Ian Albert Beale is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Adam Woodyatt. He is the longest-serving character and the only remaining original character to have appeared continuously since the first episode on 19 February 1985. The character appeared in his 2,000th episode in the show on 26 March 2007. He is currently one of three original main characters in EastEnders, the others being Ian's mother Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth) and close friend Sharon Mitchell (Letitia Dean).
Ian is the most-married character in EastEnders history, with five marriages to four women (Cindy Beale, Melanie Owen, Laura Beale and twice to Jane Beale) and two aborted engagements to Mandy Salter and Denise Fox. He has fathered three children (Peter Beale, Lucy Beale and Bobby Beale), raised his first wife's son Steven Beale (who he believed to be his) and is the guardian of his first wife's youngest daughter, Cindy Williams.
As a teenager, Ian argues with his father Pete Beale (Peter Dean) over his desire to become a caterer but his grandmother Lou Beale (Anna Wing) encourages him. He starts several businesses and buys a local café soon after graduating from catering college. Ian has several failed romances, including with his childhood friend, Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean), with whom Ian remains close, fellow student, Tina Hopkins (Eleanor Rhodes) and his cousin, Elizabeth Beale (Lucy Bayler). Ian gets engaged to Cindy Williams (Michelle Collins) in 1989; however, a one-night stand with her former lover Simon Wicks (Nick Berry) leaves her pregnant. Cindy marries Ian and claims that the baby she is expecting, Steven Beale, is his, resulting in Ian attempting suicide when he learns the truth. He recovers and causes Simon to have a car accident in revenge so Simon, Cindy and Steven leave Walford together. Ian immerses himself in his catering business but his exploitative working practices alienate his friends, employees and family. He and Cindy later reconcile and Ian is overjoyed to become a father to twins, Peter Beale and Lucy Beale. After opening a fish and chip shop, Ian becomes so obsessed with building his business empire that he neglects Cindy, who decides to leave him for his half-brother, David Wicks (Michael French). Ian wins custody of their children, and makes Cindy so miserable that she hires John Valecue (Steve Weston), a hitman to kill him. Ian is shot but is only clipped by the bullet and recovers. Cindy leaves the country with Steven and Peter and spends a year in Italy before Ian traces them and retrieves the boys. Cindy returns to Walford and wins back custody of the children but is implicated in Ian's shooting. She is jailed on remand and dies several months later in prison during childbirth.
Ian has a serious romance with Melanie Healy (Tamzin Outhwaite), the manager of his bric-a-brac shop. She proposes to him but later cheats on him with Steve Owen (Martin Kemp). Suspecting that she is planning to leave him, Ian manipulates her by falsely claiming that Lucy is dying from lymphoma. They marry in 1999, but she leaves him during their wedding reception after discovering that Lucy is fine. Ian then pursues a new business venture: development of high-market flats. He begins a casual relationship with his nanny, Laura Dunn (Hannah Waterman), but only commits to her after being declared bankrupt. Laura buys back the fish and chip shop and, despite fearing that Ian is only interested in an inheritance she has received, they marry in May 2001. Their marriage deteriorates when Ian attempts to kiss Melanie. He refuses to have a child with Laura, who frequently belittles him. Steven learns that Ian has been visiting local prostitute Janine Butcher (Charlie Brooks), and tells Laura, before moving to New Zealand to live with Simon. Laura forgives Ian on the condition that they have a baby. Although he agrees, Ian has a secret vasectomy and throws Laura out when she becomes pregnant later that year after conning her into signing over control of their businesses.
Laura's son Bobby (Kevin Curran) requires a blood transfusion shortly after his birth, making Laura realise that Ian must be his father, as her lover Garry Hobbs (Ricky Groves) is not a match. Laura dies in 2004, breaking her neck after falling down the stairs. Ian takes custody of Bobby and also takes in his half brother Ben, following the death of their mother. Ian fights Ben's father Phil (Steve McFadden) for custody, worsening their long-standing enmity which stems from Phil's disastrous marriage to Ian's mother Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth). Ian meets a new romantic interest, Jane Collins (Laurie Brett), in 2004. He helps her to come to terms with the death of her husband, David (Dan Milne) from Huntington's disease, and, although their relationship is severely tested when Jane has a brief affair with Phil's brother, Grant (Ross Kemp), they marry in July 2007. Steven returns to Walford and stalks Ian, escalating to holding him hostage for several weeks. He accidentally shoots Jane during an altercation, which results in her needing a hysterectomy. Ian forgives Steven but banishes him from his life when he helps Lucy run away. Ian and Jane temporarily separate over Ian's reluctance to adopt a child. When Lucy becomes pregnant, she suggests that Jane raise the baby as her own. Jane and Ian agree but he secretly helps Lucy to have an abortion, lying to Jane that she miscarried. Jane later learns the truth and decides to steal Ian's money and leave him. Ian arranges for her to adopt Bobby, and is devastated to discover Jane's plans. Although she decides to remain with him, Ian begins an affair with Glenda Mitchell (Glynis Barber), who later blackmails Ian, forcing him to confess the adultery to Jane. A disgusted Peter leaves Walford and joins Lucy in Devon. Jane and Ian divorce but continue to live together; however, their acrimony upsets Bobby and Jane leaves Walford in May 2011 as a result. Ian attempts to move on by filling an urn with cigarette ash, pretending that he is a widower and that the ashes are Jane in order to gain attention from women. However, his ruse is soon uncovered. Feeling dejected, Ian goes to a strip club in August 2011 and is stunned to see Mandy Salter (Nicola Stapleton) being thrown out. Ian helps Mandy out and allows her to stay with him. Mandy helps Ian discover his more frivolous side and he realises he has feelings for her. They begin a relationship, realising that they both yearn for someone to love them, and Mandy accepts Ian's impromptu marriage proposal. The relationship is marred by Mandy's one-night stand with Ricky Butcher (Sid Owen), Ian's insecurities, interference from Mandy's abusive mother Lorraine Stevens (Victoria Alcock), and Lucy's hatred of Mandy. Despite Lucy's best efforts to split them up, Ian is determined to marry Mandy and brings their wedding day forward. Mandy is horrified, however, when Ian chooses her over Lucy and throws his daughter out. Realising she does not love Ian, Mandy leaves him in May 2012, leading to Ian suffering a nervous breakdown. He wanders along a road barefoot, dressed only in pyjamas, not telling anyone where he has gone.
Two months later, Lauren Branning (Jacqueline Jossa), working with homeless people, sees Ian at a homeless shelter. Tanya Cross (Jo Joyner), Max Branning (Jake Wood) and Alfie Moon (Shane Richie) find him and bring him back to the Square but Lucy is unsympathetic, angered by his leaving her and Bobby, and slams the door in his face. Ian refuses to acknowledge anyone. He stays with Tanya and Max until Phil finds out he is back and takes him to his house to ensure he does not tell anybody about Ben murdering Heather. Ian continues to be unresponsive until Phil's partner Shirley Carter (Linda Henry) mentions Heather, and his memory returns. Ben attempts to help Ian by taking him to the café, but Lucy screams and has him physically removed. Ian, extremely miserable, collapses in tears outside, while Phil worries that Ian will remember that Ben murdered Heather. After Sharon returns to Walford, she successfully persuades Lucy to give Ian another chance. Lucy agrees but on the condition that Ian signs all of his businesses over to her so that if Ian abandons her again she can be financially secure. Ian agrees to this. Ben confesses to murdering Heather and is remanded in custody, leaving Ian shocked. He starts working again at the café and getting back into his old life. Phil then gets Ian to visit Ben in prison to try to get him to retract his confession, but Ian says he cannot tell Ben what is right. Eventually, Zainab Khan (Nina Wadia) persuades Ian to attend counselling in an attempt to recover from his mental breakdown and, after talking to Sharon, Lucy finally makes peace with her father.
Ian sparks a friendly rivalry with Denise Fox (Diane Parish) as the two engage in a fruit-selling war, though he irritates her. Denise's sister Kim Fox (Tameka Empson) attempts to set them up on a date but this upsets Denise who kisses Kim's boyfriend Ray Dixon (Chucky Venn). Kim discovers this and disowns her sister, so Ian allows Denise to stay with him, igniting a friendship between them. It eventually leads to a relationship when he confides in her about his life on the streets. Ian decides to open a restaurant, though Lucy is worried it will fail because of his mental illness. He runs out of money for construction but then finds a box of cash that used to belong to Derek Branning (Jamie Foreman). He also gets Janine to invest in the restaurant, and eventually tricks Lucy into signing over all of the businesses to him. Peter (now played by Ben Hardy) returns to live with the family, and is soon followed by Cindy Williams (Mimi Keene), the daughter of Ian's dead ex-wife of the same name. Ian lets Cindy stay, and Denise also moves in with the family. However Carl White (Daniel Coonan), an associate of Derek, arrives in Walford and soon works out that Ian has spent Derek's money. Carl claims the money was his, and so extorts large sums of cash from Ian as payback. Carl is violent, and burns Ian's hand when he tries to refuse to pay him before promising that the debt will be paid if Ian lies in court, and says that he saw Max tampering with the brakes of Carl's car. Ian reluctantly agrees, but on the day of the court case he is kidnapped by Phil, and Max is found not guilty. It is then revealed that Max was in on the kidnapping, but it was just to lure Carl into a trap. Ian then has to face the consequences of his actions, and Denise is angry when she finds out the truth.
Denise thinks that Ian is planning to propose to her as a Christmas present, but he denies it even though he has bought an engagement ring. Peter reveals that he is in a relationship with Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold), the mother of Phil's granddaughter and his niece, Lexi Mitchell. Phil threatens Ian and forces him to end the relationship. Ian tells Peter this, and Peter tells Ian that he has found £10,000 that Cindy stole from Phil. They return the money, and Phil blames Ian, believing that he put Cindy up to stealing it. In January 2014, just as Ian is about to propose to Denise, Jane arrives unannounced. Jane later buys into Ian's restaurant and they begin running it together, leading Ian to harbour feelings for Jane.
Ian is pessimistic when Lucy decides to set up her own property business and later becomes concerned about her when he discovers she is sleeping with Lee Carter (Danny-Boy Hatchard) and is taking cocaine. He confronts her and admits she is the child he is most proud of, but this is overheard by Peter, resulting in Lucy storming out. Ian tries to contact her when she does not return home that night, but is later informed by DC Emma Summerhayes (Anna Acton) and DS Bryant (Glen Wallace) that Lucy has been found dead. He identifies her body and then shares his devastating news with Jane, Denise, Cindy, Bobby and finally Peter. Struggling with their grief, Ian and Jane share a passionate encounter, giving Ian hope that they might reunite. When Jane dashes his hopes, Ian takes his anger out on Bobby and Jane decides it would be best if she take Bobby away for a while. Cindy also leaves the Square to return to Devon with her Aunt Gina. Increasingly alone, Ian leans on Phil for support and questions how he can move on from his daughter's death. With Peter's help, he stages an opening for the new and improved restaurant, but during opening night Summerhayes reveals that Lucy's body has been released for burial. Ian leaves early with Peter to see her, but is unable to due to his grief. He wants to organise the funeral for as soon as possible but discovers that Max and Lucy were together; Ian angrily attacks Max as he carries Lucy's coffin down the aisle of the church and it is clear that Ian is not coping. Worried, Sharon believes that he is relying on pills to numb the pain of his grief and she and Carol Jackson (Lindsey Coulson) comfort him.
Ian receives texts from Rainie Cross (Tanya Franks) that he hides them from Denise. It is later discovered that he paid Rainie for sex on the night Lucy died, and, knowing that he has given a false alibi to the police, Rainie demands money to fund her drug addiction. When Ian cannot pay Rainie, she comes to Walford and tells Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker) what Ian did. Patrick confronts Ian and decides to tell Denise so Ian arranges a surprise trip to see Denise's daughter Libby Fox (Belinda Owusu) in Oxford, and they leave before Patrick can tell Denise. Patrick suffers a stroke and he is unable to communicate what happened to Denise. Ian meets Rainie at her request but Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) sees them together. When Ian drives away, Rainie approaches Mick who is then arrested and charged for soliciting.
Ian tries to convince Denise to put Patrick in a care home, fearful of his secret. However, he eventually agrees that Patrick can live with them. Rainie tells Denise the truth, but before Ian can explain to Denise, Cindy makes a sudden return, already several hours into her labour. Ian delivers her baby daughter, and agrees that she can live with him. Denise moves out, refusing to forgive Ian for his actions when she discovers that Patrick knew and that Ian was willing to put Patrick in a care home to keep his secret. Concerned for Ian, Sharon and Phil organise for him to visit Michelle in America. Ian returns on Sharon's wedding day to try to stop her marrying Phil.
Jane returns with the news that Bobby is missing—he is found on Walford Common—he wants to return to Walford and Jane agrees. She falls for Ian again and proposes to him at the Christmas Eve carol concert. They plan their wedding for next February.
Ian and Jane get married in the restaurant with their friends and family as witnesses. After Lauren tells Peter that she believes Lucy was murdered by a member of the family, he accuses them of killing Lucy. Jane admits that Bobby accidentally killed Lucy by hitting her over the head with a jewellery box. Though Bobby believed that Lucy was still alive, Jane realized she was dead and covered up her murder by faking a mugging. Ian, Jane and Cindy decide to cover up Lucy's murder however Peter does not agree to do this. Ian, Jane, Bobby and Beth go on holiday for Ian and Jane's honeymoon, and Peter leaves Walford along with Lauren. A few weeks later, Ian and the rest of the Beales return to Walford and reunite Beth with Cindy, but Cindy believes that she is not a capable mother and abandons Beth at the park, but she is picked up by Ian's great nephew Liam Butcher (James Forde). Ian and Jane agree to adopt Beth, but Cindy decides she does not want to be in the same house as her baby, so says that if she is not adopted into a different household, she will tell everyone Bobby killed Lucy. After Beth is taken in by her paternal relatives, Ian tells Cindy to leave and not come back. Jane pays Carol to look after Cindy and Ian finds out from Carol after an argument with her. On the day of Cindy's school prom, Ian reveals this to Cindy. After Cindy gets into a car with two strange men, feeling she has no home, a concerned Ian phones the police. After Cindy returns, Ian tries to convince her she is wanted and Liam convinces her to give her family a chance, so she and Ian make up. Ian and Jane are upset to learn about a new lead in the murder investigation but they still plan silence even after Ben is arrested in the hope that he is released. However, when Max is arrested and charged for the murder, Jane begins to contemplate telling the truth when she feels guilty for not being able to help Carol prove Max's innocence. Ian is adamant that Bobby's role in the murder will not be made public and confronts Sharon when she discovers the truth.
Creation and development
Ian Beale is one of the original twenty-three characters invented by the creators of EastEnders, Tony Holland and Julia Smith. Ian is a member of the first family of EastEnders, the Beales and Fowlers, and Holland took the inspiration for some of the series' earliest characters from his own London family and background. Ian's original character outline as written by Smith and Holland appeared in an abridged form in their book, EastEnders: The Inside Story.
There is a pressure from home to do well at school and he may be a bit worried that he's not doing as well as they hope. The shadow of his father (however fictional the image is) and the pressure to be a man's man and a chip off the old block might cause trouble in the future. A point is going to be reached when Ian is going to have to assert himself as himself. He can't allow his father to live his life, by proxy, through him. Or, maybe he can...? (page 56)
Because the actress playing Ian's mother (Gillian Taylforth) was fair-haired, they also wanted him to be fair, and because of Taylforth's age he also had to look very young. Ian was meant to be fourteen when the programme first aired, but because of licensing regulations, the actor cast was required to be a 16-year-old who could 'play down'. Adam Woodyatt, born in east London, had worked as an actor in his youth, but had given it up and relocated with his family to Wales. He was recruited from his old agency and it was decided that he was perfect for the part and he was subsequently cast as Ian Beale. In 1990 Ian's age was increased and he celebrated his twenty-first birthday two years after his eighteenth. The producers felt Ian needed to be a bit older and more mature for storylines planned for him later that year.
Ian Beale has gone on to be the longest running character in the soap's history and, until the returns of Sharon Rickman in August 2012 and Kathy Beale in February 2015, was the only remaining original character. Woodyatt confirmed his desire to remain with the show in 2010, during the show's 25th anniversary: "Why would I want to leave when I'm not going to get the chance to portray even half the range of emotions I get to here in a one-off drama or a six-part series? And you're not going to get the same viewing figures either. You have your moments when things go wrong and you perhaps don't want to work with a certain person. In any office there are going to be people who don't get along but you get on with it and on the whole I enjoy it. Over the last couple of years we've had a really tight crew and it's the best atmosphere I can remember. There have been peaks and troughs, like with any show, but right now things are good."
Ian has been described as a character viewers love to hate. His initial storylines portrayed him as a sensitive young boy with professional aspirations that went against his father's wishes. Not content to follow in his father's footsteps and take over the family fruit and veg stall, Ian wanted to become a chef and this caused a certain amount of hostility between him and his father, who viewed the occupation as effeminate. Ian's keenness to succeed in his business ventures continued as the character grew, so much so that he started using underhand methods in order to get what he wanted and became one of the soap's most renowned "slimeballs". The character is regularly referred to as a "weasel" in the British press.
Author Dorothy Hobson has described Ian as a typical Thatcher's child, a term used to reference children who grew up in the premiership of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and who adopted the ideology of Thatcherism, such as personal financial gain, self-sufficiency and disregard of the welfare of those who are less well-off. As a result, Hobson suggests that Ian is "young, ambitious, rich and unhappy", which she claims is a perfect reflection of the spirit of the age.
In her book, Who's Who?, Kate Lock described Ian as "wimpy, perhaps not what you'd call a man's man [...] trying to turn Walford into the capital of Capitalism [...] Somewhere along the line, Ian evolved into an obsessive, obnoxious money-monster [...] Ian always pretended to be magnanimous, doing things for the community [...] but it's inspired by self-interest."
Hobson suggests that Ian's saving grace is that he is a "passionately caring father" and Woodyatt has suggested that Ian is a chameleon, a description he claims former Executive Producer Louise Berridge used to describe the character. Woodyatt commented in 2010, "Whatever [Louise Berridge] wanted Ian to do, she'd find a way of justifying it. It's true. He can be nice to his family but he can be devious with them as well. He can stitch people up but can be very generous. You can get away with doing anything with Ian. It's probably why I'm still here."
Obsession with success has been an underlying theme with the character for almost the entire duration of the show, but the acceleration of Ian's nasty side can be traced back to his disastrous first marriage to one of EastEnders' most renowned women, Cindy Beale in 1989. The storyline centred on Ian's discovery that the child he thought was his (Steven), was actually his best friend's. The climax of this revelation was known to script-writers as the "Devon cottage climax" and aired in September 1990. The episode saw an enraged Ian trace Cindy and Simon Wicks to her parents' house in Devon, just after being released from hospital following a failed suicide bid. The script, written by Debbie Cook, led to a confrontation that EastEnders' writer Colin Brake has suggested contained elements of tragedy and farce. Brake suggests that a particularly memorable scene included Ian furiously throwing bricks through the window of the house, followed by one of his crutches. The episode ended ominously with Ian finding Cindy's father's shotgun and stealing it. Directed by Matthew Evans, Brake suggests that these episodes not only brought the story to a shocking climax but also laid roots for the next three months' worth of storylines, building up to Cindy and Simon's departure, and Ian's spectacular fall from grace.
Author Dorothy Hobson has described Ian and Cindy's relationship as "one of the most tempestuous in any soap opera". The characters were reunited on-screen in 1992 but the relationship ended in adultery once again when Cindy began an affair with Simon's brother David Wicks, which culminated in Cindy hiring an assassin to shoot Ian in 1996 after he discovered the affair. Michelle Collins who played Cindy commented in 1996, "[Cindy] was not thinking properly when she contacted the hitman, and she is being quite erratic. Despite what she has done she never expected Ian to be so cruel to her. Now she cannot really see any other way out of the mess she is in. She has lost touch with reality – but in the end she can't see any other way of escaping Ian." More than 18 million viewers tuned in to see Ian gunned-down, which was more than sixty-four per cent of available viewers. The plot facilitated Collins' desire to leave the programme following the birth of her child, and Cindy, implicated in the shooting, fled the country with Ian's two sons.
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Ian was voted one of the top five television characters "we most love to hate" in a Channel 4 poll in 2001. In 2009, Ian Beale came ninth in a poll by British men's magazine Loaded for "Top Soap Bloke". Woodyatt has received a number of award nominations for his portrayal of Ian, including a "Best Actor" nomination at The British Soap Awards 2010 and a nomination for "Best Performance in a Serial Drama" in The National Television Awards 2012. In 2013, Woodyatt received a "Lifetime Achievement Award" at The British Soap Awards 2013. Following thirty years of service to EastEnders, Woodyatt was awarded with his first "Best Actor" accolade at The British Soap Awards 2015. At this ceremony, he also won "Best On-screen Partnership" alongside Laurie Brett.
Author Dorothy Hobson has stated that Ian Beale is a "major creation" capturing the personification of political attitudes taken up during Margaret Thatcher's premiership as Prime Minister in the 1980s. She suggests that Ian Beale is a "major representation of a young man" of that era, and that his sensitive portrayal by Adam Woodyatt is "perhaps unrecognised". Roz Paterson of the Daily Record branded Ian "eminently unlovable" and stated that Melanie proposing to him represented a growing trend in women proposing. Holy Soap said that Ian's most memorable moment was "His attempted murder in the Square". In 2009, Virgin Media called Ian "the most boring and selfish man in Walford" and felt that he deserved to lose his wife, Jane.
- McGarry, Lisa (4 April 2007). "Eastenders: Ian Beale Chalks Up 2000 Episodes!". Unreality TV. Retrieved 3 August 2009.[dead link]
- Smith, Julia; Holland, Tony (1987). EastEnders – The Inside Story. Book Club Associates. ISBN 0-563-20601-2.
- "EASTENDERS EXCLUSIVE ADAM WOODYATT ON BEING IAN BEALE.". The Mirror. 12 February 2010. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
- "Laurie Brett on Ian Beale", Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 2006-10-05.
- "I'VE HAD MY PHIL OF STICKY SITUATIONS", Sunday Mail. Retrieved 2006-10-05.
- Dorothy Hobson (2003). opera. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-7456-2655-0.
- Lock, Kate (2000). EastEnders Who's Who. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-55178-X.
- Brake, Colin (1995). EastEnders: The First 10 Years: A Celebration. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-37057-2.
- "CINDY FIRED UP FOR ACTION.". The Mirror. 5 October 1996. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
- "Enders' hitman pulls in 18m for Beeb.". The Mirror. 9 October 1996. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
- "Deadly Cin's on her way.". The Mirror. 18 October 1996. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
- "THE 100 GREATEST TV CHARACTERS", Offthetelly.co.uk. Retrieved 2006-10-05.
- "Harold Ramsay is Loaded's Top Soap Bloke". news.com.au. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 10 September 2009.
- "British Soap Awards: EastEnders' nominees". BBC Online. 1 March 2010. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
- Paterson, Roz (19 August 1999). "Now aisle do the asking; We don't leave proposals to men anymore". Daily Record. (Trinity Mirror). Retrieved 8 March 2011.
- "EastEnders > Cast > Ian Beale". Holy Soap. (Channel 5). Retrieved 8 March 2011.
- "Good year, bad year – Good year: Jane Beale." London: Virgin Media. Retrieved 27 March 2012.