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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 19:36 GMT 20:36 UK
Dirty Den: Soap's most loveable villain
by Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Dirty Den - one of the main characters in BBC One soap EastEnders in the 1980s - has returned to the show after 14 years away.

Dirty Den and Sharon in EastEnders
Den returned by greeting daughter Sharon with: "Hello princess"
He was, quite simply, a soap legend - the EastEnders' original bad boy who was at the centre of almost every drama in Walford for four years.

For those who remember him, it is a welcome return for one of the show's most complex and volatile characters who had viewers hooked first time around.

And for younger fans who have only heard his name, it is a chance to see a character who has cast a shadow over the show for so long.

Dennis Watts - played by Leslie Grantham - was in the show from the first episode on 19 February 1985.

And he was at the centre of the action from the start, finding a dead body in 23 Albert Square.

Den and Angie
Den and Angie helped the show to record ratings
Over the coming months and years, Den and his beleaguered wife Angie, who ran the Queen Vic pub, became the first couple of soapland.

Den was a rough, tough diamond who dabbled in dodgy dealings and adultery - but also showed his courageous and loyal side when there was something he found worth sticking up for.

Smouldering and sneering, naughty and nice, caring and callous - Dirty Den was a bag of mixed-up, tough emotions that made him one of the most complex, attractive and real characters in the show's history.

Everyone in Walford and in homes across the country thought he was gone forever after an episode in 1989.

"Be lucky," he told Michelle Fowler, the teenage mother of his daughter Vicki, before turning down a canal path and being confronted by a man with a bunch of daffodils and a gun.

We saw a shot, heard a splash and a body was found a year later - but it was obviously not Den's.

Dirty Den
Den was thought to have been shot dead in 1989
Den and Angie were also ratings gold for the show.

They hold the British Christmas TV record after 30.15 million people tuned in to watch Den hand Angie divorce papers in 1986.

That is seven million more than tuned in to find out who shot Phil Mitchell two years ago.

EastEnders' current average ratings have dipped below 11 million in the last few months after suffering at the hands of ITV rival Coronation Street serial killer Richard Hillman.

But producers have not brought Den back out of desperation to win back viewers, according to Radio Times TV editor Alison Graham.

"I don't think its ratings are doing particularly badly - EastEnders is just massive and is always massive and floats along being massive," she said.

"I don't think there's any suggestion that they are desperate to give it some kind of boost - but obviously it will."

He was a bit of a devil - but what an attractive devil
Alison Graham
Radio Times TV editor
Graham interviewed Grantham about his return - and he told her he has been recognised in the street almost every day for the last 14 years.

"Women found him attractive in droves," Graham said.

"That was the twinkle, that was the humour. He was a bit of a devil - but what an attractive devil."

But it was hard to know if he will have the same impact second time around, she said.

"EastEnders has changed an awful lot over the last 14 years and he's carrying an awful lot of baggage with him because this is hugely anticipated.

"It will be interesting to see if the legend can be sustained."

He was the villain you loved to hate
Julie Emery
Heat magazine
Another TV writer, Julie Emery, managing editor of Heat magazine, said his return would give the show an initial boost.

"Hopefully they will be able to sustain it because the show has been a bit flat lately," she said.

"People are bored of it, with stories about dead cats, and the new family hasn't worked. It hasn't really been brilliant for quite a while this year."

Den and Angie used to be the lynchpins of the show, she said.

"He was the villain you loved to hate and everyone sided with Angie because he was so horrible.

"He's just a really fantastic character - the perfect soap baddie."

In Pictures: EastEnders' Dirty Den
03 May 03  |  Photo Gallery
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14 May 03  |  Entertainment


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