A promotional image of Lisa Fowler
|Portrayed by||Lucy Benjamin|
|First appearance||Episode 1704
7 December 1998
|Last appearance||Episode 4047
5 August 2010
|Introduced by||Matthew Robinson (1998)
Louise Berridge (2003)
Bryan Kirkwood (2010)
Lisa Deborah Fowler (also Shaw) is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Lucy Benjamin from 1998 to 2003 and in 2010. Lisa is instrumental in one of EastEnders most highly publicised and anticipated storylines, dubbed Who Shot Phil? in 2001, where she guns down her former partner Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden). Executive Producer Louise Berridge axed the character in 2002 after four years, but brought her back temporarily in 2003 on two occasions. Bryan Kirkwood brought the character back for a single episode on 5 August 2010.
Lisa arrives in Albert Square in December 1998 as new assistant market inspector to Michael Rose (Russell Floyd). Although Michael is a family man, he and Lisa begin an affair and, aged 28, she loses her virginity to him. but Michael ultimately decides to stay with his wife and the affair ends. Lisa makes friends with Melanie Healy (Tamzin Outhwaite) and moves in with Mark Fowler (Todd Carty). Although Mark has feelings for her, Lisa does not notice, having a fling with Gianni di Marco (Marc Bannerman) and a relationship with Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden), resulting in Lisa's pregnancy. Phil asks her to have an abortion but she refuses so he warms to the idea of having a baby and asks her to move in. She miscarries and blames Phil. He responds initially with abuse but eventually offers his support. Lisa loses her job when Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) reports her for being absent, making her dependent on Phil. He refuses to allow her to get another job so she loses her confidence and becomes jealous of Phil's ex-wife, Kathy Mitchell (Gillian Taylforth) and son Ben Mitchell (Morgan Whittle), hiding letters and a video from them. This irritates Phil and he has sex with Melanie when she is drunk and upset, following a fight with Lisa on Christmas Day. Regretting this, Melanie agrees not to tell Lisa but then does when Lisa reveals that she intends to get pregnant again. Devastated, Lisa ends her relationship with Phil and moves in with Mark, keeping her pregnancy a secret. She eventually forgives Melanie but their friendship is damaged.
Phil continues to belittle Lisa, and on Melanie and Steve Owen's (Martin Kemp) wedding night, Phil humiliates her by saying he never loved her and suggests Melanie give her tips in the bedroom. In revenge, Lisa steals a gun from the e20 nightclub and shoots Phil. He survives and confronts her after leaving hospital but realises that he drove her to it and frames his enemy Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass) instead. Wanting to keep Phil away from her child, Lisa and Mark marry, claiming that he is the baby's father. Everyone believes it and their romance becomes real. Lisa gives birth to baby Louise, assisted by Phil, not Mark, and Lisa admits to Phil's girlfriend, Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean), that Phil is Louise's father. Sharon tells Phil that Louise is his daughter and Phil consequently demands contact with Louise and forces them to accept he will be part of Louise's life. Despite initial animosity, when Lisa sees Phil with Louise, old feelings resurface and she eventually moves back in with him. However, it is Louise that Phil really wants and Lisa soon realises, emigrating with Louise to Portugal. Phil finds her and brings Louise home after blackmailing Lisa with the knowledge that she shot him, and persuading her that she is unstable and an unfit mother. Phil leaves her standing on the edge of a cliff, and she is subsequently presumed dead. On Phil's wedding day to Kate Morton (Jill Halfpenny), Lisa returns to reclaim her daughter and kill Phil. She forms plans to shoot him again but Den Watts (Leslie Grantham) persuades her to let him do it. He and his son, Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman), frame Phil for armed robbery and Lisa reclaims custody when he is imprisoned. She leaves the Square with Louise.
Several years later, Jack Branning (Scott Maslen), an ex-policeman, tells Phil that Lisa and Louise are living in South East London. After seeing Louise call another man 'daddy', Phil decides that she is better off with Lisa. Two years later, Louise arrives alone in Walford, saying that Lisa has gone on holiday but not returned. Louise is taken into care but when Phil discovers this, he has a DNA test to prove Louise is his daughter and gains custody of her. Later that year, Phil is visited by a social worker, Derek Evans (Simon Lowe), who says that Lisa has made an application to see Louise. Phil does not want Lisa to have contact with Louise, but Phil's mother Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor) takes her to see Lisa on Louise's request. Peggy slaps Lisa for abandoning her daughter, and Lisa reveals she had a breakdown and thought Louise might be better off without her, but the neighbour she left Louise with promised to look after her. Lisa worries that Phil might hurt Louise physically after Phil has hit Peggy. Peggy is unable to assure her that this will not happen. Peggy allows Louise to stay with Lisa permanently as long as Phil can visit her. Phil steals the social worker's bag to get Lisa's address, and drives there to confront her but finds the house abandoned and empty.
Creation and development
The character's arrival was announced by the press in November 1998. She was one of Executive Producer Matthew Robinson's introductions, and was described as a "home-wrecking blonde". According to actress Lucy Benjamin who played Lisa, the scriptwriters had doubts about casting her in the role: "I just knew in my heart that I'd be able to do it well. And I desperately wanted the security of a regular income. But after the audition they kept me hanging on for such a long time. They tortured me by saying yes then saying no. It's the only job I've ever cried about when I thought I didn't have it." Benjamin said that she was overjoyed when she was eventually given the part. In 2010, Matthew Robinson discussed Lisa's introduction with Walford Web, suggesting that Lisa and several other new characters introduced were an attempt to fill in character gaps in the soap resulting from a large number of axings. Lisa was conceptualised as a "totty" contingent. He indicated that the casting of Benjamin had been awkward as BBC controller of drama, Mal Young, was hesitant about her hiring. He eventually relented and, according to Robinson, admitted after seeing her in the role that "she was, after all, a great asset to the show".
Prior to the 2000s, Lucy Benjamin described Lisa Shaw, as "feisty, independent and ambitious". Later she described her as "a loyal, romantic Earth Mother". It was revealed through dialogue on-screen that Lisa had nursed her mother through terminal cancer, and that she had not lost her virginity until the age of 28, when she came to Walford.
The character's demeanour altered somewhat circa 2000. Due to her romantic pairing with Phil Mitchell, she became "mentally battered". Rupert Smith, author of EastEnders: 20 years in Albert Square, classified the character as an "eternal victim": one who endures misfortune and misery, an endless sufferer. He adds, "She was intelligent, beautiful and young — and so, of course, Lisa had to lie down and let men walk all over her [...] a snivelling, suicidal wreck." Benjamin has noted that her character was "constantly crying".
Relationship with Phil Mitchell
Lisa became more prominently featured in 1999 when she was paired romantically with Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden). Phil and Lisa's relationship started in 1999. The relationship was scripted as problematic and included storylines about miscarriage, emotional and mental abuse, and infidelity when Phil slept with Lisa's best friend, Mel, (Tamzin Outhwaite).
One of EastEnders' most highly anticipated storylines involved the couple and has been dubbed "Who Shot Phil?". The plot saw Phil Mitchell gunned down outside his home in March 2001 in a Dallas-style whodunnit mystery. Various key characters were in the frame for the deed and viewers were left guessing for weeks as to which was the real culprit. Several outcomes were allegedly filmed and it was reported that only a few TV executives knew the identity of the would-be assassin — even the actors were kept in the dark. A spokesman commented, "The cast are only getting their own scripts. They are not being told anyone else's storylines. Not even Phil knows who shot him. It's top secret." Script writers were reportedly given private security after a writer's laptop was stolen in what was believed to be an attempt to gain the identity of the assailant. The storyline captivated the public's imagination leading to thousands of bets being placed at the bookies across the UK — bookmaker William Hill said there was about 50,000 bets on who was responsible.
An estimated 22 million viewers watched EastEnders on 5 April 2001 to find out that Lisa — Phil's spurned ex-girlfriend — was the culprit. The episode caused the third-largest power surge on record and the Liverpool and Barcelona UEFA Cup semi-final was postponed for 15 minutes to accommodate a special 40 minute edition of the soap.
Lucy Benjamin told the Daily Star that keeping the secret that her character was responsible for the attempted murder had been the "worst two months of her life". She commented to The Mirror, "For two months I've carried this secret and it's been tough, really hard. I've had to lie to my colleagues — all the suspects were told to say it wasn't us. I've become very good at lying! The lies went on and on. The first person I told that it wasn't me was Todd Carty, who plays Mark [Fowler]. I thought he was a good chap to try my lies on to see if he believed it! And he did. I was delighted that it was me. I think Lisa had every reason to do it". At the time, Lucy Benjamin expressed fear that the high-profile storyline would spell the end of her character, who she had thought would be imprisoned. However, in a further plot twist, Phil framed Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass), for the shooting. Subsequent storylines involved in Lisa and Phil's narratives surrounded Lisa's pregnancy. In the storyline, Lisa, secretly expecting Phil's baby, married Mark Fowler (Todd Carty), and claimed the baby was his. This secret was blown in the Christmas Day 2001 episodes.
In June 2002, it was reported that Lucy Benjamin had quit her role of Lisa. She commented, "I’ve had a wonderful five years and I’m terribly excited by the [exit] storyline.” EastEnders' executive producer Louise Berridge added, “This is going to be a very demanding story to play but I know Lucy will do a fabulous job. She’s an actress with a terrific future.” Despite initial claims that the actress had decided to leave, she later admitted that the producers had axed the character. Discussing Lisa's exit, Lucy Benjamin's boyfriend of the time, actor Steve McFadden who plays Phil Mitchell, said, "Lucy didn’t feel comfortable with lying. There’s a stigma attached to being given the boot but she felt stupid pretending she’d decided to pack in a great job. It was hard for her and she was very upset but she’s come through it. I felt for her but soaps are led by storylines and Lucy was told that the writers had come up with a brilliant plot that was too good to say no to.I guess Lucy’s character was so central to the plot that eventually it blew up in her face. I’m proud of the fact that she was good enough to come to the forefront of the show. Lucy did so well to make her mark on EastEnders in the first place because Lisa arrived on the Square on her own. She wasn’t part of a family, which means she was more vulnerable to the chop. She was only on a three-month contract but she made it a success and ended up being part of the cast for four years. If you are part of a screen family on EastEnders you are practically bomb-proof, no matter what your ability is as an actor."
Lisa's departing storyline revolved around rekindling of her romance with Phil. After beginning an affair, she left Mark taking her daughter to live with the Mitchells. Benjamin discussed her character's motive: "There has always been a spark between her and Phil and it’s never been put out. Lisa has tried to love Mark and in her own way, she does — but it’s not passionate between them. She knows it’s wrong. She chose Mark, but Phil is her weakness. She wants him, and there’s nothing she can do about it. Phil knows she loves the danger and for once, Lisa’s being impulsive. She’s a wife and mother and, although she loves her daughter and doesn’t want to hurt Mark, being with Phil is an escape. It gives her something she doesn’t have with Mark — passion. You’d think she’d learn not to get involved again. But Lisa is a victim of her love for Phil. It led her astray last time, and it’s happening again. She’s playing with fire, but it’s exciting.” Explaining his interpretation of Phil's motive, Steve McFadden added, "He likes the new, spirited Lisa. She’s very different from the girl who let him walk all over her. She was just living to please him and he didn’t like that [...] Lisa isn’t the woman she used to be. She fought to keep her family together. She stood up to Phil. She even shot him! He wants a family, and he’s also attracted to her.”
However, in the storyline, Lisa realised she had made a mistake when Phil and his family began excluding her from her daughter's life; she absconded with the baby in October 2002. In a subsequent plot, Phil retrieved his daughter off-screen, chasing Lisa to Portugal; returning with Lisa and Louise's passport, prompting a storyline that suggested to viewers that Phil had killed Lisa.
Returns (2003 and 2010)
In January 2003, the BBC announced that Lucy Benjamin would reprise the role of Lisa for a special set of episodes that revealed Lisa's fate in flashbacks. The episodes were filmed on-location in and around Albufeira on the Portuguese Algarve. It was claimed that several endings to the episodes had been filmed and that the outcome was a "closely guarded secret". Despite initial claims that Lisa would be killed off in the episodes, this did not occur; instead, Lisa gave Phil custody of Louise after he convinced her she was unstable and threatened to tell the police that she had once shot him if she returned to England.
However, in June 2003, it was confirmed that Lisa would once again be returning to the serial. Benjamin said, "I couldn't believe it when I got the call a few months ago to ask if I would return to Walford. I didn't think Lisa would give up baby Lou without one last fight." The return storyline was temporary, allowing Lisa to usurp Phil and once again take custody of her daughter, with the help of Den Watts. The character then disappeared, exiting in November 2003.
Since this exit, numerous press reports have suggested that the character would be returning to the serial again; these turned out to be false, with an EastEnders spokesperson saying in 2006 and 2007 that there were no current plans to bring the character back.
When asked if she would return in 2004, Benjamin said, "I loved Lisa. She was a great character and I loved playing all those story lines. It was a wonderful opportunity for me but all that angst and that drama can sometimes get to you. She hasn’t been killed off. Loads of characters are revived and brought back but I don’t know if it’s something I’d want to do again at the moment. It still feels like only yesterday I was there and it’s good to kind of recharge your batteries and get out there and do other things. But I love the show and I’d never say never! And I liked playing Lisa. I thought she was a great character so you just don’t know."
In April 2010, it was reported that Lisa would return for a single episode later in the year in a bid to retrieve Louise from Phil, who gained custody of her earlier in the year. Benjamin said of her return: "I'm really looking forward to returning to EastEnders for this episode. It will be great to see some familiar faces and work alongside old friends again." Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood commented "Lucy's character Lisa was responsible for one of the biggest cliffhanger episodes in EastEnders, so it's a real treat to have her back on screen," while a spokesperson for the show added "Lisa Fowler was a major part of Phil's life – she knows him as well as anyone, so she won't be happy about him looking after his daughter. With their history, you know that this storyline is going to be an explosive episode in the Mitchells' history." The episode was broadcast on 5 August 2010. Discussing her brief return, Benjamin said, "What I liked about doing this storyline was that it did explain where Lisa had been. When I was watching it, I was thinking 'Where's her mother? Where is Lisa? It's just ridiculous'. But it does make sense. She is mentally unstable and she does have times like that and the little girl is old enough to make her own decisions and say, 'I want to live with my dad now'. So she had to let her go. I liked that I was able to come back and defend myself because Lisa was kind of being slaughtered in the Square for being a rubbish mum!"
In 2002, a survey done by Whitaker's revealed that 11% of British people questioned could not name a single world leader, but nearly half could list five characters in EastEnders. Most named was Phil Mitchell (44%), followed by Mark Fowler (40%), Pauline Fowler (30%), Peggy Mitchell (28%) and Lisa Fowler (24%).
Television critic for the Daily Mirror, Ian Hyland, has described Lisa as miserable, suggesting in 2002 that she was "red-hot favourite to take over [Pauline Fowler's] misery mantle." Jamie McCallum from The Guardian mocked the character in 2000 and her relationship with Phil, stating, "We should, however, pay tribute to Lisa. This was the latest in a string of gripping dilemmas, including Should I Date Phil?, Should I Shag Phil? and Should I Give Birth To A Descendant Of Phil? For one who spends so much time deliberating, that girl makes a lot of duff decisions."
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