British soap EastEnders answers the cliff-hanger question "Who killed Archie Mitchell?" Friday night as the long-running TV series debuts its first-ever live episode as part of its week of 25th anniversary episodes.

Producers of the hit U.K. program even kept staff members in the dark by enlisting scriptwriters to pen 10 possible endings and having the actors rehearse the different scenes. The landmark episode is a complex one, involving 51 actors, 36 camera operators and 13 makeup artists.

Cast and crew discovered the soap's biggest-ever "whodunit" — the identity of the person who clubbed pub owner Archie Mitchell to death with a bust of Queen Victoria — just 30 minutes before the show's broadcast at 8 p.m. local time on BBC One.

Up to 15 million people are expected to tune into Friday night's 30-minute program and British bookmaker William Hill said that £1 million (about $1.5 million Cdn) is expected to be wagered on the outcome.

Unlike glossy North American soaps, British favourites like EastEnders and its elder rival Coronation Street are peopled with largely regular-looking cast members and typically deal with grittier, working-class and often unglamorous storylines.

Implausible plots

"American soaps are about watching beautiful people suffer," soap fan and Times of London arts editor Tim Teeman told the Associated Press.

"We like to watch ugly people suffer."

While some have criticized British soaps for perpetuating stereotypes of the working class and for the implausible plots — like the spectacular ways characters are killed off or how many often return from the dead — fans praise soaps for tackling current social issues and offering dramas to which the average person can relate.

According to Teeman, soaps like EastEnders can be likened to more traditional entertainment.

"Soaps trade on classical drama and Shakespearean drama," he said. "That may sound pretentious, but you strip down any soap story and you are watching Greek drama — children neglected by parents, misunderstandings."

With files from The Associated Press