|Portrayed by||Patsy Palmer|
|Duration||1993–99, 2002, 2008–|
|First appearance||16 November 1993|
|Created by||Tony McHale|
|Introduced by||Leonard Lewis (1993)
John Yorke (2002)
Diederick Santer (2008)
|Book appearances||Bianca's Secret Diary|
|Ricky & Bianca (2002)
EastEnders: Last Tango in Walford (2010)
"T & B 4 Eva" (2013)
|Aliases||Bianca Butcher (married name)|
Chip shop worker
Bianca Butcher (previously Jackson) is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Patsy Palmer. The character was introduced by executive producer Leonard Lewis and appeared initially from 1993 to 1999, when Palmer opted to leave. In 2002 executive producer John Yorke brought the character back for a special spin-off show. She returned to EastEnders as a full-time character in April 2008, reintroduced by executive producer Diederick Santer. Palmer took maternity leave in 2010, and Bianca was temporarily written out from 21 January to 15 December 2011. Palmer took another break from the show in 2012, with Bianca absent from the series from 27 April to 27 November 2012.
During her first run on the show during the 1990s, she was known for her bizarre sense of style, her sharp tongue, fiery temper and for screaming "Rickaaaaaaay!" at her husband. Bianca has been featured in storylines including affairs, feuds, bereavements, family problems, spina bifida and abortion, a problematic marriage to Ricky Butcher and the revelation of her 15-year-old adoptive daughter Whitney Dean being sexually abused by her fiancé Tony King and his subsequent arrest for paedophilia, as well as her popular friendships with Tiffany Mitchell (Martine McCutcheon) and Kat Moon (Jessie Wallace).
- 1 Storylines
- 2 Creation
- 3 Development
- 4 Reception
- 5 In popular culture and other media
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Bianca was conceived by Carol Branning (Lindsey Coulson) and David Wicks (Michael French) in 1976, when they were both 14. David tried to persuade Carol to have an abortion, and he fled from Walford not knowing that she had kept her baby. Bianca had no contact with her father, but she and her half-siblings eventually found a stable father figure in Alan Jackson (Howard Antony). All of them took his surname.
At school, Bianca became close friends with Natalie Price (Lucy Speed) and Tiffany Raymond (Martine McCutcheon). She developed a penchant for older men and dated Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass) for some time, concealing that she was underage.
Bianca first appears in November 1993. She initially works at Ian Beale's (Adam Woodyatt) fish 'n' chip shop before becoming the market assistant of Sanjay Kapoor (Deepak Verma). Later she runs her own clothing stall on Bridge Street market. Bianca has a short relationship with an older man, Richard Cole (Ian Reddington), in 1994, but he swiftly dumps her when he grows bored and Bianca gets revenge by harassing him with pranks and stealing his credit card. Bianca then enjoys mutual flirtation with David Wicks until Carol informs David that Bianca is his daughter. David promptly keeps his distance, and Bianca remains unaware of their biological relationship. Bianca enters into a relationship with Ricky Butcher (Sid Owen) and they move into a bedsit together. Bianca spends much time clubbing with Tiffany and Ricky starts an affair with Natalie. When Bianca discovers the affair, she breaks up with Ricky and drives Natalie from Walford. One night an intoxicated Bianca is nearly assaulted. She is rescued by David and when she tries to kiss him, he confesses that he is her father; Bianca is stunned but she and David eventually bond.
Ricky and Bianca reunite and get engaged in June 1995. In July 1996 she sleeps with Lenny Wallace (Des Coleman), but soon regrets it when she fears she's pregnant by him. It's a false alarm, but she realizes how much Ricky means to her, so she marries him in 1997. She becomes pregnant, but a prenatal scan shows her unborn child has spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Distraught, Bianca has an abortion, which strains her marriage. In 1998, Ricky learns of her infidelity with Lenny after a STD scare. Ricky considers ending their marriage, but Bianca convinces him to give her another chance and in 1998 she becomes pregnant again. She gives birth to baby Liam on Christmas Day in The Queen Vic, helped by her enemy Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp)--her best friend Tiffany's volatile husband. In mid-1999, Bianca's mother Carol returns to Albert Square with her new fiancé Dan Sullivan, unaware of Bianca's past relationship with him. Bianca and Dan rekindle their affair behind their partners' backs until Carol discovers she is pregnant by Dan. Bianca and Ricky plan to move to Manchester so Bianca can attend fashion college there. After finding an old photo of Bianca and Dan together, Carol demands to know their history. Dan tells Carol they had a romance years ago and swears on his unborn child's life that it's all over, but Bianca confesses when questioned and is disowned by Carol. Bianca leaves for Manchester in September 1999 after confessing to Ricky that she no longer loves him.
In May 2002, Ricky visits Bianca in Manchester to discuss Liam's custody. Bianca has been expelled from her university and is working in a nightclub. Struggling to support Liam, Bianca gets caught up in a plan to steal £50,000 from her drug-dealing boss, Vince. Ricky persuades her to return the money, but Vince catches them and forces them to become his drug couriers. He sets them up, the dealers turn violent, and Bianca and Ricky narrowly escape when armed police raid the establishment. Fleeing, Ricky and Bianca spend the night together in a hotel room and decide to reunite. Ricky breaks the news to his fiancée Cassie, who refuses to let him go and tries to convince Bianca that she'll be bored with Ricky and to give him up and give Ricky custody of Liam. Bianca decides that this is right, and Ricky looks on heartbroken as she hitches a ride in a car and departs for a destination unknown.
Off-screen, unbeknownst to Ricky, Bianca is pregnant by him. She starts a relationship with trucker Nathan Dean, who believes her unborn child is his. Bianca acts as stepmother to Nathan's daughter Whitney (Shona McGarty), but Nathan is killed in a traffic accident in December 2002. Bianca takes on guardianship of Whitney and gives birth to daughter Tiffany in 2003, but she struggles financially. She becomes pregnant again in September 2004 during a brief relationship with Ray Dixon (Chucky Venn); the relationship ends with Ray unaware Bianca is pregnant. Bianca meets Tony King (Chris Coghill), who supports her through her pregnancy and adopts Ray's son Morgan Jackson-King when he is born. Tony appears to be a good father figure to her children; however, he is a paedophile. Tony grooms 12-year-old Whitney and they begin a sexual relationship. After giving birth to Morgan, Bianca is given custody of Liam once again in 2006 when Ricky settles with a woman named Melinda (Siobhan Hayes), who does not like children. Tony and Whitney's relationship continues secretly until Tony is imprisoned in 2007 for assaulting a boy who propositions Whitney.
April 2008 finds Bianca getting evicted and her children being taken into care. Bianca moves in with her grandmother Pat Evans (Pam St. Clement) in Walford; with Ricky's help she gets her children back and gets a waitress job. She rebuffs Ricky's declaration of love, deciding to stand by imprisoned lover Tony. When he's released in September 2008, Tony resumes his affair with Whitney while an unsuspecting Bianca pesters him to marry her. He eventually agrees to marry Bianca after winding down his affair with Whitney, to whom he's no longer attracted. Whitney won't accept this and tells Bianca about their relationship. Tony leaves after the ensuing fight, but the police apprehend him and arrest him on suspicion of rape of a minor. Bianca and Whitney's relationship is tested while they deal with what has happened, but they eventually bond again and Bianca supports Whitney through Tony's trial. A DNA test, confirms that Ricky is Tiffany's father. Bianca slowly realizes she's still in love with him, but her attempt to rekindle their romance is ruined when Ricky announces his engagement to his former wife, Sam Mitchell (Danniella Westbrook). Knowing Sam is evading a police sentence, Bianca reports her whereabouts and Sam is arrested. A rift forms between Bianca and Ricky when the truth is revealed. However, Bianca's discovery that Sam is cheating on Ricky ends the engagement, and Bianca and Ricky reunite on Christmas Day 2009, when Ricky accepts her marriage proposal.
The couple remarry in February 2010. During the ceremony, Carol arrives uninvited. She and Bianca brawl, but they finally manage to settle their differences and begin to rebuild their relationship following the wedding. When Bianca's younger brother Billie (Devon Anderson) dies from alcohol poisoning, Carol is distraught. She is comforted by Billie's criminal friend Connor Stanley (Arinze Kene) and they begin an affair, but Connor simultaneously has sex with Whitney. Bianca vows to remove Connor from her family's life. She attacks Connor, leaving him hospitalised and eventually turns herself in to the police, refusing bail. She is sentenced to 6 months in prison.
In December 2011, Bianca is released from prison in time for Christmas and is devastated when her grandmother Pat dies from cancer. When Bianca discovers Ricky had sex with Mandy Salter (Nicola Stapleton) in her absence, she separates from him and he leaves Walford. Bianca struggles as a single parent and gets into debt. Owing money, Bianca steals from a market trader in desperation, but she is caught and sent back to prison for reoffending on probation. In prison, she passes a hair and beauty course, and on her release, is offered trials at Tanya Cross's (Jo Joyner) salon. However, Bianca struggles to cope and breaks down when she is alone at home. Bianca and Kat Moon (Jessie Wallace) form a friendship and set up a market stall together. Liam truants from school and Bianca worries when the police tell her she may face prison again if Liam does not return to school. Bianca discovers that Liam is involved in a mugging, and finds out about Liam's new friends. When Liam does not return home, she goes to an estate to confront the gang and bring Liam home. Liam decides to stay with the gang, and when he returns home the next day, she locks him in his room to stop him seeing the gang. A confrontation leads to Bianca slapping Liam. She then seeks advice from Ava Hartman (Clare Perkins), whose son Dexter Hartman (Khali Best) used to be in a gang. Liam returns to the gang, and eventually they are arrested and released on police bail. They blame Liam and he is stabbed, but suffers no permanent harm. When Bianca lets Liam stay at home alone, Kane sneaks in and invites Liam back to the gang. Bianca finds them as Kane is attacking Liam, and attacks Kane; he is arrested. Bianca allows Liam to stay with his father. When Bianca, Shirley Carter (Linda Henry) and Jean Slater (Gillian Wright) break into Ian's restaurant, Shirley accidentally starts a fire. Bianca worries that she could go back to prison, and tells Whitney, who has been blamed for it. Jean confesses to Ian what happened and Ian agrees not to involve the police on the condition that Tiffany and Bobby are no longer friends.
When Carol sees that Bianca is still interested in fashion, she arranges for her to attend a course in Manchester. During this time Bianca's father, David, returns and moves in. When Bianca returns, she surprises her family by announcing that her new boyfriend, Terry Spraggan (Terry Alderton), and his children, TJ (George Sargeant) and Rosie (Jerzey Swingler), are moving in.
In his book EastEnders: The First 10 Years: A Celebration, EastEnders scriptwriter Colin Brake describes 1994 as a "historic" year for EastEnders, as in April, a third weekly episode was introduced. Due to the programme's increased frequency, a number of new characters were introduced to the regular cast in the latter part of 1993 and early 1994. Among them were the Jackson family, created by Tony McHale: mother Carol (Lindsey Coulson), her four children, Bianca (Patsy Palmer), Robbie (Dean Gaffney), Sonia (Natalie Cassidy), and Billie (Devon Anderson), as well as Carol's partner Alan Jackson (Howard Antony). Though Carol and Alan were not initially married in the serial, and though Alan was only the biological father of Billie, the whole family took on Alan's surname. It later transpired that David Wicks was Bianca's father.
Various members of the family began to appear sporadically from November 1993 onwards, but in episodes that aired early in 1994, the Jacksons moved from Walford Towers, a block of flats, to the soap's focal setting of Albert Square. Their slow introduction was a deliberate attempt by the programme makers to introduce the whole family over a long period. The Jacksons have been described by Brake as a "classic problem family".
Future Spice Girl Emma Bunton auditioned for the role of Bianca, however, it was actress Patsy Palmer who was eventually cast. Hester Lacey of The Independent has described Palmer's casting as an "accident", as she did not formally audition for the role. EastEnders casting director Jane Deitch and writer–director McHale visited her drama class at the Anna Scher Theatre looking for a girl aged 16 or under. Palmer was not on the list of people they wanted to see as she was older, but she caught the attention of Deitch when she was messing around and giggling with friends. At the end of the class, Palmer was asked by McHale to do something so Anna Scher asked her to improvise a monologue based on the line "I can't believe you just said that." The next day Scher contacted Palmer to say she had been offered an audition. When she arrived at the audition, McHale told producers Palmer was 16 as she would have been refused the part. She was offered a three-month contract the same day. In 1996, Palmer commented to Lacey: "I've been a lucky girl. I always used to say I'd love to get in EastEnders, because I used to think 'God, I'll never get a part where I have to speak really posh', – I'm not very good at accents." Palmer was 21 when she first appeared on-screen as 16 year old Bianca.
Bianca has been classified by Rupert Smith, author of EastEnders: 20 years in Albert Square, as a drama queen, a "strong passionate [woman]" and "Walford's trouble-maker-in-chief". She has also been described by Reuters as "feisty" and someone "who never minced her words". In 1996, Palmer described Bianca as someone who deserves "a good slap". She added, "I probably wouldn't like Bianca if I knew her in real-life. But I do love playing the character. She is so cheeky and gets to say outrageous things".
Deemed "a woman you would not want to cross" by James Rampton of The Independent, Bianca is a tenacious foe, but a loyal friend. The way the character is portrayed, as a "person who wouldn't take nonsense from anyone", has led Rampton to comment that she embodies "girl power", a cultural phenomenon of the mid-late 1990s. He added, "Bianca could sulk for Britain – and we adored her for it." However, Rampton also noted that underneath Bianca's bravado, the character is capable of showing "the most affecting vulnerability".
In her first six years in the soap, Bianca's storylines included affairs, feuds, bereavements, abortion, and a problematic marriage to Ricky Butcher.
Bianca's famous catchphrase, from the 8 April 2008 episode of EastEnders.
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Bianca's relationship with mechanic Ricky Butcher (Sid Owen) has been central to her narrative; their affiliation began in 1994. Palmer and Owen already knew each other before working together on the soap, as both attended the Anna Scher theatre school. Owen has said, "We practically grew up together. We'd known each other for years. It was weird when she started on the show and we began playing the 'Ricky & Bianca Get To Know Each Other' bit. I had already spent a lot of time with Patsy. I think we were both seven when we met."
The dynamics of their relationship were clear from the start, with Bianca portrayed as the dominant, bossy and authoritative partner, while Ricky was shown as the hen-pecked, dim-witted "loser" or "soft touch", comically under the thumb of his female counterpart. James Rampton from The Independent has commented, "to her eternally put-upon husband, Ricky, Bianca was a ferocious reincarnation of H Rider Haggard's 'She Who Must Be Obeyed'." Bianca was notorious for shouting the catchphrase "Rickaaaaaaay!" (a cockney pronunciation of Ricky) at her lover, and Palmer admitted in 2008 that "not a day has gone by in nine years when someone hasn't shouted that from cars and even up at my bedroom window at night." Rampton has suggested that Bianca's catchphrase – "Rickaaaaaaay!" – transitioned, becoming "shorthand for any sort of heinous henpecking." On Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on 18 April 2008, Palmer explained that it was actually Ross, as a DJ, who had originally inspired the catchphrase.
One of the first notable storylines featuring the couple occurred in 1995, when Ricky embarked on an affair with Bianca's "put-upon sidekick", Natalie Price (Lucy Speed). On-screen Natalie and Ricky found themselves sidelined and bullied by Bianca, forcing them together and leading to their eventual affair, which continued for several weeks on-screen, with Ricky seeing both Natalie and Bianca. The storyline reached its climax on 21 February 1995; 17.0 million viewers tuned in to witness Bianca discovering that her boyfriend was sleeping with her best friend. The characters separated but reconciled later in the year when Ricky supported Bianca through a personal crisis – the revelation that she had unknowingly tried to seduce her estranged father David Wicks (Michael French).
Various crises between the characters were featured over the following years, causing them to break up and reconcile numerous times. In the book Seeing Things: Television in the Age of Uncertainty, author John Ellis uses the couple's combustible relationship as an example of emotional intensity and pathos: "A couple like Ricky and Bianca [...] can have constantly sniped at each other for several episodes, for no apparent dramatic purpose except that it is the nature of their relationship. Then they will suddenly be confronted by a life-changing decision [...] There is suddenly a shift in emotional intensity for the audience. Every word now counts, and all the previous audience attitudes of irritation or even condescension to this 'not very bright couple' [...] become a feeling of utter absorption in their dilemma." The BBC has reported that Bianca and Ricky's on-off romance "captivated millions of fans", and in April 1997 attracted "one of the biggest soap audiences ever", with 22 million viewers tuning in to see them marry. In 2000, Owen stated that the storyline he most enjoyed in EastEnders was the build up and marriage to Bianca, because "the public's enthusiasm for the event was a great motivation". In 2008, the Daily Mail branded Ricky and Bianca "EastEnders' most popular couple".
In 1997, the character was featured in a storyline about hydrocephalus ("water on the brain") and spina bifida, a developmental birth defect resulting in an incompletely formed spinal cord of the baby. After becoming pregnant with Ricky's baby, a pre-natal scan revealed that her unborn foetus had the conditions. In the storyline, Bianca agonised about whether or not to have an abortion, but eventually decided to terminate her pregnancy at 20 weeks. In scenes shown after the abortion, Bianca and Ricky were given the chance to see and hold their dead daughter, named Natasha, after the birth (Ricky was unable to do this, though Bianca later said her baby had been "perfect"), and a period of heavy grief followed as the characters came to terms with what they had done. The Peterborough-based Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (ASBAH) helped and provided information to the programme makers during the storyline.
Bianca's decision to abort reportedly angered a proportion of viewers, including parents with handicapped children, who rang the BBC to complain that they showed the abortion of a disabled baby. However, many were "moved" by the storyline, and Patsy Palmer received critical acclaim for her acting throughout. Palmer was nominated in the 'Best Actress' category at the Royal Television Society Awards – the first soap actress to ever be nominated.
The storyline was later used to spread a public message. When Bianca became pregnant once again in 1998, the scriptwriters included scenes of a practitioner advising the character to take folic acid, which protects against spina bifida. The ASBAH issued a public plea to EastEnders, urging them to allow Bianca's second baby to be born with spina bifida, in order to show parents that having a baby with spina bifida is "not the end of the world". This did not occur, however, and Bianca was shown to give birth to a premature but healthy baby, Liam, in an episode that aired on Christmas Day 1998.
The character was featured in various other storylines, including a feud with Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp); a tug-of-love for Ricky's affections with his first wife Sam Mitchell (Danniella Westbrook); a one-night-stand with Lenny Wallace (Des Coleman), causing a sexually transmitted disease scare; and the death of her best friend Tiffany Mitchell (Martine McCutcheon). In November 1998, the BBC announced that Patsy Palmer had decided to leave EastEnders to spend more time with her family. The BBC said that Bianca would not be killed off, and a spokesman commented: "Bianca has always been an amazingly powerful character and the door is open to her if she wants to return in the future. She has been fantastic in the years she has been in EastEnders and we will miss her." Palmer was one of several high-profile EastEnders stars to announce their departures that year; McCutcheon and Kemp also decided to leave, and Gillian Taylforth left the serial in 1998 after 13 years playing Kathy Beale. The BBC said, "no-one is bigger than the show, which is doing extremely well at the moment. We will send her off with all our very best wishes." Richard Stokes, EastEnders' series editor and producer of Palmer's exit storyline commented, "you don't expect people to stay here for ever. But it's a double-edged sword. Yes, it's a shame when a well-loved character announces they're going, but the flipside is that it provides us with the space to do the best possible story. If someone is going, you can up the stakes. The whole of Bianca's story was developed once we knew she was going to go."
Bianca's exit storyline centred upon an extramarital affair with her mother's boyfriend Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass). Lindsey Coulson, who played Bianca's mother Carol, returned to the serial especially to facilitate Palmer's exit. Carol had last been seen on-screen in 1997. When the affair was uncovered, Bianca was disowned by Carol, and her marriage to Ricky ended after Carol forced her to confess the affair to him too. Bianca's exit week was spread out over five episodes, beginning with an hour long special on Sunday 5 September 1999 (at the time the typical weekly broadcast was 3 episodes a week). Mal Young, BBC's Controller of Continuing Drama Series, described the revelatory hour-long Bianca special as a Play For Today, and Kathryn Flett of The Guardian described the week's episodes as a "bravura, edge-of-the-sofa, five-night performance". Commenting on her exit in 1999, Palmer said, "It was really sad. We were all crying our eyes out – the crew as well as the cast. The tears you see on screen are real."
Nicola Methven of the Daily Mirror has described the discovery of Bianca's affair as "one of the truly great emotion-charged scenes in soap history". Bianca left Walford on a train for Manchester with her son Liam, in an episode that aired in September 1999. In 2005, Bianca's exit storyline was voted as one of "Top 20 greatest soap moments of all time". Chosen by thousands of TV viewers, the televised countdown was presented by Dale Winton and aired on ITV in 2001.
In 2001, the BBC announced that Patsy Palmer and Sid Owen would reprise their roles as Bianca and Ricky, for a special spin-off, entitled EastEnders: Ricky & Bianca. Filmed in Manchester in January 2002, the two part, hour long special reunited the characters for the first time in over two years. The spin-off or "soap bubble" was part of plans by Mal Young, the BBC controller of drama serials, to expand the EastEnders brand. He created a "bubbles unit" to make, at most, six one-off specials a year. EastEnders: Ricky & Bianca aired in May 2002, and proved a ratings winner, with more than 10 million viewers tuning in.
In the spin-off, Bianca had fallen upon hard times, and accidentally got a visiting Ricky embroiled in a drugs heist. Despite talk of reconciling, Bianca opted to leave Ricky behind once again, leaving Liam in his care. The spin-off brought in various characters unrelated to the main serial, including Vince, Bianca's drug dealing boss played by Craig Charles, and Ricky's fiancée Cassie, played by Sally Ann Triplett. Both Ricky and Liam returned to the main serial as regular characters later that year, without Bianca. In an interview, Palmer discussed the spin-off and the reasons why she did not want to return to EastEnders: "I have absolutely no desire to return to EastEnders. Not at all. In fact, I think that brief spin-off of a storyline for Ricky and Bianca was a double-edged sword. On one hand, I don't think we should ever have done it, it was a mistake on my behalf. But on the other, it convinced me that Bianca was someone that I did not want to see again. She was past history as far as I was concerned, I certainly learned that. Don't get me wrong, I had the time of my life when I was in EastEnders in the middle and late nineties and I worked with some terrific people both in front of and behind the camera. But that was then and this is now – the cast has nearly all changed and going back would be worse than foolish." In August 2005, Palmer reiterated that she had no desire to return to EastEnders and branded the show "rubbish".
Despite Palmer's earlier reservations, it was announced on 29 October 2007 that she would be reprising the role of Bianca. EastEnders executive producer Diederick Santer said he was "delighted" that Bianca was returning, commenting: "Millions grew up with her and, like the audience, I can't wait to see her back in the show. I'm really looking forward to the next chapter in her story."
On 30 October 2007, a day after the announcement of Bianca's return, it was announced that Sid Owen would also be returning to the show as Ricky. Owen commented: "It will be interesting to see what has been happening to Ricky and Bianca over the last few years. Although, I must admit I'm not looking forward to her nagging me by shouting his name." Santer commented: "First Patsy comes home, now Sid! Ricky and Bianca were a hugely popular and well-loved partnership on the show, spawning one of the best (and perhaps most irritating) of TV catchphrases – Rickaaaaay!"
On 18 March 2008, Mark Jefferies of the Daily Mirror announced that Bianca would return with four children: Whitney Dean (Shona McGarty), the fifteen-year-old daughter of Bianca's deceased partner Nathan; Liam Butcher (James Forde), Bianca and Ricky's son who previously appeared in the serial; Tiffany Dean (Maisie Smith), Bianca's five-year-old daughter with Nathan; and Morgan Jackson-King (Devon Higgs), Bianca's three-year-old son who "gets spoilt the most out of all of the kids".
To promote the characters' return, the BBC began airing trailers across the BBC network in March 2008. One trailer utilised Bianca's "trademark holler" of Ricky's name, which is so loud that it smashes the windows of The Queen Victoria public house. The trailer features The Righteous Brothers's "Hung on You". Another trailer sees Bianca singing The Jackson 5 hit "I Want You Back" and performing a dance routine with her four children. The advertisement uses the tag line "Introducing The Jackson 5".[dead link] Within three days of being posted on the video sharing website YouTube, the trailer had been viewed 52,000 times.
The character returned on-screen on 1 April 2008, but made her first appearance back in the soap's setting of Albert Square the following week, drawing 10.4 million viewers and 42.6% of the total TV viewing audience. In the storyline, Bianca had fallen on hard times, and after being evicted from her flat her children were taken into custody, so Bianca returned to Walford to seek help from her grandmother Pat Butcher (Pam St. Clement). In the documentary EastEnders: Ricky and Bianca, which aired to celebrate the character's return, the changes in Bianca's character were noted: "The carefree, wild child of yesterday, has been replaced by the wore-torn and downtrodden single mum of four. Bianca has done what she always wanted to avoid, repeating the mistakes that her mother Carol had made." EastEnders' series consultant Simon Ashdown has commented, "Bianca's still the same Bianca in a way, she still speaks before she thinks, comes out fists flying. She's got that family of misfit kids with different fathers [...] She's like Carol." The BBC described the character's comeback as a "big hit". However, James Walton from The Telegraph accused the Jackson family of being melodramatic and "boring", adding "Perhaps the storyline is meant to be an updated version of [1966 BBC drama] Cathy Come Home – yet if so, the writers have forgotten one important thing. We’re supposed to be rooting for the mother rather than for Social Services."
Relationship with Tony King; paedophilia
Bianca's most notable initial storyline upon her return was a paedophilia plot revolving around Bianca's partner Tony King (Chris Coghill), and her 15 year old step daughter, Whitney. According to the Daily Mail, the storyline has been dubbed as the "most controversial story-line on the show ever". The idea for the storyline was conceptualised by writer Simon Ashdown and other scriptwriters, when they were brainstorming ideas for Bianca's return to EastEnders. They had seen a documentary about homelessness and had been struck by an image of a woman and child at a bus stop with nowhere to go, a scene that was used to similar effect in Bianca and her family's return episode. They considered the homeless family's predicament and were left pondering "What might happen to them? They would be easy prey... What if a paedophile noticed the child, who might be, say, 12, and pretended to be the woman's saviour? She would be too grateful to notice that this was unusual behaviour, that he seemed to have few friends or family". They pitched the idea to John Yorke, controller of BBC drama production, who said that "It drew a sharp intake of breath. Most EastEnders stories that have been good and successful have been the ones that caused the sharp intake of breath, so they're always the kind of stories you look for." However, paedophilia as a storyline had been pitched before, but the idea had been vetoed because they could not find the right storyline and characters to proceed and, as the topic was so controversial, producers had been unwilling to take the risk. Diederick Santer commented, "We knew that something like 16% of under-16s have been sexually abused at some point, but if you can't find a story, it's an issue that sits there, dead, on the show." It has been noted in the media that paedophilia is a subject rarely shown on pre-watershed terrestrial television, and although EastEnders had broached it in 2001 with Kat Slater (Jessie Wallace) and her abusive uncle Harry (Michael Elphick), this was scripted to have happened in the past and focused on the effect it had on the victim as an adult.
Yorke was initially unconvinced at the Jackson paedophilia storyline proposal. He commented to The Guardian in 2008, "My standpoint has always been that there has to be a good editorial justification. If it's just entertainment, or just sensation, or just the bogeyman in this case, then I don't think that's a good enough reason." However, Yorke was convinced by Santer who opined that "it would be a talking point that could truly educate and inform". It was decided that Bianca's stepdaughter Whitney would be the character that Bianca's boyfriend Tony groomed for sex. According to Bianca's backstory, Tony was "a Mancunian who [...] had one day given Bianca a lift home, three years before her return to Walford, and noticed, standing in the hallway, 12-year-old Whitney in her pyjamas." EastEnders worked closely with NSPCC when devising the storyline. The NSPCC's statistics suggested that 11% of children under 16 experienced "sexual abuse by a person known but unrelated to them, often a boyfriend or girlfriend, while only 5% have been interfered with by someone unknown or whom they had just met; 1% by a parent or carer; and fewer than 1% by a professional in a position of trust". Thus it was decided that Whitney, unrelated to Tony in any biological sense, would be his victim and that Tony deliberately targeted the Jackson family, wooing Bianca, in order to groom Whitney. This idea, according to a BBC researcher, was based on real life cases. The truth was revealed to Bianca in an episode that aired in December 2008, when Whitney confessed to her stepmother, professing to love Tony. There followed Tony's imprisonment and a court case in 2009. Palmer was widely praised by critics for her performance during the reveal episodes. The storyline prompted an increase in calls to the children's help-line, ChildLine. A ChildLine director, Julie Crossan, said, "Child sex abuse storylines on programmes such as EastEnders also encourage children to speak out. As a result, more children now understand what sexual abuse is and are increasingly willing to turn to ChildLine for help."
When asked how she felt about the storyline, Palmer commented: "It would be brilliant if it helped somebody. If one person out there who's been abused saw that [the legal system] go out of their way to make it easier on the victim – Whitney's evidence is given by video link – it will be worth it."
Reunion with Ricky Butcher
In November 2009 it was announced that coinciding with the return of her on-screen family and the 25th anniversary of EastEnders, Bianca and Ricky would remarry in February 2010. Entertainment website Digital Spy reported that: "Show producers have confirmed that the divorced pair's latest love twist will begin at Christmas when Ricky [...] decides to pop the question to his childhood sweetheart. Their wedding will take place in February to coincide with the Walford soap's 25th anniversary celebrations." A spin-off DVD focusing on preparations for the wedding, EastEnders: Last Tango in Walford, was released in February 2010. It features Tiffany arranging a comeback for Bianca's family, plus archive footage and interviews. Palmer told What's on TV magazine: "I prefer it when Ricky and Bianca are not together but it's great too when they are. I'm looking forward to the return of her family. Bianca hasn't spoken to her mum since the whole Dan thing so it'll be good stuff."
Talking about the 25th anniversary week, Santer explained that he wanted great stories to get people talking, saying "That's [...] why we're doing the soap wedding of the year – and perhaps the soap wedding of the decade – with Ricky and Bianca. The romance played against the thriller story is a great balance, which I hope the audience will be both gripped by and satisfied with. The wedding is the perfect opportunity for us to bring back the much-loved Jackson characters – Carol, Sonia, Robbie and Billie."
Temporary departure: 2011
On 1 August 2010, the News of the World reported that Palmer was pregnant with her fourth child and that she would take maternity leave from EastEnders later in the year. It also noted that she was already showing a baby bump. To facilitate the departure, Bianca will feature in a major storyline, which executive producer Bryan Kirkwood said was the only possible reason Bianca would have for leaving her family. In December 2010, it was announced that Natalie Cassidy would return as part of Bianca's departure storyline which started in January 2011. Bianca's departure was broadcast on 21 January 2011. Palmer gave birth earlier than expected, meaning that she started leave three weeks before she planned to. A departure scene and several other key moments were therefore not filmed, and changes had to be made to the storyline to accommodate her absence. Bianca reappeared from December 2011, though Palmer stated in February 2011 that she was in no hurry to return, did not miss it and did not know when she would be back. On 19 July 2011, Palmer revealed that she had signed a new 'working mums' contract and would be returning before the end of the year.
Temporary departure: 2012
It was confirmed in April 2012 that Bianca, Carol and Bianca's children would depart Albert Square later that month for six months. Explaining her temporary departure, Palmer said, "I'm only taking time off now because this is when the kids' holidays are. When I re-signed my contract I said, 'I love EastEnders, but I love my kids more'. Listen, I can imagine staying in the show till I'm in my 60s, but it's a full-on job. If they hadn't been prepared to give me time off, I'd have had to choose the kids." Bianca left the show on 27 April 2012 when she was sent back to prison for attempting to steal from the market before returning 27 November of that year.
Awards and nominations
Palmer's portrayal of Bianca earned her a nomination for "Best Actress" at the 1997 Royal Television Society Awards – being the first soap actress to ever be nominated – and in 2000 she was awarded "Best Actress" at The British Soap Awards, a prize voted for by viewers. She commented on her role in her acceptance speech: "It's completely changed my life. It just turned it around. I have had my ups and downs as you all know. I just want to warn all the young people. Be careful because it really does change your life." The role has also garnered Palmer nominations as "Most Popular Actress" at the 1996 National Television Awards, "Best Actress" at the 1999 British Soap Awards, "TV Soap Personality" at the 2009 Television and Radio Industries Club Awards, "Best On-Screen Partnership" (with Sid Owen) in the 2001 British Soap Awards, and "I'm a Survivor" at the 2009 All About Soap Bubble Awards.
The character of Bianca Jackson has received critical acclaim from critics and fans alike. EastEnders' executive producer Diederick Santer has described Bianca as "one of the most popular characters EastEnders has ever had", while James Rampton, journalist for The Independent, has commented that she is "adored". Palmer has suggested that viewers "rooted" for Bianca because "people love a stroppy girl". In 2000, she commented, "[Bianca] makes them laugh. A character like that is about living out your fantasies. Everybody would love to be like Bianca and really say what they think." Following her exit from the serial in September 1999, Palmer said that members of the public would approach her to plead with her to return to EastEnders, as they missed her character and relationship with Ricky. She commented in 2000, "It makes me feel bad. I sometimes think I should go back [to EastEnders] for everyone else's sake." When the character departed the serial in 1999, Molly Blake of the Birmingham Evening Post said "Good riddance!" She described Bianca as a "king-sized pain in the backside [...] A screeching and screaming virago with a big mouth and pea-sized brain" and a "prize slapper [who] tormented all those whose paths [she] crossed."
In 1995, Chris Barker carried out television research on post-transmission perspectives of British Asian teenage viewers of EastEnders, using the character Bianca as one of the focus points. He discovered that the participants were both active and implicit in the reproduction of ideology about family relationships and gender. The males regarded Bianca as a "saucy cow", with implications of unacceptable assertiveness in women. They disliked that Ricky was pushed around by Bianca and treated as a subordinate by her friends. The author comments that "such a relationship appears to these boys as the world turned upside down." Girls also viewed Bianca unfavourably in 1995, and the author noted that tensions in "girl-culture" – attraction to the traditional private world of interpersonal relationships and the desire to take up more assertive characteristics in public – manifested themselves in discussions about Bianca and her friend Natalie Price. Natalie was constructed as a "nice person" in contrast to Bianca, "she can relate to Ricky [...] cares for other people and doesn't just think about herself [like Bianca does]", qualities that were said to be constitutive of the traditional identity of women.
In 2008, when it was announced that both Ricky and Bianca were being reintroduced, Santer described them as "a hugely popular and well-loved partnership on the show", and Reuters branded them two of "the most popular characters on the soap". However, Hazel Davis of The Guardian was critical about their reintroduction. She commented, "It's a no-brainer on the show's part. Last year, ratings for EastEnders were at an all-time low. But, just for once, wouldn't it be nice if a soap opera actually introduced new characters with verve and staying power rather than digging up the oldies?" Conversely, Mark Wright from The Stage said that the decision to bring these much-loved character back "is very welcome". Ruth Deller of entertainment website Lowculture praised Bianca stating: "Bianca and Ricky’s return has been one of the best things about [EastEnders] in the past year [...] and even when Bianca and co don't have storylines as big as the Whitney/Tony one, they still give good telly."
In March 2010, Bianca was voted the 'Most Popular TV Mum' in an online poll conducted by Yahoo!, gaining 26% of votes. Yahoo!'s TV editor Paul Johnston commented "As loud and garish as Bianca can be, she also has a huge heart when it comes to her children and would do anything to protect them. You certainly wouldn't want her turning up on your doorstep if your kids had been fighting with hers!"
In popular culture and other media
In 1999, BBC Books published a book about the character, entitled Bianca's Secret Diary. The paperback details the affair between Bianca and her mother Carol's lover, Dan. A BBC source reportedly told the Sunday Mirror: "We've recently dethroned Coronation Street at the top of the viewing charts, and this book has the potential to make No.1 in the best-sellers list." It was released on 10 September 1999, just as the TV storyline reached its conclusion.
The character was spoofed in the BBC comedy sketch show The Real McCoy. One of the show's recurring sketches featured a spoof version of EastEnders, with black comedians taking over roles of well known EastEnders characters, who frequent a pub called Rub-a-Dub. Actress and comedian Judith Jacob played the role of Bianca in the sketches. Jacob had previously appeared as a regular character in EastEnders between 1986 and 1989, as health visitor Carmel Jackson (unrelated to Bianca's family).
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