Who Shot Phil?
The storyline centres around one of EastEnders' longest running characters, Phil Mitchell (played by Steve McFadden). The build up to the storyline occurs throughout 2000-2001. The character becomes darker and a more menacing side to his personality begins to surface. Phil's behaviour thus earns him a number of sworn enemies in Albert Square. By 2001 the character had become one of the soap's nastiest villains. In an interview with The Guardian, McFadden commented on his alter ego's descent into villainy: "Phil's been had over by a lot of people, so now he feels like he can do it back. It's his history".
However, the character finally receives his comeuppance in one of EastEnders most highly anticipated storylines, which has been dubbed "Who Shot Phil?". Phil is gunned down outside his home in an episode that first aired on 1 March 2001 (penned by scriptwriter Christopher Reason and directed by Paul Annett).
The storyline has been described as 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 of them 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, being given only their own scripts. 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 that around 50,000 bets were made on who was responsible.
An estimated 22 million viewers watched EastEnders on 5 April 2001 to find out that Lisa Shaw (Lucy Benjamin) — Phil's former girlfriend — is 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.
Events leading up to the shooting
Steve Owen (Martin Kemp) is due to marry Melanie Healy (Tamzin Outhwaite) on 1 March 2001, but finds out that she had sex with Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) — one of his deadliest enemies. Steve later decides to go ahead with the wedding. Steve's mother Barbara (Sheila Hancock) arrives at the registry office to attend her son's wedding, and takes an immediate dislike to Mel. Barbara also takes a liking to Phil, further angering Steve. When the wedding guests return to The Queen Victoria public house (referred to as "The Queen Vic") for the wedding reception, Barbara tells Mel about Steve's first girlfriend who cheated on him at the age of 16. Barbara implies that Mel is that sort of girl.
Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) starts to question Phil about his fling with Mel (Mel was briefly Ian's wife). Phil tells Ian that Mel was good, but not as good as his mother Kathy (Gillian Taylforth), who was once Phil's wife. Phil then leaves the e20 nightclub and Ian follows him out, taunting him. Ian picks up a metal rod to intimidate Phil, who loses his temper and begins to throttle Ian with the rod, and only stops when Mel shouts at him.
When Phil returns home, he receives a hoax phone call from an anonymous caller. Dan is then seen walking away from a nearby telephone box. The scene then returns to Steve's office, where Steve's gun has disappeared from the drawer where it was being kept. As the wedding reception draws to a close, Barbara finally loses her temper with Mel and calls her a tart. Before leaving, she stubs her cigarette out on the wedding cake. Steve and Mel get into Charlie Slater's (Derek Martin) taxi and are ready to depart for the airport to begin their honeymoon, but Steve goes back to ensure that Billy Mitchell (Perry Fenwick) is keeping everything under control at e20. Steve returns minutes later and he and Mel then leave to go to the airport.
Phil's doorbell rings and he opens the door to finds nobody there. As he turns around to re-enter his house, he is shot in the back and falls down the steps.
Phil is found minutes later by Beppe di Marco (Michael Greco). He is rushed to hospital, where doctors perform an emergency operation to remove the bullet. Phil's mother Peggy (Barbara Windsor) is told that there is no guarantee that Phil will recover. The police later visit Ian in his fish and chip shop, but they leave after he tells them to go and question Steve — who is now at Heathrow Airport waiting for a flight to the Caribbean.
- Lisa Shaw (Lucy Benjamin) - Phil's ex-girlfriend. She had attacked Phil with a plate earlier in the week, and was angry with him for his abusive behaviour towards her. Lisa was later revealed as the shooter.
- Mark Fowler (Todd Carty) - Partner of Lisa. He was resentful towards Phil for his callous treatment of Lisa.
- Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass) - A long-standing enemy of Phil's, and was seen leaving a telephone box after Phil received a hoax call.
- Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) - Another long-standing enemy of Phil's, who emerged from nearby bushes after Phil was found shot. They had also got into a fight just hours before the shooting.
- Steve Owen (Martin Kemp) - He had just found out that Phil had previously had sex with his wife Mel, and a gun that had been hidden in Steve's office was missing just before Phil was shot. His mother had also taken a liking to Phil, much to Steve's disgust.
Events following the shooting
Three weeks after Phil's shooting, he is still in hospital recovering from his injuries.
Steve and Mel return from their honeymoon and as soon as they step into the Queen Vic, Peggy accuses Steve of trying to murder Phil. Jamie Mitchell (Jack Ryder) later tries to attack Steve, but Mark and Lisa drag him away. Steve is soon arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, and admits to the police that he has never got on with Phil, but would not want to shoot him, and insists that he was away from the Square by the time Phil was shot. Steve suggests that the police should quiz Dan, who is meanwhile visiting Phil in hospital and taunting him.
On 5 April 2001 when Phil is allowed home from hospital, five weeks after being shot, he receives a visit from Lisa. She retrieves the gun from inside a game of Monopoly, and Phil threatens to kill her with it. Lisa soon confesses that she shot Phil, but insists that she still loves him.
Phil decides to conspire against Dan in the hope of getting him convicted of attempted murder. Strangely enough, Dan is already plotting to murder Phil and is waiting in the Arches at that very moment — with the gun that Lisa had shot Phil with. The police quickly arrive in the Square and arrest Dan on suspicion of attempted murder. He is charged and remanded in custody.
Dan goes on trial at the end of July, and Steve agrees to back up Phil's plot to frame Dan. But at the same time he taunts Jamie, vowing that Phil will soon be caught for trying to frame Dan. Steve takes the witness stand and testifies that he heard Dan vowing to 'shoot through' Steve and put Phil out of business.
Meanwhile, Steve's mother Barbara dies and while he is clearing out her flat, the jury find Dan not guilty of attempted murder.
The week after Dan's release, Steve enters his office at e20 to find the furniture turned over and the safe open, and Mel has disappeared. Steve soon guesses than Mel has been kidnapped by Dan, and persuades Phil to help him in his quest to get her back. Steve phones Dan and hears Mel screaming in the background. Dan later phones back and demands a £100,000 ransom for Mel's release.
Phil soon obtains the £100,000 for Mel's release and also takes possession of a gun. When they arrives at Dan's flat, Phil threatens Dan with the gun and is about to shoot him when Mel suddenly appears and knocks Phil out before he can pull the trigger. Dan then turns the gun on Phil, but when he pulls the trigger he discovers that the gun is not loaded. Steve, Phil and Mel leave the flat after Dan gets his £100,000. The police are summoned to arrest Dan, but by the time they arrive, Dan is gone.
Back in the Square, Mel loses her temper with Steve and accuses him of shooting Phil as well as framing Dan. She also informs him that she knew about his affair with Karen, and later sets fire to e20 before throwing her wedding ring at Steve and leaving the Square in a taxi. Mel and Steve get back together two months later, but the following March — on their first wedding anniversary - he is killed in a car explosion.
Despite the outcome having been leaked by an e-mail from an unidentified BBC employee, the climax of the plotline, broadcast on 5 April 2001, was watched by 19.8 million people according to BBC figures (nearly three quarters of all television viewers), while the first show in the plot arc attracted 17 million viewers. The National Grid reported that the third highest power surge on record followed immediately after the end of the climactic show (beaten only by the 1990 FIFA World Cup finals and 1984 climax of The Thorn Birds). The kick-off of a UEFA Cup semi-final football game was delayed in order to avoid a clash with the scheduled programme. The episode was the second most-watched non-sport programme of the 2000s, behind an episode of Only Fools and Horses.
The plot was compared favourably in the media to "Who shot J.R.?", the popular 1980 Dallas plot involving the shooting of J.R. Ewing. At the 2001 TV Quick Awards, magazine readers voted Who Shot Phil? as the year's top soap storyline. The storyline also won the Most Dramatic Storyline award at the Inside Soap Awards in 2001. The storyline was featured in heat magazine's review of the 2000s, as their 49th greatest event of the decade.
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