Where are the actors behind EastEnder’s pioneering characters today?

WHEN BBC One soap EastEnders first hit our screens in 1985 the debut episode drew a whopping 13million viewers – and its stars went on to become a massive hit with the public.

Yesterday it was revealed one of the original cast Sandy Ratcliff – who played café owner Sue Osman – died aged 70 after ­overdosing on morphine as she battled lung cancer.

But what happened to the other actors behind Albert Square’s pioneering characters? Here JAMES MOORE traces what happened to its big names…

DEN WATTS

Played by: Leslie Grantham

A former soldier once ­convicted of murdering a taxi driver in Germany, Grantham became known to viewers as Dirty Den, the dodgy, cheating landlord of the Queen Vic.

Most famous for the scene where he served wife Angie with divorce papers at Christmas, Den was apparently shot in 1989, but returned in 2003 before being killed off for good in 2005.

Caught up in an online sex scandal in 2004, the divorcee starred in other TV shows and panto before dying from lung cancer, aged 71, in 2018.

ANGIE WATTS

Played by: Anita Dobson

As the permed landlady of the Queen Vic she won the hearts of millions but her ­character left Walford in 1988. We later learned Angie had died through alcoholism.

In real life Anita, now 70, went on to a successful career in the stage and starred in 2011’s Strictly Come Dancing.

In 2000 she married Queen guitarist Brian May.

IAN BEALE

Played by: Adam Woodyatt

Aged 51 he is the only actor to have been on the show ­solidly since it began.

In that time his character has been married four times and been everything from a loan shark to fish and chip shop owner. He’s also been shot by a hitman and suffered a breakdown.

Woodyatt himself has also appeared in panto and Celebrity MasterChef and has been married to dancer Beverley Sharp since 1998.

They have two children.

DOT COTTON

Played by: June Brown

A classically trained actress and mum-of-six, she returned to the soap this week following a six-month break – now as
Dot Branning.

She has been in the show since 1985, apart from a few breaks, and once had a whole episode to herself.

The 92-year-old’s eyesight is failing and she lives alone in Surrey since her second ­husband Robert died in 2003.

SHARON WATTS

Played by: Letitia Dean

Also known as Sharon Mitchell. Den and Angie’s adopted daughter has been an on-off member of the cast since she first left the role in 1995. Her character famously had an affair with Phil Mitchell while married to brother Grant.

Now 51, the former Grange Hill star finished fourth in 2007’s Strictly Come Dancing. She divorced her hubby of four years Jason Pethers in 2006.

MICHELLE FOWLER

Played by: Susan Tully

Already famous for starring as Suzanne in TV’s Grange Hill, she would be best remembered for her character’s secret pregnancy aged 16 until she left the show in 1995.

Now 51, Tully is a successful director on shows like hit cop series Line Of Duty. She has turned down returning to her soap role and the part was taken up by Jenna Russell in 2016.

‘NASTY’ NICK COTTON

Played by: John Altman

Now 67, he made regular ­appearances as the show’s arch villain until 2015. Altman has starred in shows like Celebrity Coach Trip and lives in London with Diana Marchment.

Dr HAROLD LEGG

Played by: Leonard Fenton

The 93-year-old stayed for 12 years and made several comebacks until his character died of pancreatic cancer this year.

PAULINE FOWLER

Played by: Wendy Richard

The Are You Being Served? star played the Albert Square matriarch until her character was killed off in 2006. She died after suffering from breast cancer in 2009 aged 65.

LOU BEALE

Played by: Anna Wing

She left in 1988, starring in shows like Casualty, before dying in 2013 aged 98.

ETHEL SKINNER

Played by: Gretchen Franklin

Her character was known for her devotion to pet pug Willy and died from cancer in 2000. A former ­
high-kicking stage tiller girl, the veteran actress died aged 94 in 2005.

SIMON WICKS

Played by: Nick Berry

He played The Queen Vic barman until 1990 and had a hit with Every Loser Wins in 1986, which went to No1, and the theme song from TV show Heartbeat, a cover of the Buddy Holly song Heartbeat, in 1992. The married dad of two went on to play a cop in TV’s Heartbeat and now runs a production company.

ARTHUR FOWLER

Played by: Bill Treacher

His character was killed off in 1996, after Treacher asked to be written out of the show. Now 89, the retired married ­father-of-two lives in Suffolk, suffering from degenerative disease, ataxia.

MARY SMITH

Played by: Linda Davidson

Played the punk rocker until 1988 and dated co-star Nejdet Salih. Now 55, the mum quit acting to forge a new career in digital media.

LOFTY HOLLOWAY

Played by: Tom Watt

After playing the Square’s hapless barman he became a social worker. Now a 63-year-old sports broadcaster the married father-of-one also ghost wrote David Beckham’s autobiography.

ALI OSMAN

Played by: Nejdet Salih

Now 60 he left the show in 1989 after his café-owning character lost his money gambling. He changed his name to Nej Adamson to try to shake off Ali and starred in two Pirates Of The Caribbean movies.

PETE BEALE

Played by: Peter Dean

After his market trader ­character was killed off in a car crash in 1993, he had few ­major TV roles and feuded with co-star Leslie Grantham. Now 80, he recently starred in TV’s The Real Marigold Hotel.

KATHY BEALE

Played by: Gillian Taylforth

Famous for her character’s controversial rape storyline, she left the soap in 1988 but has made repeated comebacks. Now 64 she’s also starred in the likes of Hollyoaks and Celebrity Big Brother.

TONY CARPENTER

Played by: Oscar James

The soap’s builder and minicab driver left the show in 1987. Now 77 and living in north London he’s since had roles in Casualty and the movie Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

ROLY THE POODLE

Sharon Watts’ pooch, owned by show co-creator Julia Smith, died on screen when he was run over in 1993 and in real life in 1995.

WILLY THE PUG

Ethel Skinner’s pet was put down on the show in 1992 – two weeks later, the dog that played him also died.

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