EastEnders actor Shaun Williamson, who plays minicab boss Barry Evans, has quit the BBC One soap because he could not take time off to appear in pantomime, he has announced.
Barry and wife Natalie have a troubled marriage
Williamson signed a contract to perform in the musical in Canterbury at Christmas, without consulting his BBC bosses.
It is believed the 37-year-old thought he could take a sabbatical like other members of the cast.
But he will now be written out of the programme he has starred in for nine years.
Williamson will film his last scenes in November, which will be broadcast early next year.
In a statement, he said: "I have accepted the lead in a
Kevin Wood musical pantomime at The Marlowe in Canterbury for Christmas 2003.
Shaun accepted another engagement at the end of this
year which would clash with his commitment to EastEnders
"Unfortunately EastEnders contracts don't allow it so I have taken the decision to leave.
"EastEnders have generously extended my contract to run until November."
He thanked the production team and actors "for making the last few years such
a wonderful experience".
"I shall miss them all but look forward to new challenges and an exciting
future," he added.
Other high-profile EastEnders such as Barbara Windsor and Steve McFadden are leaving the show temporarily to work in other projects.
Todd Carty, who played Mark Fowler, has left the Square and will be killed off by scriptwriters.
A BBC spokesman said: "Shaun accepted another engagement at the end of this
year which would clash with his commitment to EastEnders.
"Regretfully therefore, we have only been able to extend his contract until
"It will keep Barry on screen into next year. We wish Shaun every success in
Viewers have recently seen Williamson's character, minicab boss Barry, down on his luck.
His wife Natalie, played by Lucy Speed, is having an affair.