Sam Mitchell (EastEnders)
Danniella Westbrook as Sam Mitchell (2010)
|Portrayed by||Danniella Westbrook (1990–2000, 2009–10)
Kim Medcalf (2002–05)
|Duration||1990–93, 1995–96, 1999–2000, 2002–05, 2009–10|
|First appearance||12 July 1990|
|Last appearance||21 September 2010|
|Introduced by||Michael Ferguson (1990)
Corinne Hollingworth (1995)
Matthew Robinson (1999)
John Yorke (2002)
Diederick Santer (2009)
Bryan Kirkwood (2010)
Kim Medcalf as Sam Mitchell (2005)
Samantha Margaret Priscilla "Sam" Mitchell (also Butcher and Hunter) is a fictional character from the BBC One soap opera EastEnders. The third member of the Mitchell family to be introduced, Sam enters as a 15-year-old school girl in July 1990, played by Danniella Westbrook. Westbrook quit in 1993, but Sam was reintroduced from 1995–1996 and from 1999–2000. In both her 1996 and 2000 exits, Sam was written out earlier than the producers intended due to off-screen controversies surrounding Westbrook and her cocaine addiction. In 2002, the character was reintroduced for a fourth time, but the role was recast to another actress, Kim Medcalf. Medcalf left the role in 2005. In an interview with Paul O'Grady, Medcalf said she would 'never say never' to a comeback. However, when executive producer Diederick Santer decided to reintroduce the character for brief stints in 2009 and 2010, he opted to bring Westbrook back.
Portrayed as headstrong, flirty and manipulative, early storylines featuring Sam concentrate on her teen elopment to the character Ricky Butcher (Sid Owen). She goes on to feature in storylines about topless modelling, various family crises, relationships, feuds, and a short-lived marriage to Andy Hunter (Michael Higgs). Her exit storyline in 2005 is the culmination of a high-profile storyline that sees the character wrongly imprisoned for Den Watts' (Leslie Grantham) murder. In the on-screen events, Sam is cleared of murder and released, but she flees the country to escape another prison sentence for perverting the course of justice. Her brief return in 2009 sees the character resurrect a relationship with Ricky whilst having an on-off affair with Jack Branning (Scott Maslen), being manipulated by her uncle Archie Mitchell (Larry Lamb) and causing her family to lose a number of their businesses for a second time before finally going to prison. Her final return sees her struggle with motherhood after giving birth to Jack's baby.
- 1 Storylines
- 2 Creation and development
- 3 Reception
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Sam is the youngest child and only daughter of Peggy (Jo Warne/Barbara Windsor) and Eric Mitchell. Eric died when Sam was ten and she was subsequently on the receiving end of her brothers', Phil (Steve McFadden) and Grant's (Ross Kemp), heavy-handed paternalism.
Fifteen-year-old Sam follows her brothers to Walford in July 1990, unhappy at home because she dislikes her mother's boyfriend, Kevin Masters (Colin McCormack). She becomes friends with Hattie Tavernier (Michelle Gayle) and dates Ricky Butcher (Sid Owen). Sam's family disapproves of the relationship, so Ricky and Sam decide to elope to Gretna Green in 1991; they marry despite the Mitchells trying to stop the nuptials. Peggy admits defeat and attends their more formal blessing in Walford a month later.
Sam fails to earn schooling qualifications, but she gains attention because of her looks after winning the title of "Miss Queen Vic" at the local public house; she starts to believe she can have a career modelling, but when she attempts to get a portfolio done by a professional photographer, he persuades her to do a topless shoot and the photos are then published in a pornographic magazine. This causes problems in Ricky and Sam's relationship, which is already under strain as Ricky is unable to provide Sam with the luxurious lifestyle she desires. After just a year of marriage, Sam grows bored and begins lusting after a playboy named Clive, whom she meets at a New Year's Eve party with her friend Mandy Salter (Nicola Stapleton). After having a brief affair, Sam thinks she has fallen in love with Clive, but he makes it clear that he is only interested in sex when he tries to coax her into having a threesome. Realising that her marriage with Ricky is over, Sam leaves her husband and Walford in 1993 to take a job as a holiday rep on a cruise ship.
Sam returns in 1995, after her brothers, on a boys holiday in Spain, catch her in bed with David Wicks (Michael French), and force her to return. Sam had tried to build herself a career as a model, but it had not gone to plan and she had ended up working as a hostess in a bar. Back in Walford Sam tries to continue her fling with David and when this goes nowhere she tries to come between Ricky and his girlfriend, Bianca Jackson (Patsy Palmer). Initially Ricky thinks he still has feelings for Sam, but eventually realises he is better off with Bianca and tries to let Sam down gently. However Sam won't take no for an answer and purposefully kisses an innocent Ricky in front of Bianca, causing them to split. Despite this, Ricky will not reconsider getting back with Sam and opts to try and make amends with Bianca. Sam is forced to admit defeat. Soon after, she meets a Spanish man named Guillermo, who is holidaying in England. When he invites her to join him in Spain she leaps at the chance and leaves Walford again in March 1996.
In 1999, Sam decides that she wants to settle down in Walford once more. During this time she embarks on a stormy relationship with Beppe di Marco (Michael Greco), but she takes things more seriously than he does. After he finishes the relationship, a heartbroken Sam looks for comfort elsewhere. She turns to local club owner Steve Owen (Martin Kemp), but he is only using her to make Melanie Healy (Tamzin Outhwaite) jealous, so a hurt Sam decides to leave Walford once again in 2000.
In 2002, Peggy catches Sam working in a lap-dancing club in Spain. Ashamed and penniless, Sam returns to Walford with her mother. She has numerous flings: Trevor Morgan (Alex Ferns), Danny Moon (Jake Maskall), Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman) and with her former lovers, Ricky, Beppe and Steve. All of whom are using her to varying degrees. When she begins flirting with Den Watts (Leslie Grantham), she is left humiliated after he sacks her from her job at his family's club.
Animosity between the Watts and Mitchell families escalates. Sam is left in charge of the Mitchell empire when her brother, Phil, goes on the run after escaping prison for an armed robbery — for which he has been set up for by Den. Sam persuades her cousin Billy (Perry Fenwick) to torch Phil's snooker club in an insurance scam, an act that results in Den's club burning down and his daughter Vicki (Scarlett Johnson) nearly perishing in the fire. Dennis vows revenge and he is only warned off when gangster Andy Hunter (Michael Higgs) begins a relationship with Sam. Andy marries Sam in September 2004, despite Minty Peterson (Cliff Parisi)'s attempt to stop the event — he has fallen in love with Sam and knows Andy is using her to gain control of the Mitchell assets. Andy fools Sam into signing over control of Phil's house, and she is then conned out of all the Mitchell businesses by family lawyer Marcus Christie (Stephen Churchett) and Den. Marcus tells Sam that Phil wants her to sell everything and give the cash to him. She does so, selling her mother's pub, The Vic, for a vastly reduced price to Den. Marcus is lying, and once he has the Mitchells' money, he flees, leaving Sam with nothing. Andy, realising Sam is no use to him, throws her out of their house, leaving her penniless.
Sam teams up with Zoe Slater (Michelle Ryan) and Den's wife Chrissie (Tracy-Ann Oberman) to get revenge on Den, each humiliated by Den in differing ways. However, the women's confrontation leads to violence: Den attacks Chrissie and Zoe hits him over the head with an iron doorstop in defence. This is thought to have killed him; however, when Zoe and Sam leave the room, Den grabs Chrissie's ankle. She responds by hitting him on the head a second time, killing him. Unbeknown to Chrissie, Sam witnesses this, but Chrissie allows Zoe to believe that her blow killed Den. As Chrissie has possession of The Vic following Den's death, Sam blackmails her, threatening to unveil her as Den's killer unless she gives her the pub. When Sam realises that Chrissie is attempting to sell the pub and leave Walford, she begins drinking heavily; she smashes up Den's grave and digs him up, hoping Chrissie will be arrested. The plan backfires; all evidence points to Sam, who is charged with murder and remanded in custody. Phil and Grant return to Walford to secure her release by proving Chrissie killed Den. Chrissie is arrested on a murder charge, while Sam is released from custody; however, she still faces a charge of perverting the course of justice and faces a prison sentence up to four years. This prospect is too daunting for Sam, and she flees to Brazil while on bail in 2005.
In 2009, Phil sends Ricky to Brazil on an errand where he meets Sam, and she returns to London using a fake passport. She immediately causes a stir by drawing attention to herself and reignites her feud with Bianca. The Mitchells try to keep her hidden, but Bianca, jealous of Ricky's renewed feelings for Sam, calls the police. Sam is arrested while trying to flee but is released on bail when Ronnie Mitchell (Samantha Womack) pays the surety.
Sam and Ricky get engaged, but Sam has an affair with Jack Branning (Scott Maslen). Peggy's estranged husband, Archie Mitchell (Larry Lamb), uses Sam as a pawn in his plan to destroy the Mitchells, persuading her to jump bail again and leave the country to escape a prison sentence so Archie can successfully steal The Queen Victoria from Peggy. Sam opts to stay so Archie tells Bianca about Sam and Jack's affair; she tells Ricky and after a showdown, Ricky ends the engagement. Following this, Sam takes Archie's money and flees, causing the Mitchells to lose the pub. She returns to Walford on Christmas Day, hoping to make amends. On the same day, Archie is murdered and Sam becomes one of the suspects. Phil and Peggy also have motives, and in order to stop the police framing them, they decide Sam should take the blame and leave the country. Sam overhears their plan and furious, turns herself in, implicating Peggy in Archie's murder for revenge. Sam is arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison. When Peggy attempts to visit, Sam is hostile, rejecting her mother and disowning the Mitchell name.
Later in 2010, Peggy visits Sam in prison and discovers she is pregnant. Sam does not know if Ricky or Jack is the father and she refuses to reconcile with Peggy; however when she is hospitalised and goes into labour, she reconsiders, requesting Peggy's help. Sam gives birth to a boy, Richard, but announces she is giving him up for adoption. She only reconsiders as a means to reconcile with Ricky; she returns to Walford having completed her prison sentence, but struggles as a parent and relies heavily on Peggy and Minty. Ricky and Jack pester Sam to a get a paternity test, which she eventually does. She lies, claiming Ricky is the father, however Bianca discovers the truth and Sam confesses that she has lied because Ronnie, Jack's girlfriend, asked her to. Ronnie does not want Sam or her baby near Jack. She manipulates Sam into leaving and pays her money to do so. Sam leaves but, fearful of bringing up her baby alone, she seduces Minty, who still loves her, suggesting he goes with her. Minty momentarily accepts, but then realises Sam is merely using him and turns her down. Sam departs alone, moving to Portugal to live with Grant.
Creation and development
The character Sam Mitchell was introduced in July 1990 by EastEnders' executive producer Michael Ferguson as the young sister of the Mitchell brothers, Phil (Steve McFadden) and Grant (Ross Kemp). Sam was one of several characters introduced by the producer in the summer of 1990. Others included Eddie Royle (Michael Melia), and three generations of the Tavernier family.
As the casting team had successfully cast the actors who were playing Sam's brothers, they already knew what facial attributes they needed for Sam to create a similar family resemblance. Producer Corinne Hollingworth has commented, "we'd decided on Steve [McFadden] and Ross [Kemp] and we knew the sort of round, open face we needed. We saw Danniella (Westbrook) first and liked her, then saw some others, but came back to her." The actress, a graduate of the Sylvia Young Theatre School, had already appeared in the soap aged 11, as an extra who rollerskated across the soap's fictional setting of Albert Square in front of the characters Den and Angie Watts. At the time, Westbrook's local paper ran a story on her with the punchline, "who knows, one day she might be the show's star". Eighty girls auditioned for the part of Sam, but these eighty were eventually whittled down to four. On her final casting callback, Westbrook bumped into actors Michelle Gayle and Sid Owen, who were already on the EastEnders cast as Hattie Tavernier and Ricky Butcher respectively. Westbrook already knew Gayle, whose character was to be Sam's screen best friend, and she introduced her to Owen, whose character was scripted to be Sam's boyfriend. According to Westbrook, she liked Owen right from the start and was amused by his response of "You're a bit of allright. You can be Sam!". On Westbrook's last audition, she and the other hopefuls were forced to stand for a lengthy period in front of a panel of the show's producers, directors and writers while they continuously compared images of the auditionees to images of Kemp and McFadden, looking for a resemblance. Westbrook was given the part. She has commented, "they told me they were looking for someone bright and bubbly, who could be the sister of Phil and Grant, and my round face fitted." In the character's first scene, Sam walked past Ricky Butcher and gave him a "flirty backward glance", causing him to walk into a lamp-post. Westbrook was initially given a three-month contract with the soap, but half way through her contract the producers extended it as they felt "the character of Sam had gelled well with the others and they wanted to include her in more storylines".
Westbrook has said that the cast and crew became like a second family to her, with the roles in the soap mirroring their relationships off-screen. In her autobiography she comments, "Sid [Owen] and I became very close [...] we were as thick as thieves. When we weren't shooting together we'd hang out [...] Once Sid and I got so bored hanging around on set that we decided to take the milk float for a spin around Albert Square, but Sid drove it too fast and turned it over [...] we couldn't stop laughing, but the producers didn't seem to share our amusement. We were seriously told off that day." She has described other actors like Michelle Gayle, Letitia Dean, Adam Woodyatt and Nick Berry like brothers and sisters, and has said she was very close to older cast members such as June Brown, Wendy Richard, Mike Reid and Gillian Taylforth. She has also revealed that her off-screen relationship with actors McFadden and Kemp mirrored her character's on-screen one: "In the soap they were my older brothers, always looking out for me, making sure I didn't get into trouble, and off set they were exactly the same."
Personality and characterisation
The character has been described by Hilary Kingsley, author the EastEnders Handbook, as a "tease [...] a pretty girl who thinks she can get anything she wants, thanks to her own brand of sexy wheedling." She adds that Sam is "a lot sharper than her brothers [...] and contrives to do just what she wants in the face of their attempts to stand in for their dead father [...] Sam loves excitement and doesn't frighten easily. She's a user, able to get almost anyone to do what she wants." Kate Lock, author of EastEnders Who's Who, has described Sam as "Headstrong, streetwise and pretty [...] a chip off the old Mitchell block, though her methods of manipulation are marginally more subtle than [her brothers]. One bat of a sooty eyelash is enough to charm most men into submission and she can wind doting mum Peggy round her little finger [...] [when] she returned to the Square [in 1999], Sam had lost her kittenish cuteness and hardened up, becoming more EastEnd moll than Barbie doll."
Describing the character in 2002, actress Kim Medcalf said, "She’s always looking for something to brighten up her day — to either play a trick on someone, or flirt with them, or just to cause a bit of mischief. Sam’s a colourful and fun character as she’s had such a past." She added in 2003, "She wears her heart on her sleeve. She so wants to settle down that she doesn't select men well. She goes for people too quickly. She likes the danger aspect — the thrill of the chase. She loves guys with a dangerous edge [...] She's had a tough upbringing. She didn't know her dad and her older brothers bossed her around. She needed to find herself and has done it by being independent and going away. She's headstrong and has a definite independent streak." She has added that Sam has a problem with women, as she "finds it quite hard to relate".
When Westbrook regained the role in 2009, she compared the differences between how she plays the character and how Medcalf played the character: "When Kim was playing Sam she was quite hard, but [the Sam who returns in 2009] is more the Sam I've always played. She's bright, colourful, flirtatious - and trouble. The only difference is she's more tanned, more blonde and more wrinkled!".
1990–2000: Off-screen controversies
1990–1993: Teen elopement
During her first stint in the soap, the character was involved in various high-profile storylines surrounding her teen elopement to Ricky Butcher (Sid Owen). Westbrook has said that within days of her first appearance, the interest in the character was "phenomenal": "The public couldn't get enough of the simmering relationship between Ricky and Sam and the show was inundated with calls from the press [...] [Sam and Ricky] were involved in a plotline about under-age sex, so the press swooped in on that."
To the anger of her family, Sam persuaded Ricky to elope to Gretna Green in July 1991. The week's worth of episodes focusing on their marriage were filmed on-location and have been described by former EastEnders scriptwriter, Colin Brake, as a "farce-like chase round the country". Written by Debbie Cook, the storyline saw Ricky and Sam's families, including Sam's mother Peggy (Jo Warne; introduced specifically for this plotline) attempting to stop the couple getting married. The storyline climaxed in a registry office wedding, but despite the Scottish setting, the recording of the episodes took place in Hertfordshire. Later in the month, Sam and Ricky had a more official "grand church blessing" with their families in attendance. The Butchers' blessing was screened in the same episode as the funeral of another character, Charlie Cotton.
The marriage was portrayed as problematic, fraught with interference from their families, lack of money, and Ricky's jealousy of Sam's partying and modelling career, including a topless photo shoot. The serial made use of Sam's appearance in various storylines, including a "Miss Queen Vic" public house competition in an episode that aired in April 1992 — despite the Mitchell brothers attempts' to fix the competition, the honest winner was Sam. Written by Tony Jordan, Colin Brake describes it as one of 1992's most memorable episodes. However, off-screen Westbrook was battling with various problems in her personal life (including a highly publicised drug addiction), and in 1993 she left the soap, although she maintains that her addiction did not affect her work at this time.
On-screen, Sam's marriage to Ricky ended following an affair with a yuppie named Clive (Sean Gallagher), and she took a job on a cruise ship. Commenting on her initial departure, Westbrook has said, "My contract was up for renewal and I thought it was time for me to move on [...] As much as I enjoyed being in EastEnders [...] I was also well aware of the fact that I was in danger of being type-cast forever if I carried on playing Sam. The producers didn't have a problem with me leaving. It was felt that my character had done as much as she could in the space of three years, anyway. During that time Sam had, after all, been involved in a story about under-age sex, run off to Gretna Green to marry Ricky, been evicted from her home, become a squatter, tried her luck as a topless model, fought on a regular basis with Grant and Phil, and gone through a marriage break-up. I think we all agreed that the poor girl was in need of a break [...] In January 1993 I filmed my final scenes and Sam Mitchell, in true EastEnders style, waved goodbye to Albert Square from the back of a London taxi cab [...] Although the producers agreed that it was the right time for my character to move on, they wanted to keep the door open for her to return at a later date, as they knew how popular the Mitchell family were with viewers. I was really pleased that they decided not to kill the character off".
1995–1996: Reintroduction and axing
In 1995, following a spell in a drug rehab clinic, which first alerted the public to her drug problem, Westbrook was reintroduced into EastEnders by executive producer Corinne Hollingworth. She has commented, "the call from the producers couldn't have come at a more opportune moment for me. The soap was suffering from poor ratings and so they decided, as they normally do, to bring some familiar faces back onto the Square. The producers were aware of my addiction by now [...] but they had also read that I was now clean [...] once I assured them that I was well [...] they invited me back for another year." The character's "dramatic" return to EastEnders began when her screen brothers traced Sam to Spain and she ended up in bed with "bad boy" David Wicks (Michael French). Several cast changes had occurred since Westbrook had last been in the soap, including a recast of her screen mother Peggy, who was now played by Barbara Windsor. As well as her former friends, Westbrook has revealed that she became particularly close to Windsor, who she says "instantly took me under her wing", and Martine McCutcheon, who played Tiffany Raymond.
Though Westbrook initially enjoyed her time back at the soap, she was unable to keep her working life and private life separate. Off-screen, her partying and drug-use (both in and out of work) began to affect her performance. Her cast mates attempted to curtail the problem. Actors such as Wendy Richard and Mike Reid requested that Westbrook's dressing room be situated near theirs and away from the younger cast, because they could see she was "vulnerable". They attempted to talk to her about her drug problem, but Westbrook ignored their concerns and continued using. She has revealed that she became so affected by cocaine that she would continuously mess up her lines, had to do take after take, was constantly late and needed prompts, and spontaneously fell asleep, once even passing out while she stood at the top of the Queen Vic stairs during filming, and was only saved from harming herself by Ross Kemp who caught her in his arms. She has commented, "When I watch re-runs of those scenes now I can't believe how out of it I look." Many of the newer, younger cast members began to shun her, laughing at her and throwing peanuts at her during filming every time she attempted to deliver her lines. Eventually, the producers tired of Westbrook. She has revealed: "the producers now had serious doubts about my future on the soap. I was proving to be a liability. My behaviour was interfering with the schedule. It was interfering with other cast members' work. There were days when I just didn't bother showing up for work at all. The dilemma they faced was what to do with me. They had only just written [Sam] back into the soap; now, within months, they were having to write her out of it all over again. They felt bad about getting rid of me, too. I could tell they felt responsible for me but of course ultimately there wasn't much they could do to help [...] Within a couple of weeks I was called into a meeting and told very politely that they were going to let me go early and terminate my contract. They would, they explained, gradually write my character out of the scripts again, which would take a couple of months to do."
In February 1996, Westbrook's axing was reported in the press. According to press reports, producers had tired of her off-screen antics and were angered that she had appeared on the Channel 4 chat show, The Girlie Show, and had given away the outcome of a storyline she was involved with, a love-triangle between Sam, Ricky and his new girlfriend Bianca Jackson (Patsy Palmer). The character departed for Spain in March 1996 after falling for a Spanish tourist. Westbrook has since commented, "The producers were very nice about it all. Rather than killing [Sam] off they sent her to Spain, once again leaving the door open for her to return [...] There was no official line as to why I was leaving, and when the announcement was made [...] they were kind enough to let me say in interviews that I was going because I wanted 'a change of direction'. 'Hopefully, one day I'll return to the show', I told journalists".
1999–2000: Second reintroduction and axing
In November 1998, Westbrook revealed to Hello! magazine that she was "desperate" to return to EastEnders, because she was in need of the money. According to Westbrook, actors Mike Reid and Barbara Windsor who both appeared as Frank and Peggy Butcher were keen to have her back on the cast too. Her plea came at a time when executive producer Matthew Robinson had already considered bringing Sam back, but because of Westbrook's past problems, he wanted to recast the role to another actress. However, the BBC's "Controller of Continuing Drama Series", Mal Young, thought they were judging Westbrook unfairly, believing a lot of the stories printed about her in the tabloid press. On his say so, Westbrook was offered another contract to reprise the role of Sam. In May 1999, Westbrook said, "It's my dream come true. Sam is a great character and I'm thrilled to be given another chance to play her. The storyline is excellent and I think it's safe to say there'll be a few family fireworks once I'm back in town." Executive producer Matthew Robinson said, "We are delighted to be welcoming back the popular character of Sam Butcher to the Square for storylines that are certain to intrigue our viewers."
The character made her return on-screen in the summer of 1999 and was involved in the storyline relating to actor Ross Kemp's departure, and romances with her brothers' enemies Beppe di Marco (Michael Greco) and Steve Owen (Martin Kemp). Despite Westbrook's claims that her close friend Mike Reid had backed her decision to return, he and other EastEnders actors later publicly denounced the BBC's decision in a documentary about Westbrook, as they had first hand experience of Westbrook's addiction on set and were concerned for her welfare. It was reported that Westbrook underwent constant drug tests to keep her job, but at this time, her excessive use of cocaine had completely eroded away her nasal septum. In order to hide this from the audience, she was only filmed in ways that would keep her septum hidden from view. However, Westbrook's drug-use continued, and following more press speculation about her private life, the BBC announced in January 2000 that she was being axed from the soap once again. A BBC spokesman said: "Danniella Westbrook's contract has not been renewed. Her character Sam Mitchell will move to north London, leaving the door open for her to return in the future." Westbrook added: "I will always love working on EastEnders, especially with the cast. Sam's departure to north London gives me the chance to explore more opportunities." Speaking to London's radio station Capital 95.8, Westbrook denied she had been sacked, saying she decided to leave because she was getting married and she wanted to spend time with her husband. She added, "I'll maybe go back to EastEnders in six months, so it's an amicable split."
Westbrook did not return and made her final appearance as Sam on 24 January 2000. She has since confessed that her drug taking was the reason why she was written out. In her autobiography she comments, "I wasn't fired this time, but let's just say when they gave me the opportunity to walk I took it. I was no longer interested in acting and that had become blatantly obvious to everyone on set. The soap was now being shown four times a week and it was impossible to balance the workload with my addiction [...] Not only had [cocaine] destroyed my nose, but it was about to destroy my career again as well [...] The producers were tiring of my behaviour [...] When I did leave the production at the end of 1999 it was in fact a fairly mutual decision. I admit that had I begged the producers to let me stay this time I doubt if they would have allowed me to. But I was happy to go [...] Looking back to that point now it fills me with shame that I could have behaved in that way and let down so many people". Following her axing, Westbrook's eroded nasal septum was revealed to the public by the press, after she was photographed at the 2000 British Soap Awards.
In 2001, executive producer John Yorke decided to reintroduce the character once again. The decision was made to recast the role to another actress, Kim Medcalf, as Danniella Westbrook was still overcoming her drug problems at this time. During the audition process, EastEnders have said that they had to keep the part they were casting for "top secret", meaning auditionees were not told about the part they were auditioning for until their actual interview. In the documentary, EastEnders Revealed - A Year In The Life Of Sam Mitchell, Medcalf has explained the audition process: "They kind of sat me down and said 'actually we haven't been 100% truthful here, this [audition] is not for...a new character at all, it's for the part of Sam Mitchell. Do you know who she is?' and I said, 'yes of course I do!' [...] Because my attitude was so laid back, it helped me a lot." Producer Paul Annett has revealed: "I saw Kim Medcalf along with two other actresses that had been short-listed, and I think almost immediately I knew that she was the right one." Medcalf was an inexperienced actress, and her casting has been described as a "big risk" because of this. Annett has commented, "she'd done...no television, secondly, she was coming into an immensely popular and beloved show, and the third thing was that she was taking over a role played by Danniella Westbrook...for [a decade]." Medcalf revealed that she had reservations about taking on a role that was associated with another actress: "I said 'that's going to be hard' [...] but they said 'we think we can do it, we're going to write it in quite cleverly, and part of it will be that we meet Sam away from Walford'." She added, "It was scary finding out I'd be taking over someone else's character because you wonder whether the public will accept it. I loved the show so I just decided to go for it". Commenting on Medcalf's casting, Sam's original actress Danniella Westbrook said, "I wish her all the luck in the world. It's a great part and I'm sure she'll be great."
Medcalf has revealed to the Walford Gazette how she prepared for the role: "I actually watched the show a bit when Danniella had been on so I had a distinct memory of her to work with. What I basically did was to read a prepared, detailed biography of the character which was provided by the production office. I did sit down to watch a five-minute clip of Danniella but I quickly realised I didn't want to carry on watching because I was afraid of falling into doing an imitation of her, d'ye know what I mean? I'll tell you something weird-when I first started getting the scripts I used to hear the lines first in my head with HER voice saying them! But that changed over time, thank God, as I hopefully made the character my own and I gave her my voice." Medcalf added that contrastingly to Westbrook, who played Sam as a young girl who was overprotected by her brothers and sheltered, she played Sam as a young woman "trying to find her place both in a career and in relationships with the opposite sex."
The character was reintroduced in January 2002 in a set of episodes filmed on-location in Spain. In the storyline, Sam's mother Peggy (Barbara Windsor) had flown to Spain for the supposed funeral of her former husband and Sam's former father-in-law, Frank Butcher. Here she found Sam, who was working as a table dancer in a nightclub; Peggy brought Sam back to Walford. Annett has praised Medcalf's introduction, saying she was confident and that Barbara Windsor found her impressive.
2002–2005: Men and business
Sam's return to Walford saw her reignite an affair with her former, now married lover Steve Owen (Martin Kemp), who was embroiled in a feud with her brother Phil. Medcalf has revealed that she was extremely nervous when she was informed that she would have to enact love scenes with Kemp, who aside from his part in EastEnders, was renowned to viewers as a member of the 1980s pop band Spandau Ballet. Speaking about the characters' affair, Medcalf has said, "Steve Owen basically made a play for her because he was using her to get back at Phil. He knew that Phil would hate it [as] they were rivals. But then, in her defence, he was a charmer, and he managed to keep it all from his wife. He just played the game very well." The relationship ended in "tragedy" when Steve, in an attempt to kidnap Phil's daughter Louise, was killed in a road accident. Medcalf has suggested that Sam was "devastated" by Steve's death: "She fell for [his game] hook, line and sinker. She really believed that he was going to be the man." She subsequently moved on to her former lover Beppe di Marco, but according to Medcalf, that relationship finished because Beppe "thought [Sam] was a bit full on [...] she was so desperate for a relationship that I think it just scared [Beppe]." Another fling followed with abusive Trevor Morgan, played by Alex Ferns. According to Ferns, the relationship started because Trevor wanted to make his wife, Little Mo (Kacey Ainsworth) jealous. In the storyline, the romance ended when Trevor's true aggressive self emerged.
In 2004, the character was romantically paired with gangster Andy Hunter, played by Michael Higgs. In the storyline, Sam had been left in charge of the various Mitchell business and properties, and Andy, sensing an opportunity to gain control of these assets, proposed to Sam. According to Medcalf, Sam needed the marriage because she was "vulnerable". She added, "Andy is tough and she craves someone to look after her. I can see why she'd go for him; he's a good-looking guy, he's got money, he wears good clothes - he ticks every box." 11 million viewers watched Sam marry Andy in September 2004. According to Medcalf, "She knows that he's not desperately in love with her, but she thinks that it's enough. She's desperately in love with him. She's entering it very positively [...] Sam's not the brightest person, so she falls for his manipulations [...] I think she just wants to get the ring on her finger and then they can try to iron out any problems. She's a little naive." The marriage lasted mere months on-screen; when Sam was conned into giving away all her family's properties, including her mother's public house (pub), The Queen Vic, Andy threw her out of their house.
Sam's reaction to the loss of her mother's pub was part of a high-profile storyline marking the 20th anniversary of EastEnders, the murder of Den Watts. In the storyline, Den Watts had been responsible for Sam losing the pub, and so Sam teamed up with Den's scorned wife, Chrissie Watts, and Zoe Slater, who had also been scorned by Den. The trio, who were dubbed the three witches of Walford - a comparison to the Three Witches from the Shakespeare play Macbeth - plotted Den's downfall, resulting in a deadly confrontation in the Vic, and Den being bludgeoned to death by Chrissie. The three women buried Den's body in the Vic cellar and Sam proceeded to blackmail Chrissie and was then framed for Den's murder by Chrissie. The culmination of the plot - which saw Ross Kemp and Steve McFadden return to EastEnders as Phil and Grant to exonerate Sam - signified the departure of Kim Medcalf, who opted to leave the serial in 2005. Medcalf's final scenes aired on 17 November 2005.
2009–2010: Westbrook's return
Westbrook returned to the show in 2009 in part of a shock storyline. Speaking of her comeback, she said, "I'm really happy to be coming back, it feels just like coming home. I'm really looking forward to working with Barbara [Windsor], Steve [McFadden], Sid [Owen] and Patsy [Palmer] and I'm over the moon to be working with the new boss Diederick Santer. I can't wait to get the scripts to see what Sam Mitchell has been up to since she was last in the Square."
Executive Producer Santer said, "With all the turmoil facing the Mitchells this year, it feels like a great time to bring back Sam, the original Mitchell sister. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Kim Medcalf for her great work playing Sam Mitchell for three years and welcome Danniella back to pick up the baton once again." In an interview with media website Digital Spy, Santer discussed the reasoning behind his decision to reintroduce Sam: "What makes Sam interesting for me is that she's Ricky's first love and first wife. As Bianca and Ricky spend more time together [...] the inevitability of them at some point coming together increases. What's stopping them? Well, it's Sam. Sam and Ricky had a good thing going all those years ago. All Ricky ever gets off Bianca is indifference, whereas Sam - and who knows quite why - is less than indifferent towards him and it makes a nice change".
Santer acknowledged that Sam's return posed a problem for the show, because when the character was last seen, she was "on the run" in Brazil. However, he indicated that the storyliners had found a way to get around this. Westbrook later admitted she was not nervous about her return. She filmed her first scenes in the first week of June, for episodes that were broadcast in September. On 26 August a trailer was released to promote the character's return, noted for its similarity to the opening credits of Secret Diary of a Call Girl. 7.6 million viewers watched her return episode.
Westbrook was contracted for three months, and although it was extended slightly, she departed from the show at the end of her storyline in the episode broadcast on 11 January 2010. In an interview given with Digital Spy, Diederick Santer said: "When Danniella and I first sat down to talk about her return, we discussed a particular storyline with a specific length of contract. These plans haven't changed. Danniella has done brilliantly and I hope that she will be back with us at some point in the future." Westbrook filmed her final scenes at the end of October 2009.
In June 2010, it was confirmed that Westbrook would return to film scenes for broadcast later in the year, said to be an "explosive storyline". A spokesperson for the show said "It's a great comeback for her. She proved really popular with viewers and producers soon realised they should get her back for more." Santer's successor, Bryan Kirkwood told Digital Spy, "When Sam Mitchell is in Albert Square, trouble is never far behind. We last saw her heading for a stretch in prison and ostracised by her family. When she returns on her release, it's with a lot of grudges and a big secret. Danniella brings a lot of fun and mischief to the role of Sam and I'm looking forward to having her back where she belongs". Her return was broadcast on 20 August 2010 and centred around a "Who's the daddy?" storyline, when Sam revealed she was pregnant and unsure who was her baby's father, Ricky or Jack Branning (with whom she had been cheating on Ricky). After the completion of this storyline in which Jack was confirmed as her baby's father, Sam departed once again. Her final episode aired on 21 September 2010.
Westbrook has said that within days of her first appearance as Sam in 1990, the public and media interest in her character was "phenomenal". The character has been reintroduced multiple times, with producer Matthew Robinson referring to her as "popular". Kim Medcalf as Sam Mitchell won a National TV Award in 2002 for most popular newcomer.
The direction taken with the character was viewed critically c. 2004, with Paul Clark of The Stage using Sam as an example of how the show had become unbelievable. He commented, "The rot set in around the time when one of the show’s female leads, Sam, metamorphosed from introspective beauty into oestrogen-fuelled Al Caponette, making Billy burn down Den’s club". The Guardian claimed in 2004 that EastEnders had come under "heavy fire" for "poor storylines", among them Sam's wedding to Andy Hunter.
Stuart Heritage of The Guardian commented on the recasting of Sam in June 2010, saying "Medcalf lacked Westbrook's obvious aura of constant threat, but still managed to help bludgeon Dirty Den's head in with a metal dog before leaving so that – in a bonkers soap twist – Westbrook could return again." Kevin O'Sullivan for the Sunday Mirror was critical of Danniella Westbrook's return in 2009, highlighting an "inexplicable personality transplant" in Sam and decrying the "homecoming" storyline as "An insult to long-suffering viewers' intelligence". Comparatively, Virgin Media have rated Sam/Westbrook's return in 2009 as the tenth greatest soap comeback of all time, saying "She was only on screen for five seconds before the famous 'Enders drums signalled the return of Walford's much-missed Mitchell sister. It may not have been a big surprise to see Sam back, but those scriptwriters sure know how to leave us gasping for more."
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