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Just wake up, kiss the good life goodbye...

W H A T   I   S A W   L A S T   N I G H T
EastEnders, 01/01/12

I
've been watching Pat Butcher almost all my life, so I remember when she first appeared in Albert Square.

I was a small boy too young to be watching. Pat was a big, scary woman with too much make-up. Nasty, loud, and hard, an ex-prostitute whose sons hated her (they'd witnessed her "going at it" with the bedroom door open).

As time went by, I got older; Pat mellowed, and sex wasn't such a scary subject for me. The "bad woman" (as my old Mum used to call women like Pat) wasn't so bad after all, just damaged, and misunderstood. And gay boys love a bit of that, don't they?

Pat Butcher was a sinner; she sinned copiously, and was sinned against. She might have mellowed over the years, age transforming her into a disgraceful grandmother, but she was never too far away from too much vodka and someone else's husband. And her fashion sense was... intriguing.

It might seem silly to mourn the death of a fictional character, but Pat's always been there for me, over the past 25 years, a fallen woman struggling on against the odds, making the best of life, trying to keep the flag flying. The lipstick, the eyeshadow and, of course, the earrings all said one thing: "I'm still open for business, boys."

The cancer came suddenly, out of the blue, like it does in real life. It was too late for treatment, but not too late for one last drink in the Vic. New Year's Day's painful, drawn-out goodbye episode, in which friends, frienemies, and relatives visited a dying, bedridden Pat isn't the way I want to remember the old girl.

For me, Friday's episode was Pat's big send-off. Having been told that her cancer is imminently terminal, Pat is in the Queen Victoria for one last drink. Behind her, stepson Ricky is telling Bianca the bad news. In front of her, her old flame Patrick's dancing with Dot. The camera closes in on the stricken Pat, Tony Bennett's The Good Life drowning out everything else. "Please remember, I still want you, and in case you wonder why: Well just wake up, kiss the good life goodbye..."

It's moments like these that make EastEnders the best thing on television. We get a long, lingering close-up of her face, for well over thirty seconds before the theme music kicks in - an eternity in modern television - as life goes on around her. Pat knows she's going, but she still keeps up the front, gin and tonic in hand.

That's how I want to remember Pat Butcher.

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