EastEnders, the brain child of Tony Holland and Julia Smith, exploded onto our TV screens on February 19, 1985. Two years earlier, BBC bosses had decided they wanted to replicate the success of Coronation Street, airing a soap twice a week which would appeal to the British masses.
Both Londoners, creators Tony and Julia decided to base the soap in the capital’s East End, which is where the working title Eastenders came from. The second ‘e’ was changed to ‘E’ to make it easier to read and understand… EastEnders!
The soap, set in the fictional borough of Walford, E19, on Albert Square, launched with 24 characters, which included the Beale and Fowler families, the Osmans, the Carpenters and the Watts.
The first scene broadcast saw Den Watts, the landlord of the Queen Vic, pub break into a house and discover the body of Reg Cox. The first words spoken on the show were his: “Cor, sticks in ‘ere, dunnit?”
Easties, as it was nicknamed by fans, quickly became known for its gritty and controversial storylines, including teenage pregnancy, the rape of Kathy Beale, Mark Fowler’s HIV plot.
Other shocking plots in the soap’s history have included euthanasia, grooming and murder.
The soap’s most-watched and most notorious episode aired on Christmas Day, 1986, and saw Den Watts issue his wife Angie with divorce papers; fearing that he would leave her, she had been lying about having cancer.
In 1989, Den, who had become the show’s runaway star, was seemingly gunned down; his character came ‘back from the dead’ in 2003, and his murder was written off as an elaborate plot to get him into hiding.
The soap has spawned a number of household names, including Ross Kemp, Pam St Clement, Ian Woodyatt, Patsy Palmer and Danniella Westbrook.
Its most famous star, however, was already a national treasure: Dame Barbara Windsor.