Kathy Beale

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Kathy Beale
Kathy G Taylforth.jpg
EastEnders character
Portrayed by Gillian Taylforth
Duration 1985–2000
First appearance 19 February 1985
Last appearance 6 January 2000
Created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland
Introduced by Julia Smith (1985)
Matthew Robinson (1999)
Spin-off
appearances
Dimensions in Time (1993)
Classification Former; regular
Profile
Occupation Market trader (clothing)
Barmaid
Businesswoman

Katherine "Kathy" Mitchell (also Beale)[1] is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Gillian Taylforth between 1985 and 2000. Though it was never used on screen, in 2010 the BBC website named the character as Kathy Sullivan due to a marriage after she left the show in 2000.[2]

Kathy is one of the serial's original characters, appearing in the first episode of EastEnders on 19 February 1985. One of the longest-running original characters, Kathy remained in a prominent role, covering issues such as rape and domestic violence until April 1998, when Taylforth quit. A year later, in 1999, Taylforth returned for a temporary stint to aid the departure of actor Ross Kemp who played her brother-in-law Grant Mitchell, and later in December 1999 for the wedding of her screen son Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt). She made her final appearance in January 2000.

Despite various rumours of a possible return for Kathy in the press, this did not occur and the character was killed off-screen in a road accident in late February 2006 in a storyline to facilitate the return of her son Ben (Charlie Jones) to his father Phil (Steve McFadden). In tribute to the character, the soap's café is named "Kathy's" until 2011.[3]

Storylines[edit]

Backstory[edit]

Kathy was born and brought up in Walford to a destitute, East End family, headed by an abusive and alcoholic father. When she was 14, she was raped by music teacher Marcus Duffy and fell pregnant, giving birth to a girl that she gave up immediately for adoption. When she was fifteen, she fell for local boy, Pete Beale (Peter Dean), who left his adulterous wife Pat (Pam St. Clement) and his sons David (Michael French) and Simon (Nick Berry) to be with her, although, Simon was not his biological son. However, the relationship was greeted with opposition from Pete's mother, Lou (Anna Wing) who could not condone Pete's divorce from Pat and Kathy's protective older brother, Ted (Brian Croucher) who disliked Pete and his best friend, Den Watts (Leslie Grantham). However, Kathy stood up to Lou and she and Pete married in 1968, and a year later they had a son, Ian (Adam Woodyatt).

1985–92[edit]

The Beales are financially stable in 1985. Kathy opens her own knitting business, making jumpers to sell and working as a barmaid in The Queen Victoria public house for her best friend, Angie Watts (Anita Dobson). Kathy feels she has put her troubled past behind her, however in October 1985, Nick Cotton (John Altman) breaks into Dr. Legg's (Leonard Fenton) surgery and steals Kathy's medical records, discovering that she had been raped and had given the resulting child up for adoption. He uses this to blackmail Kathy and she is eventually forced to tell Pete her secret, a revelation that he takes badly.

In 1987, Kathy receives news that her adopted daughter, Donna Ludlow (Matilda Ziegler), wants to meet her, but she refuses. Undeterred, Donna moves to Walford and keeps her identity secret. To get closer to Kathy, Donna calls her workplace at The Samaritans, and grows close to Ian, who becomes attracted to his half sister. When Kathy tells Donna to stay away from Ian, Donna reveals to her that she is her daughter. She thinks Kathy will be pleased but Kathy is mortified and orders her to leave Walford. Unperturbed, Donna stays and causes various problems for Kathy until she finally tells Donna that she wants nothing to do with her as she is the product of rape. Unhinged, Donna spends the rest of the year in a downward spiral.

In 1988, James Willmott-Brown (William Boyde) employs Kathy at The Dagmar wine bar, which angers Pete. The rift worsens when it becomes clear that James is romantically interested in Kathy. After Kathy and Pete argue one night, James invites her to his flat, but when he attempts to seduce her, Kathy tries to leave. James will not take no for an answer, and what began as seduction ends in rape. James is arrested, and despite claiming that the sex had been consensual, he is formally charged with rape. In the aftermath, Kathy becomes depressed and isolated from Pete, who never believes she is blameless. Kathy ends their marriage in January 1989.

James stands trial in April 1989 but not before he tries to bribe Kathy to drop the charges. Kathy pretends to take his hush money, then betrays him to a listening DI. She is forced to relive the rape for the trial, where a skilful barrister presents a good case for James. For a time, it appears that James will be found not guilty, but to Kathy's relief, he is convicted and imprisoned for three years. During this time, Kathy finds unexpected support from Pete's first wife, Pat, whom she had initially despised. The rape by Willmott-Brown, and later the death of Kathy's former mother-in-law Lou, brings them closer as both find they had a common bond with the dominance of Lou in their lives. Pat and Kathy become each other's closest friends. Kathy still finds herself unable to accept Donna as she reminds her of her rape. Donna sinks into depression and in April 1989, she overdoses on heroin and dies after choking on her own vomit. Kathy feels guilty about her daughter's death.

During 1989, Kathy attempts to move on and begins a relationship with market trader Laurie Bates (Gary Powell). Laurie is understanding of Kathy's situation and accepts that they will not have sex. Their relationship manages to survive the interference of Julie Cooper (Louise Plowright), who tries but fails to claim Laurie for herself. However, when Laurie begins buying Kathy extravagant clothing and jewellery, she begins questioning his motives. She thinks he is trying to make her look like his late wife and loses interest. Laurie takes her rejection badly and some tactless comments regarding her sexual abstinence makes Kathy believe he has deceived her of his true nature. She ends the relationship in January 1990. Later in the year, Kathy begins dating Eddie Royle (Michael Melia). He patiently pursues her, but after a few dates, she becomes hesitant and after she sees him kissing Eibhlin O'Donnell (Mary Conlon) - his former girlfriend visiting from Ireland - their lukewarm romance ends.

Kathy buys the Bridge Street café in 1991, renaming the premises "Kathy's" in 1992. In January 1992, Willmott-Brown is released from prison. He sends Kathy a tape telling her that he wants to meet her and that he has changed. Kathy pleads with him to leave and never return, but he moves to the Square and continues to pester her, until Kathy relays the hurt and anger he had caused her, gaining some closure. James threatens suicide, but Kathy stops him, refusing to let him take the easy way out. After a heated conversation in which James pleads for forgiveness, Kathy convinces him to leave Walford. She also convinces Pete — who has been hoping for a reconciliation — that their marriage is over. Later in 1992, Kathy begins a relationship with market inspector Richard Cole (Ian Reddington), which sours when she discovers that he is taking a cash bribe and allowing a mobile hot dog van to trade in direct competition with her café.

1993–2006[edit]

In 1993, Kathy begins a romance with mechanic Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden), which manages to survive interference from Phil's wife Nadia (Anna Barkan), who tries to spilt them up, as well as various revelations about Phil's past criminal activity. Phil proposes to Kathy, and she accepts, however during their engagement party, Kathy learns that Phil had almost resumed his affair with his sister-in-law Sharon Mitchell (Letitia Dean), a revelation that ends Kathy's friendship with Sharon and leads to Phil being beaten by his brother Grant (Ross Kemp), and almost ends Kathy and Phil's relationship.

Kathy and Phil marry.

However, in 1995, Phil and Kathy sort out their differences and get married. Kathy becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, Ben, in 1996; he later contracts meningitis and is left with impaired hearing. Kathy becomes devoted to Ben. Phil begins to feel neglected and, in his depression, he turns to alcohol. By the end of the year his drinking has developed into full-blown alcoholism. Phil becomes violent and argumentative towards Kathy. After he snatches Ben and leaves him near a fire while he passes out drunk, Kathy leaves him. Realising what he has lost, Phil tries to stop drinking and rebuild his marriage. Kathy takes him back, but when Phil attends counselling in 1997, he begins an affair with a fellow alcoholic named Lorna Cartwright (Janet Dibley), who starts stalking him and makes herself known to Kathy. In August 1997, Phil takes Kathy to Paris, hoping that it will bring them closer. However, Phil confesses to his affair with Lorna, and Kathy responds by throwing her wedding ring in the Seine, stating that their marriage is "the biggest mistake" of her life. Phil begins sleeping rough and blames Kathy for his decline. Despite momentarily contemplating suicide, Kathy hardens herself towards her husband's abuse.

By Christmas 1997, she starts a relationship with vicar Alex Healy (Richard Driscoll). In 1998, Alex's Bishop discovers their affair and offers Alex a choice: Kathy or his job. Alex is prepared to give up his job to be with Kathy, but she has already decided to move to Cape Town, South Africa, to live with her brother Ted (Brian Croucher). Meanwhile, Phil's brother Grant confesses to loving Kathy and asks her to elope, while Phil, simultaneously, tries to reunite with her. Kathy is confused by so many options, but makes it known to Phil that she is open to a reunion; however, when he fails to meet her on the day of her departure in April 1998, Kathy leaves Walford with Ben.

Kathy returns in September 1999 to meet Ian's fiancée Melanie Healy (Tamzin Outhwaite). Instead of reuniting with Phil, she has a fling with Grant. Just before she is due to return home to South Africa, Kathy has a change of heart and asks Phil to leave with her. However, Grant has planned a robbery that same day and Phil cannot bring himself to let his brother do the job alone. Infuriated by Phil's loyalty to Grant, Kathy reveals their recent affair, moments before she leaves. This results in a violent showdown between the brothers. Grant confesses that he only had sex with Kathy as revenge for Phil's affair with his wife Sharon. Phil responds by threatening to shoot Grant, devastated that he'd lost Ben and Kathy again. This leads to Grant crashing their car into the River Thames; both survive. Kathy returns again in December 1999 for Ian's short-lived wedding to Melanie on Millennium Eve, after Mel reveals to Ian that she had a fling with Steve Owen (Martin Kemp). Kathy is met with hostility from Phil and Grant's mother, Peggy (Barbara Windsor). Phil tries to persuade Kathy to reconcile one last time, but eventually they both agree that their relationship is definitely over. Kathy then departs. Her last appearance is in January 2000.

Kathy marries a man named Gavin Sullivan in South Africa in 2001, and he adopts Ben. On 20 February 2006, Gavin's sister calls Ian to say that Gavin and Kathy have been in an accident - a 13-year-old boy who was joyriding, crashed into their car, killing Kathy. A heartbroken Ian travels to South Africa and returns with Ben after Gavin also dies. Custody of Ben is eventually given to Phil.

Character creation[edit]

Background[edit]

Kathy Beale was one of the original twenty-three characters invented by the creators of EastEnders, Tony Holland and Julia Smith. Kathy was a member of the first family of EastEnders, the Beales and Fowlers. Holland took the inspiration for some of the series' earliest characters from his own London family and background. Kathy's original character outline as written by Smith and Holland appeared in an abridged form in their book, EastEnders: The Inside Story.

"A hard childhood. An overcrowded, strict one - with no money but bags of misery. You either give into that, or you rebel...A lot of people think she's hard. The exterior is certainly tough - it's had to be. From a childhood surrounded by too many brothers, a heavy drinking father, and a submissive mother. A knowledge that you came from the "slum end" of the borough. The tattiest school-uniform. The least money. To be the poorest of the poor was a hell of a thing to fight against...by patience, persistence, cool dignity, the refusal to argue and fight back like a fishwife, wooing, cajoling and setting a good example, she and Pete finally became accepted - even by Lou...a moral woman with a firm sense of right and wrong, and good and bad. She finds it almost impossible to tell a lie, bitch - or accept the goods Pete sometimes brings home that have fallen off the back of lorries. It's as if she's had such a long hard fight to be thought of and accepted as a respectable/decent person, that she's frightened of anything happening that might soil that image. A great sense of humour...She's practical in that she doesn't shatter Pete's dreams even though she knows none of them will ever materialise, because she realises to do so would also shatter him...Kathy never forgets a favour." (page 55–56)[4]

Casting[edit]

Kathy as she appeared in 1985.

Holland and Smith wanted Kathy to be attractive, warm, practical, tough, funny and sexy.[4] More actresses were interviewed for the role of Kathy than any other original character. Each actress possessed some of the facets of personality wanted, but not a single one had all of them.[4] Gillian Taylforth was an actress that Smith and Holland had encountered during an open evening they had attended at The Anna Scher Theatre in Islington, North London. They had been drawn to Taylforth because of her voice — "husky and adenoidal", which seemed at odds with her feminine appearance, which they described as "stunningly attractive".[4] During the open evening, they considered Taylforth for the role of Sue Osman, but she was dismissed because she was blonde rather than brunette. They briefly considered her for the role of Kathy, but she was again dismissed because she was too young for the role.[4] They instead decided "to bear her in mind for the future".[4]

Despite this, during the casting period in 1984, Taylforth auditioned for the role of Sue Osman. She was unsuccessful and that part went to Sandy Ratcliff, however, Holland and Smith asked her back to audition for another role, the part of Kathy.[5] Smith and Holland have commented that "she came into the room, bringing the whole of the 'East-end' in with her [...] In exactly half a minute she'd charmed the pants off them". She was considered perfect, apart from her age. Smith and Holland have commented in their book Inside Story that "[Taylforth] was too young! They had said so from the beginning. By rights, they should not even be interviewing her. But wasn't she perfect, apart from her age? So different from any other 'Kathy' they had seen. Fresher. More down to earth. Ages were discussed and a pocket-calculator produced. If Pete Beale had been her first boyfriend, wasn't it just possible that she could have a fourteen-year-old son? Julia and Tony were trying to talk themselves into it."[4] Taylforth has commented on the audition process, "[Holland and Smith] whipped out a calculator and kept punching in numbers. 'We're trying to work out if you could be old enough to be Ian's Mum,' they said. I said, 'I can look older. I'll put my hair up. I'll have a few late nights and I promise I'll look old enough to be Ian's Mum'."[5] According to Holland and Smith, Gillian Taylforth's "freshness and earthy charm" won them around and she was offered the part of Kathy.[4]

Character development[edit]

Personality[edit]

Author Christine Geraghty has described Kathy as a character that could "be trusted by the audience to divine what is right and to hold firmly to that position".[6] Described as a woman who naturally worked on behalf of the community, other characters frequently turned to Kathy for advice or support, and this was explored on-screen to greater effect in the 1980s when, as a result of the hardship she had faced in her youth, Kathy volunteered with the charity group The Samaritans.[7] It has been noted that "as a result of becoming a counsellor for The Samaritans Kathy Beale 'in turn [...] increasingly [came] to adopt the role of expert advisor".[8]

Hilary Kingsley, author of The EastEnders Handbook, described Kathy in 1991 as "an attractive, bright, caring and highly moral woman, vulnerable but tough in some ways, streetwise, amusing, even witty [...] What she thinks is what she says.".[9] She adds that she is "Blonde, good-looking, intelligent and industrious, on the surface Kathy's a very together lady. Underneath, though, things are very different."[9] Kathy has been classified by Rupert Smith, author of EastEnders: 20 years in Albert Square, as a "drama queen", a "strong passionate [woman] who [goes] to pieces where men are concerned and always [comes] back for more".[10] He continued, "One woman above all others has taken it on the chin in EastEnders, and that's Kathy."[10] Author Kate Lock has noted that by the time of Kathy's last appearance, she had "acquired near-goddess status".[11]

Rape[edit]

One of the most notable storylines involving Kathy was her rape by yuppie bar owner James Willmott-Brown, played by William Boyde.[12] It was the second time that the character had been raped, as Kathy's backstory had revealed that she had been raped at the age of fourteen, resulting in a pregnancy — Kathy gave her baby daughter away for adoption, although these events were not seen on-screen, as Kathy was already in her 30s when the serial began. Taylforth has revealed that she was apprehensive about the storyline when it was originally pitched. She has commented to the Walford Gazette, "I didn't think it was a great idea at first. That Kathy was being raped for the second time in her life bothered me. And second, I didn't think Wilmott-Brown was a very likely rapist. I loved working with William Boyde, and I thought he played it brilliantly. It was his idea to step up Wilmott-Brown's drinking in order for the rape to make some sense."[5]

The storyline was set up during 1988, as Kathy found employment at James's wine bar, "The Dagmar", causing friction between Kathy and her husband Pete who "didn't like the pub, the clientele or the clothes Kathy felt she had to wear to look good for work".[13] As James struggled with various personal and business issues simultaneously, he began to show an attraction to Kathy, leading to the storyline's eventual climax, Kathy's rape. Writer Colin Brake has commented that "all the pieces [were] in place [...] Pete was away [...] Willmott-Brown asked Kathy to stay after work for a drink. The situation got out of hand and what began as seduction ended in rape."[13] The episodes covering the rape were written by Tony McHale and are considered by the writer Colin Brake as "EastEnders at its best". Some 19 million viewers tuned in to see Kathy attacked in The Dagmar wine bar's upstairs flat, in July 1988, reportedly 2 million more than the average viewership at the time.[14]

One of the episodes covering the rape received criticism for showing the police as unsympathetic and unhelpful to a rape victim.[13] Metropolitan Plice Commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, said a scene in which Kathy was questioned following her rape was "out of date and would do nothing to encourage reporting this despicable crime".[15] The story, however, continued in the next episode, when Kathy reached the police station and received very sympathetic treatment from a male detective and a WPC. Tony McHale had researched the subject in depth with the police and was determined to portray the broad range of ways that the police dealt with the serious subject of rape. A senior woman police officer later congratulated the programme on its even-handed and honest portrayal of the incident.[13]

The storyline has generally been received well by critics. The Guardian newspaper described the storyline as "a slow-burn as the tension rose over weeks and months [...] which culminated in rape and then followed Kathy sensitively through the aftermath."[16] This included the consequences for Willmott-Brown; the BBC maintains that with their rape storylines, "the consequences of the crime are always explored, both for the attacker and the victim."[17] While in March 2008, Gareth McLean of The Guardian used Kathy Beale's rape as one of only two instances of a drama series that dealt with the subject "remotely realistically", the other being Sheila Grant's (Sue Johnston) rape in Channel 4's Brookside.[18] However, one prominent critic of the storyline was Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association. Following the airing of the rape episode in 1988, Whitehouse branded it "totally unsuitable for family viewing". She wrote to the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, to try to stop the episode being repeated in the soap's weekly Sunday omnibus, suggesting that it violated the BBC's own code of practice.[19]

Kathy was later reunited with James Willmott-Brown in 1992 in a special three-hander episode also featuring Pete. Written by Debbie Cook, this episode allowed Kathy to finally lay to rest the ghost of her rape and convince Pete that their marriage was truly over.[13] Colin Brake has said that "it also gave Gillian Taylforth a terrific acting challenge".[13] In the on-screen events, Kathy was shown to leave the serial for five months to stay with her brother and recover from the trauma of seeing James again; however, in reality, actress Gillian Taylforth had to be written out of the serial to go on maternity leave.[13]

Domestic violence[edit]

In 1993, Kathy was romantically paired with the character Phil Mitchell, played by Steve McFadden. Writer Colin Brake has revealed that this liaison had first been suggested by the EastEnders' script department three years prior, in 1990, but the idea had been rejected in favour of Kathy getting involved with pub landlord Eddie Royle (Michael Melia).[13]

Despite various obstacles, including objection from Kathy's son Ian (Adam Woodyatt), and the public unveiling of Phil's prior affair with his sister-in-law Sharon (Letitia Dean), Phil and Kathy married in 1995 and a baby was written into their narratives the following year; Kathy becoming a mother again for the second time at the age of 46.[20] The storyline was used to spread a public message, when Kathy's baby son Ben contracted a rare form of meningitis, leaving him with impaired hearing and the threat of brain damage. Kathy was shown to "irrationally" blame herself for her son's condition. In 1996, Gillian Taylforth summarised her character's fears: "[Ben]'s not been very well since he was born and Kathy hasn't wanted to leave him for a minute." Ian McKee, journalist for the Daily Record added that "Ben fell ill when his mum was out for the evening. Irrationally, Kathy blames herself - but she won't trust him with anyone else"[20] and according to Dr Richard Lansdown of London University's Institute of Child Health, "Such extreme anxiety is only natural [...] This constant checking is very, very common when children are seriously ill."[20] Kathy's concern for Ben was shown to have a negative effect on her relationship with Phil, leading into the start of the couple's most notable storyline, Phil's descent into alcoholism and the consequences the condition has upon the sufferer's domestic life.

The relationship between alcohol abuse and domestic violence was explored between Phil and Kathy culminating in the slow deterioration of their marriage, which the BBC claims "gripped viewers" throughout 1997.[21] It has been noted that EastEnders were attempting to spread the message that abusive relationships are transmitted from one generation to the next within this storyline.[22] Phil is eventually shown to blame "his destructiveness on a response to self-hate: violence [...] the basis of his problem: his father had beaten him as a kid and he fears that he will do the same to his son."[23]

Exit (1998)[edit]

In November 1997, the press revealed that after 13 years playing Kathy, Gillian Taylforth had opted not to renew her contract when it expired in March 1998. Taylforth commented, "I love EastEnders, it's in my blood. But after 12 years I want a bit of a change. I want to spend more time with my family and consider other offers. It was an extremely difficult decision to make but I felt this was the best time to go. I've had alternative job offers in the past, but I've always stuck with EastEnders. It's been brilliant for me and I will miss it hugely."[24] At the time, a BBC spokesperson would not confirm the departure saying, "Gilly is in discussions about taking a possible break. It is the policy that long-serving, valued, senior cast members are eligible for such breaks."[24] However, her departure was later confirmed, with Taylforth saying that she made the decision to quit after she missed her daughter's sports day due to filming commitments on set.[25] Barbara Windsor, who plays Kathy's mother-in-law Peggy Mitchell, said: "This is really sad. Gill is a wonderful actress and a very good friend."[24] Steve McFadden, who plays Kathy's estranged husband Phil Mitchell, said: "I can't believe it. I've been with her all day and she never said a thing."[24]

The character's exit storyline revolved around her broken marriage to Phil, a prominent storyline that had been heavily featured throughout 1997. After deciding to leave Walford with her son Ben for South Africa, Kathy found herself the object of desire from several Walford residents, all keen for her to stay and form a relationship. One of the men was Grant Mitchell, her husband Phil's brother, who Kathy shared a kiss with.[26] Despite indicating to Phil that she was prepared to give their relationship one last try, he failed to rendezvous with her in time, and although he made it to the airport, he was persuaded to let her go by Ian. Kathy was shown to depart the serial on an aeroplane after a "poignant scene" showing her embracing her son Ian.[27] The episodes marking Kathy's exit were screened in a one hour special on Good Friday 10 April 1998. The episodes were also notable for being the last appearance of Cindy Beale (Michelle Collins).[28] Despite the high-profile exits, the episodes were beaten in the ratings by rival soap Coronation Street, which garnered 14 million viewers.[29] It had been reported that EastEnders' producers had been hoping to topple the ratings success of Coronation Street's popular "Free Deirdre" storyline, the jailing of the Street's Deirdre Rachid for a crime she didn't commit.[30]

Return (1999–2000)[edit]

When Taylforth quit, she originally suggested that she was only taking a six-month break and would return in October 1998;[31] however, this did not occur. It was reported in the press in August 1998, that only several months after her departure, EastEnders producers attempted to woo Gillian Taylforth back for a "week-long saga" to do a "Who's the baby?" storyline, with Phil, Grant and Alex Healy all possible candidates for the father of Kathy's baby. Taylforth reportedly declined the offer in order to take other roles.[32]

However, it was announced in January 1999 that Taylforth had agreed to reprise the role of Kathy for a temporary stint in the autumn of that year, to aid the departure of Ross Kemp, the actor who played Grant Mitchell. Commenting on her return, Taylforth said, "I owe it to Kathy to tie up a few loose ends". EastEnders' producers were said to be "delighted" by her decision.[33] After 18 months away in South Africa, Kathy made a "high-profile" reappearance on EastEnders in September 1999.[34] The character's return storyline concentrated upon a sexual liaison with Phil's brother, Grant, leading to a showdown between the brothers when Phil discovered - events facilitating Grant's exit. Kathy made one brief last return in December 1999 for the wedding of her son Ian and made her final appearance in January 2000.

In a 2000 interview with the Sunday Mirror Taylforth comented further on her decision to leave the serial: "I left EastEnders because after 13 years I felt I really needed a break. I wanted to do other things and I knew I wasn't getting any younger. But throughout everything that has happened in my life I have had tremendous support from the people in EastEnders. I love them so dearly. I still keep in touch with some of them, and my line when I left the show was, 'I won't say goodbye, just au revoir', and that is how I feel. It is nice that they have left the door open for Kathy to return."[35]

Off-screen death[edit]

After her final departure, numerous rumours circulated in the British press predicting the character's return to the soap. In 2005 it was reported that EastEnders producers were attempting to lure Gillian Taylforth back with the offer of a £200,000 a year pay cheque. Gillian said: "I've always wanted to go back because I love EastEnders — I have great friends in the cast and always enjoyed working with Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell)."[36] However, in January 2006 it was announced that the character was being killed off-screen in a storyline to facilitate the return of her young son Ben to his father Phil Mitchell. Taylforth has commented: "I was a bit upset at first because it was 13 years of my life and I didn't like the thought of being killed off. I thought she might come back to see Ian and have some illness. But that's the way it goes."[37] In 2010, Taylforth said that she wished that Kathy could come back from the dead and that it was a mistake to kill her off.[38] Earlier that year executive producer Diederick Santer revealed that he would like to have brought back Kathy from the dead but vowed not to revive deceased characters.[39] Taylforth reiterated her desire to return to EastEnders in 2013 and that she heard a writer in 2011 saying that producers wanted her to return and asked her if she could think of a way to bring Kathy back. She revealed that producer John Yorke told her that killing off Kathy was one of "the biggest mistake they've ever made" team, and the writer who had decided to kill Kathy had regretted it afterwards, though said it was a "good idea at the time". EastEnders spokespeople stated there were currently no plans for Taylforth to return and that some of the producers who had said they wanted Kathy to return had since left.[40]

Reception[edit]

Kathy became one of the longest running characters on the show and Gillian Taylforth was the first cast member to clock up 1,000 episodes.[36] In the book Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, Christine Geraghty has likened Kathy to the characters Deirdre Barlow from Coronation Street, Pam Ewing from Dallas and Krystle Carrington from Dynasty as they are associated "not merely with moral values but also the capacity to speak out when necessary in defence of the truth."[6]

In a "character decoding" study performed in the 1980s, 93 viewers (64 women and 29 men) were surveyed (27 were undergraduate students, 33 were from the Oxford subject panel, and 33 were soap viewers who responded to advertisements in a soap magazine) on 25 characters from EastEnders to discover viewers' judgements and representations of the characters, through the construction of three-dimensional, multi-dimensional scaling space. The study found that the character of Kathy Beale was labelled in the "morality/potency" category - a moral character, family-oriented, warm, likable and steady.[41]

In the book Come on Down?: Popular Media Culture in Post-war Britain, Kathryn and Phillip Dodd have used Kathy as an example of an independent, "glamorous working-class woman". They suggest that the forging of strong, female working-class characters in soap operas is "a counterweight to the more usual celebration of masculine physicality and identification of the working class with that masculinity."[42]

During a period of ratings decline and heavy media criticism aimed at EastEnders in 2005, Rupert Smith, The Guardian TV critic and author of EastEnders: 20 years in Albert Square, stated that Kathy was one of EastEnders' best characters, the type the show was lacking at the time. He described her, along with characters Angie Watts, Tiffany Mitchell, Bianca Jackson, Janine Evans and Cindy Beale, as "strong women who can't control their appetites".[16]

Writer and actress Jacquetta May, who played Rachel Kominski in EastEnders in the early 1990s, has commented on Kathy and questioned whether the events that happened in her fictional life reflected "any sort of true experience". In an article she comments, "Surely no woman's life could contain such a catalogue of disasters: slum childhood, two rapes, a drug-taking daughter, product of the first rape who tops herself, a broken marriage, disastrous affairs and now an alcoholic husband who endangered their son's life." She states that Kathy's biography is a "contrast between a realistic portrayal" of a woman and familiar stereotypes — Kathy "the good, long-suffering woman and victim".[23]

In a study by the Stirling Media Research Institute about violence in the media, Phil and Kathy's abusive relationship was analysed.[22] The explanation for Phil's alcoholism, his wife abuse, and the problems he has in relating to his son, was largely accepted as plausible.[22] Women found the depiction of family life and domestic violence realistic and believable and felt that soap operas such as EastEnders should deal with important social issues. They judged soap operas as suitable locations for educating the public about social issues such as domestic violence. Phil's attendance at an AA and subsequent reconciliation with Kathy was viewed, leading some male participants to question the plausibility of the speedy reunion, "One session could hardly make Phil capable of going home and opening up his feelings to [Kathy]." Several focus groups attributed the need for "such a quick dramatic fix" as indicative of the ratings war with rival soap, Coronation Street. Phil's reconciliation with Kathy was also seen as "implausible", though at the same time "it was clearly accepted that according to the conventions of soap opera, there are no permanent solutions."[22] The study reported that much group discussion centred on the Alcoholics Anonymous group scene, which was, for the most part, seen as an accurate depiction of an AA group therapy session. In addition, Phil's portrayal of a suffering alcoholic was also seen as realistic and a "typical portrayal of bottled-up masculinity".[22] Comparatively, male participants were generally dismissive towards Kathy: "She attracted little sympathy or understanding. Her tendency to take some responsibility for her own plight was not countered. Her tale of being abused by men and her history of rapes were at best mentioned in passing, at worst treated disparagingly. There was a quite widely shared sense of how men and women are characterised as radically different in EastEnders and other soap operas..." A scene in which Kathy and her close friend Pat Evans (Pam St Clement) show their competence as electricians, a scene that allowed the characters to "re-examine past mistakes and agree that life is hell, but you've got to keep struggling, mend the electrics ('wait for a man to do a job and you'll wait forever') and have a laugh" was felt, especially in middle-class male groups, "to be a superficial kind of feminism in line with how soap operas underscore gender differences."[22][23] Gay men offered a major exception to this general indifference to Kathy's points of view; they readily espoused them.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

During the Children In Need charity appeal of 1993, the BBC produced a special two-part edition of the popular science-fiction television programme Doctor Who, entitled Dimensions in Time. Part of the special was shot on the EastEnders set of Albert Square in Elstree. A scene from the programme, which was set in the future, showed a grey-haired Kathy Beale selling fruit and veg from Mark Fowler's stall with produce all priced with barcodes. Kathy, along with an elderly version of Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard), featured in promotional pictures with the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, and the Children in Need mascot, Pudsey Bear.[13]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]