Leslie Grantham, ‘Dirty Den’ in EastEnders, dies aged 71

The late actor was also a convicted murderer and the subject of a 2004 online sex scandal

Leslie Grantham in character as Dennis Watts with his on-screen wife Anita Dobson who played Angie.  Press Association

Leslie Grantham in character as Dennis Watts with his on-screen wife Anita Dobson who played Angie. Press Association

 

The actor Leslie Grantham, who played “Dirty Den” Watts in the BBC soap EastEnders, has died aged 71.

A statement from his representative said: “We formally announce the loss of Leslie Grantham, who passed away at 10.20am on the morning of Friday 15th June 2018.

Grantham played a key role in some of EastEnders’ most explosive storylines and remains one of the soap’s most famous stars.

Tributes have been paid by his EastEnders co-stars. Anita Dobson, who played Den’s first wife Angie, said she was “deeply shocked and saddened”. “I loved working with Leslie and I will never forget our time together on EastEnders, ” she siad in a statement.

June Brown, who plays Dot Cotton, described Grantham as “a wonderful and special actor”. “I always enjoyed talking to him, he made me laugh and always had a twinkle in his eye when he said outrageous things.

“He was a wonderful and special actor, witty and very talented. I shall remember him very fondly and with affection, ” she said in a statement.

Letitia Dean, who played Den’s daughter Sharon, and Gillian Taylforth, who plays Kathy Beale, also paid tribute to the actor. “I will remember him with love, affection and gratitude forever,” Dean said, while Telford said as “deeply saddened” and had “so many happy memories of working with Leslie”.

Appearing in the series’ first episode in 1985, in which he spoke the first line, Grantham starred as Den Watts — later receiving the nickname “Dirty” after getting his adopted teenage daughter’s 16-year-old friend pregnant in a storyline in the soap.

His tumultuous marriage to alcoholic wife Angie captivated the nation and more than 30 million people — at the time over half of the UK population — tuned in to the 1986 Christmas special to watch Den present her with divorce papers.

Grantham first left Albert Square in 1989 after a criminal gang he was involved with, called The Firm, tried to kill him. Viewers were led to believe he had died, but the character returned to the soap in September 2003, when it was revealed he had faked his death and fled to Spain.

It later emerged that, while in exile, Den had remarried. His estranged wife, Chrissie, played by Tracy-Ann Oberman, joined him in Albert Square but was incensed by his repeated infidelity.

She ended up killing him in the Queen Vic, beating him over the head with an iron doorstop. Eventually, Chrissie was jailed for the crime and Den was buried in his original grave next to Angie.

Grantham’s final appearance in EastEnders was on the soap’s 20th anniversary.

Off screen, London-born Grantham had an eventful personal life. As a teenager, in 1966 he was convicted of murdering a German taxi driver while serving as a soldier — a charge he always denied.He served an 11-year sentence and later returned to Leyhill Open Prison in Gloucestershire as a VIP guest to open an art exhibition.

He said the jail fostered his interest in amateur dramatics.

In 2004, Grantham was exposed after taking part in webcam sex sessions from his EastEnders dressing room at Elstree Studios.

He issued an apology for the scandal, which had also seen him criticise his co-stars, describing his actions as “a moment’s stupidity” of which he was “wholeheartedly ashamed”.

Grantham and actress Jane Laurie, the mother of his three sons, divorced in 2013 after being married for more than 30 years.

Having almost disappeared from the small screen, Grantham in his later years focused on touring theatre work and panto.

In 2016 he published his debut children’s fantasy novel Jack Bates And The Wizard’s Spell.

He was offered reality shows but turned down what he called “humiliation TV”.

And Grantham, reported to be living in Bulgaria before he died at the age of 71, was philosophical about his life. “Life isn’t a straight line. It’s like travelling the motorway. Every now and then, you have to take a diversion,” he told the Press Association.

“Unfortunately, some of my diversions have been quite catastrophic. But I’m safe in the knowledge that what I do now is good.” – PA