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Last Updated: Monday, 3 November, 2003, 12:23 GMT
'Dirty Den' extends EastEnders deal
Leslie Grantham as Den Watts
Dirty Den was thought to have been killed in 1989
Actor Leslie Grantham, who has returned to play Dirty Den in BBC One's EastEnders, has signed a contract to stay with the show for another year.

The news comes after 16.6 million people tuned in to watch Den's return, surprising screen daughter Sharon (Letitia Dean) who thought he was dead.

Grantham, 56, had been persuaded to return to the show after a 14-year gap.

"I've had the time of my life since my return to EastEnders earlier this year," Grantham said.

"Working with Tish (Letitia Dean), Nigel and Scarlett cemented my decision to return next year. All my bank managers will be very happy and I can pack up my milk round and paper round I had planned for this winter," the actor said.

"Dirty" Den Watts was one of the soap's best-loved characters. He was the landlord of the Queen Vic pub, married to Angie (Anita Dobson).

Spanish exile

More than 30 million people watched him serve divorce papers to his wife on Christmas Day in 1986.

Dirty Den exited the long-running soap in 1989, apparently shot and dumped into the Walford canal.

But scriptwriters had invented a new life for the TV villain in Spain over the last 14 years.

The appearance of Dirty Den boosted the show's ratings from a recent average of just under 11.5 million a night.

An EastEnders spokeswoman told BBC News Online Grantham's 2004 contract had not been part of his character's return in October, but that both parties had wanted to "see how it went".

No plot developments involving the character have yet been revealed.

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