Sharon Watts

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Sharon Watts
Sharon Rickman.jpg
A promotional image of Sharon Watts
EastEnders character
Portrayed by Letitia Dean
Duration 1985–95, 2001–06, 2012–
First appearance 19 February 1985
Created by Tony Holland
Introduced by Julia Smith (1985)
John Yorke (2001)
Kate Harwood (2005)
Bryan Kirkwood (2012)[1]
Book appearances Blood Ties: The Life and Loves of Grant Mitchell
Spin-off
appearances
Dimensions in Time (1993)
Classification Present; regular
Profile
Aliases Sharon Mitchell (married name)
Sharon Rickman (married name)
Occupation Barmaid
Pub landlady
Businesswoman

Sharon Anne Rickman (previously Watts and Mitchell) is, a fictional character from the BBC One soap opera EastEnders, played by Letitia Dean. Sharon is one of EastEnders' original characters, appearing in the first episode broadcast on 19 February 1985. The character was created by Tony Holland and Julia Smith, the creators of EastEnders. Sharon was a teenager when the programme began, and is the adoptive daughter of Den and Angie Watts. Sharon remained a prominent character into the 1990s due to romantic pairings with brothers Grant and Phil Mitchell. In a long-running storyline dubbed Sharongate, Sharon, married to Grant, has an affair with Phil. Grant's discovery of the affair remains one of EastEnders' highest viewed episodes. Dean quit the role in 1995 after ten years, with Sharon departing following the breakdown of her marriage.

In 2001, Sharon was reintroduced by producer John Yorke. Dean continued in the role until January 2006, featuring in storylines including the resurrection of her father Den in 2003 and a love affair with her adoptive half-brother, Dennis Rickman, which ended in his death. Dean departed amidst reports that she was taking a break; however, she did not return until 2012, when executive producer Bryan Kirkwood announced that he was reintroducing Sharon. She returned on 13 August 2012 in a special week of episodes that saw Sharon jilting her fiancé John Hewland at the altar and turning to Phil Mitchell for help in the safe return of her son, Dennis Rickman Jr. She is one of two original characters in the soap, the other being the longest serving character Ian Beale. One of Sharon's first storylines upon her return was the revelation of her painkiller addiction.

Sharon has topped numerous viewer polls suggesting she is one of EastEnders' most favoured characters. Critics have praised the character's complex progression from teenager to adult, referencing the investment that viewers hold in Sharon, having watched her grow up on-screen. While Sharon's returns to EastEnders have been welcomed by some critics, others received her comebacks as an indication that the show's writers and producers had run out of original ideas. Letitia Dean has defended the decision to reintroduce Sharon, suggesting that long-running dramas such as EastEnders need "old blood".

Storylines[edit]

1985–95[edit]

Adopted at the age of three by Den (Leslie Grantham) and Angie Watts (Anita Dobson), Sharon is raised at The Queen Victoria (The Vic) public house in Albert Square, Walford, where her parents are landlords. A teenage romance with Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) in 1986 ends when Sharon realises she prefers a more experienced man, Simon Wicks (Nick Berry), who ends the relationship when she refuses to have sex (though she eventually loses her virginity to him when she is 18). In 1987, she seeks refuge from her turbulent home life with church curate, Duncan Boyd (David Gillespie). They plan to marry but Duncan bores Sharon and she ends the engagement. Sharon is torn between her conflicting parents until their marriage deteriorates and, in 1988, Angie emigrates. When Den gets involved in gangland crime, he is shot and assumed dead. Soon after, Sharon discovers Den's signet ring on a market stall. With Den's body missing, Sharon convinces the police to drag a nearby canal in April 1990 and is devastated when a body is found and identified as Den's. Sharon resumes a relationship with Simon, whom she hopes to settle down with, but the relationship ends when Simon's affair with Cindy Beale (Michelle Collins) is revealed. Hurt and missing her parents, Sharon tracks down her birth mother, Carol Hanley (Sheila White). They meet several times until Carol confesses she has no maternal feelings for Sharon.

Sharon remains at the Vic, working as a barmaid. She starts dating Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp) in 1990. A controlling boyfriend, Grant assaults Sharon's boss, Eddie Royle (Michael Melia), for trying to kiss her. Although Sharon is perturbed by this, she discovers that Grant's violent behaviour results from traumatic experiences as a paratrooper in the Falklands War nearly a decade earlier, and agrees to marry him in 1991. Eddie fires Sharon so she takes him to an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal and wins but Eddie refuses to reinstate her. Sharon tells Grant she will only marry him if he gets her tenancy at the Vic. Grant makes this happen and Sharon becomes the Vic's new licensee in October 1991. That Boxing Day, Grant springs a surprise wedding on Sharon. Although she is initially unimpressed with his romantic gesture, Sharon marries Grant following persuasion from her friend, Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully). Sharon and Grant's marriage is tempestuous and rows occasionally end in violence. While Grant wants to start a family, Sharon prefers to concentrate on making the Vic a success. When Grant discovers she is taking the contraceptive pill, he smashes up the pub and disappears, leaving Sharon to be comforted by his brother, Phil (Steve McFadden). Wondering if she has married the wrong brother, Sharon has sex with Phil in September 1992 but chooses to stay with Grant. However, the Mitchells' marriage deteriorates further when Grant torches the Vic in an insurance scam, almost killing Sharon and her dog Roly who are trapped inside. An acrimonious split ensues with Grant hitting Sharon during a power struggle over management of the Vic. Michelle calls the police during one of Grant's outbursts and he is imprisoned for assaulting them. While he is in prison, Sharon and Phil reunite and live together as a couple. Neither want to tell Grant and when he is released, Sharon takes him back, leaving Phil dejected.

Phil gets engaged to Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth). Realising she still has feelings for Phil, Sharon tries to seduce him; he kisses her in a moment of passion that he immediately regrets, so Sharon convinces herself she is happy with Grant and considers having children with him. Simultaneously, Michelle's boyfriend Geoff Barnes (David Roper) wants to interview Sharon for a book he is writing. Michelle conducts a recorded interview but then forgets to turn off the recorder at the end and discusses Sharon's affair with Phil. Grant finds the tape and, on the night of Phil and Kathy's engagement party in October 1994, he plays it to a packed Queen Vic. He then attacks Phil and bullies and humiliates Sharon into agreeing to a divorce. She goes to stay with Angie in America but returns in March 1995 to hostility from the Mitchells. She is unperturbed and earns Grant's respect; he realises he still loves her. Wanting revenge for her mistreatment, she leads Grant on while telling Michelle that she plans to humiliate him publicly. They have sex and Sharon lets Grant think a public marriage proposal will seal their reunion. Grant attempts this on the Vic's quiz night; Sharon is all set to turn him down but suddenly cannot go through with it and stops him from proposing. She confesses that she still loves him, then returns to America alone.

2001–06[edit]

In May 2001, Phil and Grant's mother Peggy (Barbara Windsor) sells the Vic and is furious to discover that Sharon is the new owner as she loathes her and regrets selling the pub. Sharon's boyfriend, Ross Fletcher (Ché Walker), joins her. He claims that he has left his wife but Sharon discovers he is lying and ends the relationship and rekindles her romance with Phil. Peggy, however tries to break them up and fails but Sharon's bombshell that she is infertile following an abortion, clearly upsets Phil. Knowing Phil wouldn't be happy without children of his own, Sharon ends the relationship and returns to the States to be with her mother. However, Angie dies soon afterwards and Sharon returns to Walford in April 2002 to bury her mother. Angie's death from cirrhosis affects Sharon badly and she refuses to reconcile with Phil again, dating an old school friend, Tom Banks (Colm O'Maonlai) instead. The relationship survives Tom's unstable wife, Sadie (Isobel Middleton). Sadie is sectioned after holding Sharon hostage and threatening suicide unless Tom takes her back. Sharon sells her share of the Vic to the Mitchells in September 2002 and purchases a nightclub with Tom, naming it "Angie's Den". When Tom is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, Sharon stands by him; they plan to marry and travel but on the night of their engagement party, Tom is killed after trying to save Little Mo Morgan (Kacey Ainsworth) and Trevor Morgan (Alex Ferns) and Trevor's son from a burning building. Sharon goes through a tough period of grief.

In early 2003, Den's daughter Vicki (Scarlett Alice Johnson) returns to Walford and soon tracks down Den's estranged son, Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman), the product of one of Den's affairs 30 years earlier. Dennis has links to the same criminal organisation as Den and he discovers that Den is alive but Sharon refuses to believe him. Dennis falls in love with Sharon and Sharon feels the same, finally sleeping together in September 2003, but their romance is halted by Den's return. He survived the shooting in 1989, fleeing to Spain. After years of feeling guilty about disowning Den before his "demise", Sharon is thrilled to see him but furious about the unnecessary hurt he caused. Den resumes position as head of the Watts clan and is disgusted to discover Sharon and Dennis's romantic relationship and blackmails Dennis into ending it. Dennis begrudgingly dates Zoe Slater (Michelle Ryan), but just before Christmas 2004, he secretly reunites with Sharon. The couple plan to move to America on Christmas Day but Zoe announces she is pregnant, a ruse Den concocts to split up Sharon and Dennis. Sharon refuses to let Dennis abandon his child and leaves Walford, returning briefly in February 2005 when summoned by her stepmother, Chrissie (Tracy-Ann Oberman), with the news that Den is ill. Chrissie, Zoe, and Sam Mitchell (Kim Medcalf) confront Den about various deceitful deeds, including Zoe's fake pregnancy and his affairs. Disgusted, Sharon leaves, disowning Den. In rage, Den attacks Chrissie and she hits him over the head repeatedly with a cast-iron doorstop, killing him. Aided by Zoe and Sam, Chrissie buries Den in the Vic's cellar to cover up the murder.

Dennis reunites with Sharon in America and in June 2005 they return to confront Den but Chrissie claims he has left with another woman, which surprises them as they cannot believe that Den would leave the Vic so soon after going to so much trouble to get it back. Sharon and Dennis marry on 29 August 2005. During their reception, Sam is arrested for digging up Den's body to incriminate Chrissie; however, Sam is charged with Den's murder. Her brothers, Phil and Grant, return weeks later to convince Sharon of Chrissie's guilt. Sharon and Grant resolve their past grievances and Sam is released after Johnny Allen (Billy Murray) records Chrissie confessing to Den's murder. Chrissie is caught attempting to flee and Sharon punches her before her arrest. On Christmas Day 2005, Sharon is stunned to discover she is pregnant, but her idyll is shattered within days when she is throttled by Johnny for interfering in his personal affairs; he warns Sharon that he will kill Dennis unless they leave Walford by midnight on New Year's Eve. Sharon persuades Dennis to leave after confiding in Phil. When Phil tells Dennis about the threat, Dennis attacks Johnny. Although battered, Johnny contacts his henchman Danny Moon (Jake Maskall), who stabs Dennis and he dies in Sharon's arms seconds into the new year. Heartbroken, Sharon breaks down and refuses to speak, apart from asking Phil to avenge Dennis's murder. Concerned for her unborn child, Phil persuades Sharon to return to Florida to live with Michelle in January 2006. Sharon later gives birth to a son, Dennis Rickman Jr. (Harry Hickles), and Phil and Grant enact revenge on Danny and Johnny. Danny is shot by his twin brother Jake when attempting to kill Phil and Grant, while Johnny is arrested for the murders of Dennis Rickman and Andy Hunter, dying in prison months later.

2012–[edit]

Sharon returns to Walford in August 2012, after more than six years away, asking Phil for help. She has jilted her fiancé, John Hewland (Jesse Birdsall), and asks Phil to collect her son Dennis Jr. "Denny" (Harry Hickles) from the wedding venue. John is angry, suggesting that he saved Sharon from destitution. He kidnaps Denny but Phil and Sharon rescue him. Sharon manages Phil's nightclub "R&R" and starts dating Jack Branning (Scott Maslen). Following the numerous one-night stands she had during her time away, she became addicted to painkillers in an attempt to fill the void left by Dennis. Sharon and Jack's romance is complicated by Phil, who is determined to reignite a relationship with Sharon. A feud between Jack and Phil ensues, with both proposing to Sharon. She accepts Jack's proposal but, realising he is still in love with his former wife Ronnie Mitchell (Samantha Womack), Jack cancels the wedding. Sharon struggles to cope with this rejection and resumes her dependency on painkillers. In the aftermath, Phil persuades Sharon to reunite with him, but when Sharon passes out unconscious while looking after his granddaughter Lexi Pearce, he throws her out. The upheaval affects her son Denny; he starts misbehaving and clashes at school with teaching assistant Whitney Dean (Shona McGarty). Denny is untruthful when he falls and grazes his arm, telling Sharon that Whitney has assaulted him. Sharon is blind to Denny's misbehaviour and reports Whitney to the school board, requesting her dismissal. Whitney appeals and keeps her job, forcing Sharon to contemplate the truth.

Sharon resumes her relationship with Phil and moves in with him. Sharon's trust in Phil is tested when he confesses his part in Dennis' fatal altercation with Johnny Allen in 2005; she nevertheless remains with him and together they buy 10 Turpin Road and convert it into a new bar: The Albert. Phil grows resentful of Sharon's preoccupation with The Albert. To re-assert his authority and demonstrate Sharon's vulnerability, Phil hires two men to vandalise The Albert, but his plan goes awry when Sharon sacks the bouncers Phil employs to intercept the attack. Sharon confronts the vandals alone; they assault her and she is hospitalised in a critical condition. It is later revealed that Sharon has ruptured her spleen, which devastates Phil. Phil wrestles with his guilt; he confides in his ex-lover Shirley Carter (Linda Henry) who helps conceal evidence of the botched plan. When Shirley confesses she still loves Phil, he spurns her advances and instead proposes marriage to Sharon after she regains consciousness. Unaware of Phil's role in her attack, Sharon accepts. Upon release from hospital, Sharon fears being attacked again, so when she discovers Ronnie Mitchell's gun in Phil's house, she steals it so she can protect herself.

Creation[edit]

Background[edit]

Sharon Watts was one of the original twenty-three characters conceived by the creators of EastEnders, Tony Holland and Julia Smith. She was originally to be named Tracey, and she and her parents were to be the occupants of the soap's local pub, now known as The Queen Vic. Holland, who had worked as a barman in his youth, called upon his own personal experiences to invent the Watts family and the pub they lived in. Holland and Smith had always been critical of the way pubs had been portrayed on television, feeling they lacked vitality and life, so they were determined that their pub and occupants were going to be more "real". The Watts were seen by Holland as integral to the show's success, partly because he had already guessed that the pub was going to be a monstrous battleground where emotions would run high on a regular basis, and also because the occupants would be providing the majority of the drama.[2]

Sharon's original character outline, as written by Smith and Holland, appeared in an abridged form in their 1987 book, EastEnders: The Inside Story. In this passage, Sharon will be referred to as Tracey and her parents as Jack and Pearl (known now as Den and Angie).

Tracey is at the centre of her parents' dramas. The children of publicans nearly always suffer in one way or another: the fact that your 'home' is always 'open house' to a variety of strangers often produces genuine feelings of anxiety and insecurity. Tracey, being adopted, will be even more sensitive to this lack of permanence. Jack and Pearl do use her as something of a tennis-ball in their games of playing things off against each other. Jack tries to buy her affection with gifts. Pearl sees her as something of a rival... Tracey's set on a course which is almost inevitable. Either, a collision, or, full-circle, to the same route as her parents took.[3]

Casting[edit]

Although Sharon was meant to be fourteen, licensing regulations required the cast actress to be a sixteen-year-old who could "play down."[4] Holland and Smith were looking for a "bouncy, attractive, oddly vulnerable young woman" who would come across as slightly more sophisticated than the character of Michelle Fowler, due to be Sharon's closest peer. Out of the various applicants they had seen, they felt only actress Letitia Dean had all of the qualities they were looking for.[4] As the casting directors were only looking for real East End actors, Dean falsely claimed that she was born and raised in Hackney, east London.[5] The lie paid off and she got the part, clinching the deal because of her laugh, which Holland and Smith have described as "the dirtiest in the world!".[4]

Reflecting on her casting, Dean told the magazine, Woman, in 2005: "I was 16 when we started filming EastEnders and my contract was initially for eight weeks—none of us had any idea it would go on for so long. I nearly fainted when I saw Wendy Richard [who played Pauline Fowler] for the first time, because she was a really big name and I was in awe of her. Anita Dobson who played Angie Watts, [Sharon's] mum, took me under her wing."[6] In the early days of EastEnders, it was in Letitia Dean's contract that she was not allowed to lose any weight.[7]

Characterisation[edit]

"The poodle haired daughter of the late Den and Angie Watts, Sharon was affectionately known as "Princess" by Den. Even though she was adopted she inherited the drama-queen gene from mum, Ange. She was constantly playing her parents off against each other like tennis balls. But she loved them despite living in their drunken war zone. After a troubled adolescence, Sharon emerged as an unbalanced femme fatale with a taste for bullies. She tried both Mitchell brothers, and found them wanting. When she returned to the Square after a long absence, however, it was straight back to Phil's bed that she raced."

Sharon Rickman biography provided by the BBC (2012)[8]

Described by the BBC as "slightly spoilt, over-dramatic, blousy, but ultimately kind-hearted",[9] Sharon has been classified by Rupert Smith, author of EastEnders: 20 Years in Albert Square, as a "drama queen",[10] a "strong passionate [woman] who [goes] to pieces where men are concerned and always [comes] back for more".[10] Early on in her narrative, Sharon was depicted as a mixed-up individual, torn between her warring parents, but spoilt by both; the British press dubbed her "Den's princess," an indication of her spoilt upbringing.[11][12] Scriptwriter Colin Brake suggested that because of the dysfunctional marriage of her adoptive parents, "Sharon was a fairly troubled teenager. Set apart from the other kids because Den and Angie sent her to private school rather than the local comprehensive, she was a bit of a loner. Spoilt rotten by both her parents, Den's 'little princess' was really a little madam."[13]

As the character progressed into her 20s, she underwent some changes. Colin Brake suggested that, following the discovery of Den's (wrongly identified) body in 1990, it was "time for Den's princess to grow up".[14] In 1993, Letitia Dean discussed the evolution of Sharon from teenager to adult: "She's grown up a lot. Once she got into her stride she got quite strong — not hard, but knew what she wanted."[15] Matthew Bayliss, writing for The Guardian, suggested that Sharon developed into a character that was simultaneously "vamp and victim", comparing her to another popular soap opera character from ITV's Coronation Street, Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix).[16]

In 1991, author Hilary Kingsley compared Sharon in adulthood to her mother Angie: "There's a lot of her mother in Sharon Watts. There is the warm sympathy and the barbed tongue for a kick-off. But Sharon is more sensible than Angie, less likely to fly off the beer handle in The Vic."[17] Letitia Dean suggested that Sharon was trying to establish her own personality as landlady of The Vic in 1993, but that she was also taking tips from Angie, whom she "admired for her strength of character."[15] In the 1990s, the producers of EastEnders wanted to take the similarities between Sharon and Angie one step further; they proposed that Sharon would begin drinking gin, the favourite beverage of her alcoholic mother. Dean was opposed to this development and persuaded the producers not to go down this route with Sharon. In 1993, she explained her reasons: "There was one time they wanted [Sharon] to drink gin because that was Angie's tipple, but I thought that was wrong. Her mother was on a dialysis machine which would have put Sharon off gin for life. She would either follow right behind her or she would make her mind up and say no. And since she had seen Angie in such a state, it really put her off."[15]

Sharon has been described as a "buxom femme fatale"[18] and one of "life's survivors", who has had "many moments of emotional turmoil".[12] Kingsley suggested that despite this, Sharon is "a sensitive, vulnerable girl who is easily hurt. Even so, that doesn't stop her going after something that she really wants [...] Sharon came through to become a nice girl behind the streetwise image [...] with her blonde hair and bright make-up she adds a cheerful touch to drab Albert Square."[17]

Television critic Matt Bayliss, discussed the psychology of Sharon in 2010: "She had a terrible childhood. An alcoholic mother and a father she adored but who treated her mother appallingly. She had a very long subsequent career on the show, falling for the wrong bloke and not realising her own worth. You could see that the way she turned was directly related to her beginnings, to that difficult family situation."[19]

Development[edit]

Early storylines (1985–1990)[edit]

Sharon Watts as she appeared in 1985. The image shows Sharon's early "poodle perm", a key characteristic of her teen appearance. Over the years, the media have frequently referenced the similarity between Sharon's hairstyle and the coat of her pet poodle, Roly (pictured).[20]

An early controversial storyline involving Sharon revolved around her desire to take contraceptive pills to persuade Kelvin Carpenter (Paul J. Medford) to date her. According to Holland and Smith, this storyline caused tremendous interest in the UK. Holland and Smith have suggested that it was a daring issue to tackle in the 1980s, as it involved a girl under sixteen, and was to be aired at a time when the issue was prominent in British society. Holland and Smith suggested that people took sides with the issue and Sharon's dilemma became a debate used as a teaching method, both in schools and at home. The creators stated that many families admitted that, as a result of Sharon's storyline, they were discussing taboo topics openly in their homes for the first time in years, or ever.[21]

Sharon went on to feature in a storyline about the ups and downs of a pop group called The Banned in 1986.[22] It featured the majority of teenage characters in the soap at the time.[22] The storyline proved to be a successful merchandising tool for the serial, as it spawned two hit singles in the UK charts.[22] One of the songs "Something Outa Nothing," which was performed on-screen in the plot, was released by actors Letitia Dean and Paul J. Medford. The song was a modest success, reaching number 12 in the UK singles chart in November 1986.[23] The storyline was seen as an interesting and major undertaking in the serial, but one that Holland and Smith felt never entirely worked.[22]

In her teenage years, Sharon's main storylines depicted the plight of a young woman struggling to find her identity while growing up in a broken home and coping with her mother's alcoholism and her father's infidelities. Anita Dobson, who played Sharon's mother Angie, discussed Sharon and Angie's relationship, suggesting that Angie was not a good mother: "I think someone handed Sharon over to her one day, and Angie thought of her like this glistening Christmas present. I think she never really thought it through beforehand. I do believe she really wanted a child and she loved Sharon, but eventually found the competition pretty difficult to deal with in regard to Den's attentions. She was pretty rough on Sharon because of her drinking."[24] Sally Vincent, writing for The Guardian, has pontificated about the dynamics of Sharon's relationship with both her parents in 2001. She suggeested that viewers felt sorry for Sharon "because not only had her [birth] mother given her away, but her adoptive parents were the legendary Dirty Den and the feckless Angie, erstwhile landlord and lady of the Queen Vic, who were always too busy being dirty and feckless, in our opinion, to take proper care of their little girl. We knew enough about family psychology to know that all those presents they lavished upon her were no substitute for presence. We knew what neglect and emotional absence can do to a growing girl."[25] David Buckingham, in his 1987 book Public Secrets: EastEnders and its audience, analysed the relationship between Sharon and her parents, suggesting that teenage Sharon was suspended between childhood and adulthood. He reflected that Den frequently referred to her as "just a child", but that Sharon herself sought to assert her status as an adult, describing her parents as "immature" or "childish". In character dialogue, Sharon suggested that Den had tried to keep his wife Angie in the role of a baby, but that he himself was a child, stating "I behave more like an adult that you've ever done". During this period, Sharon was shown to question her parents' capability to offer her advice, and both Den and Angie had difficulty refuting her arguments. In one episode Sharon questioned, "How come you two always know what's best for me? You haven't exactly made a good job of your own lives!".[26]

"Poor old Sharon, sometimes she doesn't know which way to turn. She loves both her mum and her dad, but they always seem to be at odds with one another. And being adopted doesn't help much either. Sometimes she feels very insecure—no wonder she goes over the top now and again!"

Letitia Dean on Sharon's troubled home life (1986)[27]

Sharon was shown to share a particularly close friendship with Michelle Fowler in the serial. Kingsley suggested that Michelle was an "important steadying influence in Sharon's life. The two friends are like sisters and, like sisters, they sometimes fight."[17] Following Den's supposed death in 1989, Sharon and Michelle's friendship was tested by Sharon's discovery that her adored father had slept with her best friend Michelle when she was sixteen, and that he was the mystery father of Michelle's daughter, Vicki.[28] Sharon discovered this in a special two-hander episode written by Tony McHale, which aired in April 1989. In the episode, Sharon and Michelle spend an evening together drinking wine and reminiscing. After Sharon confesses to Michelle that, in the absence of both her partents, she now views Michelle and her daughter Vicki as her family, Michelle tells her the secret she has been keeping for four years, that Vicki is Den's daughter. However, Sharon is not comforted by this, feeling "hurt, angry and deceived" by Michelle and her father. Brake surmised that Sharon "leaves the flat wishing that Michelle had never told her. Things would never be quite the same between them."[28] The episode returned to a model established by the first Den-and-Angie solo episode, with revelations and major character changes to an important relationship. Brake suggested that it gave Dean and Susan Tully (Michelle) the chance to demonstrate how much they had grown as actresses during their four years on the programme. Brake also claimed the episode was held in high regard by the show's producers, directors, and writers, describing the actors' performances as "superlative".[28]

Relationship with Phil and Grant Mitchell ("Sharongate")[edit]

Main article: Sharongate

The arrival of the Mitchell brothers in 1990 heralded a new era for EastEnders, but also for Sharon. Brothers Phil (Steve McFadden) and Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp) were introduced by executive producer Michael Ferguson, as he wanted to bring in a couple of young men who would bring an air of danger to the show.[29] Both the Mitchell brothers would prove to be extremely important for Sharon in the following years, most notably when she married one brother, then had an affair with the other.

Sharon and Grant's relationship began in 1990 and by 1991, the couple were installed as the owners of the soap opera's focal establishment, The Queen Victoria public house, Sharon's childhood home. Storyline editor, Andrew Holden, has stated that the decision to promote Sharon from barmaid to landlady of The Vic in 1991 stemmed from discussion about the character's long-term future in EastEnders. It was felt that because Sharon was the daughter of Den and Angie, "it seemed right that she should succeed them, at least for a time, in running The Vic". Holden suggested that the choice to give Sharon The Vic was part of the reason that her predecessor, licensee Eddie Royle (Michael Melia), was killed off in the serial.[17]

19 million viewers tuned in on Boxing Day 1991 to witness Sharon and Grant's surprise Christmas wedding.[30] Their marriage was scripted to be volatile, with Grant resorting to violent displays when things did not go his way and endangering Sharon on numerous occasions due to his criminal dealings. Letitia Dean discussed Sharon's attraction to Grant in 1993: "Grant was quite flirtatious with [Sharon] when they first met and he made her feel quite good about herself. He promised to protect her and he promised her the world [...] She wouldn't have gone for Grant if he was just a complete pain in the arse. There are obviously other qualities in him which is why she strives to keep [their relationship] going. There's a lot of reminders — [Grant's] not [Sharon's father] Den, but he's got a lot of characteristics that are pretty similar."[15]

25.3 million viewers watched Grant (Ross Kemp, pictured) discover Sharon's affair with his brother Phil.

Despite the fact that Sharon married Grant in 1991, former EastEnders writer Tony Jordan has revealed in a documentary entitled The Mitchells — The Full Story that the love-triangle storyline between Grant, Sharon and Phil had been planned from the Mitchell brothers' introduction, after the writers came to the realisation that Sharon "was perfect for both of them".[31] The plot has been described by former Executive Producer of EastEnders and BBC's Head of Drama Serials, John Yorke, as a "Tristan and Isolde story".[32] The storyline was spread out for several years and began with Sharon turning to Phil for comfort during a particularly turbulent part of her marriage to Grant. The episode in which Phil betrayed his brother with Sharon occurred in September 1992 in one of the soap's notorious three-handers, an episode featuring only Sharon, Phil and Grant for the duration. Sue Dunderdale directed the episode and the performances of McFadden, Kemp and Dean have been described as memorable and filled with high-tension drama.[33] Discussing Sharon's feelings for Phil, Letitia Dean said: "Phil was always around for Sharon. He seemed to understand her, and Sharon appreciated that. There's always been something between them."[34]

The storyline climaxed in October 1994 with some of EastEnders' most popular and renowned episodes, which have been dubbed "Sharongate". The episodes centred around Grant's discovery that his wife had been having an affair with his brother and they were watched by 25.3 million viewers.[35] On-screen Grant heard Sharon unwittingly confessing to the affair on tape. He reacted by playing it to a pub full of people at Phil's engagement party and then beat his brother unconscious.[16]

Writer of Sharongate, Tony Jordan, has stated that of all the storylines he has penned for the soap, Sharongate is the one he is most proud of. He comments "Three of the strongest characters that have ever been in EastEnders are the Mitchell brothers and Sharon [...] when we actually blew that story it was incredible [...] being able to reach that many people with your work is what makes EastEnders exciting."[36] Reporter for The Guardian, Sally Vincent, has commented on Sharongate's success: "It wasn't so much the guilt-stacked, long-drawn-out business of Sharon 'n' Phil's helpless lust for each other—all that unseemly face-sucking while her hubby/his brother, the ape-like Grant, languished in gaol for trying to set fire to everyone—that broke the ratings record, nor was it the ingenious ruse of using the [DJ's tape deck] to broadcast Sharon's poignant little confession to the entire clientele of Walford's Queen Vic [pub]. It was the fact that we'd all watched Sharon grow up. We knew that she was a nice little person, vulnerable, brave, sweet-natured and kind to the dog. We were sorry for her [...] Neither of those Mitchells deserved her, so when one punched the other and half-killed him for tampering with his lady-wife, we didn't much care. We were sorry to see [Sharon] go."[25]

Sharongate has proven to be a popular storyline with viewers. In 2001 it was voted the second "Best Ever Soap Moment" in an ITV televised poll,[37] and it was voted the sixth top soap opera moment of all time in a poll of 17,000 people for What's on TV magazine in 2003.[38] In 2010, Michael Hogan from The Telegraph ranked it the sixth of the top ten "unforgettable moments" of EastEnders.[39] In a 2012 nationwide poll of 1,000 people published in Inside Soap, 'Sharongate' was voted as the greatest soap opera moment of the past 20 years.[40]

Departure (1995)[edit]

Letitia Dean decided to quit the role of Sharon in 1995, having played the character for over a decade. Dean was not the only original cast member to announce their departure that year; Susan Tully (Michelle Fowler) and Bill Treacher (Arthur Fowler) also quit, leaving just Wendy Richard (Pauline Fowler), Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale), and Gillian Taylforth (Kathy Beale) as the only original cast remaining at that time.[41] Dean, who was aged 26 at the time, has since reflected on her decision to leave, suggesting she went through an identity crisis when she found herself thinking "who am I? Am I Sharon Watts or am I an actress?".[25] Sally Vincent, interviewing Dean for The Guardian, surmised: "it nagged away at [Dean] for ages until she thought, hell, she owed it to herself, and started telling the producers she'd been thinking about trying new things. In those days, they didn't let you off for the odd panto or anything. It was full-time work. She remembers being dithery and apologetic about it, but her feet were itchy and, though she never really wanted to close the door behind her, she talked about going until one day, much to her consternation, [the producers] said all right then, off you go, lots of luck. They didn't ask her to reconsider, so she thought, 'Ooooh, charmin', and off she went."[25] Dean added, "I felt the need to spread my wings and try my hand at other things. I didn't want to feel there were parts out there I hadn't had a chance to play. When I left I felt this mixture of excitement and fear. I went on a last walk with Susan Tully [who played Michelle Fowler] around the Square, talking quietly, and I felt quite sad. But at the same time it felt like the right thing to do."[42]

Sharon's exit on 6 July 1995 surrounded the continual fall-out from the Sharongate saga. 18 million viewers saw Grant bully Sharon into a divorce in the Christmas 1994 episodes;[30] after a brief hiatus, she returned in 1995 for several months to gain revenge on Grant. The build-up for revenge saw Sharon coaxing Grant into making a public plea for marital reconciliation. However, as Thomas Sutcliffe writing for The Independent surmised, "In the end Sharon recoiled from the full horror of public humiliation in the Queen Vic and conducted a minor-key revenge on the pavement outside. For a while there seemed a good chance that she was going to leave the series in an ambulance, but Grant kept his temper, so she simply climbed into a black cab, departing not with a bang but a whimper."[43]

Return (2001)[edit]

The character was reintroduced to the show in 2001 by then producer John Yorke,[44] almost six years after her initial departure.[45] Discussing Yorke's decision to reintroduce the character, a BBC spokesperson said, "It's the producer's job to decide how the storylines are going to go, and he decided to bring Sharon back. And Letitia said she would love to come back."[45] The producer's decision to bring Sharon back reportedly shocked Dean, as she believed the time for a return had passed, particularly as Grant's actor, Ross Kemp, had just left the series.[46] She commented in a 1999 interview, "I can't see how the storyline would work. There's only so much love a girl can have for the Queen Vic." However, when she saw the scripts for Sharon's return, she was convinced.[46]

Grant and Phil's mother, Peggy Mitchell as played by Barbara Windsor (pictured), was featured prominently in Sharon's return storyline in May 2001, when she unwittingly sold The Queen Vic public house to her.

Dean suggested that Sharon, who had passed 30 years of age on her return to the serial, wanted to get back to her roots and rediscover herself in Walford.[45] Discussing her comeback, Dean said, "It's a wonderful opportunity to breathe life into Sharon again. I found out at Christmas [2000], so it was a fantastic present. Sharon has a great story to tell, having been away for so long. She has some unfinished business to sort out—and has some demons to face as well. I've always held Sharon's character close to my heart. I always said: 'Never say never'. There's nothing worse than making a huge statement about never doing it again, and then going back [...] It was very exciting to be working with new cast members. But seeing members of the cast who I grew up with like Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale), Todd Carty (Mark Fowler), Wendy Richard (Pauline Fowler) and Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell) was just fantastic. It gave me some much-needed confidence and reassurance, knowing that I'd have that support."[46] Sharon's return episodes, which aired in May 2001, saw her shocking the Mitchell family by revealing herself as the anonymous buyer of her childhood home (the Vic pub). During the years since Sharon's departure the Queen Vic had remained in the Mitchells' ownership until Grant's mother Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor) was forced to sell it. Discussing Sharon's return scenes, Dean said, "Her appearance in the Vic is fabulous, and provokes some great reactions. Peggy is astonished, speechless and horrified all rolled into one. It's landladies and their handbags at dawn."[46] Sharon's return was voted one of the top 100 TV moments of 2001 in a Channel 4 poll, and was chosen as the favourite soap comeback by almost one third of viewers.[47]

The return arc saw Sharon reuniting with her former lover, Phil. Discussing this, Dean said, "[Sharon's] tougher and seems to know what she wants. Seeing Phil throws up vivid memories and strong feelings for Sharon. She's always had a deep affection for him".[46] She added that because Sharon had grown and gained strength and independence while being in America, "she can handle pretty much anything the Mitchells can throw at her".[48] Their reunion lasted until December 2001, when various secrets, including Sharon's confession that she believed she was infertile after aborting Grant's baby, ended their romance.[49]

Relationship with Tom Banks[edit]

In 2002, executive producer John Yorke introduced the character of Tom Banks (Colm Ó Maonlaí) as a love interest for Sharon.[50] A love triangle storyline featured initially as Tom battled for Sharon's affections with her former lover Phil Mitchell. In the storyline, Tom was shown to be keeping secrets from Sharon regarding his collapsed marriage, secrets that were unveiled by Phil; when Sharon confronted Tom, he admitted that he was still married, although he and his wife had split up.[51] Explaining his character's motives, O'Maonlai said, "Tom likes Sharon ever such a lot. I don't think he expected to have so many feelings for her, but he does. He obviously enjoys the chase, wooing her with flowers [...] I think he is genuine about her. He's not playing games, even though he does have his secret. After they sleep together, he realises that there's real feeling there. They're keen on each other and I think Tom is probably a little nervous about his feelings for her [...] He used to like her at school so is in shock that now they're grown up, she likes him back—a lot, it seems. Even so, Tom is not the sort of guy who likes to look too far into the future. He's too busy just having a really good time with Sharon to think about any long-term commitment. They go out together, have a lot of fun and are becoming great friends as well, which is always good. Tom is a little concerned that Phil has been prying into his affairs, and he is nervous that his secret might come out, but he is concentrating on Sharon. And, although Tom is a bit scared of Phil, I think he's not afraid to stand up to him, if needed."[52]

In July 2002, following the introduction of a new executive producer, Louise Berridge, it was announced that Tom was being written out of EastEnders. A spokesperson denied that the actor had been fired, commenting, "He was brought in to play out a specific storyline" and that he was due to "go out with a bang".[53] According to The Mirror, EastEnders' bosses decided that there was nowhere else to go with the character, that they could not work out how to develop him and that he had fulfilled a specific role.[54] Part of Tom's exit storyline saw the character discovering that he had an inoperable brain tumour.[55] Despite the initial upset this caused to his relationship with Sharon, the couple resolved to stay together and marry after Sharon proposed. Discussing Sharon's impromptu proposal, a BBC spokesperson said, "The two of them are messing one day and they decide to swap roles. Tom is supposed to do the washing and cleaning and Sharon takes on the role of a man. It is all supposed to be a joke but Sharon takes it to heart and shocks Tom when she arrives home with a ring and asks for his hand in marriage."[55] However, in a plot twist, Tom was not killed off by the tumour; he instead died in an fire, airing in an episode that paid homage to Halloween, in October 2002. His death coincided with the exit of another character, Trevor Morgan (Alex Ferns).[56] In the episode, Tom rushes in to a house fire to save Trevor who is holding his baby and his ex-wife Little Mo Morgan (Kacey Ainsworth) hostage, but despite rescuing Mo and the baby, he and Trevor both die in an explosion.[57]

Return of Den Watts[edit]

In 2003, producer Louise Berridge negotiated for Leslie Grantham to reprise the role of Sharon's father Den, 14 years after his last appearance. Part of her motive for doing so was to bring Sharon, whom she described as one of her favourite characters, "right back where she belonged, at the very heart of the show."[58] The character Den had supposedly been killed in 1989 and a body found the following year had been identified as his, so the programme makers needed to make certain that his return could be plausibly explained. A research team was employed to scour over past episodes of EastEnders' to make certain that his return storyline would not have been going against anything that had been shown prior, or that could not have been "faked".[58] In an interview with Walford Web, Berridge discussed how her researchers discovered that there were inconsistencies in the episodes that aired during 1989 and 1990, that could account for Den's death being staged. She commented, "A great deal was made in the show of Den's [signet] ring turning up [as proof that he died]—but if you watch the episode of the shooting you'll see he isn't even wearing it at the time of his supposed death. So how did it get in the canal?".[58] Berridge's writers concocted a story whereby the body that was recovered in 1990 was misidentified as Den's; Den fled to Spain to escape the mobsters and allowed his family to believe he was dead until he was traced in 2003.[59]

Den's return aired in September 2003, with Den walking into Sharon's club "Angie's Den" (named after her parents) and uttering the greeting "Hello princess" to his daughter.[60] The week's worth of episodes focusing on the repercussions of Den's return have been described as highly charged and an estimated 20 million viewers tuned in.[61] Scriptwriter Sarah Phelps, who penned Den's return, has discussed the episodes in the televised documentary EastEnders Revealed: Dirty Den Returns: "It all had to kick off in Angie's Den because this is the thing that Sharon has built [in] memory of her parents [...] the way she's worshipped them in their death in a way that she couldn't deal with them when they were alive [...] there's a lot of really confused and emotional stuff [for Sharon]".[59] Letitia Dean has discussed Sharon's reaction to Den's comeback: "Sharon put her father on such a pedestal, when she found out that he had been alive for all those years and never contacted her — once — it absolutely devastated her, it rocked her world [...] She couldn't believe that he would be so selfish because she was his princess."[59] Leslie Grantham suggested that the one person Den loved more than himself was Sharon, and that she was the reason he came back to Walford after 14 years.[59] Part of Den's return episodes featured a 20-page scene between Sharon and Den, played out in their former home, The Queen Vic. The director required that this scene be filmed all at once, which Dean has described as daunting but exciting. She believed that the long scene helped build realistic tension greatly, because both she and Grantham were so nervous about working together again.[59]

Further discussing Sharon's ambivalent reaction to her father's return Dean said, "Sharon is absolutely dumbstruck at seeing her father again. It's like seeing a ghost and she's completely shocked. To see him after all this time when she had accepted his death and got on with her life, is too much for her. Sharon has been through so much in the past 14 years without Den, and has had to cope on her own. Although she's pleased to see him, he knows nothing of the life she's had in his absence—he hasn't been there for all the times she's been hurt, like when she was caring for [her dying mother] Angie, or when her fiancé Tom died. She's developed as a woman, and for her, their relationship ended when he 'died' while she was still a teenager. Everything has been turned upside down for her. She's feeling angry and resentful [towards] Den at the moment, but that's only because she loved him so much. He's going to have to tread so carefully with her—he's got some real making up to do in order to enable Sharon to trust him again."[62] Despite initial animosity and hurt, Sharon eventually welcomes Den back into her life and allows him to return to live with her, resuming head of the Watts dynasty.[59]

Relationship with Dennis Rickman[edit]

As a precursor to Den's return and as part of producer Louise Berridge's plan to rebuild the Watts family, Den's estranged son Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman) was introduced to EastEnders earlier in 2003.[63] A "forbidden love" storyline was built into Sharon's narrative, when she embarked on a relationship with Dennis despite him being the son of her adoptive father. Scenes in which Sharon and Dennis succumb to their lust for each other had to be re-edited as the programme's producers deemed them too raunchy to be shown before the 9 pm watershed on BBC1. Discussing the scenes, Harman said, "My character Dennis has been through most of the ladies on the square. But his latest encounter with Sharon is something else. There's lots of banging around as we are ripping each others' clothes off while staggering round the flat. There's also quite a lot of flesh in the post-coital scene! It might shock a few people as she's [Dennis's] sister—not blood sister, though. Bosses had to tone it down and cut a couple of passionate embraces out."[64] According to Harman, Dennis's feelings for Sharon transcended anything Dennis had felt for women before her.[65]

Den's opposition to his children's on/off romance was a reoccurring theme in the serial throughout 2004.[66] The plot was the focus of the Christmas Day 2004 episodes when Dennis and Sharon announce they have reuinted despite Dennis being in a simultaneous relationship with Zoe Slater (Michelle Ryan). The fall-out, which sees Den persuading Zoe to tell Dennis she is expecting his baby, results in Sharon leaving Dennis. Discussing the storyline, Michelle Ryan said, "Den forces her to say that she's pregnant because he knows Dennis won't run away with Sharon if he thinks there's a baby on the way. Den completely manipulates the whole thing and Zoe finds herself trapped in the lie because she can't seek advice from anyone. She didn't dream up this silly situation—it was Den who told her to fabricate the story to save their relationship. It was his idea all along. Zoe still wants Dennis, even if he is in love with Sharon. She's obsessed with him and can't let go. She just wants to salvage the relationship and hasn't even thought about putting the past behind them. Dennis is still not totally convinced, but he always swore he would never leave a child without a dad so he hopes that it will work for them in the future."[67] Writing for The Guardian, Owen Gibson suggested that with the Christmas Day 2004 episodes EastEnders were attempting to reprise the trick that garnered the show its biggest ever audience in 1986 of 30.6 million, by gathering the Watts family together for a festive altercation. 12.3 million people tuned in to watch Sharon leave Walford without Dennis in the aftermath; it was the highest viewed television programme of the day.[68]

Dennis and Sharon eventually returned to the serial as a couple in the summer of 2005 having reuinted off-screen, neither aware that Den has been murdered by his scorned second wife Chrissie Watts (Tracy-Ann Oberman) in their absence. Den's murder storyline aired to celebrate EastEnders' 20th anniversary plot in February 2005 and featured Sharon discovering the truth about Den's duplicity; it attracted 14 million viewers.[69] Prominent in Sharon and Dennis's return arc was their marriage and involvement in uncovering Chrissie as Den's killer after Sam Mitchell was originally charged with the murder.[70][71] The Rickmans' wedding was watched by over 10 million viewers,[72] and the nuptials were scripted to coincide with the discovery of Den's body, which had been buried in the Vic's cellar.[73]

Departure (2006): Dennis's murder[edit]

In August 2005, the BBC announced that both Letitia Dean and Nigel Harman were quitting their roles as Sharon and Dennis, with both due to film their final scenes for a New Year's departure. While Harman's exit was reported as permanent, Dean's was reported as an "extended break", with the suggestion being that she would be returning to the soap opera at some unspeified stage.[74] Discussing the departure, Harman said, "Sharon and Dennis have had such a great run, but what would you do with them next? I could pretty much guarantee we've already done it. It was something that was talked about over a period of time between myself and the producers"I think it would be weird to have one there without the other and we've taken it as far as we can go. I think [the exit storyline will] be quite juicy but I'm waiting to find out. I'd like it to be a happy storyline, like Sharon and Dennis going off around the world. Although obviously she'll have to come back on her own going, 'What a [bastard]'."[75]

Despite Sharon discovering that she was pregnant with Dennis's child on Christmas Day 2005, the Rickmans were not given a happy ending. Writers made the decision to kill Dennis in the New Year's Eve episode of 2005. In the episode Dennis fatally stabbed on the Albert Square pavement following a violent altercation with gangster Johnny Allen, having been informed by Phil Mitchell that Johnny had throttled Sharon.[76] The aftermath saw Sharon struggling with her grief and the realisation that she would be bringing her baby up fatherless. Discussing Sharon's grief at Dennis's funeral, Letitia Dean told Inside Soap in 2006 "It's an incredibly traumatic day for Sharon, she's lost her soulmate. It's especially devastating because she's pregnant, which, as far as she and Dennis were concerned, was a miracle. It's such a bittersweet time. The pain is overwhelming when Sharon sees her husband's coffin [...] Sharon knows that she has to carry on for the baby's sake—it's a part of Dennis she'll have forever, and she takes great comfort in that. As far as Johnny's concerned, through, she wants to see justice done—a job she entrusts to Phil. However, all he's interested in is getting Sharon away from Walford. He's genuinely worried for her welfare, but he's also petrified she'll discover his role in Dennis's death." In the storyline Phil persuades Sharon to leave Walford to stay in America in an episode airing in January 2006.[77]

Despite initial reports suggesting that Dean would only be taking a break from EastEnders and subsequent rumours indicating that Sharon would return for the birth of her child later in 2006, it was announced in June 2006 that there were no immediate plans for Sharon to return but that the birth of her baby would be announced on-screen later that year.[78]

Return (2012)[edit]

Sharon was reunited romantically with Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden seen above) for a third time following her return in 2012.

On 2 February 2012, it was announced that Dean would reprise the role of Sharon after more than six years away. Dean said "I am really looking forward to being part of the EastEnders team again, as it has always been very close to my heart. I cannot wait to work with my old colleagues and see what is in store for Sharon." Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood said he was thrilled that Dean was returning and he could not wait to see Sharon on screen later in the year.[79][80] Kirkwood had previously told a columnist for Inside Soap that in Sharon's absence Ronnie Mitchell (Samantha Womack) had filled the role of the "quivery lipped blonde" female.[81] Tabloid newspapers claimed Sharon was returning to "fill the gap" left behind by Jessie Wallace's character, Kat Slater, who at the time was on a hiatus. However, an EastEnders' spokesperson said "There is no link between Letitia's return to EastEnders and Jessie not being around at the moment. We have been working on plans to bring Sharon back for quite some time." They added viewers could look forward to seeing both characters on screen together later in the year.[82] Executive producer Lorraine Newman said that Dean's return to EastEnders took a year of negotiations to finalise. Dean signed an initial one-year contract with the option for extension.[83]

Dean returned to filming on 6 June 2012.[84] Sharon's return storyline saw her fiancé John (Jesse Birdsall) kidnap her son Dennis Rickman Jr. following a "furious bust up". Sharon enlisted the help former lover Phil to retrieve her son.[85][86] Sharon returned to EastEnders on 13 August 2012.[87] Sharon's return storyline was marked with seven episodes being broadcast over a period of a week (the typical weekly output at this time was four) and it coincided with EastEnders' return to BBC1 following its brief departure to the network's sister channel BBC2 to allow for coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.[88] To promote the character's return, the BBC began airing a trailer across its network's channels during July and August 2012. The trailer showed Albert Square and its residents being blown away by "Hurricane Sharon", who floated down from the sky wearing a wedding dress to the soundtrack of "Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones. To film the trailer, Dean was suspended in mid-air by stunt wires.[89]

Discussing her return, Dean told The Sun that she felt like a newbie upon going back but as soon as she got into the costume and make-up department, she realised that Sharon had not altered: "Sharon’s style hasn’t changed much. The skirts have got longer, the hair is slightly bigger but there is still that Eighties theme. Shoulder pads, eyelashes, a bit of sugar-plum lustre — and she’s back! Soon it was like I hadn’t been away." Dean described Sharon as a "mess", suggesting she had not got over the death of Dennis six years prior. Dean discussed Sharon's decision to turn to Phil for help and suggested that the chemistry between Sharon and Phil still remained: "There is always going to be a Phil in her life. That frisson has always been there, he’s so capable and he’s dangerous too. When you think about it, all her men have been pretty dangerous.”I love working with Steve, always have done. We’ve known each other for so long now. I love the fact Sharon and Phil have such great history — whatever age the viewer is, they pick up on it. People my age remember it and people who are younger pick up on it. It’s good to have that history in soaps, even if nothing happens it’s nice to have that nostalgia."[90] Dean described Sharon as a lost soul upon her return: "she's totally lost. She doesn't know who she is, where she's going. There's something that comes out later, that's happened to her in the States and stuff like that. But she's a lost soul, and this is home again. There's no place like home, so she finds herself back there again."[91]

Painkiller addiction[edit]

Sharon's return in 2012 saw her battling with an addiction to painkillers. Sharon secretly visits an addiction support group but continues to use the pain killers whenever things became difficult in her personal circumstances. The problem culminates in 2013 when Sharon is asked to look after Phil Mitchell's baby granddaughter Lexi and is found unconscious after taking painkillers. Discussing the storyline, Letitia Dean said, "Filming the scene where she collapses and Lola finds her was really difficult because it's so sad. Sharon thinks she is coping but she evidently isn't. She is on such a downward spiral. She can stop using the pills for periods of time, but then something happens and it all gets too much for her. That is the trouble when people rely on things like prescription medication - they'll go to any lengths to get what they want."[92] Dean indicated that she was "fascinated" by this plot development given Sharon's history with her mother Angie's addiction to alcohol during the 1980s. Dean suggested that Sharon was always "disgusted" by her mother's addiction to the extent that she would not even smoke cigarettes, "so the fact that she's got this far in life and has now succumbed to an addiction is fascinating."[93]

Reunion with Phil Mitchell[edit]

Although paired romantically with Jack Branning (Scott Maslen) in 2012, Sharon's romantic history with Phil was continuously revisited: firstly when Phil and Jack competed for Sharon's hand in marriage, and secondly when Sharon kissed Phil despite having chosen to marry Jack. However, it was not in late 2013 when scriptwriters reunited Phil and Sharon legitimately, Sharon having weathered being jilted by Jack at their wedding earlier that year.[94]

Letitia Dean suggested in 2012 that "Sharon has always had a great fondness for Phil and he has always been there for her. She is very comfortable around him and they have a lot of history between them."[94] Although Dean has speculated that Sharon and Phil are not right for each other,[95] she acknowledged the connection between the characters, suggesting they "know each other inside and out".[96] She added, "It was real lust between them back in the day. I don't think she's ever lost that feeling for him and vice versa [...] She likes to think there are no surprises with him but he's also got that edge to him that she's always liked as well. There's a familiarity there and he will help her to feel more settled in life [...] There's always been a deep affection. I think she did love him greatly but when they first got together, when she was married to his brother Grant, that love was never allowed to blossom really. There's always been underlying feelings for him. This is the first time they can really be together properly and honestly and she wants him warts and all [...] She feels safe with Phil, she feels protected and she always has with him, even when they were just friends she always knew he'd be there for her."[96]

As part of Executive Producer, Dominic Treadwell-Collins's, attempt to modernise EastEnders and to reflect trendy areas in East London like Shoreditch, Sharon and Phil were given a new wine bar in the soap to front in 2014. Treadwell-Collins said to the Radio Times: "It should feel more like London. It's been frozen in aspic for too long. Sharon said recently that she's looking to be a landlady. As a result you'll see the edges of Shoreditch creeping into EastEnders. It's got to reflect the modern world."[97] Treadwell-Collins stated that his aim was not to be too pretentious or "try-hard cool" with Sharon's new bar, but for the bar to be somewhere where viewers would want to visit and something for them to laugh at.[98]

The reunion storyline lead to increased animosity between Sharon and "her nemesis" Shirley Carter (Linda Henry), Phil's ex-girlfriend who still harboured feelings for him. According to Dean, "Sharon is very astute and she knows that deep down for Phil, Shirley meant something to him. I doubt she knows too much about it, I don't think she wants to know too much about it, but I definitely think she's wary about it [...] She thinks that Shirley is just quite bitter and jealous of her relationship with Phil and that Shirley needs to move on. Sharon has always been the love of Phil's life so Shirley needs to get over it. That's the undertone."[96] Sharon and Shirley's rivalry was satirized in a BBC trailer which aired to coincide with the 2014 FIFA World Cup. In the trailer, Sharon and Shirley compete with each other by showing off their football skills.[99]

Reception[edit]

Letitia Dean (pictured), has been nominated for numerous awards for the role of Sharon Watts. In 2005, Inside Soap honoured her with an "Outstanding Achievement Award".

Sharon has been dubbed one of the "most popular" characters in EastEnders.[100] Television critic Matt Bayliss, who once wrote storylines for EastEnders, suggested in 2010 that what made Sharon an interesting, classic, female character was that her psychology was laid bare; viewers could see how her troubled upbringing contributed to the mistakes she made and the low self-esteem she had in latter life.[19] In December 2004 the Sunday Mirror reported that executive producer Kathleen Hutchison offered to double Dean's salary from £150,000 a year to £300,000 a year, to persuade her to remain in the show, making her one of the highest paid actresses in British soap opera.[101] In a 2007 poll carried out by Inside Soap, Sharon, who was then on a hiatus from EastEnders, was voted the character that readers most wanted to see return.[102] She also topped a 2001 poll examining 1000 television viewers' opinions of business owners. Sharon was named Britain's dream boss, topping the poll of soap star employers from the UK's two most popular serials, Coronation Street and EastEnders.[103] In a NTL poll in 2003, one third of viewers picked Sharon's comeback in 2001 as their favourite,[104] and in a Radio Times poll of over 5,000 people in 2004, 21% chose Sharon as the soap character they were most pleased to see return.[105]

Letitia Dean has been nominated for multiple awards for her portrayal of Sharon. In 1995, she was nominated in the "Most Popular Actress" category at the National Television Awards.[106] Dean was nominated for the "Best Actress Award" at the British Soap Awards in 2004, and she was also nominated in the category of "Best Dramatic Performance" for "Den's Return".[107] At the 2005 Inside Soap awards, Dean was presented with the coveted award for outstanding achievement as homage to her work in EastEnders; at the time of the awards ceremony, she had appeared in EastEnders (on and off) for over 20 years. She was also nominated in the category of Best Couple (shared with Nigel Harman).[108]

The character of Sharon has garnered controversy in the British media. In 1985, The Sun newspaper branded EastEnders "Too sexy for kids" and suggested it could be a bad influence on children, with Sharon touted as a reason for this. Described as a "teenage temptress" Sharon was criticised for flashing her mini-skirted legs at pub customers and fondling the bottom of a barman, Lofty Holloway (Tom Watt). Television clean-up campaigner Mary Whitehouse said, "This show should be X-rated. This kind of thing is just not on. It is an adults-only soap opera. I shudder to think of the embarrassing questions parents face from their children after Sunday [omnibus] afternoon viewing." A BBC spokesperson responded, "It is not our policy to be sexually provocative. It just mirrors real life in the East End of London."[109]

In 2001, a storyline that saw Sharon confessing to her lover Phil that she was infertile was discussed in The Guardian by Jenni Murray.[49] Of interest to the journalist was Sharon's declaration that she had become infertile because she aborted Grant's baby in 1995, and although the abortion was successful, she did not take a post-op course of anti-biotics; it was a subsequent infection that left her infertile.[49] Of concern to Murray was the deleterious effect that broadcasting such a negative outcome of abortion may have on any female viewers considering the procedure.[49] Murray stated: "It's easy to see why infertility as a result of abortion is manna from heaven to writers hungry for dramatic storylines. Could there be any greater irony than to abort the foetus of one man [Grant], fall in love with his brother [Phil], long to have his child and then find that the dire consequences of the first action deprive you of the delights of the second [...] But how much poetic licence has to be employed to service these plots in which women are consistently punished for exercising their legal right to choose to abort a foetus they don't want to carry? In Sharon's case because she was running away from a violent man".[49] Discussing the matter, Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service confirmed a relatively high risk of infection from abortion, but opined that any good service provides anti-biotics and screens for chlamydia, so the risks are manageable, and the risks of hysterectomy are so rare as to be "negligible".[49] Furedi said that women who consider abortion often feel ambivalent, guilty and have an exaggerated sense of the risks to their future fertility and she suggested that TV makers were "cruel, not just wrong [...] to crank up those fears." David Painton, a leading authority on abortion, expressed concern that such storylines bolster the views of anti-abortionists who "claim wrongly that the procedure is dangerous".[49] Painton stated that although it is now virtually unknown for women to have difficulty conceiving again following a termination, if their doctor instructs a course of anti-biotics to stop infection, then it is important to take the medication.[49] Summarising the storyline and its potential impact, Murray said, "In some ways, the EastEnders story could be seen as a useful cautionary tale. Sharon was properly informed about the risk, failed to act on her doctor's advice and suffers the consequences of her own failure. The scriptwriters can't be accused of presenting a false picture, although it's hard to imagine how anyone with half a brain, told that a course of antibiotics will protect her future fertility, wouldn't take the trouble to swallow a few tablets for a week."[49]

Discussing Sharon's initial exit in 1995, Alison Pearson writing for The Independent felt that the script, which saw Sharon misleading Grant into a reunion, was not in-keeping with the character. She commented, "In soap, character is destiny, and I have to say that I didn't really believe in Sharon's plan for elaborate revenge on Grant. It was a mechanism for getting actress Letitia Dean her freedom and not true to the nature of the character we had grown to know. You could not fault the central performances, though. Albert Square will be a less rounded place without Sharon."[110] Conversely, reporter Matthew Bayliss was positive about the exit stating, "[Sharon] survived the sort of shunning normally suffered by 13th-century Welsh witches in order to wreak the perfect revenge on Grant, tricking him into publicly proposing to her, just so she could turn him down. Rarely has a character's exit been so satisfying to watch, and it was a homage to Sharon's strengths as a character that she left with so much unfinished business behind her."[16]

When it was announced in 2000 that Sharon was returning, Bayliss received the news positively. He suggested that viewers had invested a lot in Sharon, in that they had come to believe in her, having followed her over a large number of years, transgressing from teenager to adult. He described Sharon as an engaging, complex and great soap character, commending the producers of EastEnders for bringing her back. He commented, "with a vintage original such as Sharon as [EastEnders'] latest weapon in the ratings war, it's hard to see what can go wrong."[16]

During a period of falling ratings amid heavy media criticism aimed at EastEnders in 2004, executive producer Louise Berridge spoke to the press about reasons for viewer complaints. She claimed that one reason viewers felt EastEnders had been weaker in 2004, was because some were displeased when storylines that they "love", such as the Sharon-Dennis romance, were not featured prominently at all times. She commented, "it's disappointing to read that a large number of viewers feel the show has been weaker over this past year—although to some extent I fear this was inevitable. In a way, it has been a victim of its own success. The phenomenal popularity of the Kat and Alfie storyline was such that some viewers complained if these characters were not the centre of every storyline. A similar thing is happening with the tremendously successful 'Shannis' storyline (the affair between Dennis and Sharon)—people love it so much, hundreds are writing in demanding to see more of it."[58]

Sarah Ellis of Inside Soap said that the magazine's staff had never been so excited as they were when they heard Sharon was returning in 2012. She said that they were "dying" to know which male character Sharon will take an interest in first.[111] Ross Kemp who played Grant Mitchell and Steve McFadden who plays Phil Mitchell expressed pleasure at the return of Sharon and Letitia Dean in 2012, with McFadden suggesting that Letitia's former stint in EastEnders was part of a golden era of the soap opera. He described her return as brilliant.[112][113]

Media reporter for The Guardian, Stuart Heritage, was critical about EastEnders' decision to reintroduce Sharon for the third time in 2012, suggesting that it meant that the programme had run out of original ideas. Heritage commented, "Even Letitia Dean has probably lost count of the times she's left and returned as Sharon. She's spent the last 18 years running away to the United States, only to come back to buy a pub or bury her mum, or to have sex with a Mitchell brother, or the other Mitchell brother, or her own adopted sibling, or to confront her inexplicably twice-dead father. Often Sharon's haircut will imperceptibly change upon her arrival, but everything else—the quivering lip, the worrying breathlessness, the consistent inability to refer to Phil Mitchell as anything other than 'Fiw'—remains the same. This is how it's likely to be this time around, regardless of if anyone actually wants her back or not [...] There are other offenders—Bianca, Janine, Mandy, Grant—but Sharon is the worst, simply because she's so prolific".[114] Letitia Dean defended her comeback saying, "I think with any sort of ongoing drama like EastEnders you need old blood, new blood, it just needs a balance." Steve McFadden added "What Letitia is doing is bringing back some history and you can't buy that. It takes years to build that up."[115]

In popular culture[edit]

The character of Sharon has been spoofed in the ITV cartoon sketch show 2DTV where in one sketch, she was likened to the Jim Henson Muppet Miss Piggy.[116] The character has also been spoofed by the Scottish impressionist Ronni Ancona in the BBC's Big Impression. Ancona's impression mocked Sharon's pronunciation, inferring that she pouts a lot and that she looks badly dubbed, as her lips quiver after delivering a line. The episodes featuring Sharon aired on the Christmas Day special of the programme, in 2001.[117]

The character was also spoofed in the BBC comedy sketch show The Real McCoy. One of the show's recurring sketches featured a spoof version of EastEnders, with black and Asian comedians taking over roles of well-known EastEnders characters who frequent a pub called Rub-a-Dub. Actress and comedian Meera Syal played the role of Sharon in the sketches.[118]

Impressionist Francine Lewis performed an impression of Sharon Watts in the seventh series of Britain's Got Talent.[119]

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Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]