On this day in history : 30th April 1947 – The birth of English actor Leslie Grantham; who amongst his varied acting roles was to play ‘Dirty Den’ in the BBC1 soap opera ‘EastEnders’….
Leslie Michael Grantham was born in Camberwell, South London and in 1965, at the age of 18, he joined the Army – enlisting with the Royal Fusiliers…. He was soon to be sent to Germany but the young Grantham found himself in the situation of being unable to cope financially and he quickly fell into debt…. In desperation he resorted to crime….
It was on the 3rd of December 1966 that things were to go so catastrophically wrong – resulting in a man losing his lie…. Felix Reese was a taxi driver and Grantham attempted to rob him at gunpoint…. A struggle occurred and the gun went off; Reese sustained a gunshot to the head…. Grantham was arrested and charged with murder – he claimed he did not know the gun was loaded….
Grantham came to trial in April 1967 and was convicted of murder, receiving a sentence of life imprisonment…. However, because the sentence was greater than two years it could not be served in Germany and he was transferred to a British prison – Leyhill Prison in Gloucestershire…. He was also dishonourably discharged from the Army….
After serving ten years Grantham was released in 1977…. Whilst in prison he had become involved in amateur dramatics, performing in plays for other inmates…. One of his fellow prisoners was disgraced Labour politician T. Dan Smith, who was serving time for corruption charges…. He spotted that Grantham had a natural flair for acting and encouraged him to pursue it…. Encouragement also came from the actress Louise Jameson, known for roles such as ‘Leela’ in Dr Who, ‘Susan Young’ in Bergerac, ‘Rosa de Marco’ in EastEnders, ‘Blanche Simmons’ in Tenko and for Emmerdale fans she plays the part of ‘Mary’…. Louise Jameson and Grantham were to become good friends….
Upon his release from prison the encouragement Grantham had received from his friends led him to enrol in the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art…. It was at stage school in 1977 that Grantham was to meet his wife, Jane Laurie…. The couple were married for 31 years before divorcing in 2013…. They had three sons, Spike, Jake and Daniel…. Daniel plays the part of ‘Reggie Jackson’ in the BBC’s Call the Midwife….
Grantham’s TV debut came in 1982 when he played the character ‘Boollie’ in Jake’s End, a production for BBC2’s Playhouse…. A number of minor roles followed; he played ‘Frank’ in the short-lived sitcom Goodnight and God Bless, ‘Davros’ in Dr Who and the part of a signals sergeant in the series The Jewel in the Crown….
Then in 1984 Grantham’s big break came, when he auditioned for the BBC’s new soap opera EastEnders…. The original audition was for the role of market trader ‘Pete Beale’ (former husband of ‘Kathy Beale’ and father of ‘Ian Beale’)…. Grantham was not offered the part of Pete – but he was offered the part of ‘Den Watts’, landlord of the Queen Victoria public house…. His long suffering, alcoholic, onscreen wife ‘Angie’ was played by Anita Dobson…. Grantham’s character soon got the name ‘Dirty Den’, which was well-deserved with his long string of extramarital affairs…. One of the most memorable storylines being when he fathered the child of 16-year-old ‘Michelle Fowler’ (played by Susan Tully) who was the best friend of his own adopted daughter ‘Sharon’ (played by Letitia Dean)….
On Christmas Day 1986 some 30 million viewers (then more than half of the British population) watched ‘Den’ serve ‘Angie’ with divorce papers – delivering them with the words…. “Happy Christmas, Ange”….
During 1988 his character began to be seen less of…. ‘Den’ had sold the pub and fewer main storylines were to come his way…. Grantham announced his intention to leave EastEnders, giving the producers of the soap a major headache – as Anita Dobson was also about to leave and they could not afford to lose two main characters in one go…. Therefore, intense advanced filming took place, enabling Grantham to move on in the autumn of 1988 – but leaving behind enough footage for his presence onscreen to continue into 1989….
The continuing plot of the soap saw ‘Den’ become involved with a criminal gang – imaginatively called ‘The Firm’…. The story unfolded over the summer of 1988…. ‘Den’ had to disappear from Albert Square after falling out with ‘The Firm’ – but was to ‘feel the heavy hand of the law’, landing him on remand in prison…. ‘The Firm’ ambushed the vehicle taking ‘Den’ to Court but somehow he managed to escape both the gang and the police…. But then, on the towpath beside the canal, he met his ‘demise’…. All we saw was a bunch of daffodils concealing a gun – and then with a splash ‘Dirty Den’ was gone…. No body was to be found – until a year later when a decomposed corpse turned up in the canal and it was presumed to be ‘Den’….
We all thought ‘Dirty Den’ was finally pushing up daisies – but behind the scenes the BBC were trying to persuade Grantham to return to EastEnders…. In the meantime he had undertaken various other roles, such as Danny Kane in the TV crime series The Paradise Club (1989-90)…. He had a part in The Detectives in 1993 and produced and starred in the sci-fi mini series The Uninvited…. He co-hosted the game show Fort Boyard with Melinda Messenger from 1998-2001 and in 2000 co-starred with Anita Dobson in the two-part The Stretch on Sky One….
Then on the 29th of September 2003 – “Hello Princess”…. ‘Dirty Den’ had returned to Albert Square, walking into the E20 nightclub – now owned by his daughter ‘Sharon’…. It turned out he hadn’t died in the shooting but had survived and fled to Spain, aided by his mistress ‘Jan’…. The twists and turns of life on Albert Square continued, including ‘Den’ trying to get the Queen Vic pub back in December 2004 – which was now run by ‘Sam Mitchell’ – sister of ‘Phil’ and ‘Grant’…. Don’t mess with the ‘Mitchells’!
It was in May 2004 that in real life Grantham became embroiled in a sex scandal, resulting in his three attempts at suicide…. It was confirmed that this time ‘Den’ would be leaving EastEnders for good…. On the 18th of February 2005 16.2 million viewers watched his second wife ‘Chrissie’ hit him over the head with a doorstop during a fight…. Grantham was bitter about EastEnders and spoke out against it – claiming it to be untrue to real life….
After EastEnders Grantham appeared on stage in the Jeffrey Archer play Beyond Reasonable Doubt – and he also appeared in pantomime…. He appeared in a couple of episodes of ITV’s The Bill and did some film work…. In 2010 he played ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ in A Christmas Carol at the Lincoln Theatre Royal….
Grantham was to play the part of ‘John’ in The English Neighbour – a series on Bulgarian TV – and Bulgaria was now where he had made his home…. In June 2018 he returned to England for treatment for lung cancer…. He died on the 15th of June 2018 at the age of 71….