Kathy became one of the longest running characters on the show and Gillian Taylforth was the first cast member to clock up 1,000 episodes. In the book Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, Christine Geraghty has likened Kathy to the characters Deirdre Barlow from Coronation Street, Pam Ewing from Dallas and Krystle Carrington from Dynasty as they are associated "not merely with moral values but also the capacity to speak out when necessary in defence of the truth."
In a "character decoding" study performed in the 1980s, 93 viewers (64 women and 29 men) were surveyed (27 were undergraduate students, 33 were from the Oxford subject panel, and 33 were soap viewers who responded to advertisements in a soap magazine) on 25 characters from EastEnders to discover viewers' judgements and representations of the characters, through the construction of three-dimensional, multi-dimensional scaling space. The study found that the character of Kathy Beale was labelled in the "morality/potency" category - a moral character, family-oriented, warm, likable and steady.
In the book Come on Down?: Popular Media Culture in Post-war Britain, Kathryn and Phillip Dodd have used Kathy as an example of an independent, "glamorous working-class woman". They suggest that the forging of strong, female working-class characters in soap operas is "a counterweight to the more usual celebration of masculine physicality and identification of the working class with that masculinity."
During a period of ratings decline and heavy media criticism aimed at EastEnders in 2005, Rupert Smith, The Guardian TV critic and author of EastEnders: 20 years in Albert Square, stated that Kathy was one of EastEnders' best characters, the type the show was lacking at the time. He described her, along with characters Angie Watts, Tiffany Mitchell, Bianca Jackson, Janine Evans and Cindy Beale, as "strong women who can't control their appetites".
Writer and actress Jacquetta May, who played Rachel Kominski in EastEnders in the early 1990s, has commented on Kathy and questioned whether the events that happened in her fictional life reflected "any sort of true experience". In an article she comments, "Surely no woman's life could contain such a catalogue of disasters: slum childhood, two rapes, a drug-taking daughter, product of the first rape who tops herself, a broken marriage, disastrous affairs and now an alcoholic husband who endangered their son's life." She states that Kathy's biography is a "contrast between a realistic portrayal" of a woman and familiar stereotypes — Kathy "the good, long-suffering woman and victim".
In a study by the Stirling Media Research Institute about violence in the media, Phil and Kathy's abusive relationship was analysed. The explanation for Phil's alcoholism, his wife abuse, and the problems he has in relating to his son, was largely accepted as plausible. Women found the depiction of family life and domestic violence realistic and believable and felt that soap operas such as EastEnders should deal with important social issues. They judged soap operas as suitable locations for educating the public about social issues such as domestic violence. Phil's attendance at an AA and subsequent reconciliation with Kathy was viewed, leading some male participants to question the plausibility of the speedy reunion, "One session could hardly make Phil capable of going home and opening up his feelings to ." Several focus groups attributed the need for "such a quick dramatic fix" as indicative of the ratings war with rival soap, Coronation Street. Phil's reconciliation with Kathy was also seen as "implausible", though at the same time "it was clearly accepted that according to the conventions of soap opera, there are no permanent solutions." The study reported that much group discussion centred on the Alcoholics Anonymous group scene, which was, for the most part, seen as an accurate depiction of an AA group therapy session. In addition, Phil's portrayal of a suffering alcoholic was also seen as realistic and a "typical portrayal of bottled-up masculinity". Comparatively, male participants were generally dismissive towards Kathy: "She attracted little sympathy or understanding. Her tendency to take some responsibility for her own plight was not countered. Her tale of being abused by men and her history of rapes were at best mentioned in passing, at worst treated disparagingly. There was a quite widely shared sense of how men and women are characterised as radically different in EastEnders and other soap operas..." A scene in which Kathy and her close friend Pat Evans (Pam St Clement) show their competence as electricians, a scene that allowed the characters to "re-examine past mistakes and agree that life is hell, but you've got to keep struggling, mend the electrics ('wait for a man to do a job and you'll wait forever') and have a laugh" was felt, especially in middle-class male groups, "to be a superficial kind of feminism in line with how soap operas underscore gender differences." Gay men offered a major exception to this general indifference to Kathy's points of view; they readily espoused them.
Read more about this topic: Kathy Mitchell
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