Actor Leslie Grantham has died aged 71 his agent has announced.
“I’m deeply saddened to hear the very sad news. I have so many happy memories of working with Leslie, he was always great fun and we shared many laughs. Those iconic Christmas episodes were legendary and they will always be part of EastEnders history. My heart goes out to his loved ones.” – Gillian Taylforth, Kathy in EastEnders
Earlier this week a tabloid paper reported that the performer, who is best known for his role as Den Watts in EastEnders, had returned to the UK from his home in Bulgaria to receive medical attention. The exact nature of his illness was not disclosed however it was reported Grantham had slipped into a coma and pals were ‘expecting the worst’.
This afternoon, Friday, June 15th, his agent and the BBC confirmed Leslie had passed away. Little details have been given other than he died earlier this morning and that a private funeral would be held.
“Everyone at EastEnders is deeply saddened to hear that Leslie has passed away. We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family and friends at this extremely difficult time.” – John Yorke, Executive Consultant, EastEnders
An early role in Granada Television’s The Jewel in the Crown for ITV.
Leslie, second left, stars in ITV series Cluedo along with Liz Smith, Nicholas Parsons and John Bird.
Grantham played scheming womaniser Den, the Queen Vic’s first on-screen landlord, from EastEnders‘ opening episode in 1985 until 1989. Viewers were gripped by his tumultuous marriage to wife Angie (Anita Dobson), who he cheated on with his long-term mistress Jan Hammond (Jane How) and schoolgirl Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully).
Den’s dalliance with Michelle, his daughter Sharon’s (Letitia Dean) best friend, only became known to the audience after Michelle announced to her family that she was pregnant before secretly meeting up with the man responsible. An early ratings success for EastEnders, the reveal of Den as the father of Michelle’s baby in October 1985 saw the character dubbed ‘Dirty Den’ by the popular press.
After getting in over his head with a local criminal outfit, Den was seemingly bumped off as part of a contract killing – falling into a local canal after being shot. However, despite what was believed to be his body later being recovered from the water, the character made a sensational comeback to the saga in 2003.
Leslie with Anita Dobson as Angie, and other Queen Vic staff, ‘Lofty’ played by Tom Watt, Nick Berry as Simon, Kathy played by Gillian Taylforth and Gretchen Franklin as Ethel.
The love-hate battles between Angie and Den brought EastEnders some of its biggest viewing figures in the 1980s.
The character of Den was ratings gold for EastEnders with a record-breaking 30.1m viewers witnessing him serve alcoholic Angie divorce papers on Christmas Day 1986 after discovering that she had faked a terminal illness to deter him from leaving her whilst 17m saw his return to the Beeb serial in September 2003.
After framing Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) for armed robbery, repeatedly cheating on second wife Chrissie (Tracy-Ann Oberman) and acquiring the Queen Vic from Sam Mitchell (Kim Medcalf) by dubious means, he was killed off for good in 2005 when a scorned Chrissie clobbered him with an iron doorstop.
Between his two stints in EastEnders Grantham, who was born in Camberwell in 1947, also appeared in several dramas such as BBC One’s The Paradise Club and 99-1 for Carlton on ITV. He was also a personality in his own right making appearances on Central Television’s star quiz Celebrity Squares for ITV, BBC One’s The Les Dawson Show, Cluedo from Granada for ITV, BBC One quiz That’s Showbizness and as a regular on Channel 5’s Fort Boyard where, as expected, he played the ‘baddie’ Master of the Fort who wanted the contestants to fail and not win ‘his money’.
Den and Leslie departed Walford originally in 1989.
Leslie reprised his role as Dirty Den Watts from 2003 to 2005.
Before soap fame his credits included The Jewel In The Crown and sci-fi series Doctor Who. He hit the headlines not long after landing the role of Den Watts when newspapers unearthed details that Grantham had spent a decade in prison for murder.
In December 1966, Grantham attempted to rob a taxi driver, Felix Reese, in West Germany. A struggle between the two followed with Reese killed from a gunshot wound to the head. Grantham said he didn’t realise the gun was loaded, however, was found guilty of murder in 1967.
Leslie makes a guest-appearance in Children’s ITV series Woof! for Central Television.
After ‘Enders Leslie became an in-demand ‘personality’ as himself, including here in 1989 on The Les Dawson Show for BBC One.
Grantham was released in 1977 from Leyhill Prison where he had taken up acting and edited the prison newspaper. He was encouraged to take up professional performance by Labour Party politician T. Dan Smith, who had also been an inmate at Leyhill in the mid-1970s. After being released Leslie trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.
When the news broke about Grantham’s past the BBC, and show producer Julia Smith, stood by the actor noting he had ‘done his time’ and they would not be taking any action to remove one of EastEnders‘ lead performers.
Fellow ‘Enders actors have been paying tribute this afternoon, with on-screen daughter Sharon, actress Letitia Dean reflecting:
“I have very special memories of working with Leslie and will cherish them always. He and Anita looked after me in my early days and showed me the ropes, always with care and kindness. He never failed to make me laugh and I will remember him with love, affection and gratitude forever. See you up there Leslie! Thank you for everything. Love and respect always.”
His second on-screen wife was played by Tracy Ann Oberman, who as Chrissie Watts was there to see Den’s final – second demise – in 2005.
“Really sorry to hear about Leslie Grantham. A very very good actor and one who created an iconic character with Dirty Den.” – Tracy Ann Oberman
Leslie Grantham 30 April 1947 – 15 June 2018
On ITV’s Celebrity Squares from Central TV with Bob Monkhouse.
Drama for ITV via Carlton Television’s 99-1 series.
Leslie became ‘master of the fort’ on Channel 5’s Fort Boyard.
Leslie played the main character of John in the Bulgarian TV series The English Neighbour.
Making bread, Leslie teams up with Johnatan Morris for Wild Oats on ITV.
The first on-screen family of the Queen Vic. Den, Angie and Sharon Watts with pooch poodle Rolly in EastEnders of 1985.