Very rarely in soap do you get what would be classed as a ‘golden couple’, that being a pair of characters that are so meant to be and have such on screen rapport and chemistry that they are clearly soulmates. With most pairings of soaps succumbing to affairs or killing each other within the year, it is a treat for viewers and fans to have that solid couple who, no matter what the writers would throw at them, their love would still remain.
Coronation Street’s Hayley and Roy Cropper and Vera and Jack Duckworth were prime examples of this. And so were the irreplaceable Jim Branning and his beloved Dorothy. As news reaches us that the fantastic actor behind the kindly and bumbling Queen Vic potman, John Bardon, has sadly passed away, I reflect on one of EastEnders’ most loved characters.
Jim ‘The Basher’ Branning entered the soap as a brash, cruel and violent character, portrayed convincingly by John, but it wasn’t long before the actor’s natural warmth meant that Jim could not always be written this way. John was an actor who conveyed the decency and humour that Jim became loved for, and it was only natural that the character’s progression would follow this.
Jim was a drinker, a gambler, a cheeky chap and a rogue, so placing him with EastEnders’ most moral character was an unexpected choice which paid off in bucket loads. Quickly becoming one of soap’s most loved couples, Dot was strict with Jim and he was mischievous, but their love for each other was clear to every viewer.
Jim and Dot epitomised an older married couple that everyone in the world can relate to and it would be impossible for anyone to replicate the unique relationship that the two characters shared. Jim’s proposal to Dot still ranks as one of the most romantic and beautiful soap scenes ever shown and, in times when EastEnders was heavily criticised for being too gloomy, you could always rely on the Brannings to bring a bit of warmth and humour to proceedings. Who can forget when Jim accidentally sucked a budgie up a vacuum cleaner, his various misdeeds with good friend Patrick Truman or his wedding night viagra giving him an unwelcome guest under the covers?
I was fortunate enough to meet John, in Turkey of all places, and we shared a beer and a chat. And for every ounce of Jim’s good nature, John’s personality doubled it. A few years later, John suffered a stroke and his bravery and strength through what would be some extraordinarily difficult years were inspirational.
John reprised his role as Jim even after his stroke on several occasions, and brought some of the best scenes of EastEnders’ recent years through a tearful reunion with his wife Dorothy, to a strained showdown with his son Max and a cheeky drink with Patrick. Despite the obvious barriers in his path, John brought the Jim we all knew and loved back, and those are the signs of an extraordinary actor.
Today, EastEnders will pay tribute and dedicate their evening’s episode to an actor who breathed life into one of the show’s most memorable characters. RIP to not just an EastEnders legend, but an all round legend.
Written By Our Man In The North