The story becomes more bizarre when the pair told The Guardian newspaper Nick was to have his ‘gay fling’ with resident barman – and geek – George ‘Lofty’ Holloway who was also straight in originating storylines.
The homosexual idea was the brainchild of tough-talking Julia Smith – parodied in the spoof documentary The Making of Acorn Antiques – who co-devised EastEnders along with Tony Holland.
Altman recalled to the paper, “Julia wrote me out for about a year when I protested that Nick wasn’t the kind of man who would start a gay relationship with Lofty, another straight character.”
While June Brown said of the incident, “When Nick was supposed to start a gay relationship with Lofty, John Altman, who played Nick, told her [Smith] he didn’t feel it was in character. When he left the room, Julia said: “Write him out!” They did.”
The show did however have early regular gay characters in the guise of yuppie Colin Russell and his cockney partner Barry Clark. The Sun tabloid, in its usual poor taste, nicknamed the at-the-time twice weekly drama ‘EastBenders’ as a result.
Nick appeared in the series intermittently over the years with his last appearance in 2009. While Dot always tried to see the good in her son he was behind some of the nastiest actions in Albert Square including the murders of elderly resident Reg Cox, landlord Eddie Royle and indirectly the death of his son Ashley.
“I relished Nick’s nastiness.” Altman told The Guardian, “While it was liberating to play an out-and-out villain, people do still confuse me with the character and I have had abuse thrown at me.”
One of his best remembered storylines was when Nick was addicted to drugs and his mother, along with Pete Beale, tried to keep him locked in his bedroom to wean him off heroin.
“The hardest part was when Nick was on heroin. I grew my hair and they coloured my teeth with green and yellow enamel – so convincingly that security once refused to let me in.” He said, however added that there could have been much more to the character viewers never got to see, “I did sometimes feel frustrated that they didn’t make more of Nick. They’d use him to pack a punch and make a headline at the expense of longer-term plots. I’d like him to have spent more time on the square and shown other sides to his character.”
Both June and John feel it was a mistake to write out Charlie Cotton, the scheming, work-shy, father of the family and later his son Ashley.
“June and I protested when they killed off my on-screen son and dad because it was a missed opportunity to follow a really dysfunctional family.”
EastEnders, BBC One
Above the late Julia Smith who wanted to turn Nasty Nick and Geeky Lofty gay.