Leslie Grantham

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Leslie Grantham
Born Leslie Michael Grantham
(1947-04-30) 30 April 1947 (age 66)
Camberwell, London, England
Occupation Actor
Years active 1983–present
Known for Playing Den Watts in EastEnders (1985–89, 2003–05)
Criminal charge
Murder
Criminal penalty
Life imprisonment
(served 10: 1967–77)
Spouse(s) Jane Laurie (m. 1981; div. 2013)[1]
Website
http://www.lesliegrantham.com

Leslie Michael Grantham (born 30 April 1947)[2] is an English actor best known for his role as "Dirty" Den Watts in the BBC soap opera EastEnders. Grantham is also a convicted murderer, having served 10 years for the killing of a West German taxi driver, and he generated significant press coverage as the result of an online sex scandal in 2004.

Early life[edit]

Grantham was born in Camberwell, London, the son of Adelaide (née Flinders) and Walter William Grantham (1915–1998). He enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers regiment of the British Army in 1962, at the age of 15.

Murder Conviction[edit]

On 3 December 1966 he attempted to rob a taxi driver, Felix Reese, in Osnabrück, Lower Saxony, West Germany. A struggle between Grantham and the driver followed, and Reese died from a gunshot wound to the head.[3][4][5] In his statement to the police following his arrest, he claimed that he did not know the gun was loaded and it had gone off during the struggle. He was subsequently convicted of murder.

Grantham was sentenced to life imprisonment at his trial in 1967. Although he had committed the murder in West Germany, he served the entirety of his imprisonment in various British prisons. This was because soldiers and officers convicted of any criminal offence that warrants a sentence of over two years are automatically transferred to Her Majesty's Prison Service, since they are also automatically dishonourably discharged. Grantham was released in 1977, having served 10 years. While he was in Leyhill Prison, he acted in several plays for inmates and members of the public, and edited the prison newspaper. He was encouraged to get more involved in acting professionally by disgraced Labour Party politician T. Dan Smith, who had also been an inmate at Leyhill. He also met actress Louise Jameson during her visit to Leyhill in the mid-1970s; she had also encouraged him to take up acting and he became good friends with her .[6]

Career[edit]

Early work[edit]

On release from prison Grantham decided to pursue an acting career and trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. He made his first television appearance, aged 35, as Frank on an episode of the short lived sitcom Goodnight and God Bless in 1983.[7] He followed it up with an appearance as Kiston in a 1984 episode of Doctor Who - Resurrection of the Daleks and as a signals sergeant in episode 12 of the mini TV series The Jewel in the Crown. He also wrote a play entitled A Reason To Live, which won the Gloucester Drama Festival award for best original play. In 1985, he made a brief appearance in the film Morons from Outer Space, but by the time this film was released, Grantham had found fame in quite a different environment.

EastEnders first stint[edit]

In 1984, he auditioned with the BBC for a part in its new soap opera EastEnders, which was due to go on air in February 1985. He'd been encouraged by director Matthew Robinson, who had directed his Doctor Who serial the previous year and was to become a key member of the EastEnders production team. Grantham had auditioned for the role of market trader Pete Beale, but he got the part of Dennis Watts. The character, landlord of the Queen Victoria public house, quickly became a national favourite and gained the nickname Dirty Den mostly because of the way he treated his wife Angie, played by Anita Dobson, and at the age of 39 Watts fathered a child with 16-year-old Michelle Fowler, played by Susan Tully.

On Christmas Day 1986, Grantham's character served his on-screen wife with divorce papers, with the famous line "Happy Christmas Ange". The episode was watched by a record 30 million viewers - over half the British population. In 1988 the character Den Watts sold his pub to Frank Butcher and gradually drifted out of key storylines until finally departing in February 1989. Den had got involved with The Firm and his only option was to flee the square. Viewers watched a mysterious gunman shoot at Den with a gun hidden in a bunch of daffodils, before hearing a splash. A shot depicting Den's death was cut from the final scene, in the hope that Grantham might one day be persuaded to return to the role. The following year, a body believed to be Den's was found in the canal.

Other work[edit]

From 1989 to 1990 he played Danny Kane in the crime television series The Paradise Club alongside Don Henderson. He went on to appear in many more television series such as Cluedo as Colonel Mustard, The Detectives (1993) and 99-1 (1993-4). In 1994 he narrated Volume One of Frank Harris's erotic classic My Life and Loves.[8] In 1997 he produced and starred in the sci-fi mini-series The Uninvited.

He then became best known as the co-host of the game show Fort Boyard alongside Melinda Messenger which he presented from 1998 to 2001. He also reunited with his EastEnders co-star Anita Dobson in a one-off television film entitled The Stretch which aired on ITV in 2000 and in a 2004 British gangster film titled Charlie.

Return to EastEnders[edit]

In September 2003, 14 years after his character was supposedly killed off, Leslie Grantham returned to EastEnders. Den Watts, who had last appeared in 1989, arrived at the nightclub now owned by his adopted daughter Sharon.The return of the iconic character saw Grantham pick up the largest pay cheque in British soap with a reported £500,000-a-year contract.

It was revealed that Watts had survived the shooting and fled to Spain with the help of former mistress Jan Hammond, while the body found a year later in the canal had been wrongly identified. Over 17 million people watched one of the most anticipated TV events of the year on Monday 29 September as Den spoke the famous words, "Hello, princess".

There had been much speculation in the media after Den's departure as to whether the character really was dead. BBC bosses said that Den's return had been on the agenda almost every year since the character's departure in 1989, and the first offer for him to return had been made as long ago as 1991. But Grantham had turned down every offer to return until the one made to him in early 2003, feeling that his character did not have adequate links to the show for a comeback to be anything more than a publicity stunt - particularly when Den's daughter Sharon was away from the show from 1995 to 2001, leaving Den without any family in the cast. By 2003, however, his daughter Vicki had rejoined the cast and a previously unknown son called Dennis Rickman, played by Nigel Harman, was also in the series - the product of an affair between Den and a young woman called Paula Rickman, 30 years earlier.

Den's former on-screen wife Angie had left the show in 1988. Actress Anita Dobson received several offers from the BBC to return to the show, but turned each one down and felt that the character would be ruined if she made a comeback. EastEnders bosses finally gave up on having Angie back in the show and the character died off-screen in 2002.

In December 2004, Dirty Den arranged a scam to get back the Queen Vic pub from Sam Mitchell, 16 years after he had sold it to Frank Butcher.

Online sex scandal[edit]

In May 2004 a Sunday newspaper printed photographs of Grantham exposing himself and masturbating whilst sucking his finger in a sexually-suggestive manner via a webcam from his dressing room to an undercover reporter named "Amanda".[9]

She had logged on to MSN Messenger, calling herself 'Halo Polisher', and was soon chatting to Grantham who called himself 'kwanertoo', explaining that it was a play on the word wanker.

He also allegedly dressed as Captain Hook whilst pleasuring himself, shared his sexual fantasies about animals,[10] insulted several cast members of EastEnders, including Shane Richie, Wendy Richard, Kim Medcalf and Jessie Wallace, and made comments regarding the poor quality of the scripts. Grantham released a statement which read, "I am wholeheartedly ashamed of my behaviour and feel that I have let down my colleagues, as well as my friends and family." He also added, "In some small recompense I intend to make a donation to charity as a mark of my apology." He maintained in later interviews that he 'was set up'.[citation needed]

He had apparently described co-star Shane Richie, who played Alfie Moon, as "self-infatuated", but Richie subsequently said that Grantham had been forgiven by the cast and they were happy to joke with him about it.[citation needed]

Departure from EastEnders[edit]

In November 2004, it was confirmed that Grantham would be leaving EastEnders in the New Year. Bosses stated that the character would be killed off, but this time "the coffin lid would be nailed shut".[citation needed]

On 19 February 2005, 16.2 million viewers tuned in to view his character's second demise, this time at the hands of new wife Chrissie, who hit him over the head with a dog-shaped iron doorstop after he attacked her during an argument. Grantham's departure from the soap was reportedly the result of adverse newspaper publicity generated by the actor's internet sex scandal months earlier for which he had initially received a suspension from the programme, although he has said that he did not want to renew his contract.[citation needed]

In his autobiography, which was released in October 2006, Grantham sought to put an end to the rumours that he was dismissed from EastEnders by asserting that his return to the programme was only ever going to be for 18 months, in order that his second demise could coincide with the show's 20th anniversary. In 2008 he told Sky's Top 50 Showbiz Comebacks "The intention for me to go back was only ever to kill the character off".

Life after EastEnders: 2005–present[edit]

Grantham has since appeared in two UK tours of Beyond Reasonable Doubt, a stage adaptation of a Jeffrey Archer play, alongside Simon Ward and Alexandra Bastedo, and remains a popular Christmas pantomime villain. He directed and starred in a pantomime of Peter Pan at the Alban Arena in St. Albans during Christmas 2005,[11] which was a sell-out and received excellent reviews. After Grantham left EastEnders in 2005, he spoke out publicly against the show, criticising its over-the-top, far-fetched storylines, saying 'there was a murder every week... that's not real life'

In January 2005 a newspaper report claimed that Grantham was in the process of writing his autobiography, which he denied. However in June 2006 he confirmed he was in fact working on the book, titled Life And Other Times, for which he had been offered a "substantial sum" by Timewell Publishing. The book went on sale in bookshops across the UK on 18 October 2006.

In October 2006 it was announced that, in his first television role since leaving EastEnders, he would appear in the long-running ITV1 police drama series The Bill, playing the role of Jimmy Collins, who was on the run from prison. The episode aired on 8 February 2007. This was Grantham's second appearance in The Bill as he previously appeared in a few episodes in 1998 also coincidentally playing another character named Jimmy.

In February 2007, he began a tour of the UK with the Donald Churchill play The Decorator. In April 2007 it was announced that he would play Private Walker in a stage production of Dad's Army, leading the Daily Mail to comment that "At least there'll be one member of the cast who has actually shot a German"[citation needed] - in reference to Grantham's killing of the West German taxi driver some 40 years earlier.

He contributed to EastEnders Revealed: Nick Cotton in December 2008, where he talked about his character's return and exits over the years, as well as those of on-screen daughter Sharon Watts/Rickman. He made a comment saying Who knows, maybe I can come back again?

Grantham played Abanazar in Aladdin at the White Rock Theatre in Hastings for the 2009 pantomime season.

In February 2010 Grantham appeared in EastEnders: The Aftermath on BBC Three to mark the live episode of the show and its 25th birthday. He was interviewed by Kirsten O'Brien from the bar of The Queen Victoria pub which his character had once owned. Grantham was cast for the lead role in the UK thriller movie DeadTime.[12]

From the 28 November to the 11 December 2010, Grantham appeared as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Lincoln Theatre Royal's production of A Christmas Carol.[13] He portrayed the main character John in the Bulgarian TV series The English Neighbour, based on the novel of the same name. In 2013 he appeared in the film Mob Handed.

Popularity[edit]

He had made a handful of bit-part roles on other television programmes prior to joining EastEnders, most notably Doctor Who, but was virtually unknown to the British public when he made his first appearance as Den Watts on 19 February 1985. Four days later, however, the Daily Mirror revealed that Grantham had spent a decade behind bars for killing a West German taxi driver. He had warned BBC bosses about his criminal past when agreeing to join the new series in late 1984, but they had vowed to stand by him even after the media went public with Grantham's past. Grantham had also volunteered to quit the show if his colleagues were unhappy with him, but they backed him up and he remained with the show for the next four years.

Grantham's role as Den Watts had earned him iconic status among television fans by the time of his first departure at the beginning of 1989, and he built on this success by appearing in other high-profile television roles during the 1990s, though none of these attracted the media attention or public popularity that he had enjoyed as Dirty Den.

The character of Dirty Den was still an icon in the eyes of many viewers by the time of his "return from the dead" in 2003, and Grantham was by now one of the most recognisable actors on British television. The decision to bring back a supposedly dead character was controversial, but it boosted EastEnders viewing figures for a while, and the character of Den was at the centre of many notable storylines for several months afterwards though much of 2004 and 2005 saw EastEnders' ratings at their lowest in the show's history and their storylines receiving much criticism from the media and critics which proved that the character was far from the hit the show bosses had hoped for.

The internet sex scandal in May 2004 brought great public shame on Grantham, particularly in the tabloid press. There were constant calls for him to be sacked, but he returned after a two-month suspension without pay. On 5 November 2004 it was confirmed that Grantham would be leaving the series, and that the character would once again be killed off – but this time there would be no comebacks and the "coffin lid would be nailed shut".[1]

Den was finally killed off in February 2005, and it was not until the autumn of the following year that he claimed that his return to EastEnders was only ever going to be for 18 months, to tie in with the show's 20th anniversary. Den was referenced on the revived series of Doctor Who in 2006. In the episode Army of Ghosts the Doctor and others watch a piece of an episode of EastEnders in which the ghost of Den Watts is supposedly returning to the pub. It is promptly told to leave before the channel is changed.

He was also referenced in Mock The Week by Andy Parsons during the 'unlikely lines to hear in a TV show' round of scenes we'd like to see, portraying Grantham as the host of Channel 4's fictitious Wank Week.[14]

During the 2007 Christmas holiday season, Grantham appeared in the pantomime Dick Whittington, as 'Dirty Rat'.

Following the 2004 internet scandal of her ex-EastEnder co-star and on screen husband Leslie Grantham, Anita Dobson publicly spoke out about the case saying he was a "silly boy" for getting involved in such a case, how it was sad that he had lost so much as a result of it, and that he had a very good position in EastEnders for a man of his age, an age at a time in an actor's life when good roles were so hard to come by.

Selected filmography[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]