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Last Updated: Friday, 28 January, 2005, 12:01 GMT
EastEnders schedule threat denied
EastEnders drew in lowest audience share in five years in January
Reports that EastEnders was in danger of being taken off air due to production problems at the TV soap have been denied by the BBC.

A spokeswoman said newspaper reports were false that the four-times-a-week show faced being taken off air for a fortnight after a storyline shortage.

Executive producer Kathleen Hutchison has also quit the show "by mutual consent" after just four months.

And actress Barbara Windsor will return this summer after two years' absence.

'No crisis'

It was reported that the BBC's new controller of continuing drama series, John Yorke, planned to postpone the show for a fortnight earlier this month.

EastEnders spokeswoman denied the threat existed and said there had been "no crisis meeting" with staff.

"John called all cast members together on Monday for a regular meeting to discuss various things," she said. "I cannot go into further detail."

The Ferreira family
Kathleen Hutchison axed the soap's unpopular Ferreira family
In January, EastEnders drew its lowest audience share in more than five years with 6.8 million viewers tuning in to one episode - three million less than ITV soap Emmerdale.

EastEnders had fared better at Christmas, however, taking the title for most popular Christmas Day soap with 12.3 million viewers.

Executive producer Kathleen Hutchison, who previously worked on hospital series Holby City, left the show on Wednesday.

Her move followed the departure of the show's series producer Sharon Hughff last week.

I have enjoyed my brief time at EastEnders and wish the show the very best
Kathleen Hutchison

Ms Hutchison was responsible for a number of changes to EastEnders, including the axing of the unpopular Ferreira family and introduction of new characters such as Alfie Moon's cousin Jake, played by The Office star Joel Beckett.

Ms Hutchison inherited the position from Louise Berridge, who quit EastEnders last September after ratings fell from an average of 13 million viewers at the start of 2004 to 11 million by June.

Ms Hutchison said: "I have enjoyed my brief time at EastEnders and wish the show the very best."

John Yorke, a former executive producer of the show, has been announced as Ms Hutchison's temporary replacement.

Barbara Windsor
I had a great couple of weeks when I was there recently, it really reminded me that the Square is where I feel at home
Barbara Windsor
He said: "Kathleen has done a fantastic job of managing EastEnders during this period of change - I am very grateful to her for all her hard work and for leaving the show in such a strong position for us to build on."

Meanwhile actress Barbara Windsor said she was "over the moon" to rejoin the show two years after the debilitating Epstein-Barr virus led her to quit.

The 66-year-old made a brief appearance before Christmas when her character Peggy Mitchell attended the wedding of her daughter Sam.

"I had a great couple of weeks when I was there recently, it really reminded me that the Square is where I feel at home," she said.

EastEnders' spokeswoman said the soap's 20th anniversary would be marked on 18 February by the departure of character Den Watts, played by Leslie Grantham, and "the climax of some of the show's most explosive storylines for a very long time".

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