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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 17:02 GMT


Entertainment

EastEnders loses its Grant

Ross Kemp: Heading for pastures new

The BBC has confirmed EastEnders star Ross Kemp will be leaving its flagship soap opera later this year.


The BBC promises Kemp's exit will be dramatic but not final
Kemp, who plays Queen Victoria landlord Grant Mitchell, is quitting the show and defecting to ITV after signing a reported £1.2m 10-year deal with London Weekend Television. He is reportedly being considered for major drama roles.

The 34-year-old, who first joined EastEnders in 1989, was reportedly disappointed when BBC bosses chose Sean Bean ahead of him to play the role of SAS hero Andy McNab in the dramatisation of the book Bravo Two Zero.

Popular character


[ image: Keeping it in the family: Grant and sister-in-law Kathy]
Keeping it in the family: Grant and sister-in-law Kathy
Since arriving in Albert Square, Grant Mitchell has become one of Britain's most popular soap characters. Storylines such as his rivalry with brother Phil, his fling with Phil's wife Kathy and his doomed marriages to Sharon and Tiffany have captured viewers' imaginations.

EastEnders topped the ratings at Christmas when Grant was accused of the attempted murder of Tiffany, played by Martine McCutcheon.

A BBC spokesman confirmed Kemp was leaving the show and said his autumn departure would be dramatic but not final.

"We are disappointed that he is going to ITV but the door is always open for a return," he added.

Co-star Barbara Windsor - his screen mother Peggy - has pleaded with the BBC to stick to its word, saying: "No more deaths, let him come back."

'Stepping stone' to new roles


[ image:  ]
She told GMTV he had talked through his decision with her before he left, adding: "I said don't ask my advice - I'm biased. I want you here with me every day.

"I can't bear it. He is just the most darling man. He was always there for me - he was there for me when I was throwing up on my first day."

In November, Kemp told the Radio Times that although he was "proud" of EastEnders, he saw it as a stepping stone to greater things.

He said: "I'm like a second division footballer. If I was good enough for the Premier League, I'd get my transfer. But it hasn't happened yet."

But the transition from soap stardom to mainstream recognition is not always easy.

Probably the most successful former inhabitant of Albert Square has been Nick Berry, whose Simon Wicks character was written out in 1990. He immediately decamped to ITV, where 1950s police drama Heartbeat was a huge hit. Now he is back with the BBC in Harbour Lights.

Life after soap?


[ image: Michelle Collins: One she was Cindy, now she's in Sunburn]
Michelle Collins: One she was Cindy, now she's in Sunburn
Michelle Collins - once Cindy Beale - has also managed to keep a high profile, starring in BBC One's drama about holiday reps, Sunburn. And Letitia Dean - Grant's ex-wife Sharon Mitchell - has appeared in sitcom The Hello Girls for the BBC.

Although many former soap stars disappear from public view, some prosper in other fields. Susan Tully (Michelle Fowler) recently returned to the series she left in 1995, but in the director's chair.

However, many are relieved to be out of the pressure of being on the nation's screens two or three times a week, every week.

Leslie Grantham slowly lost the high public profile he had when the Queen Vic's original landlord, Den Watts, was shot in 1989. He appeared in The Paradise Club and ITV gambling drama 99-1 after leaving EastEnders, and last year he appeared in The Bill.

But he was also happy to send up the fortunes of ex-soap stars, by appearing in an advertisement for a bar of soap. Sat in a bath extolling its virtues, he proclaimed: "Whoever said there was no such thing as life after soap?"



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