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Soap Plotlines That Never Happened #1

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Conor Flaherty was a character who first appeared in Eastenders (a British "soap opera") in the autumn of 1997, and left around eighteen months later (running off with his cousin's wife). He was a distant Irish relative of Pauline Fowler, who met him while she tracking down her sister, who'd been adopted as a baby and taken to Ireland. Coner travelled back to London with the Fowlers, accompanied by his daughter Mary.

Conor was an enigma. He fascinated me. He was intelligent and articulate, with a romantic streak, and - I suspect - a love of history. He was a man you'd expect to find lecturing on literature in a university, or working as the creative directory of an advertising agency. But this wasn't the case. He'd left the bosom of his close nit family some fifteen years before, leaving his baby daughter with his mother, and had been travelling ever since, mostly out of contact, and returning shortly before Pauline's arrival. Despite his intelligence and charm, he managed to reach his early thirties with no profession, no status, and no aim in life.

There were other contradictions too. Conor had a brooding side to him. He appeared troubled by his past, and tormented by regrets of the years that had gone by. And, most contradictory, he could be very much the hard man - once even helping Phil Mitchell run a protection racket. You sensed that this man, who seemed to have the soul of a poet, had seen, and done, some pretty violent acts.

Consider now the era...

The second (and so far last) IRA ceasefire came into being on 20 July 1997, a few months before Conor's "return from the wilderness". The war was over. The gunmen were supposed to lay down their arms and return to the lives they would have led were it not for the conflict.

I think you can see where I'm going.

I was convinced that Conor had been introduced by the screenwriters as a "sleeper" character, and was in fact an ex-IRA gunman (active service volunteer in republican speak). It would have explained all the contradictions in his character and history. The fifteen year absence. The brooding and regrets. The romantic nature combined with the hard, violent streak.

It could have been a fascinating examination of how a twisted political situation can drive otherwise good people into committing terrible acts of violence.

I even worked out how the scriptwriters could reveal the truth. They would start by gradually dropping hints at the mystery underlying Conor, as indeed they were doing. Then, several months later, would come some event that would force Conor into returning to the violence that he thought he'd left behind.

Someone, Mary perhaps, would be kidnapped by a criminal, in circumstances that meant the police could not be called (circumstances most likely involving Phil Mitchell). The scene:- well the Fowlers are sitting around their kitchen table wondering what to do, when Conor turns up with an Armalite he's borrowed off the "landlord" of some pub in Kilburn.

(Note to US readers. In the US, where most weapons are legal, this might not be that shocking. But in Britain, fully automatic military weapons are very illegal, and pretty rare, though not, unforunately, as rare as they used to be. Criminals don't generally have them. They use pistols and sawn-off shotguns. A few gangsters might have submachine-guns, but assault rifles are generally the preserve of the armed forces and terrorists. Turn up with a sawn-off shotgun and people will say: "I didn't know you were a criminal?" Turn up with an Armalite, or an AK47, and people will scream: "Who the fuck are you?" and then run away, very quickly, before the SAS storm in. Conor appearing with an Armalite would have caused a bit of a stir, even in a dysfunctional location like Albert Square).

I think it could have been a pretty interesting plotline, although I'm not sure where you go after you reveal that one of your programme's main characters is an ex-terrorist. Mind you, Brookside once had four unconvicted murderers as main characters, at the same time, and it didn't seem to worry them. (Mandy Jordache, Barry Grant, Terry's Dad and Jimmy Corkhill - not bad for a street of about eight houses).

But after all that thought, I was completely wrong. It turned out he was a just a layabout waster who'd pissed away his life, and ended up running off with his cousin's wife.

Oh well.

Mind you, I could be right. Maybe that's what they were going to do, but they bottled it. I guess we'll never know.


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