Taste of Life

EastEnders vs. HIV

THE BBC’s latest medical drama, Taste of Life, may prove to be one of the
most important programmes in the corporation’s history. Set in a busy
hospital with a young cast of sexually active doctors and nurses, it doesn’t
exactly sound ground-breaking, but former EastEnders producer Matthew
Robinson reckons his new soap has the potential to change lives. Taste of
Life, you see, isn’t set in a fictional town in the South-West or an inner
London teaching hospital, the drama unfolds in Phnom Penh and isn’t meant
just to entertain, it is designed to save viewers’ lives.

It’s an example of ‘edutainment’ – the new buzzword in overseas aid – and is
one of a raft of soaps currently being produced with western cash and talent
in the developing world. Taste of Life ‘s opening storyline features a
pregnant 16-year-old who is rushed to hospital when her back-street abortion
goes wrong. So far, so soap; but Robinson promises that this is
revolutionary stuff. ‘Cambodians have never seen anything like it,’ he says
on the phone from Phnom Penh. It’s difficult to convey to a British audience
what an effect a show like Taste of Life , which begins this month, can

For Matthew Robinson though, the enormous benefits outweigh the ideological concerns: ‘These soaps are monitored and researched and don’t get the next year’s funding if there’s not a demonstrable shift in people’s behaviour. The medium works,’ he says. He is confident that Taste of Life will be a success: ‘There is no history of writing TV scripts here, there isn’t even a history of writing novels. This is a country where half the population is under 18 and where anyone who could have taught the younger generation about the creative industries was murdered by Pol Pot.’

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