The actor Leslie Grantham, who has died at the age of 71, had just a minor role in Doctor Who as Kiston, an engineer in the service of the Daleks in 1984’s Resurrection of the Daleks. But just a year after this fleeting appearance, he would become one of the most recognisable faces on British television as Den Watts, landlord of the Queen Vic in the BBC’s soap EastEnders.
Grantham was given his big break in the series which made him a household name by Matthew Robinson, who had directed him in fringe theatre and in his Doctor Who appearance, and had the distinction of uttering the first words spoken in the new show (“Stinks in ‘ere”) as he broke down the door of a deceased resident’s flat.
He had been encouraged to consider an acting career by Louise Jameson, working at the time as a prison visitor, whilst serving a life sentence for the murder of a taxi driver during his time in the army in Germany. This conviction would be one of the first tabloid exposes which the BBC’s new flagship series would be subject to. BBC bosses had surely been aware that Grantham’s past would come to light and backed him to continue.
Launching EastEnders was considered a substantial risk for the BBC, which in comparison to ITV had no track record of success with television soap operas, but it quickly became a huge hit and Grantham was integral to its explosive early storyline which would see over 30 million viewers tune in on Christmas Day 1986 to see Den hand divorce papers over to his wife Angie. This colossal figure is still a record for a drama transmission in the UK.
Leslie Grantham was to leave EastEnders in 1989, apparently shot in a gangland hit, but returned in 2003. It turned out to be a short-lived resurrection as he fell victim to another tabloid revelation, with the corporation deciding this time to end his contract and kill off Den Watts permanently. In the lengthy gap between his runs in the soap, Grantham appeared in a number of other dramas including The Paradise Club alongside Don Henderson, sci-fi series The Uninvited (which he also created), and as Colonel Mustard in the final series of Cluedo, a TV game show version of the board game alongside Joanna Lumley as Miss Peacock and Nicholas Parsons as Reverend Green.
Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.