Scarlett Alice Johnson as Vicki in 2004
27 May 1986
25 December 2004
Julia Smith and Tony Holland (1986)|
Louise Berridge (2003)
Samantha Leigh Martin as Vicki Fowler (1995)
Vicki Fowler is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Emma Herry from the character's birth in 1986 to 1988, Samantha Leigh Martin from 1988 to 1995, and Scarlett Alice Johnson from 2003 to 2004. She is the daughter of Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully) and Den Watts (Leslie Grantham). The character is born in the serial, conceived in a controversial storyline about teenage pregnancy. Exploiting a whodunnit angle, at the time of the first showing, viewers were not initially told who was the father, and press interest in the fledgling show escalated as journalists attempted to guess. The audience finally discovered his identity in October 1985 in episode 66. Written by series co-creator/script-editor Tony Holland and directed by co-creator/producer Julia Smith, it was considered a landmark episode in the show's history. Early suspects were Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) and Kelvin Carpenter (Paul J. Medford), but then four possible suspects are seen leaving the Square early in the episode: Tony Carpenter (Oscar James), Ali Osman (Nejdet Salih), Andy O'Brien (Ross Davidson), and Den Watts. As Michelle waits by their rendezvous point, a car pulls up and the fluffy white legs of the soap landlord's poodle Roly leap out of a car to give it all away: Den Watts is the father of Michelle's baby. After this storyline the programme started to appear in newspaper cartoons as it moved more and more into the public mainstream.
Vicki's character was written out in 1995, after Susan Tully, who played Vicki's mother Michelle, decided to leave the soap. After an eight-year absence, she was reintroduced by Executive Producer Louise Berridge in 2003 as a rebellious teenager. Her reintroduction was part of the soap's attempt to rebuild the Watts clan, a successful family headed by Den, that featured prominently in the 1980s. Johnson quit the role in 2004. The media was generally critical about the character upon her return due to her American accent and its sudden disappearance. During the character's original stint, a storyline featuring Vicki being kidnapped was criticised due to its coincidental airing alongside the non-fictional abduction and murder of toddler James Bulger.
16-year-old Michelle Fowler gets pregnant with Vicki in 1985 after a one-night stand with her best friend Sharon's (Letitia Dean) father, Den Watts (Leslie Grantham). Her family decide Michelle should have an abortion but she refuses, keeping the baby but keeping the father's name a secret. Vicki is born in 1986 and Den is allowed to hold her but he and Michelle agree that he should keep his distance so nobody guesses he is her father. Michelle raises Vicki with her fiance, Lofty Holloway (Tom Watt), who she marries after jilting him at the altar, although Den provides for Vicki secretly. After Sue Osman (Sandy Ratcliff) realises that she has had a phantom pregnancy, she is devastated and suggests to Michelle that she lets her and Ali Osman (Nejdet Salih) adopt Vicki. Michelle is angry with Sue and slaps her. Vicki's grandmother, Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard), realises Den is Vicki's father when she sees him give money to Michelle and slaps him. Lofty begins to pressure Michelle to let him adopt Vicki and have another child but Michelle isn't ready and on discovering that she is pregnant, she has a termination and their marriage breaks down. When Lofty leaves, Michelle refuses to tell him who Vicki's biological father is. When Den is shot and presumed dead, Michelle tells Sharon that Vicki is her half-sister and Sharon is devastated whilst Arthur is furious. Vicki survives meningitis but Dr Legg (Leonard Fenton) fails to diagnose it.
Michelle decides to go on the run with Clyde Tavernier (Steven Woodcock) after he is accused of murdering Eddie Royle (Michael Melia), taking Vicki and Kofi Tavernier (Marcel Smith), Clyde's son, with them. Michelle and Clyde are caught by the police when trying to flee the country and Vicki and Kofi are sent to a children's home, but are later collected by their grandmothers. Vicki is kidnapped when an old woman, Audrey Whittingham (Shirley Dixon), takes her from outside her school. A national police investigation is launched and Vicki is returned home safely. When Michelle is shot by Dougie Briggs (Max Gold), Vicki stays with Sharon and her husband, Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp). Vicki discovers Sharon is her sister after she and Grant argue and the following day, Sharon explains things to Vicki. Michelle is furious with Sharon when she finds out that Vicki knows about her and Sharon. The truth about Vicki's paternity spreads and Michelle's aunt, Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth), is upset about not being told by Michelle herself, finding out from Mandy Salter (Nicola Stapleton). In October 1995, Michelle and 9-year-old Vicki leave Walford for Birmingham, Alabama, in the United States.
A teenage Vicki returns to Walford in February 2003 when she runs away from home. She has been arguing regularly with Michelle and it is decided that she can stay in Walford. After clashing with her grandmother Pauline, Vicki moves in with Sharon. Manipulative and mischievous, Vicki does as she pleases. Just weeks later, she discovers that she and Sharon have a half-brother, Dennis Rickman (Nigel Harman) - and persuades him to move to Walford. When she becomes pregnant by Spencer Moon (Christopher Parker), Sharon, who believes she is infertile, offers Vicki £10,000 to give her the baby to bring up as her own. Spencer wants to be a father but Vicki terminates the pregnancy.
Dennis soon tells Vicki that Den, who had supposedly died in 1989, is alive and living in Spain, and she brings him back to the Square to reunite with his family. She's horrified to discover that Sharon and Dennis have started a romantic relationship. Although they aren't biologically related, Vicki cannot accept it and rebels by dating Ash Ferreira (Raji James), which ends when he realizes that she is using him to get at her siblings. Eventually, Vicki and Den's objections take their toll on Sharon and Dennis and they end the relationship.
In 2004, an 18-year-old Vicki starts a relationship with her 46-year-old college lecturer, Tommy Grant (Robert Cavanah); her family, particularly stepmother Chrissie Watts (Tracy-Ann Oberman), are outraged. Tommy feigns love for Vicki and they talk about leaving Walford to go travelling. Knowing that Tommy is untrustworthy, Chrissie attempts to seduce him. After a brief kiss, Chrissie strips him naked in the toilets of The Queen Victoria public house, on the promise that she will soon join him. She steals his clothes and forces Vicki to see him for the lying cheat he is. Vicki is devastated and initially furious with Chrissie but eventually realizes she had her best interests at heart.
During a family meal on Christmas Day 2004, Sharon and Dennis announce that they have resumed their romantic relationship, only for Dennis's girlfriend Zoe Slater (Michelle Ryan) to announce that she is pregnant. Sharon decides to go to America alone and persuades Dennis to stay with Zoe and their baby. Den talks to Sharon alone, trying to persuade her to stay. Vicki overhears him say he does not love Vicki as much as he loves Sharon. Deciding she cannot live with such a father, Vicki decides to return to her mother in America. It is later revealed that she has moved to Australia and reunited with Spencer. In January 2014, Sharon tells Spencer's brother, Alfie Moon (Shane Richie), that they need someone to help them open a bar in Sydney, so Alfie goes there for a few weeks to work with them.
Creation and development
Conception and childhood characterisation
The conception of Vicki Fowler in 1985 was one of the first controversial storylines featured in EastEnders since its inception that February, as it involved the pregnancy of a schoolgirl, Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully). Exploiting a whodunnit angle, viewers were not initially told who was the father, and press interest in the fledgling show escalated as journalists attempted to guess. The audience finally discovered his identity in October 1985 on episode 66. Written by series co-creator/script-editor Tony Holland and directed by co-creator/producer Julia Smith, it was considered a landmark episode in the show's history. Four possible suspects were seen leaving the Square early in the episode: Tony Carpenter (Oscar James), Ali Osman (Nejdet Salih), Andy O'Brien (Ross Davidson), and Den Watts (Leslie Grantham). As Michelle waited by their rendezvous point, a car pulled up and the fluffy white legs of the soap landlord's poodle Roly leapt out of a car and gave it all away: Den Watts had fathered Michelle's baby. After this storyline the programme started to appear in newspaper cartoons as it moved more and more into the public mainstream.
Baby Emma Henry originated the role and played Vicki until 1988, when her parents moved to Scotland. The role was recast to Samantha Leigh Martin, who learned to call Susan Tully "Mummy Shell" and referred to Letitia Dean who played her mum's best friend, "Daddy Sharon". Tully has commented, "What's lovely about working with Samantha is that she's always happy. When it comes to work, she knows it's playing a pretend game, she knows my real name but she knows to call me 'Mummy Shell' when the cameras are running. If she isn't involved for a couple of weeks, I like to visit her at home, so she's always relaxed with me." Tully worried about this when it came to filming scenes in 1989 where Vicki contracted meningitis and was hospitalised and placed in an incubator with tubes attached to her body. Tully said, "[Samantha] has seen me in all kinds of situations but I didn't know how she'd cope if I cried over her". At Tully's suggestion, the BBC built a hospital room with minimal equipment and a consultant was present to make sure the BBC had the details correct and that neither the viewers or Samantha would be too distressed. Tully insisted that the child was not present when she had to film scenes of Michelle sobbing over the incubator.
In 1995, after 9 years onscreen being featured in various plot lines such as kidnapping, Vicki was written out of EastEnders, moving to America with Michelle.
In 2002, Executive Producer Louise Berridge decided to reintroduce the character 8 years after she had last appeared. Auditions were held to cast the role to a professional actor; however, auditionees were not informed which character they were auditioning for. The first audition was a group workshop of 30 auditionees, who were asked to perform improvisations. After whittling down potential actors from 500 to 4, the second stage of the audition process was an interview with EastEnders' Casting Director. The auditionees were asked to perform a monologue in front of a camera and do a screen test with one of the actors already in the show, Christopher Parker, who played Spencer Moon. 17-year-old actress Scarlett Johnson was cast: "At the second audition they gave me a monologue to read, but they'd been really careful about it. They hadn't said what the character's name was, they didn't give away anything in the monologue that might tell me who I was auditioning for. So I didn't know until I got the part who I was going to be playing--I'd been guessing for ages!" Asked how she felt when she knew she was playing Vicki Fowler, a character linked to the show's early history who is the daughter of 2 prominent original characters, Johnson said: "I felt very honoured, but it was quite scary. I knew there'd be a lot of people out there with expectations of what she'd be like. But it's good fun actually. It means you don't have to introduce yourself to everyone. You can really play with that [...] My family are EastEnders addicts, we've watched it our whole lives. I remember the first Vicki, I remember Michelle and I definitely remember Dirty Den! My knowledge of the show really helped a lot, because I didn't have to do any research into the character. When I joined the show, I felt like I was meeting the actors for a second time. I'd already met them in my home on TV, then I had to actually meet them in real life!" The character made her reappearance in January 2003, turning up unexpectedly at her grandmother Pauline's (Wendy Richard) house.
To signify the character's 8 years living in America, Johnson was required to use an American accent while playing Vicki. She was given a voice coach and a sheet of American phrases to practice weekly. She commented, "It is hard work, but it's becoming second nature now. As soon as I know that I'm Vicki, the accent just comes with it." After 6 months in the role, Vicki dropped the American accent. Johnson explained the reason for the change in 2004: "The producers knew that I had to have an American accent when I came into the show because my character had been living in America but it's not the kind of accent that you'd want to have for a long time on a show like EastEnders. It's not something that's going to fit in for a long period of time. What would have been perfect would have been to have it gradually fade out, but as you film 8 episodes at a time, this would be nigh on impossible. The decision was made that in the story Vicki was coming to terms with the fact that she wanted to live in London so therefore she was going to make a conscious effort to fit in with everyone around her and blend in with London life."
The reintroduction of Vicki was part of the producers' plan to reform the Watts family, including the resurrection of Vicki's father Den, who had been presumed dead for 14 years. Discussing working with Leslie Grantham, who played Vicki's "iconic" father Den, Johnson said, "I was 2 when he left EastEnders [in 1989] so I never witnessed the hype surrounding him. I'm very aware of the legend. How could I not be? My only concern was that he should take me seriously [and] It's been fabulous. I can't wait for our scenes to be shown. They're really edgy and no one does edgy better than Leslie. It's been a massive challenge but I think the results are incredibly hard-hitting. EastEnders is becoming more like a serial drama than a soap. It's so well-written."
Vicki has been described as a "little madam" and a rebel. An EastEnders source commented, "Vicki has inherited a lot of her dad Den's traits - she is going to be a right handful". Johnson has said, "Everyone loves to hate her, but I rather like that. I'd be more upset if she was nondescript. At least I provoke a passionate response in people. It's great being a bad girl."
In August 2004, the BBC announced that Johnson had decided to quit her role as Vicki. She commented, "I've had a really good two years, enjoyed all the experiences but it's time to move on". A spokesman for the soap said, "It’s her decision to go. We’d like to thank her for all her fantastic work and wish her the very best of luck." Johnson filmed her final scenes in October and her departure coincided with that of Vicki's half-sister, Sharon (Letitia Dean). Vicki departed on the Christmas Day episode of 2004. 12.3 million viewers watched the episodes that involved the Watts family's disbandment. Media reports claimed that there were plans to bring Vicki back the following year, played by a new actress; this proved to be false. Her character was notably absent at the funerals of Vicki's father Den in September 2005, her brother Dennis in January 2006, and her grandmother Pauline in January 2007.
Following her departure from EastEnders, Johnson was more candid in her reasons for leaving: "I've had a great time but it got to the point where I was sat in bed at night thinking: 'Tomorrow will my character be crying, getting drunk or having an argument?'. It soon became physically exhausting and draining [...] I don't think the producers were very happy when I said I wanted to leave. I was still very new and they had just set up the new Watts dynasty but no-one could have made me change my mind. When I said to the producers I wanted to go they told me they might have to recast Vicki. I don't mind. Life goes on and EastEnders goes on. I wouldn't want to go back at the moment - but never say never."
According to author Hilary Kingsley, the scenes in EastEnders' early years that showed toddler Vicki "chattering happily" with the baby actor who played her uncle Martin (Jon Peyton Price) were viewer favourites. EastEnders was criticised in 1993 for featuring a storyline about child abduction at an inappropriate time. In the storyline, 6-year old Vicki was abducted, leaving Michelle frantic with worry. In what has been described as a "coincidence of ill-timing," the storyline was screened at the same time as the real-life abduction and murder of 2-year-old James Bulger. The BBC was forced to transmit a health warning prior to the airing of the episodes, announcing that the storyline would be "resolved positively."
In the book, Social Issues in Television, a senior, nameless script editor opined that the abduction storyline sought to engage the audience at the expense of any parent's realistic concerns: "We get it wrong when we take the easy route like the kidnap snatch with Vicki. My argument about this was that I am a father but have never had my kids snatched. If I'm just sitting at home and my children are out late at night and they say they're going to be back at midnight and they don't come back, you immediately think they're dead and you start to worry. If they'd actually been snatched, it would have affected my entire life forever. I would never have recovered from it. I would have been frightened every time one of them left my side. Therefore the consequence of running a storyline like that is immense. If we were being totally responsible about it the fallout on Michelle would have been, well I just don't think she would have been the same person again."
The character received media criticism due to her American accent upon her reintroduction in 2003. Johnson said, "I knew that would happen because I'm the only character who speaks differently. I haven't taken any of that to heart." However, when the accent was altered from American to British, this received criticism too with Ian Hyland from the Daily Mirror describing it as "hilarious" and branding the character "Go Away Again Vicki". He added, "Presumably the producers decided the reason viewers found her so annoying was her whiny American voice. Try again, guys." Upon her departure in 2004, Johnson was also critical about her character's alternating accent: "When I took the job they weren't sure what accent they wanted Vicki to have and about a week before they told me it should be American. I did that for a few months and then one day out of the blue I arrived on set and they told me they wanted me to change to Cockney. It was the producer's decision. I was as stunned as everyone else - all the criticism was perfectly justified. It's probably the most stupid decision they could have made. People assumed I was slipping out of the accent - but it was nothing to do with me. I've taken a lot of stick. But it doesn't bother me because I know the truth."
A proportion of viewers responded negatively when Vicki was shown to have an abortion. Johnson claims she received abusive letters from fans of the show and that she was stopped in the street twice by older women who told her "it was quite wrong [...] to have got rid of the baby. I found that awkward at the time. But, gradually, I came to realise it was rather flattering. Those women believed in my character so completely they forgot she wasn't real. So now I think I must have been doing a good job." Johnson has since been critical of the storylines given to her character describing them as weak.
- Brake, Colin (1995). EastEnders: The First 10 Years: A Celebration. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-37057-2.
- Smith, Julia; Holland, Tony (1987). EastEnders - The Inside Story. Book Club Associates. ISBN 0-563-20601-2.
- Kingsley, Hilary (1990). The EastEnders Handbook. BBC books. ISBN 978-0-563-36292-0.
- Dowell, Ben (1 December 2002). "Dirty Den love child returning". Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- Barber, Richard (13 July 2003). "They said you've got the job as Dirty Den's love child..I said no". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- "Scarlett Johnson (Vicki Fowler)". BBC Online. Archived from the original on 9 September 2004. Retrieved 7 August 2009.
- "EastEnders Exits". Daily Mail. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- "Scarlett woman in the Square!". BBC. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- "Vicki Fowler to leave EastEnders". CBBC. 17 August 2004. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- "EastEnders' Vicki to leave show". BBC News. 17 August 2004. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- "Vicki to quit the Square". The Sun. 17 August 2004. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- "BBC wins Christmas ratings fight". BBC News. 26 December 2004. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- Kerins, Suzanne (29 August 2004). "Fowler play as Vicki returns". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- Barrett, Caroline (26 December 2004). "I'm so glad I've left EastEnders". The People.
- Lesley Henderson (2007). Social issues in television fiction. Performing Arts.
- Hyland, Ian (21 September 2003). "TV WEEK: EastEnders". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 30 July 2009.
- Hyland, Ian (23 September 2003). "LISA GETS ON MY PIP". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 30 July 2009.