent storylines, and Carmel became a regular character. She was portrayed as a well-meaning, caring individual who was forever getting everyone's problems dumped on her. She was featured in storylines about domestic violence and various family and career upsets. Jacob remained in the role until 1989, when she opted to leave. Off-screen, the character was the subject of criticism regarding the portrayal of her profession from the Health Visitors Association.

Character creation

In July 1984, before "EastEnders" went to air, the show's creators, Tony Holland and Julia Smith, attended an opening evening at the Anna Scher Theatre School in North London, in order to find actors for roles in their upcoming serial. According to Holland and Smith, Anna Scher's school was unlike many other drama schools, where students were "ironed out", all looking and sounding the same. At Anna Scher's school, students' natural personalities and accents were encouraged, "her students aren't taught how to act, they're helped to dig inside themselves and be." In Holland and Smith's own words, this was "just the sort of non-acting that ["EastEnders"] was looking for".cite book |last=Smith|first= Julia|authorlink= Julia Smith|coauthors=Holland, Tony|title= EastEnders - The Inside Story |year=1987|publisher=Book Club Associates|id=ISBN 0-563-20601-2]

Often, former students who were already working in the acting profession attended Scher's classes, and on the night Holland and Smith attended, actress Judith Jacob performed. Holland and Smith described Jacob as "an old friend", as they had previously worked with her on their medical drama "Angels", where Jacob had played nurse Beverley Slater between 1979 and 1981. Following the end of the class, Holland and Smith concluded that Judith Jacob "had been as good as ever", but that "there wasn't really a part for her" in the original character line-up.

However, in 1986, a year after the soap had first aired, Jacob was recruited by Julia Smith and offered a part in the serial,cite news|url=|title=Judith Jacob Looks Back on Carmel|publisher=Walford Gazette|accessdate=2008-03-19] the minor role of Carmel Roberts, a health visitor who tended to the character Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully) after the birth of her baby Vicki.cite book |last=Brake|first= Colin|authorlink= Colin Brake|title= |year=1995|publisher=BBC Books|id=ISBN 0-563-37057-2] In his book, "EastEnders: The First 10 Years", author and "EastEnders" scriptwriter Colin Brake has used Carmel as an example of the way minor characters can develop in "EastEnders": "Often a new character is introduced for a limited number of episodes, to serve a particular storyline or the story function. If the casting is good and the character 'works' on the screen, then the writers may be asked if there is potential in the character for further appearances." This occurred with the character of Carmel, and later in 1986 she was reintroduced as a regular character, moving to the soap's focal setting of Albert Square.

Character development

As Walford's health visitor, Carmel's principle purpose was to act as an advisor to the troubled residents of Albert Square. In the "EastEnders Handbook", author Hilary Kingsley describes Carmel as "saintly by nature", adding "if anyone deserved a medal for patience it was Carmel Roberts when she was working as Albert Square's health visitor".cite book |last= Kingsley|first= Hilary|title= The EastEnders Handbook |year=1990|publisher=BBC books|id=ISBN 0-563-206010-563-36292-8-2]

In 1987, an extended family was introduced for Carmel, including her brother Darren (Gary McDonald), and his two children Junior (Aaron Carrington) and Aisha (Aisha Jacob). According to the "EastEnders Handbook", parents of young child actors were sometimes upset unavoidably during filming of "EastEnders". For instance, the parents of the baby who played Hassan Osman, were affected when their baby was used in a storyline about cot death, as they had not been warned. This problem was avoided with the two-year-old girl who played Carmel's niece, Aisha Roberts, as she was the real life daughter of actress Judith Jacob. The writers "obligingly" called the young character Aisha, to make it less confusing for the actors. The idea to use Jacob's real daughter had come from the serial's co-creator Julia Smith. Jacob was initially against the idea. In an interview she commented, "Children on the set can be so horrible", due to awkwardness inherent in disciplining someone else’s child in the workplace. However, she has said that she found it hard to turn Julia Smith down, and realised that she would get to spend more time with her daughter if she also was working on the set of "EastEnders". This caused a problem once on-screen, when Aisha referred to Carmel as "mummy", even though Aisha’s character was not Carmel’s daughter. Despite the inconsistency, the producers left the scene in.

Carmel's storylines included a brief relationship with a toyboy, Kelvin Carpenter (Paul Medford), and numerous family and career-based problems. In 1988, Carmel gained a new partner, a white man named Matthew Jackson, played by Steven Hartley. The characters were shown to marry in a register office in January 1989, beginning a domestic violence storyline. By March 1989, Matthew was beating Carmel. This was the first time that "EastEnders" had dealt with the issue of domestic violence. After several months of abuse, a "particularly violent" incident ended with Junior stabbing Matthew with a kitchen knife to protect his aunt. By July 1989 the marriage "was as good as dead". Jacob has commented, "It was a great part to play. People couldn’t understand how a professional woman can stay with someone who beats her. That shows the durability of the character."

Jacob opted to leave the serial in 1989, and she has since commented that "They didn’t want me to leave, and made me a couple of offers to stay", but leaving seemed like the right thing to do at the time. On-screen Carmel's marriage collapsed, and the following month her father died, so she left Walford to tend to her grieving mother. She last appeared in August 1989.


Carmel was first seen in Walford in June 1986 when she was assigned as Michelle Fowler's health visitor. West Indian by origin, British by education, Carmel was unmistakable with her long dreadlocks and colourful clothing.

Carmel was kept extremely busy in Walford. She was landed with all the long-term losers - Mary Smith, the prostitute, who had had her baby, Annie taken away from her; Sue Osman, the mentally unstable mother, who became obesessed with her baby, Ali's welfare; Donna Ludlow, the self-destructing heroin addict, and jobless Arthur Fowler, among others.

In December 1986 Carmel started dating the much younger student Kelvin Carpenter, much to his parents' dismay. Carmel later moved into the ground floor flat at number 3 Albert Square and she and Kelvin lived with each other for a while. However, their age difference soon began to take its toll on Carmel, who quickly grew tired of Kelvin's immature behaviour. She ended up throwing her toyboy out, right after she'd publicly dumped him in The Queen Vic.

Shortly after Carmel moved into the Square, her brother Darren arrived and managed to convince her to house him and his two young children, Junior and Aisha, in her one bedroom flat. Darren and Carmel were the complete opposites of each other; Darren was inconsiderate and often dabbled on the wrong side of the law. He was regularly involved in dodgy scams, such as porn video laundering and instigating a counterfeit money ring. Carmel would despair over his thoughtless behaviour and criminal antics, but her rants were usually ignored.

Carmel was often left accountable for her brother's actions, and she was also regularly left with the responsibility of caring for his two young children. Junior proved to be troublesome, and after Carmel discovered that he had been playing truant from school for several weeks, she reported Darren to the truancy officer, showing him up as an irresponsible parent. This did not please Darren, and he was even more annoyed when Carmel refused flatly to put up with his deviancy any longer. Animosity between the two increased when Carmel started dating Matthew Jackson later in the year; Darren could not condone his sister dating a white man. Carmel defended Matthew against her brother's inverted racism, and after Darren got into more trouble for conning Ian Beale, she threw him out of her flat. Darren then mysteriously disappeared, abandoning his two children in the process. The children were initially left in the care of Carmel and Darren's parents away from Walford.

In September 1988, Matthew moved into Carmel's flat and the two were soon engaged. Matthew was well liked in the community, even convincing Carmel's skeptical father he was genuine. Carmel began planning for their imminent wedding. She wanted to invite Matthew's estranged mother, Lynna, but he was opposed to this. His mother had abandoned him at 15 and had no subsequent contact. Carmel and Matthew married in January 1989, but the day was ruined when Matthew saw his mother in attendance. Carmel had contacted her against Matthew's wishes, thinking he would be pleased, but he was furious. After shunning their reception party, Matthew threatened to leave Carmel and when she attempted to prevent this, he grabbed her by the throat, held her up against a wall and berated her for her interference. Carmel was petrified and upon seeing her fear, Matthew released her and began apologising profusely. Carmel was shaken, but Matthew convinced her that his apology was sincere, so she dropped the matter. More problems arose for the newly weds when Carmel's sister Maxine announced that their parents could no longer cope with Junior and Aisha. She stated that if Carmel did not take the children, they would be put into care. Matthew was unwilling; however, the following month, Carmel's father had a stroke, so Maxine brought both children to Carmel's, forcing her to take them. Matthew resented the fact that Carmel's time was being diverted from him; he found it increasingly difficult to cope with Junior's presence in particular. Matthew and Junior would regularly clash, leading to further animosity between Matthew and Carmel. Matthew became violent again, punching Carmel in the face during an argument about Junior. Carmel was left with a heavily bruised face, but once again a tearful Matthew convinced her to forgive him. Matthew's behaviour continued to alternate from contrite and caring to hot-tempered and violent, for seemingly no reason. Nevertheless, Carmel loved him and she remained with him as she believed she could help him combat and contain his rage.

Junior soon worked out why his aunt was constantly covered in bruises. He tried to put a stop to the violence by informing various people about the abuse, which did not impress Matthew and only made his temper worse. Matthew began to grow irrationally jealous of Carmel's friendship with Dr. David Samuels, and during a family meal, he began turning violent again. In a bid to protect his petrified aunt, Junior stabbed Matthew with a kitchen knife. Matthew spent time in hospital and attempted to convince Carmel that he had changed. She allowed him to come home when he had recovered and tried to get Matthew to seek professional help; however, Matthew was appalled by the idea and, in a rage, he began smashing up the house and threatening Carmel with more violence. Finally realising that she could not help Matthew, Carmel decided to end their relationship. She threw Matthew out and he left Walford in July 1989.

The following month Carmel's father died, so she left Walford with Junior and Aisha to tend to her grieving mother. Her last appearance was in August 1989.


Co-creator of "EastEnders", Julia Smith, has been quoted as saying, "Our EastEnd setting was chosen for the diversity of its past — the strong culture it has and the multi-racial commuinty that has developed."cite book |author= Stephen Bourne|title= [ Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television] |year=2001|publisher=Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd|id=ISBN 978-0826455390] However, the way that "EastEnders" treated their black characters during the 1980s has been criticized. Stephen Bourne, author of "Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television" has commented that " ["EastEnders"'] black characters have rarely been as interesting as their white counterparts, or been given storylines of any substance...Viewers were more likely to tune in to watch the antics of Dirty Den, his wife Angie and bad boy Nick Cotton, than [black characters like] the Carpenter family and Carmel." In Robert Clyde Allen's book, "To be Continued--: Soap Operas Around the World", Christine Geraghty has added "none of the black families [in "EastEnders"] rivaled the Fowler/Beale [family's] position at the heart of the programme's structure, and black characters were pushed to the margins of the story-lines. Carmel and [her brother] Darren clearly had an extended family along the lines of the Fowler/Beale nexus but its other members were rarely seen."cite book |author= Robert Clyde Allen|title= [,M1 To be Continued--: Soap Operas Around the World] |year=1995|publisher=Routledge|id=ISBN 9780415110075]

Conversely, in "The Black and White Media Show Book", edited by John Twitchin of BBC TV's Continuing Education Department (published in 1988), "EastEnders" is praised for portraying black people on mainstream television, and for giving them "respectable, fleshed-out parts which allow them to be the most difficult of things — 'normal people'." [cite book |author= John Twitchin |title= [,M1 The Black and White Media Show Book] |year=1988|publisher=Trentham Books|id=ISBN 0948080094] Additionally, actress Judith Jacob has said that she looks back on her three years in "EastEnders" only with "delight". She has also said that she disagrees with the criticism "EastEnders" gets for paying "token lip service to blacks and minorities, who are usually depicted stereotypically." In 2006, she commented to the "Walford Gazette", "EastEnders" was the only show to [regularly employ] black actors. [Rival soap] "Coronation Street" just recently started bringing in black characters. There has always been a good flow of people in "EastEnders"."

Further criticism has been aimed at Carmel's portrayal as a health visitor. In the late 1980s, a specialist nursing magazine called "Nursing Times" had a feature on the character, remarking that she "has come in for quite a bit of stick from HVA [Health Visitors Association] members who haven't felt that the character gives a good impression of their role". HVA members expressed disappointment that the character "has not developed in a way which promotes the role of health visitors more positively." Roma Iskander, who had discussed the role with "EastEnders" scriptwriters on behalf of the HVA, said that "Carmel isn't a positive image of a black woman or a health visitor." The magazine article suggested that Carmel's personal problems with family and clients served her right "for moving to Albert Square in the first place. Health visitors be warned — don't live on your work patch". However, in Dominic Strinati's book, "Come on Down?: Popular Media Culture in Post-War Britain", Christine Geraghty has argued that "the credibility of Carmel's character in the soap depended on her being part of the life of the Square, regularly and unproblematically available as a source of advice and support in her professional capacity as well as the focus of interest in terms of her personal life." [cite book |author= Dominic Strinati and Stephen Wagg|title= [ Come on Down?: Popular Media Culture in Post-War Britain ] |year=1992|publisher= Routledge|id=ISBN 9780415063272] Geraghty has said that tension arose from conflict in the 1980s soaps "between a desire to be positive about a particular issue and a commitment to credibility in terms of character and setting. The HVA, it would appear, want Carmel to be a model health visitor, demonstrating a wide range of skills in a professional manner. But the credibility of Carmel's character in the soap depends on her being a character who is part of the life of the Square, a professional who makes mistakes and whose personal life is almost a source of interest. Quite clearly, the demands for a positive image for health visitors as a profession are less pressing than the necessiity to be able to deploy Carmel as a soap opera character. Those making the programme are quite certain that this is the way it must be."


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