|Portrayed by||Michael Tudor-Barnes|
|First appearance||Episode 1139
1 June 1995
|Last appearance||Episode 1305
20 June 1996
Villainous Willy was dubbed "Wicked Willy" by the British press after he framed Arthur Fowler (Bill Treacher) for embezzlement, leading to his wrongful imprisonment. The truth was eventually uncovered by Arthur's wife Pauline (Wendy Richard), though it was too late for Arthur — he died shortly after his release due to a head injury he sustained in a prison riot.
Willy was first seen in June 1995 at the funeral of Tom Palmer, who had an allotment near to Arthur Fowler's in Walford. Willy was also an allotment owner, and he was instrumental in getting Arthur elected as the secretary of the allotment committee. Arthur began raising money to create a new eco-friendly, urban garden, which was named the Flowering Wilderness Fund. Willy took a keen interest in all of his financial dealings. By the end of the year Arthur had managed to raise £20,000 for the garden, and this was enough to tempt Willy to crime.
Willy was the sole carer of his senile mother. Desperate to get the funds to pay for her placement at a nursing home, he decided to con Arthur into signing the fund money into various accounts, and then left him to face the consequences when the money was declared missing. For a second time, Arthur was faced with a police investigation and with all the evidence stacked against him, he was soon arrested and ended the year in prison. This was too much for Arthur, who was unable to face the prospect of serving a prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit. Upon his incarceration he suffered a mental breakdown and refused any contact with Pauline, which devastated her.
Not content with putting Arthur in prison, Willy spent the beginning of 1996 trying to woo Pauline in his absence. Her son Mark was furious at the amount of time Willy and Pauline spent together, but Pauline found Willy to be a great comfort and refused to stop seeing him socially. Following his mother's death in April 1996, Willy asked Pauline to go on holiday to Jersey. Mark correctly figured out that his real motive was to put the stolen money in an off-shore account under a false name, but Pauline refused to believe Mark's accusations. While away, Pauline and Willy became very close, but this all changed when she discovered his counterfeit credit cards and her suspicions began to raise. She didn't inform Willy of her discovery, but immediately returned to Walford the following day after he confessed his undying love for her.
Back in Walford, a furious Pauline was then persuaded by Mark to extract a confession from Willy. She lured him over under the pretence that she wanted to rekindle their friendship. On their night alone Pauline plied Willy with alcohol and seduced the truth from him. Willy — momentarily believing that his criminal genius would impress Pauline — confessed to embezzlement and told her how he had managed to frame Arthur. The police were informed and Willy was arrested and charged, though he was later released on bail.
Arthur was cleared, but before Pauline could pass on the good news she was told that he had been involved in a prison riot. Arthur was released the next day, but he had received a nasty blow to the head in the riot, although no one realised the seriousness of his injury until it was too late. Only a few days after his release in May 1996, Arthur suffered a brain haemorrhage on the allotments, and died the next day in hospital. Arthur's funeral was held in June 1996 and Mark was incensed to see Willy in attendance. He confronted Willy and ended up assaulting him.
Character creation and development
Introduced in June 1995, Willy played a key part in the long-running storyline that eventually led to the exit of one of EastEnders' original characters, Arthur Fowler. The actor Michael Tudor Barnes was cast in the role for a six-month period, which was extended for a further six months as the storyline developed. The character was brought in for the specific purpose of engineering Arthur's departure.
The storyline began innocently, with Willy coaxing Arthur to become the chair of the allotment committee, which later involved fund raising for a new urban garden, which was known as the "Flowering Wilderness Fund." In order to raise money to put his senile mother in a home, Willy conned Arthur into signing the money into various accounts and then set him up to take the blame, leading to his imprisonment.
The storyline captured the public's imagination and a nationwide "Free Arthur Fowler" campaign was launched — "Arthur Fowler Is Innocent" T-shirts were produced and a single was even released in the UK singles chart promoting the campaign. However, Arthur's imprisonment was actually a precursor to the final exit of actor Bill Treacher, who decided to leave EastEnders after 11 years playing Arthur. While Arthur went to pieces in prison, Pauline was heavily embroiled in the storyline pertaining to his eventual release. For several months viewers witnessed Willy attempt to woo Pauline, but she eventually uncovered his deception and then resorted to uncharacteristic seduction to gain his confession.
The character left the show in disgrace in June 1996 after his crimes were exposed. In an interview Tudor Barnes has commented "I was most fortunate in having Bill Treacher as a colleague. Nobody could have been more welcoming and helpful than Bill. He was totally professional and unfailingly cheerful, no matter how tough the going got. A fine actor and a fine gentleman. Even though I was the instrument of his departure, I was very sorry to see him go."
- "WICKED WILLY AND HIS FRIEND CARRY ON UP THE NILE" Sunday Mirror, URL last accessed 27 May 2007
- Smith, Rupert (2005). EastEnders: 20 years in Albert Square. BBC books. ISBN 0-563-52269-0.
- "Michael Tudor Barnes", Walford Gazette, URL last accessed 29 May 2007
- "Bill Treacher in Eastenders", Bill Treacher - EastEnders, URL last accessed 21 October 2006
- "D'Arthur to D'Artagnan", The Sun, URL last accessed 21 October 2006
- "Pauline's one jumper ahead", Sunday Mirror, URL last accessed 29 May 2007