Frank was a wheeler-dealer, who liked to think of himself as a 'big player' in the business world, but in reality he was little more than a wily conman. He was a smooth-talker and full of charm, but his actions were often thoughtless and he tended to scarper instead of facing up to his responsibilities, leaving his loved ones to pick up the pieces. His love affair with Pat Harris stemmed back to his twenties, and he could never quite let her go, always breaking her heart, disappearing and returning to break it all over again.
Following Anita Dobson's (Angie) and Leslie Grantham's (Den) decisions to quit the show in 1988, Frank was reintroduced as a full-time character and installed as the new landlord of The Queen Vic, which he ran with his future wife, Pat, before opening a used car-lot on the Square. Although extremely different from their predecessors, Frank and Pat were also a live-wire couple whose relationship proved popular with the audience. Their wedding in 1989 is deemed as one of the year's highlights. Penned by new EastEnders writer Tony Jordan, Frank and Pat celebrated their big day in true East End style with a street party organised by Frank's mother, Mo. Although planned for a summer's day, the lot material filmed on Albert Square was recorded in the middle of gale-force winds. The episode was scripted to portray a strong sense of community spirit and a feel-good theme, as up until that year EastEnders had come under attack by critics who suggested the show had become too depressing. Some 11.9 million viewers tuned in to see Frank and Pat finally tie the knot.
However, as is customary in EastEnders, their marriage didn't remain happy for long, and after an array of family and monetary problems, Frank began to sink into deep depression. Playing a depressed character took its toll on Mike Reid and he also began to suffer with depression, so in 1994 he took a long hiatus from EastEnders. On-screen his character attempted an insurance scam by having his car-lot torched and was unable to cope with the resulting guilt after the fire claimed the life of a homeless man. Frank disappeared from the show under a cloud of mystery and for a while he was presumed dead. Pat eventually moved on, and moved in with another man only for Frank to make a shocking return. Almost 17 million viewers tuned in to see Frank reunited with Pat on Christmas day 1995. His stay was brief, lasting only a few months, but it drew a line under his relationship with Pat and after failing to win her back, Frank was forced to move on too. Frank made several brief appearances in the show after this time, but in May 1998 he made a full-time return, this time as a love interest to landlady Peggy Mitchell. However Frank's affinity with Pat remained an underlying theme for both characters, and despite being separated, viewers were regularly reminded of their lustful connection. Pat's fourth husband Roy Evans was deliberately made impotent in the series, so Pat would not be sexually unfaithful to Frank. In an interview Pam St. Clement, who plays Pat, has suggested that Pat and Frank are the biggest "love story" in EastEnders, commenting; "the trouble is, they're a classic example of a couple who can't live with each other and yet don't want to live without each other."
Upon his return, Frank was once again pivotal to many explosive storylines including the accidental death of Tiffany Mitchell, a marriage to Peggy and a battle to regain control of The Queen Vic from Dan Sullivan. However in 2000, Reid began to go through some poor health. After suffering with nervous exhaustion, which he attributed to EastEnders' gruelling filming schedule, Reid was forced to take an unplanned break from the show. Penned scripts and plots had to be completely rewritten to account for his absence, including the departure of Sid Owen who played Reid's on-screen son Ricky. The storyline initially planned to have Frank and Ricky involved in one of EastEnders renowned two-hander episodes, but due to Reid's absence Steve McFadden, who plays Phil Mitchell, had to stand in for the episode; resulting in a slightly less plausible plotline. Upon Reid's return further problems arose, allegedly regarding the producers decision not to allow him to attend a charity function that was being held in his honour. Reid allegedly quit in protest, although the BBC have since denied this. Reid was persuaded by producer John Yorke to remain in the role for a further 6 months in order to facilitate one further explosive storyline. Frank resumed his relationship with old flame Pat whilst still married to Peggy, but was famously caught out and shamed by his fuming wife in front of a packed pub on Guy Fawkes Night 2000. After receiving a hefty slap, Frank left once again, leaving his wife in serious debt, just as he had done to Pat years earlier.
Since this time, Frank made several brief appearances in the show, and was even given his own spin-off special, entitled EastEnders: Perfectly Frank. The programme followed Frank as he set up a new business in Somerset and brought in an entirely new set of characters unrelated to those in Albert Square. The soap bubble was written by Tony Jordan, directed by Clive Arnold and aired in 2003. The project was relatively unsuccessful and was only watched by 3.8 million viewers. One critic commented "Everything that’s wrong with EastEnders - dodgy geezers, continuity errors, duff acting, everyone talking at cross purposes - packed into a black cab and bundled off to the seaside, where Frank Butcher is now running a car lot and lap-dancing club...it was a full four minutes 23 seconds before Perfectly Frank had exhausted all spin-off and acting potential from Frank Butcher. In other words, four minutes 23 seconds before Mike Reid had squeezed the bridge of his nose, wobbled his head a bit and said: 'Heeeeeey.' In Perfectly Frank’s favour, they did at least try to make it funny. But EastEnders does observational comedy like bears in a Romanian zoo do the rumba - clumsily and only when someone (possibly Louise Berridge) holds a cattle prod to their goolies." Despite rumours that the concept was being groomed as a potential spin-off series, this did not materialise.
Frank made yet another comeback to EastEnders in early December 2005, for another week's stint, but Reid made it clear on The Paul O'Grady Show that this was to be the final time viewers would see Frank, as the storyline gave ultimate closure to his relationship with Pat. Reid allegedly turned down subsequent offers of a return.
The death of Mike Reid in July 2007, given his identification with the role, made the future return of the character unlikely. Executive producer, Diederick Santer, announced in November 2007 that the character would die off-screen; this would ultimately happen at the end of March 2008, when it was revealed that Frank had succumbed to throat cancer. On-screen, Frank was brought back to Walford to be cremated and was given a send-off in a special week of episodes, dubbed Frank week, which saw former his wives Peggy and Pat igniting their old feud. Throughout the episode of his funeral on 1 April, old clips of Frank's time in the serial were played as flashbacks, including Frank and Pat's wedding from 1989 and Frank naked in a revolving bow-tie from 2000. Franks's children Ricky (Sid Owen), Diane (Sophie Lawrence) and Janine (Charlie Brooks) returned especially for the funeral episodes.
Frank and June had four children, Clare, Ricky, Diane and the youngest Janine. However June died of cancer in 1987, leaving Frank bereft and his children motherless. In September 1987 Frank decided to get in contact with Pat once again. They met briefly in Greenwich and Frank informed her of his wife's death, told her that he wanted to reignite their romance and also wanted her to be the mother of his children. He even offered her the chance of a quick romp in a nearby hotel, which deeply offended Pat and she stormed off.
Frank came in search of Pat for a second time in January 1988. Pat was still resistant but on a Frank's third appearance in March he finally managed to convince her to make another go of things and suggested that they take over tenancy at The Queen Vic since Den and Angie Watts were considering moving on. In order to be granted the lease Frank and Pat were forced to bribe the brewery manager Reg Sparrow. After successfully winning tenancy Frank moved his children Ricky and Diane into the Vic, whilst Janine was put in the care of his eldest daughter Clare away from Walford. The Butchers also inherited a new dog from Den, Roly the poodle. By the end of the year Frank's domineering mother, Mo, also moved to the Square and attempted to run her son's life.
Frank and Pat soon began toying with the idea of getting married and they tied the knot in June 1989 in true cockney style, driving out of the Square in a horse and cart and followed their union with a massive street party. It was a brief moment of happiness however, as within a month Pat had become stepmother to Frank's youngest, 5-year-old Janine. Janine was the child from hell. She was a bed-wetter, a thief, a sleepwalker, a compulsive liar and self-harmer, and to top it off she hated Pat. Frank's response to his daughter's unruly behaviour was to bribe her with presents rather than discipline her. Pat eventually forced Frank to take her to family therapy, which eased her troublesome behaviour slightly.
By the end of the year, the Butchers had moved out of The Vic and bought the B&B across the Square, which Pat ran, whilst Frank tended to the car-lot. Pat's son Simon managed the Vic for them with his girlfriend Sharon Watts until 1990 when Eddie Royle was given tenancy.
Frank went through an array of family problems in 1990. The year started badly when a deeply unhappy Diane ran away from home. Frank became frantic and made several trips to Leeds in search of her, thinking that she had followed her ex-boyfriend Paul Priestly there. He was wrong and when a young girl's dead body was found, Frank feared the worst, although it turned out not to be Diane. Eventually, after three months of fruitless searching, Diane contacted Frank and he finally brought her home. Later in the year Frank went through more heartache when his mother began to suffer from severe dementia. After accidentally starting a fire in her flat Mo was forced to come and live with the rest of the Butcher's at the B&B, but her deterioration was rapid. In a lucid moment she wrote Frank a letter asking him not to let her end up like her grandmother, who had gone completely mad, saying that she would prefer to die rather than suffer the same fate. Frank was severely torn over what to do, but attempted to adhere to his mother's wish by almost smothering her with a pillow while she slept one afternoon. However he couldn't go through with it and he instead sent Mo off to live with his sister Joan in Colchester. Mo subsequently died in 1992.
In 1991 Frank became part owner of the Bridge Street café with Kathy Beale and Pauline Fowler. The Butchers remained reasonably happy for a while, but in 1992 that all changed. The year began with a huge tax demand, which was swiftly followed by a large VAT bill. This forced them to sell the B&B and the adjoining house, and move into a small flat. Pat tried to turn things around for them by starting her own cab firm, PatCabs, which started to make them some real money again. However, disaster struck on Christmas Eve that year, when Pat, whilst doing a short run for a regular customer, ran over a teenage girl and left her seriously injuried. Pat went to enquire about the girl in hospital on New Year's Eve, only to find out that she had died. On the same day, Frank also received the news of his mother's death.
When Pat finally appeared in Court in May 1993, she was sentenced to six months in prison. The summer months were hard for Frank and Ricky, who tried somewhat unsuccessfully to carry on as normal and, in the autumn when Pat returned, the family struggled to make a new start. Realising that their flat at number 43 was too small, Frank arranged to buy the house next door, number 41, and the Butcher family, plus a newly returned Janine all moved in. The Butchers tried to resurrect PatCabs (renamed F and P Cabs), but it struggled to survive when faced with the dirty tactics of a rival cab firm. Frank was eventually forced to admit defeat and wind the business up. After selling his share of the café to Phil Mitchell, Frank only had the car-lot left from his once great business empire. However even that was severely suffering in the recession and the Butchers ended the year in financial ruin.
For Pat, not knowing where Frank was, or even if he was still alive, was a nightmare. She searched for him in vain. Eventually Diane brought news that her father was alive and well and had merely run away, and so Pat slowly began getting on with her life. Ricky, and Pat's newly returned son, David Wicks, teamed up to reopen the car-lot under the new name, Deals on Wheels.
However on Christmas day 1995 Frank surprised Pat and his children by showing up unannounced bearing an arm full of gifts. Frank wanted to reunite with Pat, but she wasn't willing to forgive him for abandoning her and leaving her penniless with a hefty mortgage. Frank desperately tried to change her mind, but then became furious himself when he discovered that Pat had shacked up with Roy. After many abusive comments aimed at Roy, Frank departed. Ricky managed to track him down to a nearby B&B after which Frank broke down in tears about the pitiful state his life was now in. Ricky brought Frank back to Walford for one more attempt at winning Pat back, but she now wanted a divorce. Hearing this Frank disappeared once again, but left Ricky a note promising that he would be back.
His promise of a return managed to ruffle a few feathers on the Square. David was not pleased as he worried that Frank would try to reclaim the car-lot, and Phil was not pleased either as he worried that Frank was planning to implicate him in the 1994 arson attack. Frank returned in mid January and immediately played up upon his enemies fears. He blackmailed Phil into providing him accommodation, and Phil obliged by allowing him to stay at the Vic, and gave him work behind the bar. Frank them made his intentions clear. He wanted his house, his business and his children and wasn't leaving until he got them. David contacted his lawyers and was relieved to discover that Frank had no claim on the business as the owners of the lease (Ricky, Roy and himself) were the only ones entitled to the business. However, Ricky promptly gave his share to his father and Frank shocked David by turning up for work the very next day. A multitude of arguments followed as both tried to stamp their authority on the business. Frank then menacingly decided to sell the house that Pat was living in. Although she had paid off the mortgage the last few years, it had been left in Frank's name and she had no claim on the house. Roy tried to scare Frank off, badmouthing him to his peers in the motor trade, and subsequently everyone refused to trade with Frank. Various other underhand tricks were played, all of which failed to scare Frank off.
Meanwhile Frank, once again depressed, began drinking heavily and threatened to turn himself into the police about his involvement in the arson attack. Panicking, Pat relented and spent an evening with Frank in an attempt to make him reconsider any rash actions. Their night alone seemed to stir old emotions and as Frank went to leave, Pat stopped him and they ended the night in bed together. She immediately regretted her actions the following day, but Frank was thrilled and took great pleasure in informing Roy about their tryst. Furious, Roy threatened to leave Pat and in order to stop him she claimed Frank was merely lying. She then finally managed to convince Frank that she didn't love him and begged him to leave. Defeated, Frank decided to move on once again. He signed the house over to Pat and bid her farewell leaving Walford in March 1996, once again abandoning his children.
Unaware that he had already departed, Roy's son Barry decided to take matters into his own hands. He hired a man to torch the car-lot for a second time hoping Frank would disappear in fear. Unbeknown to him, Phil was in the Portakabin office waiting on Frank and almost got burnt to death, but was saved by Ricky's heroics. The police automatically suspected Frank, and he was arrested and questioned off-screen. In a bid to make amends for his past crime, Frank told the Police that he was responsible for the second torching of the car lot. However his confession was rejected because he couldn't provide details about how the fire was started.
Frank moved to Manchester, where he set up a new second-hand car business. Janine joined him in April 1996 and soon after Frank and Pat divorced. Later that year off-screen Frank had a son with a younger woman and the son was named Danny.
Frank then returned to Manchester for several months but by May he was back again, and on this visit he became attracted to the landlady of the Vic, Peggy Mitchell. After he heroically saved her from a pair of thugs — who were searching for her shady ex George Palmer — Peggy repaid the favour by taking him out to dinner and a flirtatious friendship began to blossom. Frank moved back to Walford in June that year hoping to start a new business. After discovering that George Palmer had purchased Roy's old business, Manor Wood, he made him an offer and Peggy decided to go into partnership with him just to spite George. However George had no intention of selling the business and upped the price of the stock when he discovered their union. Furious, Frank refused to pay, but the ordeal brought him and Peggy closer and by the end of their meeting with George they had decided to begin a relationship.
Peggy was extremely keen for the relationship to progress and despite vast opposition from her sons, Phil and Grant, she had soon asked Frank to move in with her at the Vic. Frank seemed uncertain, but by October he had changed his mind and asked Peggy to marry him. Meanwhile Roy remained jealous about Frank's presence. His business was failing and he still believed Pat harboured feelings for her ex-husband, as she seemed to be extremely jealous about Frank's new found love. Things were not helped when Pat turned to Frank following an argument with Roy and stayed the night at his, only to be witnessed leaving his flat the next morning by Barry Evans. Barry jumped to all the wrong conclusions and after informing both Roy and Peggy about the fabricated affair, all hell broke loose. Peggy called off the engagement and had a vicious fight with Pat and Roy sped off in his car on a suicide bid. Frank was forced to follow Roy and make him rethink his drastic decision. He convinced Roy that nothing had happened between him and Pat, and the two bonded over drinks, leading Frank to admit that he had gotten a young girl named Gemma pregnant in Manchester, and had a young son, Danny, who no one else was aware of (Danny never appeared on-screen). Peggy accepted Frank's explanation of events and Frank and Roy decided to go into partnership in the car-lot. The foursome ended the year as friends.
However the end of the year also brought tragedy for Frank, when whilst driving home for the New Years Eve celebrations, he accidentally hit and killed Tiffany Mitchell in his car. Although Grant had been the reason why Tiffany had frantically ran into the road in the first place, he blamed Frank for her death, accusing him of murder. Frank went to pieces once again. An inquest was held after which a verdict of accidental death was returned. Furious, Grant spent the early part of 1999 trying to split Frank and his mother up, although he was unsuccessful.
Frank moved into the Vic, but their relationship hit a setback when Peggy was told that her breast cancer had returned and she was advised to get a mastectomy. Frank, with typical selfishness, admitted to Roy that he feared he would not find Peggy attractive once her breast had been removed and he failed to be supportive initially. Nevertheless their wedding arrangements went ahead as planned. However, on the day of the wedding in April 1999, Peggy began to have serious second thoughts. She felt that her husband-to-be would find her unattractive and incomplete now her breast was gone. She changed her mind just at the last minute, much to Frank's relief, and the two ran then ran the pub together.
Peggy began to grow disillusioned with Walford later in the year and after much prompting from Frank, she decided to sell the pub and emigrate to Spain. However Phil, who was having a massive feud with Peggy at this time, ruined their plans by selling his half of the Vic to his friend, Dan Sullivan, for £5 on Christmas day 1999. Frank and Peggy were forced to share the pub with a man they loathed and this meant they could no longer afford to move away. Peggy, Frank and Dan battled with each other over the running of the pub, and were often involved in games of one-upmanship, which only sought to increase animosity and make their working life unbearable. However Dan made a grave mistake when he decided to inform the police about Roy selling dodgy motors on his car-lot, which happened to be supplied by Phil. Phil and Peggy patched up their differences and he and Frank set up a card game where he conned Dan into waging his share of the Vic, and the resulting win finally managed to get rid of Dan.
In 2000, Frank began to have second thoughts about marrying Peggy and realised that he still loved Pat. Meanwhile Peggy realised all was not quite right in their marriage, and after she underwent reconstructive surgery on her breast (partly to please Frank) she decided that the best way to solve their issues was to renew their marriage vows. Frank could not take his mind off Pat however, and whilst the couples were on a joint holiday in Spain that year, Frank seduced her and they ended up in bed together. Pat tried to call it off upon their return, but when Frank turned up on her doorstep naked (apart from a comedy bow-tie), she realised that she had never stopped loving him either. Their affair continued for several months and they eventually decided to elope to Manchester. They were due to depart on Guy Fawkes Night in November that year, but suddenly Pat started to have second thoughts. It was too late however, as Peggy had already got her hands on Frank's dear John letter. Peggy shamed the cheating duo by reading the letter to the entire pub, and then famously slapped both Frank and Pat in full view of everyone, including Roy. Phil offered to eliminate Frank for Peggy, but she opted to kick him out instead and he left Walford, abandoning his daughter Janine in the process. Pat went after him shouting his name but he didn't hear and drove off leaving her sobbing in the street after being thrown out by Roy. Frank also left Peggy in severe debt and she was forced to sell the Vic to Sharon Watts in 2001.
In 2003 a special spin-off episode entitled EastEnders: Perfectly Frank aired, which followed Frank returning from Spain and setting up two businesses in Somerset; a club called Frank's Empire Club and a car valeting service. When a local gangster sent him a car to valet, his assistant found a body in the boot! Frank and the staff at the club didn't want to fall foul of the gangster, but didn't want the police asking questions either so they chucked the body into the water over the side of the pier.
Frank returned to Walford for another week stint on 5 December 2005 when Pat ran into him five years after he was last in Walford at the Crown Court. She had gone to give evidence at the trial of his daughter Janine, who was alleged to have murdered Laura Beale.
Frank pretended Janine had refused to see him, but soon revealed the true intentions of his return and attempted to get Pat to change her mind about giving evidence against Janine by seducing her and taking her to bed. The following morning he revealed that he'd been back in town for weeks and Janine had already told him she was innocent and that Pat was framing her. Pat admitted this was true, but informed him of the murder of Barry Evans, which she had previously gotten away with. Pat was shocked that Frank would use their relationship to manipulate her and despite Frank warning her that would testify in court that she was lying and see her sent down for perjury, she remained defiant. However, after meeting with Laura's mother, who was on a quest for the truth, she decided to change her story and admitted that Janine was innocent of the murder.
Frank was thrilled that Janine was freed and ignored Pat's warnings regarding his wayward daughter. Frank and Pat then said an emotional farewell with Frank commenting that she'd always be his babe. Frank then went to reunite with Janine outside the court but was heartbroken to discover that she'd already fled without him and was only using him to secure her release. This was Frank's last appearance.
Frank remains one of EastEnders best-loved characters and many associate him with a 'golden era of the square'. Following Mike Reid's death in 2007, BBC series controller, John Yorke, commented "Frank Butcher was one of a select group of truly great EastEnders' characters and the skill with which Mike Reid played him made him one of the most popular and well-loved of all.
In a Radio Times poll of over 5,000 people in 2004, 13% chose Frank Butcher as the soap character they were most happy to see return. He came third in the poll, behind EastEnders' Den Watts (32%) and Sharon Watts (21%). 12% of viewers disagreed, as Frank also polled fourth place when viewers were asked "which soap character was it a bad idea to bring back?", coming behind Coronation Street's Bet Lynch (28%), EastEnders Den Watts (28%), and Coronation Street's Liz McDonald (14%).
A comic scene that saw the character seduce Pat by arriving on her doorstep in nothing but a revolving bow-tie has been voted the fifth Top Soap Moment in a five poll in 2004 and he was also voted the seventh most popular King of Soaps in a Channel 4 poll in 2002. In addition, Frank is fondly remembered for his unique style of cockney slang. A term "dry slap" that Reid introduced into the character's dialogue has transitioned and is now utilised in British culture as a noun to describe a punch.
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