He appeared a few years ago and has been often seen on EastEnders- walking purposefully in the streets and demonstrating either self-imposed silence or a specially prescribed form of ‘nil out by mouth’ regime ever since. No one has had anything to say to him and Mr Singh as a character in the soap does not seem to have anything to say to anyone else either. His sole purpose in life is to walk around at variable speeds at precisely timed intervals but with his mouth mostly tightly shut. He is generally in a great hurry with his eyes focussed on the ground in front of him. Other EastEnders characters always surround him. The costume people seem to like his colourful turbans, loose shirts and occasional display of very thick gold rings on his right hand and also the bangle that he wears.
Mr Singh is good for cultural diversity but no one knows who he is and why has chosen to remain silent for so long on EastEnders. The presumption is that Mr Singh is happy with his life in the soap. No one has ever asked him. So, why has this become a concern? It appears that he has never spoken to Phil, Dot, Ian, Shirley and even Patrick who are all of the older characters on the soap. It can be imagined that Bianca would not have anything positive to discuss with him either. Of course, Mr Singh may try talking to Masood when the latter is not running around delivering the post. Has Masood ever delivered registered letters and parcels at Mr Singh’s address? They might actually know each other but on the set they are silent friends. Dennis may have learnt a few things about Mr Singh’s community, culture and religion in the diversity lessons in school but no one seems to have the courage to walk up to him and greet him.
Where does Mr Singh live? He is also never seen in the café but he did once turn up in the Old Vic where he had orange juice. That was the highlight of his week. Mr Singh was recently seen with a female but given the absence of pertinent information it would be unfair to deduce that there is a relationship between the two or indeed was this yet another instance of impeccable timing when two culturally diverse people were seen next to each other for no real benefit?
Masood and his family have played a major role on the soap, perhaps because there is an urge to explain that he is actually quite normal and that he does not go around threatening anyone. He is also cast in a most trustworthy role as a postie where his dedication to duty must be exemplary. Masood is a role model.
On the other hand, how would Max treat Mr Singh as a customer at Brannings’ Car Sales? Mr Singh desperately needs a motor car. Would Max give him personal service? While post sale warranties are not really an issue because Mr Singh prefers to walk everywhere anyway, a car would offer Mr Singh a form of job extension. He could drive the cast on out of town trips. A picnic would be an even better idea as Mr Singh could provide parathas, samosas, chicken curry and daal, followed by ladoos, barfi and pendas and glasses of lassi to down everything. However, would Dot eat Mr Singh’s samosas? Would the Carters serve lassi at the Old Vic? Besides, Carol probably makes better chicken curry than Mr Singh’s new female friend. However, Mr Singh could be a vegetarian and there hardly any point in showing him entering the local burger bar.
If Mr Singh was suddenly to be given a voice and was to incomprehensively become a witness to the murder trial of Lucy Beale, wouldn’t Mr Patel, Miss Bagchi, Mr and Mrs Mubende and their African friends also expect to be cast into future programmes? Did they see anything when Phil’s rough friends ran out of Sharon’s bar after attacking her? Ah but Phil is not having the police looking into his stage managed affray in Sharon’s bar. However, people like Mr Singh who know a great deal about the streets of Walford should be able to help, surely.
EastEnders would indeed reflect the local diversity but the programme’s makers would have to learn a few tricks. How would they create the story-lines in which the local Hindu trader would have a distinctive role in taking over Denise’s shop? How would she earn her living after that takeover? African people in the East End could have competed against the Brazilians to portray their footballing skills in the flavour of the month that even the makers of EastEnders have just missed out on. No worries. The next football World Cup is only four years away.
Does Mr Singh have a son or a daughter? Would Mr Singh Junior want to take Whitney out? Would Whitney like to go with him anyway? There is a small problem though. Would Mr Singh even allow his son to have an affair with Whitney? There is only one way to find out. Create a son for Mr Singh and let him courteously pursue Whitney.
Returning to the question of depicting integration on the television screen, it is not just about marriage or relationships. Will Mr Singh visit Patrick in hospital? Will he go to Lucy’s funeral? Will he provide the vocal accompaniment to the loud Bhangra music often heard in the open market? Mr Singh is probably very well read and highly informed but it is not his knowledge and potential for becoming a social agent and community leader that EastEnders is interested in. No? It is his visual appearance and unique propensity to turn up at low profile events wearing lovely colourful turbans and shirts.
More recently another Sikh character has been seen on EastEnders. This is good news but no one knows what he has in store for him. Will he be allowed to talk? Will be even allowed to talk to the original Mr Singh?
On a serious note there has been some talk about addressing diversity in EastEnders. Should the programme really reflect the true representation of the community in Walford? Should EastEnders be recast to reflect the changing demography of viewers? Or indeed, should the majority of viewers be allowed to see the content of their favourite soap as they always have? Why would anyone want to change EastEnders now? Has the BBC done any research to find out whether potential target audiences in the ethnic minority communities would really want to watch EastEnders anyway? Besides, if we start changing EastEnders by applying these criteria, the lonely Mr Singh must find new roles in Holby City, Glasgow Girls, The Honourable Woman and New Tricks. There will be no challenge of learning the scripts. Mr Singh does not talk. That could be a problem on New Tricks as his silence may be misconstrued.
As far as Mr Singh of EastEnders is concerned, it pays to be silent. Will he ever speak or be spoken to? How would Mr Singh ever perform on ‘The Archers’ on Radio 4? How do producers of radio plays involve silent men and women?
(Great care has been taken to refer only to the two Mr Singhs, the characters on EastEnders).