19 February 1985
14 May 1992
Willy (also Rasputin) is a fictional dog from the BBC soap opera EastEnders. Willy is a Pug, who appears in the first episode of the programme on 19 February 1985 and remains in the show until 14 May 1992.
Willy is Ethel Skinner's (Gretchen Franklin) constant companion. She rarely appears on-screen without him tucked under her arm. He was named after her late husband, William Skinner (Ian Brimble). There were various innuendo-laden references to Willy. Ethel's famous lines being either, "Where's my Willy?" or, in a double entendre, "Has anyone seen my Willy?"
Willy can often be quite mischievous. When Ethel is preparing the food in The Queen Victoria public house one day, Willy eats all the expensive steak for the steak and kidney pies when her back is turned. Ethel replaces the meat with a less costly cut and everyone comments that the pies were not up to standard. At Christmas 1990, he sneaks into the Fowlers' and begins eating the turkey.
Willy is kidnapped in 1986. He is eventually found by Detective Roy Quick (Douglas Fielding) in a pet shop, but when Quick returns with Ethel, Willy has been sold. Willy is tracked down to his new owner, Mr. Pavasars, who has renamed him Rasputin. Lou Beale (Anna Wing) fetches him back and returns Willy to his rightful owner. When Ethel falls and breaks her hip, Willy stays with Dot Cotton (June Brown), and they find each other a strain. Dot isn't the only one who can't tolerate Willy. First Ernie Mears (Ken Wynne) and then Benny Bloom (Arnold Yarrow) want to marry Ethel, but only if she will get rid of Willy. Ethel can't part with her beloved dog so she turns them both down.
When Ethel and her friends go on a holiday to Clacton, Willy has to go too, in a holdall. He is discovered by the owner of the bed and breakfast, but fortunately for Ethel he is a dog-lover too and allows Willy to stay.
Willy is a touch sensitive, and when Dr. Harold Legg (Leonard Fenton) makes several remarks about "dog mess" in the Square, Ethel fears it upset him to the extent that he can't perform at all. Luckily, Willy's constipation is eventually resolved.
After succumbing to old-age, Willy falls ill in 1992 and Ethel has to make the heart-breaking decision to put him down. Ethel is devastated to lose her dog, so the residents of Albert Square raise money to buy her a new dog. However, Ethel won't accept it, saying Willy is irreplaceable.
On 30 May 1992, two weeks and two days after being written out of EastEnders, the dog who played Willy died.
Willy was cast less than a week before the filming of EastEnders began. From the beginning it was decided that the pensioner Ethel Skinner was to have a Yorkshire Terrier named Willy (after her dead husband). The company Janimals, who specialized in providing and training animals for television and films, was contacted by EastEnders co-creator/producer Julia Smith, and informed her that they could provide an experienced Pug for the part (he had previously starred in Swallows and Amazons). The dog was brought to the studio to meet Gretchen Franklin, the actress who played Ethel. She took a shine to him straight away and so the pug was cast as Willy. Willy and Roly the poodle shared a dressing room at Elstree Studios. In the original rehearsal script Willy was named Phillip.
- "Ethel Skinner". BBC. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
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- Smith, Julia; Holland, Tony (1987). EastEnders - The Inside Story. Book Club Associates. ISBN 0-563-20601-2.
- Newnham, Bernard (14 December 2011). "EastEnders begins – a write up by Dave Howell". tech-ops.co.uk. Retrieved 3 March 2018.