Ben Mitchell (EastEnders)
Harry Reid as Ben Mitchell in 2014.
|Portrayed by||Matthew Silver (1996–98)
Morgan Whittle (1999–2000)
Charlie Jones (2006–10)
Joshua Pascoe (2010–12)
Harry Reid (2014–)
|Duration||1996–2000, 2006–12, 2014–|
|First appearance||21 March 1996|
|Introduced by||Jane Harris (1996)
Matthew Robinson (1999)
Kate Harwood (2006)
Dominic Treadwell-Collins (2014)
Ben as portrayed by Charlie Jones (left) and Joshua Pascoe (right), with a "harder edge" in the latter depiction.
Benjamin "Ben" Mitchell is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders. The role has been played by five different actors. Matthew Silver appeared as an infant Ben from 1996–98, and Morgan Whittle played him as a toddler from 1999–2000. After a six-year absence from the series, Charlie Jones assumed the role of Ben in 2006. Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood axed Jones as part of a series revamp in 2010. Later in December 2010, the role was recast to Joshua Pascoe, who then took a break from EastEnders between 13 May 2011 and 9 September 2011. In May 2012, it was announced that Pascoe would be leaving in at the end of his current storyline. Pascoe departed the series on 24 August 2012 as Ben was arrested and charged with manslaughter. On 14 May 2014, it was announced that Ben would be returning to the serial, with the part being recast to Harry Reid, who appeared from 22 September 2014.
Ben's primary storylines have seen him caught in the middle of a feud between the show's Mitchell and Beale families, abused by his father's girlfriend Stella (Sophie Thompson), developing a burgeoning interest in dance and the arts, sent to juvenile detention after attacking his bully, coming to terms with his homosexuality, stalking his father and killing Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison) during an argument. Six weeks after his on-screen departure, it was revealed on-screen that he was the father of his third cousin, once removed: Lola Pearce's (Danielle Harold) baby; Lexi. Ben's abuse by Stella won "Best Storyline" at the 2007 Inside Soap Awards, and was nominated for the "Best Soap Storyline" accolade at the TV Quick and TV Choice Awards. In 2012, Pascoe was nominated "Villain of the Year", but lost out to Andrew Lancel (Coronation Street)
As played by Jones, Ben received generally poor reviews from critics. Grace Dent of The Guardian wrote several negative opinion pieces on the character, and contacted the BBC with a list of suggestions for humorous storylines in which he could be killed-off. Lisa O'Connell, also writing for The Guardian, was complimentary of Ben's later coming-out storyline, which she called "a perfect foundation for years of dramatic conflict".
Ben is born in 1996 to Phil (Steve McFadden) and Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth). He has meningitis as a baby, which leaves him partially deaf in one ear. In 1998, Kathy moves to South Africa and takes Ben with her. Kathy marries a man named Gavin Sullivan who adopts Ben. Kathy and Gavin are supposedly killed in a car crash eight years later, so Ben (now portrayed by Charlie Jones) returns to England to live with his half-brother Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt). He eventually moves in with Phil, after his father wins a long custody battle. Ben dislikes Phil's new girlfriend Stella Crawford (Sophie Thompson), who in turn feels that Ben is intruding on their relationship. She abuses Ben physically and psychologically, from burning him with a hot spoon, also attempting to spoil his friendship with Abi Branning (Lorna Fitzgerald) when she discovers this, to threatening to kill Phil if Ben tells anyone about her actions. Phil and Stella become engaged. On their wedding day, Ben admits that Stella has been abusing him; she commits suicide by jumping from a roof. Phil, a recovering alcoholic, begins drinking again in the aftermath, but resumes a life of sobriety for Ben's sake.
Unbeknown to Phil, Ben develops an interest in dancing. He secretly takes classes, passing a dance exam, and is ultimately able to gain his father's approval. In March 2010, Phil's estranged daughter Louise (Brittany Papple) comes to stay with the family. She steals Ben's diary and fakes an entry which suggests he is gay. In retaliation, Ben burns Louise's hand the same way Stella burnt his. He later locks Louise in a summerhouse for a day, then pretends to find her to earn approval from his father. Louise blames Jordan Johnson (Michael-Joel David Stuart), an acquaintance of Ben's, but when Phil sees burn marks on Louise's arm, she reveals that Ben is to blame. Phil worries Ben is copying Stella, and punches him when he catches Ben about to burn Louise again. Questioned as to why he hurt Louise, Ben claims that Jordan is bullying him. Phil advises Ben to fight back; soon after, Ben attacks Jordan with a spanner, leaving him with a fractured skull. His father warns him against admitting to the attack, but Ben confesses and moves in with Ian. After hearing from Crown Court Ben could spend time in juvenile detention, Phil plans to send him to live with his uncle Grant (Ross Kemp) abroad, but Ben refuses thanks to Peggy making him change his mind, after Shirley overhears Phil discussing the plans to Ben and receives an eight-month sentence as a result. Phil indeed blames his mother for Ben's sentencing. He tells Peggy and Phil he is coping despite being bullied by Cal Childs (Danny Barnham), and when the family discovers this Ben asks them not to visit him.
Ben, now portrayed by Joshua Pascoe is released with a "harder edge" supposedly caused by his time in detention, and arrives home to discover Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick), the foster child of Phil's relative Billy (Perry Fenwick), has usurped his place in Phil's affections. Ben is jealous of Jay initially but does develop a 'brotherly' relationship with him. Ben vents his anger at those who cross him, punching Phil in the face and pushing Phil's aunt Glenda Mitchell (Glynis Barber) down a flight of stairs for ruining his home coming party.
Ben attends a gym and shares his first kiss with boxer, Duncan Willis (Steven France). When they are seen kissing by shopkeeper Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker), Ben throws a brick through Patrick's window and tries to intimidate him into not going public about his homosexuality. Phil observes and misinterprets their altercation, believing Patrick is assaulting Ben. He launches a vendetta against Patrick. After Duncan confronts Ben about his victimisation of Patrick he tells him their kiss didn't mean anything and cuts ties with him, Ben confesses to Phil. Disgusted his son is gay, Phil pushes Ben away, terrified his homosexuality will ruin his reputation. Ben develops feelings for Christian Clarke (John Partridge), who is also gay but engaged to his boyfriend Syed (Marc Elliot). Ben tries to split them up and attempts to kiss Christian. After being rejected, Ben claims Christian touched him inappropriately as revenge. Phil goes into a violent rampage, hitting Christian with a baseball bat, which prompts Ben to admit the truth. In the wake of this, Phil tries to accept Ben's homosexuality. Billy's granddaughter, Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold), offers to have sex with Ben to test his sexuality. Ben loses his virginity to Lola in October 2011 and concludes that he is definitely gay. Ben is later concerned to discover Lola is pregnant, however she denies he is the father.
Ben continues to feel angst towards Phil for rejecting him. He anonymously stalks Phil, terrorising him with evidence about his past crimes. DCI Marsden (Sophie Stanton), who has been attempting to imprison Phil for over a decade, opens an investigation. She interviews Ben regarding Stella's death in 2007. Ben tells her that Phil forced Stella to jump off a building on threat of being pushed. Phil plans to flee the country before arrest, but is stalled by Ben, who reveals himself as his father's stalker. Phil is charged with Stella's murder and when the Mitchell family discover Ben's involvement in his father's arrest, they disown him. Ben's brother Ian eventually discovers Ben lied to DCI Marsden and informs the police. Phil is released; however, Ben mistakingly believes he has been betrayed by Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison), who also knows he set Phil up. He confronts Heather in fear and desperation, and hits her over the head with a metal picture frame, killing her. Phil returns from prison moments after Heather's murder. Feeling responsible for his son's behaviour, Phil covers up Ben's involvement with Jay's help, who was present when Heather was killed. Phil's girlfriend Shirley Carter (Linda Henry) discovers Heather's body, and as she was her best friend, she vows to find the killer. Worried she will discover the truth, Ben convinces Phil to break-up with Shirley and she is thrown out of their home, while Jay is so traumatised by Heather's murder that he moves out of the Mitchells'. Ben and Phil wrestle with guilt and argue regularly, with Phil turning to alcohol. Needing to confide in someone, Ben admits his crime to Ian; the confession contributes to Ian's mental breakdown, and amidst threats from Phil to stay silent, Ian absconds, leaving Phil and Ben searching for him to no avail.
Ben fails to dispose of the photo frame and it is taken by Jean Slater (Gillian Wright), who is collecting for charity. It is put into the charity shop and later is discovered by Shirley, who realises it is the murder weapon. Tracing it back to the Mitchell house, she confronts Phil, believing him to be the killer, but Ben gives himself away during the argument. Shirley is furious and nearly drowns Ben, but Phil intervenes and convinces Shirley to talk to Ben about why he killed Heather. However, they find Ben gone and he confesses to the police. D.C.I. Marsden does not believe him at first, but he is later arrested for murder. He is charged the next day, and Phil's solicitor Ritchie Scott (Sian Webber) informs Phil that Ben could face up to 10 years in prison. Phil tries to persuade Ben to change his statement, however Ben insists that he needs to be punished. Ben refuses to have any contact with anyone until he is released. In October 2012, Ben's murder charge is dropped and Phil is told he will be tried for manslaughter, to which he will plead guilty. Ben then agrees to a visit from Phil, and Phil plans to tell Ben that he is the father of Lola's daughter, Lexi Pearce, though he decides not to. Ben is sentenced to four years imprisonment and discovers he is Lexi's father after a visit from Lola.
After witnessing Ian's grief following his daughter Lucy Beale's (Hetti Bywater) murder, Phil decides to get in touch with Ben; however, Ritchie reveals that Ben was released the previous month. Phil cannot get hold of him, although Jay has seen Ben twice since his release. In September Ben (now played by Harry Reid) returns to Walford when he learns that Phil is having an affair with Shirley days before his wedding to Sharon Rickman (Letitia Dean). Ben initially tries to convince his father to reunite with Shirley, but forms a bond with Sharon when she accepts him into the family and acts as Phil's best man at the wedding. After the wedding, Shirley shoots Phil whilst struggling with Sharon. Ronnie asks Ben and Jay to get rid of the gun.
Ben meets Johnny Carter (Sam Strike) and is attracted to him, but when Johnny makes a move Ben reacts badly and says he is not gay and that his interest in men was a phase. He then starts a relationship with Abi in an effort to prove it to Phil and Johnny. When Johnny later leaves the square, he tells Ben not to hide who he truly is. Although Ben continues to deny his attraction to men, he later misinterprets a brotherly moment with Jay and tries to kiss him. Jay later tells Abi, but then lies and says he made it up when he sees how upset she is. Ben eventually confesses to Abi that he's still attracted to men but, desperate to keep him, Abi decides to stay with him, saying their relationship is about more than sex.
Ben had instructed Jay to bury Lucy's purse and phone, which has been missing since her death. Denise Fox (Diane Parish) digs them up in Patrick's (Rudolph Walker) allotment and takes them to Ian, who calls the police before Ben convinces him that he found them on Good Friday in a bag in the Square and had no part in Lucy's murder. Ian lies to the police and protects Ben. When Phil is arrested on New Year's Day for attempting to kill Ronnie, he puts Ben in charge of the Arches. Max Branning (Jake Wood) starts helping him with deals, only to trick Ben into signing over the Arches to him as revenge for the death of his girlfriend Emma Summerhayes (Anna Acton), which Max (wrongly) blamed Phil for.
Casting and characterisation
Having previously appeared as a baby and a toddler, Ben returned to EastEnders in 2006 played by child actor Charlie Jones. Jones was cast alongside Megan Jossa, who would play his cousin Courtney Mitchell. While Ben is partially deaf, Jones is a hearing actor. The Guardian 's Rebecca Atkinson suggested that, as only the second disabled character in EastEnders 's history, Ben was introduced to fulfil a BBC quota. She criticised Jones' casting, and opined, "The use of able-bodied actors to play disabled characters is endemic. Maybe in theory there's nothing wrong with that, but while real disabled people are invisible it is downright offensive to persistently cast able-bodied people in disabled roles." Scott Matthewman of The Stage sympathised with Atkinson's complaint, but defended Jones' casting: "it's hard enough to find good child actors who can cope with a soap opera environment at age 10, let alone ones that fit a character’s physical requirement set out the best part of a decade earlier." Journalist Charlie Swinbourne, himself deaf, welcomed Ben's re-introduction for increasing high-profile deaf representation on television.
During Jones' tenure, Ben was portrayed as being physically weak. McFadden described him as unable "to look after himself" when Ben was on the verge of being sent to a young offenders' institute. He subsequently took boxing lessons, and TV Mag 's Gemma Quade noted that Ben "refuse[d] to take the coward's way out" and flee the country with his father, but nonetheless was reduced to tears upon receiving a custodial sentence.
In May 2010, it was announced that Ben would be written out of EastEnders as part of the show's revamp by executive producer Bryan Kirkwood. A spokesperson said that his departure would be "one of the biggest storylines of the summer", with long-lasting repercussions. Confirmation followed that Ben would be recast; Joshua Pascoe assumed the part and expressed his enthusiasm to "[make] the role of Ben [his] own." Pascoe first appeared on 13 December 2010. Allison Maund of Inside Soap observed upon Ben's re-introduction that he bore "very little resemblance to the naive young boy he was before being sent down." A later comment in the same publication contrasted the two portrayals; it described the character under Jones as "sweet young Ben, dancing around to Girls Aloud songs", and observed that as played by Pascoe, he seems "to be dancing to the Devil's tune these days".
Pascoe took a break from the series in 2011, during which Kirkwood stated that viewers may have failed to connect with his portrayal of Ben, as it differed significantly from Jones'. He deemed Ben a "very complex character" and said, "we will see a softer side to Ben when he returns, but the character has evolved. The character has been brutalised in his young offenders' institute and he's also the son of Phil." Considering the character's potential, Kirkwood envisioned Ben and Jay Mitchell (Jamie Borthwick) becoming the new generation of Mitchell brothers, following on from Phil and Grant.
Shortly after Ben's birth in 1996, he became the second character in EastEnders history to contract meningitis—the first being Vicki Fowler in 1989. As a result, he lost his hearing in one ear. This launched a storyline which highlighted "the depth of ignorance surrounding HIV and Aids in Walford", when Ben's parents blamed HIV-positive resident Mark Fowler (Todd Carty) for causing his illness. Phil and Kathy's marriage collapsed by the end of the year; jealous of having to share his wife's attention with Ben, Phil became an alcoholic, and at one point snatched Ben and abandoned him beside a fire. In April 1998, Kathy took Ben and moved to South Africa, where her brother Ted lived. For many years afterwards, Ben and Phil had a long-distance relationship. This led Kate Lock, author of Who's Who in EastEnders to assess in 2000 that away from his father's influence, "the chances of Ben developing normally are probably better than most."
In 2007, Ben was part of a storyline in which he, his father, Ian and Peter Beale (Thomas Law) were involved in a car accident, when the Range Rover they were travelling in crashed into a lake. The scenes cost £1 million to produce and were filmed in Surrey over four days, partly in a specially designed stunt tank. Jones had both a stunt double and dummy to supplement his scenes. Despite being one of the most expensive stunts ever filmed by a soap opera, the episode drew EastEnders ' lowest ever audience share and second lowest ratings due to a scheduling conflict with ITV's Emmerdale.
EastEnders scriptwriters worked closely with the NSPCC on the storyline which saw Ben abused by Stella. According to Thompson, the best aspect of the storyline was the fact she and Jones "felt so safe and comfortable with each other as actors. And obviously we knew that we were both just telling a story and it was far from real." Explaining the motivation behind Stella's abuse of Ben, she revealed: "As far as Ben's concerned, she sees him as an obstacle which she has to overcome to get what she wants. And the fact she doesn't understand unconditional love, the fact she's never experienced it, goes a long way in explaining why she's treating Ben the way she is. Ultimately, Ben's in her way and she realises that she has a hold over him and she'll use that power to get him out of the way and to get that ring on her finger she has longed for."
It was reported in July 2011 that Ben would come out as a homosexual. He became the third gay character in the series at the time, and the sixteenth in its history. Kirkwood commented, "For EastEnders viewers, it was never a question of if, but more like when Ben Mitchell was going to come out as gay. The Mitchells represent the spirit of EastEnders – tough, loyal and uncompromising. To see a man like Phil learn to deal with, and ultimately accept, his gay son, is a valid story for a drama like EastEnders to embark on." McFadden stated that Phil had never considered the possibility of Ben being gay, rather, he held an idealised view of his son and hoped he would become more like Jay, interested in "normal macho things". He explained that, while Phil could see his son was in turmoil, he was unaware of the depth of it, and believed Ben to be confused about his sexuality because of a prison assault. In contrast, Kirkwood stated his belief that Ben's coming out would not be a surprise to Phil, and that he had "probably been dreading this news for many years." Scriptwriter Christopher Reason said that Ben's storyline would be a long-running one, which would see him "learn wrath" from his father.
It was announced Fergison would be leaving Eastenders in 2012. Daniel Kilkelly of Digital Spy later reported Heather would be murdered by Ben during an argument at her flat. Kilkelly revealed further details of Heather's exit on 11 March 2012. He reported that Heather would die when Ben hits her with a picture frame, causing her to fall back and hit her head on a kitchen counter. In May 2012, it was announced that Pascoe would be leaving in at the end of his storyline. It has been confirmed that the truth will come out about Heather Trott's (Cheryl Fergison) murder which will ultimately lead to Ben's departure, but how the truth will be revealed is being closely kept under wraps by EastEnders bosses although they did say it will be the outcome everyone is hoping for. He made his final appearance on 24 August 2012.
In 2007, Ben's abuse by Stella won Best Storyline at the Inside Soap Awards, and was nominated as the Best Soap Storyline at the TV Quick and TV Choice Awards. During the storyline, the BBC received sixty complaints when Stella was seen to watch and laugh as bullies kicked Ben to the ground. A spokeswoman responded, "We know viewers could consider this storyline disturbing but we aim to reflect the reality of bullying."
Ben as played by Jones received generally negative reviews from critics. The Guardian 's Grace Dent called him a "spooky little git", and her fellow Guardian writer Daniel Martin deemed him "gormless". As part of an EastEnders-themed drinking game, Digital Spy 's Alex Fletcher instructed players to drink beer every time Ben "is spotted whimpering on the stairs". Dent suggested that Phil and Ian's fighting over custody of Ben would turn him into "the next Jeffrey Dahmer", and in an article on the future of Britain's soap opera adolescents, noted that: "Albert Square will no doubt reap what it's sown with tiny, cursed, abused, accident-prone, 11-year-old Ben Mitchell. Oh it's going to be fun and games when Ben turns 16 and finds his inner anger." Continuing this theme, Dent questioned "how far are they going to push this little boy?". She listed the many setbacks and problems Ben had encountered, and suggested that within five years, he would be "on top of the community centre with a rifle using [Peggy's] wig as target practice." Dent later criticised a string of storylines which saw Ben endangered, from his abuse by Stella, to a car accident in which he almost drowned. She stated that his numerous pitfalls were becoming "a touch daft" and likened Ben to the often-killed South Park character Kenny McCormick. Dent hypothesised that the EastEnders scriptwriters "cheer themselves by conjuring up fresh ways to dispense with [Ben]" and said she had contacted the BBC with her own suggestions for creative deaths that might befall him.
Kevin O'Sullivan of the Daily Mirror commented on "ballet-loving Ben's obsession with West End musicals, Judy Garland and dancing," and in 2008 suggested that Ben was gay, pre-dating the character's coming out by three years. The Guardian 's Lisa O'Connell welcomed the eventual decision to have Ben come out, and called the plot "a perfect foundation for years of dramatic conflict", which would "no doubt test the filial relationship to the limits." The November 2011 storyline which featured Ben's false molestation accusation against Christian, and Phil's subsequent attack on him, drew criticism from singer George Michael, who stated that EastEnders 's depiction of homosexuality was "insulting to the gay community." A BBC spokesperson responded, "EastEnders reflects a wide range of issues. All soap characters face their own trials and tribulations in order to create drama, however EastEnders viewers will know that this is a story about Phil Mitchell who, while struggling with his own relationship with his son, will do anything to protect him."
On several occasions during his tenure, bookmakers have offered odds on Ben's storylines. In 2010, William Hill named him the 11/4 favourite to be found responsible for the whodunnit murder of Archie Mitchell. The culprit was revealed during the series' first live episode – Jones was in third place at 7/1 odds to make a mistake during transmission. After Jones' departure was announced, despite confirmation that the role would be recast, Ben became the favourite to be the next character killed off.
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