Hello Princess.
~ Den's famous catchphrase
Oh, you could keep this performance up for a lifetime. Like on the Orient Express. Like in the bar, chatting up the barman. 'Oh, I've told my husband this terrible lie. Not a little white one, but a big black one'. Remember Ange? Because I do, because I was sitting four feet away from you lapping up every word. Six little months to live. Six tragic little months, and poor old Angie's gonna pop off. That has got to be the sickest joke you've ever played, and Den Watts fell for it. Well now the joke's on you. This, my sweet, is a letter from my solicitor telling you that your husband has filed a petition for divorce. It also tells you to get yourself a solicitor pretty damn quick. Happy Christmas, Ange.
~ Den Watts handing his wife Angie divorce papers.
You'll never get me out of the Vic!
~ Den's last words before his death.

Dennis "Den" Watts was the husband of Angie, father of Dennis and Vicky, adoptive father of Sharon Mitchell (née Watts) and an anti-hero in the BBC Soap Opera EastEnders. He appeared in the first ever episode (and also spoke the first ever line) in 1985.

Den left in 1989 when assumed dead, but turned up in 2003 after a 14 year absence, only to meet his end for a second time a year and a half later.

Den served as one of the main protagonists in 1985-1989, before returning as a major antagonist/protagonist villain in 2003-2005.

He was portrayed by the late Leslie Grantham.

Biography

1985–1989

Den Watts was introduced in the first episode in 1985 as the landlord of the Queen Vic pub, which he ran with his wife, Angie Watts. They also had an adoptive daughter called Sharon. Den and his friends Ali, Arthur and Pete discovered the body of Reg, an old man who had not been seen for days.

Den slept with Sharon's 16 year old friend Michelle Fowler, despite him being married and she gave birth to his daughter Vicky. Although he wasn't allowed to see his daughter apart from holding her once, he still supported them financially in secret. This caused a long running feud with Michelle's mother Pauline.

When Den planned to leave Angie, she made up a story that she had not long to live. Den decides to stay with her for support and tries to build back the relationship. During a trip on the Orient express Den overhears a drunken Angie admit to a barman (unaware of Den listening) that she wasn't really dying. Wanting revenge, he serves her divorce papers on Christmas Day. Den later becomes involved with a criminal gang known as "The Firm", and eventually gives up tenancy of the Vic in order to serve as manager of the Strokes wine bar, which is used by The Firm as a front for illegal gambling. When Pete's wife Kathy Beale is raped by James Willmott-Brown, Den manipulates Firm errand boy Brad Williams to burn down James' bar, which ends up with police attention. The Firm tell Den to take the blame for the arson. However they plot to kill him, but Den escapes and hands himself into the police. He is remanded in custody in September 1988 and builds himself as No. 1 in the prison despite some reluctance among inmates. On the outside the Firm still don't trust Den, feeling he will talk to the police about them.

In February 1989 when Den is being accompanied to a trial, the Firm attempt to kidnap him on route but he escapes and plans to flee the country. He meets Michelle by the canal to say goodbye, unaware that the Firm had followed her. She leaves, and when walking down the canal Den is shot by a man who has concealed a gun in daffodils. A splash is heard indicating Den had fallen into the canal. The police search the canal but don't find anything, but when Sharon finds a signet ring that had belonged to Den on a market stall which was found by the canal the police search once again, and find a body which is identified as Den's and buried.

2003–2005

In reality Den had escaped the Firm and with the help of ex-mistress Jan, managed to escape the country and fled to Spain. The body that was buried as Den's was that of Mr Vinnicombe, a senior member of the Firm who was murdered as punishment for Den's escape. Den lived in Spain for the next 14 years, and in 1999 married a woman called Chrissie, who would play a big part in his end 6 years later.

Den was tracked down by daughter Vicki after his illegitimate son Dennis Rickman (who had also worked for the Firm) found out Den was alive. Den returned in September 2003 shocking Sharon, who had mixed emotions when meeting him. Current acting boss of the firm Andy Hunter spares Den and allows things to drop, meaning Den could return to Walford.

During his return, Den got into a feud with Sharon's ex-boyfriend Phil Mitchell and set him up for a bank robbery which forced Phil to leave the area and go on the run. Den attempted to break up Dennis and Sharon's relationship, declaring it to be incest despite the fact that the two of ther weren't related, and was involved in numerous affairs.

In February 2005, Den is killed by wife Chrissie after she hit him over the head with a doorstop. He is buried under the cellar for several months before being discovered and is given a proper burial, being buried with his ex wife Angie. Sam Mitchell is initially arrested for his murder, but her brothers Phil and Grant eventually gain evidence that clears her name and sends Chrissie to prison.

In November 2015, it was revealed that Den was friends with Sharon's father Gavin Sullivan, who gave him and Angie a newly born Sharon in return for a dodgy deal, as Gavin didn't see himself as a father knew that Den and Angie wanted to have children. He also told Den to say 'Hello Princess' to Sharon as his way of greeting her. 

Character development and impact

Despite the controversy surrounding Grantham, the Watts, with Anita Dobson as the newly appointed Angie, were the surprise hit characters of the show. Angie and Den were a live-wire couple whose on/off relationship made the Queen Vic pub exciting and unpredictable and the viewers tuned in their millions to watch the destruction of their relationship on-screen. Den's clashes with Angie brought EastEnders to a peak of popularity and toppled rival soap Coronation Street from the top of the ratings chart.

"Dirty Den"

In 1985, Den was the first person to speak on the first episode of EastEnders: "Stinks in here dunnit?" just before he found out that Reg Cox had been murdered. Early on in the series, the character of Den became central to the programme and was the focus of a controversial storyline involving the teenage pregnancy of Michelle Fowler. Press interest in the show escalated as journalists continuously tried to predict who had fathered Michelle's baby. In true whodunnit fashion, the audience had been kept in the dark as to the real identity of the father and were given teasers implicating several residents on the Square. The audience finally discovered the culprit in episode 66 of the programme, October 1985. The episode was written by series co-creator/script editor Tony Holland and directed by co-creator/producer Julia Smith, and was considered to be a landmark episode in the show's history. Four possible suspects were seen leaving the Square in the early half of the episode: Tony Carpenter, Ali Osman, Andy O'Brien and Den Watts. As Michelle waited by their rendezvous point a car pulled up and finally the fluffy white legs of Roly the poodle bounded out of the car, and gave it all away: Den Watts was the man meeting Michelle and it was he who had fathered her baby. It was when Den was revealed as the father that his famous nickname "Dirty Den" was created by the British press. The rest of the episode consisted of just one long scene, where Den and Michelle discussed whether or not to keep the baby. Up to that time it was the longest scene ever done in a soap-opera, lasting fifteen minutes. For a series that in its first eight months of existence had established a reputation for being fast-moving and rapidly cut, this was a bold experiment. It relied on just the one story and two actors to hold the audience for over half an episode. Tony Holland's handling of the awkward scene between a teenage girl and the father of her best friend is deemed as one of the highlights of EastEnders first year. The finishing touch was the use of an alternative end title music, a variation of the normal one which replaced the dramatic drum beats with a longer, gentler piano solo introduction.

After this storyline the programme started to appear in newspaper cartoons as it moved more and more into the public mainstream. One such cartoon showed the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, telling her cabinet that the best way to alert the country to the dangers of AIDS was to give the disease to Den.

Den and Angie mania

During 1986 the series became dominated by Den and Angie's storylines and the focus of the programme was very much concentrated on their combustible relationship. The emphasis began early in 1986 with the arrival of Den's mistress Jan Hammond. Jan had been a powerful off-screen presence for the first year, a menacing voice at the end of the telephone, which severely affected the mood of both Den and Angie and kept the audience on edge every time the phone rang. Jan's physical arrival at the Vic in January 1986 was one of the show's dramatic highlights. Her invasion of Angie's territory was a springboard to future emotional fireworks and a precursor to Angie's further dependence on alcohol and her attempted suicide.

Den and Angie's traumatic two-hander episode in October 1986 was another risky experiment for EastEnders — A thirty-minute episode with only two people in it had never been attempted in a soap before. Holland and Smith feared that the episode would not hold up, however press and audience alike were in agreement that it did. Once it was done, it set a precedent and the programme has featured two-handers ever since. The episode was structured like a "tennis match" between Angie and Den, with a non-speaking window-cleaner forever strolling innocently into the action. It began with Den trying to tell Angie that he wanted a divorce. Angie was shocked and for a moment defeated, but she then dropped her bombshell and told Den that she only had six months to live. At first Den didn't believe her, but eventually Angie's hysterical performance convinced him. He crumbled and promised to stay with her and only after he left did Angie smile in triumph, letting the audience in on her secret that it was all a big lie. Written by Jane Hollowood and directed by Antonia Bird, this episode is considered to be one of the finest episodes in EastEnders' catalogue.

The Den/Angie/Jan triangle was to continue for many months. The climax was a trip to Venice when Angie — convinced that Den had finished with his mistress — was taken there for a second honeymoon, returning to London on the Orient Express. This gave the writers and producers an opportunity to open the show up from the confines of Albert Square. However the trip to Venice was fraught with problems and Dobson, Grantham and Jane How were hounded by the press at all times. Their photographs appeared in British newspapers, thus ruining the shock surprise that Tony Holland had created, by including Den's mistress in the episode.[3] Despite huge efforts from all involved the Venice episodes were only moderately successful, although the revelations discovered by Den in the episode set the scene for one of EastEnders' most renowned episodes, which aired on Christmas Day that year. After over-hearing his wife confess that her illness was fabricated, Den filed for divorce. 30.1 million viewers tuned in on Christmas Day in 1986, to witness Den handing Angie her divorce papers, giving the soap its highest ever episode rating, which has yet to be beaten by any other plotline from any other soap in the UK.

This storyline saw the separation of Den and Angie. Holland and Smith had anticipated that Den and Angie would be popular, but they had not guessed how hysterical the reaction to them would be. It was decided that Den and Angie would have to be played down for a while so that other characters would have the opportunity to shine through. The next few years saw Den and Angie struggle to get by without each other and eventually they reunited as business partners.

Arrest and demise

However, at the beginning of 1988 Anita Dobson decided that she wanted to move on after three years playing Angie. She made her final appearance in May that year. Leslie Grantham had also decided that he wanted to move on, but Julia Smith didn't want the programme to suffer the double blow of losing both Den and Angie so close together. The solution to the problem was one of the soap's most complex and creative exercises, that required intricate planning. The idea was to enable Den to stay as an on-screen presence until 1989, while keeping Grantham working for EastEnders only until the autumn of 1988. Tony Holland and writer/editor Bill Lyons came up with a story to put Den in prison for a year, intending that material recorded in a block of intensive filming would then be included in the programme for the rest of the year. The programme didn't want to make Den into a criminal, however, so he had to be put in prison for doing something that could be justified to the viewing public — otherwise there would be no sympathy for him. The answer lay in a storyline that was running with another character — the rape of Kathy Beale. After simultaneously getting in way over his head with a criminal organisation (The Firm), Den torched Kathy's rapist's winebar in retaliation, and was then made to take the blame for the deed by the firm. After he refused, went on the run, and was nearly killed by the firm's heavies, Den turned himself into the police and was put on remand at Dickens Hill prison in September 1988. For the next five months he was seen, in the company of a small group of new characters also confined in the prison, on a regular basis in EastEnders. This material was shot in less than a month at Dartmoor Prison, Devon. When these segments were written and recorded, they were done so entirely in isolation and in advance - the production team had no real idea of other material that would have to fit around it.

The character was eventually to bow out on 23 February 1989 in one of the programme's most famous episodes which attracted more than 20 million viewers. After escaping from custody, Den returned to the famous canal (in Alperton) for one last rendezvous with Michelle. The episode ended with Den being shot by a member of the firm (who was carrying a gun concealed in a bunch of daffodils) and then falling into the canal. The scene where Den actually hit the water had to be taped at the BBC's Ealing Film Studios using a water tank, because the waters of the Grand Union Canal were deemed unsafe. When the episode was finished, however, Jonathan Powell, controller of BBC1, requested that the final shot be removed to allow for the possibility of Den returning at a later date. In protest, Tony Holland and Julia Smith had their names taken off the episode's credits. Den's exit ended up being the creators' final contribution to the show.

Controversial return

However, after 14 years presumed dead, executive-producer Louise Berridge made the highly controversial decision to reintroduce the character to the series and reunite him with his daughter Sharon, played by Letitia Dean. Grantham has alleged that the producers of EastEnders asked him to reprise the role many times since 1991, but he turned each offer down as he was unhappy with the returning storylines. Subsequent offers between 1995 and 2001 were also rejected because Den's screen family were no longer in the show and Grantham felt that a return at this time would have been little more than a publicity stunt. However, he accepted Berridge's offer to return in 2002 as he approved of the storyline and because Den had family ties within the cast - his adoptive daughter Sharon had returned after six years away, his other daughter Vicki was due to return, and Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman) - the son Den hadn't known existed - was also due to join.

The reintroduction of Den was part of a plan by scriptwriters to fight back against the continued success of ITV's long-running soap, Coronation Street. The character made his "dramatic return" in an episode that aired on 29 September 2003. On-screen, Den walked into Sharon's nightclub, Angie's Den, and greeted his stunned daughter with the words "Hello, princess." More than 16 million viewers watched his long-awaited homecoming, attracting 62% of the viewing public; it has been voted as the favourite TV soap comeback in an AOL online poll of over 23,000 viewers, taking over a third of the vote (37%).

Despite claims from the British press that the plot was unrealistic and that it questioned the show's credibility, Den's return sparked a huge increase in ratings for the last few months of 2003. After a successful Christmas storyline, Grantham took a short break from the show after securing a lengthy contract. However, a severe press backlash followed after actor Grantham was outed in an internet sex scandal in May 2004, which coincided with a swift decline in EastEnders ratings. Grantham was subsequently suspended for two months and his character departed on 30 August, before returning on the episode broadcast on 11 November. Newly appointed executive-producer Kathleen Hutchison then made the decision to axe the character and he was killed off in a high-profile storyline, which saw his body buried in the cellar of The Queen Vic.

Grantham has denied that he was dismissed from the show as punishment for the internet sex scandal. He has claimed in his autobiography that he only ever intended to return to the soap for 18 months so his character's second demise would tie in with the show's 20th anniversary.

In 2006, EastEnders' scriptwriter Tony Jordan revealed how it was his idea to bring Den back in 2003. Jordan had started working at EastEnders in 1989, after Den had already left the series. Jordan had always wanted to write material for Den and Angie and so he campaigned for the return of Den for many years. He told the Daily Mirror, "At story conferences I'd say, 'How do we know he's dead? They never found a body'. Eventually, just to shut me up, they made me write an episode where Den's body was found and identified by his ring."

Gallery

Trivia

  • Den Watts was introduced as one of 24 original characters in EastEnders, appearing in the very first episode on the February 21, 1985. The late Leslie Grantham was cast as the role, although there was controversy when it was revealed he killed a taxi driver in West Germany 20 years prior, in which he served a 10-year sentence. Nonetheless he continued in the role for 4 years and the character proved popular with viewers.
  • Grantham quit the role in 1988, and filmed a set of episodes over a few months which aired over the next year. Den exited the show in February 1989 in which he was shot by a gunman working for a crime organisation known as "The Firm". This episode was originally to be Den Watt's death, although a scene which showed his body in a canal was cut out as producers hoped for a possible return in future. A year later a body was found and identified and buried as Den.
  • Since his departure Grantham got numerous offers for a return throughout the 1990s, but he turned them down when not satisfied with the storylines. But in 2003 he accepted a return as Den Watts, 14 years since his departure.
  • In 2004, Leslie Grantham was axed from the show after a webcam scandal. Den was killed off for good in an episode that aired in February 2005 to mark the show's 20th Anniversary. It was also 16 years since Den's original apparent demise. Despite reports that he was axed, an autobiography by Grantham claimed that Den's murder was planned since his 2003 return and that he was contracted for 18 months so his exit would tie with the show's anniversary.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Army of Ghosts" which aired in July 1, 2006, EastEnders could be seen on TV which showed Peggy Mitchell telling the "ghost" of Den Watts to get out of her pub. Rose Tyler's mother Jackie briefly mentions the plotline, saying it started when Peggy heard a noise in the cellar, a reference to how Den Watts was buried in the cellar after his murder. However, later in the episode that the ghosts were in fact Cybermen.
    • Leslie Grantham actually appeared in Doctor Who in the 1984 story Resurrection of the Daleks as Kiston.
  • Den's well known greeting to Sharon: 'Hello princess', was used again in EastEnders in an episode broadcast on October 30, 2015 by Gavin Sullivan when revealing to Sharon that he was her father.
  • The Christmas episode in 1986 in which he divorced Angie achieved the highest single program audience in the U.K of 30.5 million. That meant that around 54% of the U.K population at that time watched the episode live.
  • In 1986, the duo Whisky and Sofa released a single called "Dirty Den", with lyrics making direct references to the character.

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