Susan Tully as Michelle Fowler (1995)
|Portrayed by||Susan Tully|
|First appearance||19 February 1985|
|Last appearance||26 October 1995|
|Created by||Tony Holland|
Michelle Fowler is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by actress Susan Tully. Michelle made some huge mistakes during her time in Albert Square. Michelle had a habit of choosing the wrong men and her stubborn nature meant that she rarely accepted anyone's help or listened to good advice. She is tough, feisty, determined and outspoken and never afraid to defend herself or her beliefs.
Michelle spends the early part of 1985 competing with her best friend Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean) for the affections of Kelvin Carpenter (Paul J. Medford), but the romance quickly fizzles out. When she is 16, in September 1985, Michelle discovers she is pregnant. Despite pressure from her family, Michelle refuses to name the father or have an abortion, adamant that she is keeping her baby. Speculation persists as to the identity of the father of Michelle's baby and is eventually revealed as Den Watts (Leslie Grantham), Sharon's 39-year-old father. Michelle turned to Den for sympathy during a difficult time and they had a one-night stand. At a nearby canal, away from the prying eyes of Walford, Den promises to provide financial support for his child and keep its paternity a secret.
Michelle spends the early part of 1986 struggling with the hardships of being a pregnant teenager. Restricted from the youthful pursuits of her peers, she begins to get depressed. She turns to kind-hearted barman Lofty Holloway (Tom Watt) who eventually falls in love with her, proposing marriage and offering to raise her child as his own. Although she initially refuses, she eventually accepts. That May, she gives birth to a daughter she names Vicki but as the wedding day nears, Michelle has second thoughts. Unable to get over Den, she realizes that she doesn't love Lofty. Den visits her moments before she's due to leave for the church and their chat makes her jilt Lofty at the altar. Later that year, she changes her mind again and Lofty whisks her away for a secret wedding outside Walford but it does not go smoothly. Michelle grows tired of Lofty, who pressures her to let him to adopt Vicki legally and have another baby. Michelle doesn't like either idea, but after an ill-fated attempt to elope with Den, she settles for an unhappy life with Lofty and ends 1987 pregnant with Lofty's baby. Lofty is overjoyed and against Michelle's wishes, tells everyone about Michelle's pregnancy. Michelle retaliates by quietly having a private abortion funded by Den, who doesn't want Lofty to adopt Vicki. A devastated Lofty physically attacks Michelle in front of her family. The marriage dissolves and Lofty leaves Walford.
Michelle moves into a flat with Vicki and Sharon, paid for by Den, who is involved with local gangsters known as The Firm, leading to a spell in prison in 1988. After it becomes clear that the firm want Den dead, he escapes from custody but meets Michelle by the canal one last time, unaware that she is under surveillance. At the canal, Michelle tells Den that she will wait for him and that one day they will be together with Vicki as a family. After their emotional farewell, Den is shot by a man concealing a gun in a bunch of daffodils and falls into the canal. With Den presumed dead, Michelle and Sharon are distraught. When a witness says Den had been seen with a mystery woman the day of his death, Sharon wonders who it was so Michelle admits it was her and that Den is Vicki's father. Feeling hurt, angry, deceived, and unable to accept Michelle's explanation, Sharon walks out. Later, Michelle's father, Arthur (Bill Treacher) accidentally overhears a conversation between Michelle and her mother Pauline (Wendy Richard) in which he discovers the truth about Vicki, and reacts with fury. Michelle and Sharon are estranged for months, until Vicki contracts meningitis later that year and the worry brings them closer and they reunite.
In 1989, Michelle gets involved with another married man, computer salesman, Danny Whiting (Saul Jephcott), who tells Michelle that his marriage is over, whilst trying to reconcile with his wife. In 1991, Michelle moves in with Rachel Kominski (Jacquetta May), a lecturer who persuades Michelle to resume her studies and enroll at university. Michelle and Rachel become inseparable, and rumours about their sexuality prompt Michelle to start dating Clyde Tavernier (Steven Woodcock), a fellow single parent. Some of the Albert Square residents, including Arthur, view their interracial relationship with concern. Later that year, Clyde is falsely accused of murdering publican Eddie Royle (Michael Melia). With the police closing in, Clyde decides to leave with his son, Kofi (Marcel Smith), and Michelle decides to take Vicki and go with him. Their getaway fails and Clyde is imprisoned for 3 months, but in late 1992 Clyde catches Michelle in bed with fellow student Jack Woodman (James Gilbey), and ends the relationship. Early in 1993, Jack comes to Walford, claiming he and Michelle are meant to be together. When she rejects his advances, he behaves erratically: he convinces Pauline that he is dating Michelle and steals her unwashed knickers, makes threatening phone calls and he injures himself to gain her sympathy. Michelle turns to Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) for help, and Jack disappears while they're visiting his parents who tell them about his mental instability. In March, Vicki is abducted from her playgroup and Jack is the prime suspect but he is cleared when the police eventually find Vicki with an old woman named Audrey Whittingham (Shirley Dixon) and Michelle is reunited with her daughter.
Michelle's nemesis is Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp). In 1994, Michelle is shot by Dougie Briggs (Max Gold), a psychotic army friend of Grant's. Michelle survives and she rethinks her life in Walford. In 1995, she plans to move to Scotland with her boyfriend, Geoff Barnes (David Roper), her former university lecturer. They decide to marry but Michelle has second thoughts and calls it off. After Sharon leaves, following the breakup of her marriage, Michelle and Grant have a heated argument about the way he treated Sharon and this leads to them having a one night stand. Michelle soon regrets it and when she discovers she's pregnant, she tells her brother Mark (Todd Carty) that Grant is the father, and when she is offered a job in Alabama, she moves to America in October 1995.
Although this is Michelle's last appearance in the show, she continues to be referenced by her onscreen family and friends. She gives birth to her son, Mark, in 1996, gets married and lives in Florida. She sends Vicki back to the United Kingdom in 2003 because she cannot cope with Vicki's bad behavior. When Pauline dies, Michelle inherits her life savings. Various characters visit or contact her at various times, especially when another character dies, the most recent in August 2014.
Michelle Fowler is one of the original 23 characters invented by the creators of EastEnders, Tony Holland and Julia Smith. Michelle is a member of the first family of EastEnders, the Beales and Fowlers, and Holland took the inspiration for some of the series' earliest characters from his own London family and background. Michelle's original character outline as written by Smith and Holland appeared in an abridged form in their book, EastEnders: The Inside Story.
- "Michelle has another year of schooling...Michelle is more on the straight and narrow...Unlike her brother, she gets the things she wants, by doing part-time work. "Saturday girl" at the local hairdressers, and two late shifts a week at a hamburger place. She's into Reggae." (page 55)
Holland and Smith wanted the character to be feisty and emotionally strong. They had been introduced to the young actress Susan Tully when they attended an open evening at the Anna Scher Theatre School in North London. They were extremely impressed with her "natural and unaffected" acting abilities and felt she displayed hidden depths of emotion. Despite their interest, both Holland and Smith were hesitant about casting her because she was already widely known for playing the student Suzanne Ross in the children's television show Grange Hill. Nevertheless she was asked to audition for the role of Michelle and was informed of the intention to make the character a pregnant schoolgirl. Tully liked the story and liked the fact that the character was going to keep the baby, but what interested her most was the opportunity to allow the character to grow up on screen, something she was unable to do with her Grange Hill character. Although Julia Smith initially feared that Tully was too well-known to play the part, they eventually decided to use this fact to their advantage. Tully had a huge following from Grange Hill, and they felt that those fans would be likely to tune in to EastEnders, so she was offered the part.
Early in the series, the character of Michelle became central to the programme and was the focus of a controversial storyline involving her teenage pregnancy. Press interest in the show escalated to "record levels" as journalists continuously tried to guess who had fathered her baby. In whodunnit fashion, the audience had been kept in the dark as to the father's identity and were offered teasers implicating several Square residents. The culprit was finally exposed in October 1985 on episode 66. Written by series co-creator/script editor Tony Holland and directed by co-creator/producer Julia Smith, it was considered to be a landmark episode in the show's history. 4 possible suspects were seen leaving the Square in the episode's first half: Tony Carpenter (Oscar James), Ali Osman (Nejdet Salih), Andy O'Brien (Ross Davidson), and Den Watts (Leslie Grantham). As Michelle waited by their rendezvous point, a car pulled up and the fluffy white legs of Roly the poodle bounded out of the car, revealing that the man who was meeting Michelle, the father of her baby, was Den Watts! The rest of the episode was one long scene of Den and Michelle discussing whether or not to keep the baby. Until that time, that 15-minute scene was the longest ever done on a soap opera. Writer Colin Brake has suggested that this was a bold experiment for a series that had established a reputation, in its first 8 months, for being fast-moving and rapidly cut. It relied on only 1 story and 2 actors to hold the audience for over half an episode. Tony Holland's handling of the awkward scene between a teenage girl and her best friend's father is considered one of the highlights of the programme's first year. The finishing touch was the use of alternative end-title music, "Julia's Theme", a variation of the usual one which replaced the dramatic drum beats with a longer, gentler piano-solo introduction.
The following year Michelle and Lofty's (Tom Watt) church wedding was another target of press speculation before the episodes aired. According to Holland and Smith, they wanted to know two things: the design of Michelle's dress, and whether she'd jilt Lofty at the altar. The wedding was shot in a church in private grounds to which the press would not have access. But the press still assembled in large numbers, and security people had to be hired to keep camerapeople away from the story action. Huge lorries were parked in front of the church's entrance so nothing could be seen, and the cast arrived in disguise. Finally strong lights were shone into the eyes of the journalists and photographers, making them angry, and they tried to gain access to the grounds by breaking the security barrier and telling the production team that they were extras needed inside the church. The entire episode, written by David Ashton, was devoted to Lofty and Michelle's wedding day. Brake has said that at the time it was deemed one of the best cliffhangers of the series, with the episode ending as the bride arrives at the church door and hesitates. The birth of Michelle and Den's daughter, and Michelle and Lofty's eventual marriage, helped to consolidate a fast-growing audience. According to Holland and Smith, "The young couple had come together under enormously difficult circumstances". The subsequent storylines were built to keep the audience guessing about the future of their relationship. Had they married for the wrong reasons? Would the relationship survive? What would happen if Lofty wanted his own child?
Michelle did become pregnant by Lofty, and in another controversial storyline she had an abortion behind Lofty's back in January 1988. The episode, written by Tony McHale, was screened on the same day that a private member's bill was discussed in the House of Commons, which sought to reduce the number of weeks following conception in which an abortion can be carried out.
An April 1989 two-hander episode in which Michelle confessed Vicki's paternity to her best friend Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean) returned to a model established by the first Den-and-Angie (Anita Dobson) solo episode, with revelations and major character changes to an important relationship. According to Brake, this episode was held in high regard by the programme's producers, directors, and writers and gave Susan Tully and Letitia Dean the chance to demonstrate how much they had grown as actresses during their 4 years on the show.
Michelle went onto to feature in controversial storylines such as her daughter's kidnapping, a shooting, and a brief liaison with Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp), her best friend's husband and her own nemesis—which left her pregnant. This heralded one of the soap's best-kept secrets as Grant never discovered that Michelle had his child. Michelle remained central to the programme for 10 years and became one of the most popular characters of her time. She was written out of it in 1995 when Susan Tully decided to move on. Tully has since taken up directing, and has directed several episodes of EastEnders.