On the set in 1996 after being banned for 3 years by the BBC for publishing photos of a "trespasser.
The Walford Gazette's finest hour: We prevented it from being canceled in the NYC metropolitan area by raising $34,000 in January 2005.
The BBC in-house magazine Ariel gave away 5 copies of my book Walford State of Mind.
Anglophilia & the Gazette
How did I become an Anglophile? I trace it back to collecting Matchbox cars in the early 1960s and those neat little yellow boxes. The miniatures, manufactured in East London, in my opinion, was cooler than anything else made in the U.S. or elsewhere. Then, Beatlemania and the British Invasion hit my AM radio airwaves.
As a fifth-grader, I distinctly remember once after school watching the ‘Million Dollar Movie’ on New York’s Channel 9 and being mesmerized by the opening sequence of the British film Georgy Girl in which Lynn Redgrave gets a new hairdo and then washes it out on the streets of Swingin’ London.
Obviously, my 10-year-old self missed all the heavy subtext of Georgy Girl’s relatively dark themes of unwanted pregnancy and adultery. Then, during my impressionable teenage years, I ingested large amounts of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
When EastEnders hit American public television in late 1987, I was immediately hooked by this gritty television show that was unlike anything on American screens.
Set in a fictional borough of East London, I learned that the Brits considered it a soap opera, while Yanks always deemed it to be a drama.
About 5 years later, I started a new job and two of my co-workers in the cubicle next to mine were talking about EastEnders, and I chimed in that I watched it too. The next morning I find in my office mailbox a memo written by Dan Abramson containing his insights to the previous night's two episodes. It was very funny, and every other line stated: "IAN SHOULD BE SHOT."
Dan later claimed I said, "We can make money with this!" It was entirely possible because I was looking to do something entrepreneurial and bored writing about direct marketing. Dan had a contact at the BBC, which we approached for permission to create a newspaper, enabling me to put into practice all that I learned about marketing. The BBC were amenable as long as it wouldn't cost them any money.
The Walford Gazette (the same name of the fictional paper that would occasionally show up on the series) was born. I came up with a business plan that the 25 PBS affiliates that aired EastEnders needed a thank-you gift for contributors when they would periodically fundraise during pledge week. It was an overnight success, and I soon became something of a celebrity in the British media.
The Walford Gazette was not without its drama. I personally was banned by the BBC for running a series of photographs of an American tourist who talked her way onto the set. Visiting London in 1993, the year after we launched, I was informed by the studio's security office, "You're banned." Castmember Gretchen Franklin, who was by then in her 80s, argued with both the then executive producer and BBC Director-General, but to no avail. Thankfully, 3 years later a new regime lifted the gauntlet, and I was allowed to tread the cobblestones of Albert Square. In fact, a BBC head of drama bestowed me with a street sign prop autographed by the entire cast for my continued efforts to keep the show alive in the U.S.
Abramson told The Times of London in 1995 that he was prepared to chain himself to City Hall if EastEnders was canceled since the program was broadcast by a station, then owned by the City of New York. And then his threat showed up on page 2 in an article to next to one about Iraq. Did they lose their minds! Time Out London called me a "nutter," but ultimately praised my conviction and editorial take on a British institution that the writer admitted that most in her took country took for granted.
Dan and I went our separate ways 6 years into the venture, and I continued publishing the Gazette on my own for the next 19 years and a total of 100 issues. After reaching that milestone, I turned it over to a contributor. In 2009 and 2011, I self-published and sold more than 3,000 copies of two books, Albert Square & Me: The Actors of EastEnders, and Walford State of Mind, all culled from the content of the paper. I am as proud of the Gazette as getting published in The New York Times when I was 23 years old.
In 2012, my Anglophilia took a new turn when I published a magazine called UK:Cue – British Film, Theatre & Television On Both Sides of the Atlantic, raising $5,500 from a Kickstarter campaign to cover production and initial marketing. I launched it at BritWeek in Los Angeles and the Olivier Awards party in New York, where I explained the concept to James Corden, up for an award for his West End/Broadway tour de force, One Man, Two Guvnors. Although UK:Cue turned out great, I lacked a business partner who could close advertising deals with major brands. You never know, it might be revived.
Explaining the UK:Cue concept to James Corden at the Olivier party, great bloke!