|Portrayed by||Steve McFadden|
|First appearance||20 February 1990|
|Introduced by||Michael Ferguson (1990)
Kate Harwood (2005)
|Dimensions in Time (1993)
EastEnders, The Mitchells: Naked Truths (1998)
EastEnders: Last Tango in Walford (2010)
EastEnders: E20 (2011)
Phil on Remand (2012)
Philip James "Phil" Mitchell is a long-running fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Steve McFadden. Phil was introduced to the soap opera on 20 February 1990, and was followed by his brother, Grant, sister Sam and mother Peggy. Phil was one of the major introductions made by executive producer Michael Ferguson, who wanted to bring in some macho, male leads. Phil and his brother Grant became popularly known as the Mitchell brothers in the British media, with Phil initially portrayed as the lesser of two thugs. Storylines featuring the Mitchell family dominated the soap opera throughout the 1990s, with Phil becoming a popular and long-running male protagonist into the 2000s and the 2010s.
Phil's most prominent storylines include his battles with alcoholism and addiction, various feuds and criminal dealings, having an affair with Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean) who was married to Grant (a storyline popularly dubbed Sharongate), a failed marriage to Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth), a strong rivalry with his former step-son Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt), his numerous feuds with the likes of Steve Owen (Martin Kemp), Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass), Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman), Den Watts (Leslie Grantham), Johnny Allen (Billy Murray), Jack Branning (Scott Maslen), Derek Branning (Jamie Foreman) and Carl White (Daniel Coonan), and being stalked by his son Ben (Joshua Pascoe), leading to an arrest for the murder of Stella Crawford (Sophie Thompson), who abused Ben before jumping from a factory roof. One of the most culturally significant storylines featuring the character aired in 2001 and was dubbed Who Shot Phil?. The plot saw Phil gunned down in a whodunnit? mystery, with the would-be assassin eventually revealed as his former girlfriend Lisa Shaw (Lucy Benjamin). The storyline captured viewer and media interest and the assassin-reveal episode was watched by 22 million viewers.
- 1 Storylines
- 2 Creation
- 3 Character development and impact
- 4 Reception
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Phil and Grant arrive in Walford to open an automobile repair shop, known as The Arches. Phil later goes into partnership at The Queen Victoria public house with Grant and his fiancée Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean), and moves in with them. Phil grows close to Sharon, who turns to him for comfort during Grant's violent outbursts. Sharon and Phil have sex but she stays with Grant, who is unaware of their betrayal. Sharon and Grant's reconciliation is brief, and amidst more rowing and physical violence, Grant is arrested and imprisoned. In his absence, Phil and Sharon continue their affair but when Grant is released, Sharon reconciles with him, leaving Phil heartbroken. On the rebound, Phil enters into a marriage of convenience with Nadia Borovac (Anna Barkan), a Romanian refugee, enabling her to stay in the UK, with Nadia departing after the wedding.
Phil begins a romance with Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth), but Nadia returns, needing Phil to prove he is her husband to prevent deportation. and moves in with him while she is investigated. Nadia seduces and sleeps with a drunken Phil; he regrets it, denying it to Kathy so Grant threatens to kill her to make her leave but Phil later bribes her into agreeing to a divorce. Kathy agrees to marry Phil in 1994 despite discovering that he torched Frank Butcher's (Mike Reid) car lot in an insurance scam, accidentally killing a homeless boy trapped inside. Intent on winning him back, Sharon kisses Phil but he ends things there. During Phil and Kathy's engagement party, Grant listens to a cassette of Sharon admitting to the affair and plays it at the party. Kathy is incensed, and Grant beats Phil so badly that he has go to hospital, due to a blood clot to the brain. Phil undergoes surgery, which stirs remorse in Grant. He pressures Phil into blaming Sharon for their affair and Grant forces her to leave Walford. Phil and Grant make peace but things between them are not the same.
Kathy and Phil eventually sort out their differences and marry and they have a son, Ben (Matthew Silver), making Phil feel neglected and depressed so he turns to alcohol and develops an addiction. This makes him abusive and neglectful towards Kathy and Ben, so Kathy takes Ben and moves out. Realising what he has lost, Phil gives up alcohol and attends Alcoholics Anonymous, which helps reveal the basis of his problem – the physical abuse he received from his father and his fear that he may abuse Ben. He and Kathy reconcile when he attends counselling until he begins an affair with fellow alcoholic Lorna Cartwright (Janet Dibley), who starts stalking him. With his marriage in jeopardy, Phil takes Kathy to Paris and admits his affair with Lorna so Kathy throws her wedding ring into the river. Phil begins sleeping rough, gambling, and blaming Kathy for his decline so she decides to leave Walford for South Africa, letting it be known that an offer of reconciliation from Phil would make her reconsider. Phil is undecided until Lorna stops him going after Kathy by locking herself in his bathroom and attempts suicide. He later follows Kathy to the airport but is stopped by Kathy's son, Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt), who persuades him that Kathy and Ben are better off without him. Phil agonises over the loss of his son.
To distract himself, Phil gets involved in a protection racket with Annie Palmer (Nadia Sawalha), who he is also having casual sex with, but grows tired of being bossed around by her and quits. He starts seeing Lisa Shaw (Lucy Benjamin), but the relationship stalls when Kathy returns briefly in 1999 and sleeps with Grant. Before Kathy returns to South Africa, she asks Phil to go with her but he declines as Grant has planned an armed robbery and Phil refuses to let him do the job alone. Infuriated by Phil's loyalty to Grant, Kathy reveals their recent tryst, leading to Phil confronting Grant and Grant's confession that he slept with Kathy as revenge for Phil's affair with Sharon. While trying to escape, Phil pulls out a gun and shoots at the dashboard, causing Grant to crash into the River Thames. Phil is rescued and Grant escapes to Brazil. When Grant sends Phil the deeds for his half of The Queen Victoria, he sells it to Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass) for £5 to spite Peggy due to her favouritism towards Grant.
Phil and Dan's friendship ends after Dan tells the police about a motor scam Phil was involved in and Phil cons Dan into signing the pub over to Peggy. Phil is unsupportive when his girlfriend, Lisa, has a miscarriage and he starts domestically abusing her by getting her sacked from her job and insists she stay at home. This makes her dependent on him so he moves on to her best friend, Melanie Healy (Tamzin Outhwaite). Lisa is paranoid that Phil is having an affair and accuses Melanie of being his other woman, which she isn't, at that point. However, Melanie is upset by Lisa's accusation and Phil comforts her, leading to a one night stand. Melanie, however, realises it was a mistake and reconciles with Steve Owen (Martin Kemp), making Phil jealous. Lisa decides that a baby will improve their relationship so stops taking contraceptive pills but Phil wants Lisa to leave him, not get pregnant, so he admits to Lisa that he and Melanie slept together. Lisa leaves, keeping quiet about her pregnancy, so when Mark Fowler (Todd Carty) suggests they tell people that the baby is his and Lisa agrees. Phil now has many enemies: Lisa; Steve, who also knows about Melanie and Phil's one night stand; Ian, who Phil bullies mercilessly; Mark, who wants to avenge Lisa; and Dan. On Steve and Melanie's wedding night, Phil is shot and collapses in a pool of blood. Steve is the prime suspect and is arrested but Phil, knowing Steve is innocent, confronts the real culprit, Lisa. Realising he drove her to it, Phil frames Dan. He is assisted by Ritchie Stringer (Gareth Hunt), who gives Dan the gun used to shoot Phil. Unaware that he is being set up, Dan holds Phil at gunpoint, demanding money until he is arrested for attempted murder. Steve is a witness at Dan's trial and gives evidence as agreed with Phil, further implicating Dan but he is cleared and seeks revenge by kidnapping Melanie, threatening to kill her unless they pay him £200,000. Steve and Phil rescue Mel but Dan escapes with the money.
Phil reconciles with Sharon when she returns in 2001 and they run The Queen Victoria together. Phil now wants children but Sharon reveals she is infertile and ends the relationship but tells him that he, not Mark, is the father of Lisa's daughter, Louise (Rachel Cox). Phil confronts Lisa, demanding contact. Horrified at this, Steve and Melanie ask Lisa and Louise to emigrate to California with them. She agrees but changes her mind and telephones Steve, asking him to return Louise. He doesn't so Phil attempts to get Louise back, resulting in a car chase that ends when Steve crashes his car into a wall. Phil rescues Louise and the car explodes before he can help Steve. Phil persuades Lisa to return to him and then make it clear that it is Louise they want, not Lisa. They hire a nanny, Joanne Ryan, without consulting her, telling her that Lisa is mentally unstable. Phil demands that Lisa change Louise's name to Mitchell legally and organises a christening. Lisa agrees until some of Phil's relatives, assuming she is the nanny, start talking about how unstable Louise's mother is. Furious at this, she and Louise flee to Portugal, assisted by Phil's nephew, Jamie Mitchell. Phil goes to Portugal and returns a month later with Louise, leading some of Phil's neighbours to suspect that he has murdered Lisa.
Phil falls for Kate Morton (Jill Halfpenny), unaware that she is an undercover police officer investigating Lisa's disappearance. After Phil confesses that he manipulated Lisa to give him Louise, Kate reveals her true identity and says she loves him and will quit her job, but Phil threatens to kill her. Kate disappears, but several months later, Phil finds her working for gangster Jack Dalton (Hywel Bennett). Phil saves Kate's life when Jack orders her dead but Jack demands that Phil kill Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman) as repayment. Phil corners Dennis at gunpoint but he and Dennis kill Jack instead, so they can both be free of him. Phil and Kate marry, but Lisa returns on their wedding day, demanding access to Louise and plans to shoot Phil again but fails. She breaks down until Den Watts (Leslie Grantham) vows to get revenge for her. Den plans an armed robbery and persuades Phil to join him but sets Phil up and he is arrested. Lisa tells Kate that she is taking Louise and, unable to stop her legally, Kate agrees but Phil cannot forgive Kate for this and the marriage ends. Phil escapes from prison and confronts Den, who gives him money to survive 'on the run'. Phil returns 18 months later, needing more money; he attacks Ian, who calls the police and Phil is arrested. However, the case collapses after Grant pays a witness to change his testimony and Phil is released. Johnny Allen (Billy Murray) angers Phil when he threatens Peggy. Dennis gets involved when Phil tells him that Johnny has threatened Dennis's wife, Sharon. Dennis attacks Johnny for this so Johnny has Dennis murdered, leaving Phil feeling responsible and vowing to make Johnny pay. Phil and Grant confront Johnny, but he escapes and a car chase ensues. The brothers' squabbling allows Johnny to capture them and Johnny orders Danny Moon (Jake Maskall) to kill them. However, Jake (Joel Beckett) kills Danny and Johnny surrenders.
In 2006, following the death of Kathy and her husband, Gavin Sullivan, Ben returns to England and moves in with his half-brother, Ian. Phil and Ben spend time together and they slowly bond, eventually leading to Ben moving in with Phil. Phil starts dating Stella Crawford (Sophie Thompson), but she mentally and physically abuses Ben, manipulating him into persuading Phil to propose to her. Ben reveals the abuse during the wedding ceremony, and Stella flees to an abandoned warehouse with Phil in pursuit, where she kills herself by jumping from the roof.
Phil proposes to his girlfriend Suzy Branning (Maggie O'Neill) when she falsely claims that she is pregnant. Phil does not believe his friend, Shirley Carter (Linda Henry), when she tells him that Suzy is conning him; he stays with Suzy until he discovers she has schemed with his malevolent uncle, Archie Mitchell (Larry Lamb). Although troubled by lapses in alcoholism due to numerous family upsets, Phil begins to settle into a relationship with Shirley, who becomes a mother figure for Ben and Louise, who is staying with Phil while Lisa is away. Phil is parted from both his children in 2010: Ben is sent to a juvenile offenders' unit for attacking Jordan Johnson (Michael-Joel David Stuart) and Louise returns to her mother, and then disappears after Lisa promises Phil can have contact at any time. Depressed, Phil starts a sexual relationship with drug addict Rainie Cross (Tanya Franks) and starts using crack cocaine, developing an addiction. Peggy locks him inside her home so he cannot have access to drugs, but, suffering withdrawal symptoms, he escapes and confronts Peggy, setting the pub on fire. Within minutes, the pub is ablaze and the roof collapses on Phil. He is rescued and Peggy leaves the next day, realising he is better off without her.
Shirley supports Phil through recovery. They steal a large amount of money from Phil's cousin, Roxy Mitchell (Rita Simons), to buy a house together. Roxy's mother, Glenda Mitchell (Glynis Barber) finds out, and propositions Phil so they begin an affair. When Phil discovers Glenda has also had sex with his enemy, Ian Beale, he threatens to tell Ian's wife, Jane Beale (Laurie Brett), unless he pays him £5000. Phil's bullying of Ian almost costs him his life: when Ian finds Phil having a heart attack, he threatens to let him die but helps Phil for Ben's sake. Phil re-evaluates his life following his near-death experience and proposes to Shirley. Shirley initially accepts, but when she discovers Phil's infidelity with Glenda, she forgives him but refuses to marry.
Phil reacts badly when he discovers Ben (now Joshua Pascoe) is gay, and makes it clear that he prefers Billy's (Perry Fenwick) foster son, Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick). Jay likes spending time with Phil and changes his surname to Mitchell, becoming Phil's surrogate son. Ben secretly enacts revenge on Phil for this rejection, terrorising him with letters, implying he has evidence to incriminate Phil for past misdemeanours. Among other deeds, Ben sends Denise Fox (Diane Parish) evidence that Phil supplied the cut and shut car responsible for her husband, Kevin Wicks's (Phil Daniels), death in 2008. Denise's attempts to get Phil imprisoned fail; however, DCI Jill Marsden (Sophie Stanton), who has had a vendetta against Phil for many years, investigates the allegations and Ben tells her that Phil forced Stella to jump from the roof in 2007. Phil is held on remand in prison on suspicion of Stella's murder and Ben delights in the distress he causes his father. Ian, however, is horrified by Ben's behaviour, and tells the police that Ben is lying; however, Ben thinks Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison), Shirley's best friend, is responsible. Fearful and angry, Ben retaliates by murdering Heather just as Phil returns to confront him. Blaming himself for Ben's actions, Phil and Jay make the murder look like a burglary and spurns a grieving Shirley, allows his neighbours and family to become murder suspects, and bullies Ian into keeping quiet after Ben confesses to him. During her charity abseil on top of The Queen Victoria, Shirley proposes to Phil and he accepts. At their engagement party, Sharon Watts returns, begging for help, as she has left her fiancé John Hewland (Jesse Birdsall) at the altar and he has her son, Dennis Rickman Jr (Harry Hickles). Phil helps her to rescue Dennis and they return with Phil to Walford. When Phil gets home, he finds that Shirley knows the truth about Heather's death. After a furious confrontation, he tries to convince her not to tell the police but Ben confesses to the police and is charged with Heather's murder. Jay is charged with perverting the course of justice and Phil orders him to change his statement so Ben will not go to prison, but Jay refuses and Phil disowns him but does manage to convince his cousin, Roxy, to lie in her statement. His solicitor, Ritchie Scott (Sian Webber), tells him that Ben could face a minimum of 10 years in prison. Shirley ends her relationship with Phil as she is unable to cope with his betrayal. Phil visits Ben in prison with Ian in the hope of persuading Ben to retract his confession but Ben refuses, insisting that he is doing the right thing as he needs to be punished. Ben refuses to have any contact with his family until his release.
After Ben's departure, Phil bonds with Sharon's son, Dennis Rickman (Harry Hickles). When Billy's great-granddaughter, Lexi Pearce, is taken into care, Lexi's mother Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold) tells Phil that Ben is Lexi's father and Phil is her grandfather. Lola agrees for Phil to have residence of Lexi and he suggests to Sharon that they pretend to be in a relationship to increase the chances of success, even though she is in a relationship with Jack Branning (Scott Maslen). They tell social workers that they are engaged but Shirley threatens to tell the truth, so Phil tells them the engagement is over. Phil is appointed Lexi's foster carer and ordered to arrange for Lola to visit Lexi three times a week but he immediately takes over, angering Lola by calling Lexi his baby, refusing to take presents that Lola buys for her and having her christened with the name Mitchell instead of Pearce. Phil and Jack become rivals when Phil tells Jack that he will be with Sharon by the end of the year, and Phil even proposes to Sharon, though she accepts Jack's proposal of marriage instead. When Phil offers Sharon an increase of her salary, and a 19% stake in club, Jack is not pleased and punches Phil, who falls into the vehicle pit in the garage. Jack thinks he has killed Phil, but Phil later arrives at the pub and announces Jack's guilt. Jack is arrested but Phil does not press charges after Sharon convinces him for her and Lexi's sake. At the court hearing to determine Lexi's future, Phil exposes Lola's lateness and temper during her scheduled meetings with Lexi, sabotaging her chances of winning Lexi back. He later tells Billy that Lola will never get Lexi back, which Lola overhears. She snatches Lexi from his house. Lola evades Phil, Billy and Sharon, until eventually they find her. Phil tells Social Services it is his fault for being too relaxed with Lola, but then allows Lola to look after Lexi while he goes out. When Lexi is unwell, Phil praises Lola's actions, and decides to tell Social Services that Lola may be ready to have Lexi back.
Phil and Sharon reunite after her relationship with Jack ends. However, it ends when Sharon's painkiller addiction puts Lexi in danger. Lola regains full custody of Lexi, leaving Phil feeling lonely. When Shirley's benefits are cut and she is forced to move out of the B&B, Phil secretly pays her rent. Shirley finds out and believes he is doing it so she will stay quiet about his involvement in Heather's death. Shirley demands money from Phil, which he does not have, forcing him to accept a deal from newcomer Carl White (Daniel Coonan). Carl wants to depose Phil as the top man in Albert Square, so as they drive off to a deal Carl says he has arranged, Carl deliberately crashes the car after releasing Phil's seatbelt, causing Phil to be thrown through the windscreen. He is airlifted to hospital and requires an operation. While he is recovering, he puts his cousin Ronnie Mitchell (Samantha Womack) in charge of his businesses. Carl tries to intimidate her and use the garage for illegal purposes. Shirley confronts Carl about his actions, and she mysteriously disappears after this, though her friends believe she has gone to Greece as she had planned. Once recovered, Phil learns that Carl is framing Max Branning (Jake Wood) for causing the car crash, and is using Ian as a false witness. Phil kidnaps Ian on the day of Max's trial so he cannot testify, and then kidnaps Carl once Max is acquitted. Phil prepares to kill Carl, but Carl implies that he caused harm to Shirley. He takes Phil to a block of run-down flats where Shirley is staying with her sister Tina Carter (Luisa Bradshaw-White). It is revealed that Carl threatened Shirley to stay away from Walford or he would harm Phil's family. Carl leaves, and Phil pleads with Shirley to return to Walford. They return together, then Phil confronts Carl. Carl declares that he has contacts inside prison who can harm Ben if Phil does anything to him.
Phil decides to sell The Queen Victoria in revenge for manager Alfie Moon's (Shane Richie) bad treatment of Roxy. He sells it to Mick Carter (Danny Dyer), not realising that that Mick is Shirley's brother. Lola reveals that she is in a relationship with Ian's son Peter Beale (Ben Hardy), and tells Phil that he cannot see Lexi if he objects. Phil threatens Ian, forcing him to object to the relationship instead. Phil repairs his fractured relationship with Sharon and they have sex, and she agrees to a romantic relationship.
In late 1989 EastEnders acquired a new executive producer, Michael Ferguson, who took over from Mike Gibbon. Ferguson had previously been a producer on ITV's The Bill which seemed to be challenging EastEnders in providing a realistic vision of modern life in London. Due to his success on The Bill, Peter Cregeen, the Head of Series at the BBC, poached Ferguson to become executive producer of EastEnders.
For the roles of Phil and Grant Mitchell many actors were screen-tested together. This was done to assure the chosen actors – who would work together – had a strong rapport and physical resemblance. Producer Corinne Hollingworth commented: "There were some good actors we had to turn down because we couldn't find the 'right' brother." Steve McFadden, an actor who had worked extensively in television, was cast as Phil. His shape, skills in stage fighting and a variety of sports including boxing, football and karate made him an ideal choice to play one of Walford's latest "tough-men." Ross Kemp got the role of Grant. Both actors worked well together and shared similar physical characteristics, such as short cropped hair and a "round, open face" – facial characteristics also shared by Danniella Westbrook, who was chosen to play their sister Samantha because of this.
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Of the two brothers Phil was initially calmer, but both had a sense of physical danger about them, displayed stereotypical masculinity, thuggish behaviour and a tendency to resolve problems through violence. Phil was originally depicted as the thinker and the most streetwise of the pair, often bailing his more spontaneous brother out of trouble, although later plotlines drove the character down a darker, more destructive route. Phil can be violent, but unlike Grant, he occasionally showed restraint when dealing with various enemies encountered – exacting revenge over time, using mind games or getting others to do his dirty work.
Phil has occasionally shown sadistic traits. His bullying of Ian Beale is often done as a means of deriving pleasure. Equally the ceaseless degradation of Lisa showed a particularly malicious side to the character. While Phil has shown compassion to the women in his life, he frequently finds he is unable to give them the emotional security needed to sustain the relationship. Several women have left him due to this and his inability to put their needs before the needs of his family.
Character development and impact
The Mitchell brothers quickly became two of the soap's most popular characters and storylines involving them began to dominate the programme. Their arrival heralded a new era for the soap, which aptly coincided with the beginning of a new decade – EastEnders during the 1980s having been very much dominated by the hugely popular Watts family.
One of the most notable and popular early storylines involving Phil was a love triangle between him, his brother and his brother's wife Sharon (played by Letitia Dean). Despite the fact that Sharon was married to Grant, EastEnders writer Tony Jordan revealed in The Mitchells – The Full Story that the love-triangle storyline had been planned since Phil and Grant's introduction, after the writers decided Sharon was perfect for them both. This storyline was slow burning and spread over several years, providing a plethora of dramatic tension along the way. The episode in which Phil betrayed his brother with Sharon occurred in September 1992 in one of the soap's notorious three-handers. Things finally came to a head in 1994 with some of EastEnders most popular and renowned episodes, which were dubbed "Sharongate" – centred around Grant's discovery of the affair and his reaction. The repercussions of Phil's betrayal contributed to many subsequent storylines involving the Mitchell brothers during the 1990s. Sharongate has also proven a popular storyline with viewers and it was voted the sixth top soap opera moment of the decade in a poll of 17,000 people for What's On TV magazine.
Among the many issues Phil has been used to cover is alcoholism and the consequences the condition has upon the sufferer's life. The relationship between alcohol abuse and domestic violence was explored between Phil and his wife Kathy (played by Gillian Taylforth) culminating in the slow deterioration of their marriage, which gripped viewers throughout 1997. Of particular note is an episode where Phil attends Alcoholics Anonymous (February 1997), an "alien and uncomfortable arena" where he was forced to talk about his condition, expose his vulnerability and reveal the basis of his problem – the physical abuse he'd received from his father and his fear that he will do the same. Writer Jacquetta May, who once played Rachel Kominski in the show, evaluated the episode in an article about social realism, education and the moral messages within EastEnders storylines, commenting: "The episode blames his destructiveness on the 'male' response to self-hate: violence. It says that unless problems are worked through (the female method), they will be repeated generation after generation". This particular episode has also been used in a study by the Stirling Media Research Institute, where men were asked questions about the violence contained within a spectrum of broadcast television material. 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".
The Mitchell car crash
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Phil's disposition altered during the early 2000s when a darker more menacing side to his personality began to surface. This change was perhaps a consequence of Grant's departure, who up until this point had always been depicted as the more selfish, thuggish and nastier of the two. The storyline signifying the departure of Ross Kemp played heavily on the Mitchell brothers' fragile and damaged relationship. After discovering that Grant had vengefully slept with Kathy, Phil went ballistic with a handgun causing the hijacked Vauxhall Astra they were driving to career at high speed into the River Thames, in an episode that was watched by 19.5 million viewers. Shot in London's Docklands, the scenes required stunt doubles, divers and crash test dummies and it has been hailed as "one of the soap's most dramatic storylines ever."
Who Shot Phil?
Phil's behaviour earned him a number of sworn enemies in Albert Square and by 2001 the character had become one of the soap's nastiest villains. In an interview with The Guardian McFadden commented on his alter ego's descent into villainy "Phil's been had over by a lot of people, so now he feels like he can do it back. It's his history". However the character finally received his comeuppance in one of EastEnders most highly anticipated storylines, dubbed "Who Shot Phil?". Phil was gunned down outside his home in March 2001 in a "Dallas-style" whodunnit mystery. Various key characters were in the frame for the deed and viewers were left guessing for weeks as to which of them was the real culprit. Several outcomes were allegedly filmed and it was reported that only a few TV executives knew the identity of the would-be assassin – even the actors were kept in the dark. A spokesman commented "The cast are only getting their own scripts. They are not being told anyone else's storylines. Not even Phil knows who shot him. It's top secret." Script writers were reportedly given private security after a writer's laptop was stolen in what was believed to be an attempt to gain the identity of the assailant. The storyline captivated the public's imagination leading to thousands of bets being placed at the bookies across the UK – bookmaker William Hill said there was about 50,000 bets on who was responsible.
An estimated 22 million viewers watched EastEnders on 5 April 2001 to find out that Lisa Shaw – Phil's ex-girlfriend – was the culprit. The episode caused the third-largest power surge on record, and the Liverpool and Barcelona UEFA Cup semi-final was postponed for 10 minutes to accommodate a special 40-minute edition of the soap.
Temporary exit (2003)
In February 2003, it was confirmed that Steve McFadden would be taking a year hiatus. McFadden said: "I’m going to stick my mechanic’s overalls in a locker while I take a look at a few other projects. EastEnders will always be No1 in my heart and I look forward to returning to Albert Square." Executive producer Louise Berridge went on to say that she was "looking forward to Steve returning in 2004". In July 2004, it was announced that McFadden had delayed his return. In February 2005, it was confirmed that McFadden would return. His return scenes aired in September 2005.
In June 2010, it was reported that Phil would develop an addiction to crack cocaine after his troubled personal life leads to depression. The report followed the news that Lucy Benjamin was to return for a single episode, reprising her role as Lisa, the mother of Phil's daughter Louise (Brittany Papple). In the storyline, Phil gains custody of Louise after she is dropped off in Walford by an unseen person, however, Peggy eventually returns Louise to Lisa after Phil punches his mother in the face. A spokesperson for the show said "Lisa Fowler was a major part of Phil's life – she knows him as well as anyone, so she won't be happy about him looking after his daughter. With their history, you know that this storyline is going to be an explosive episode in the Mitchells' history." Phil also loses his son Ben (Charlie Jones), who makes a temporary departure from the show in order for the part to be recast. Subsequently, Phil becomes addicted to crack cocaine. Producers worked closely with drug and alcohol charities, including Addaction and DrugScope. Viewers never see Phil take drugs to make sure the episodes are suitable for all audiences. Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, commented: "If EastEnders sensitively reflect the impact that drug use has on Phil, it could help." The storyline also sees Phil become more violent. McFadden explained:
"All he can see is Peggy's betrayed him. She knows how much he fought for custody, for contact and how important it was for him to see his children. He's really angry about it and feels the world is against him. [...] What he's really doing is self-harm which is a common response to anger. People do crazy, mad things like this when they're desperate. It's very ugly and disturbing. [...] He's hit his kids and his mum, so yes, [worse violence is] something he's capable of."
McFadden decided to lose weight for the storyline by going on a crash diet, saying that food would not be one of Phil's priorities.
The character continues to be featured heavily in high-profile storylines which have included various feuds, police enquiries, armed robbery, kidnapping, numerous affairs and relationship problems and an ongoing plot concentrating on the character's struggles to bond with his children. 2005 saw the highly anticipated screen return of both of the Mitchell brothers – six years since they last appeared together. 13 million viewers tuned in to see their return giving the BBC a 52.9% audience share, a massive coup for the show which had come under heavy criticism in the British media after it drew its lowest audience in more than five years (6.6 million viewers tuning in to one episode in September 2005).
The character of Phil is arguably one of the soap's most popular, particularly with female viewers, making him one of the soap's unlikeliest sex symbols. He has featured in some of the show's most memorable and highly viewed storylines and he is the second longest running male character to appear in the soap, surpassed only by Ian Beale. Phil along with Grant was voted as the second most popular King Of Soaps in a Channel 4 poll in 2002.
During a period of heavy media criticism aimed at EastEnders throughout 2004 and 2005, the character—who was on a hiatus from the show—was reintroduced twice in what was branded by the press as a bid to "boost flagging Enders" and "revive the soap's ailing ratings". His first return in April 2005 was generally well-received, with media comments such as "the excellent, bug-eyed Steve McFadden proves nobody does psychotic thug better than him" and "McFadden's blistering performance on Tuesday defies that old cliché of a soap being bigger than its stars". Of the Mitchell brothers' highly publicised return in October 2005, a reporter from the Daily Mirror commented "Soapville must confess that we did get goosebumps and feel properly excited when we first saw the Mitchell Brothers back on the Square...After all, you associate them with the golden days of Enders".
In 2009, Phil Mitchell came second in a poll by British men's magazine Loaded for 'Top Soap Bloke'. In 2011 McFadden was nominated for 'Best Actor' at the British Soap Awards 2011 for playing Phil. as well as be nominated at the Inside Soap Awards for 'Best Actor' in 2011. On Digital Spy's 2012 end of year reader poll, McFadden was nominated for "Best Male Soap Actor" and came fourth with 10.7% of the vote.
Although popular with many, the character has also garnered much criticism over the years. In November 2005 the character was blamed for turning children into playground bullies by Dr. Sally Henry, who claimed that impressionable children look to male soap characters as role models and subsequently copy their violent behaviour. Indeed the character's violent behaviour evoked concern from viewers in October 2002. A scene in which Phil beat his godson Jamie was criticised for being too realistic by TV watchdogs. The Broadcasting Standards Commission upheld 31 complaints from viewers, saying that the scenes were too strong for a programme shown before the 9 pm watershed.
A certain level of criticism was aimed at the character due to the stark personality change he underwent circa 2000. One reporter commented "Formerly the milder-mannered sibling, Phil has gone from Abel to Cain without an intervening period of plausibility. And it doesn't suit him". His violent tendencies have also been spoofed by the television series 2DTV. There were mixed reviews for the highly publicised storyline (dubbed Get Johnny Week) involving the Mitchell brothers reunion in 2006. It was criticised as "patchy" and "awkwardly written...unveiling a common weakness in the EastEnders camp, that character continuity can often fall by the wayside when you are dealing with larger characters". Additionally, the show was criticised for turning the brothers into a comical farce by incorporating uncharacteristic humour into their dialect, which was described as "cringeworthy".
In August 2010, scenes showing Phil and Rainie taking the drug crack cocaine prompted over 200 complaints from viewers who felt the scenes were inappropriate. The BBC responded by saying "EastEnders in no way – and at no point – glamorises or condones the use of drugs, and furthermore we took great care to avoid any demonstration on how to prepare or take drugs. We feel that Phil's decline will highlight the destructive nature of drugs, and rather than encourage drug use, will act as a deterrent." A former cocaine addict, Sarah Graham, agreed with the BBC, saying "I think it's really important that a mainstream character like Phil Mitchell is doing this storyline. [...] I'm not surprised that there have been so many complaints about seeing this on one of our favourite soaps. The episode showed the brutal reality of addiction. [...] I can see that many people will be worried about children watching these scenes. [...] With that in mind, I think they should put the Frank drugs helpline number on after the programme."
A proportion of viewers possibly feel the criticism is justifiable as the character came second in a Channel 4 poll of The Five TV Characters We Most Love To Hate in 2001—beaten only by Mr. Blobby.
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