Mark started out as a delinquent teenager, but returned to Walford a changed man when he was 22. Contracting HIV forced him to grow up fast and accept his responsibilities. He tried to live a stable life, however his time in Walford was fraught with sadness. His first wife died, his two other wives left him for other men and he frequently found it difficult to accept the restrictions of the illness, which finally claimed his life in April 2004.
Several young actors were seen and read for the part of Mark (including Gary Hailes, who would later play the gay barrow boy, Barry Clark). On paper, David Scarboro was the least likely to get the job as he was relatively inexperienced, having previously only appeared in a little-known made-for-television film and Grange Hill. His reading was not a huge success as he mumbled most of his lines. However, Holland and Smith were taken with his appearance, particularly his "piercing eyes", which reminded them of James Dean. They felt that he would be "dynamite on-screen", and his likeness to their vision of the character was uncanny, so they offered him the role.
Mark was originally scripted to be a wayward delinquent and was due to feature heavily within the first year of the series. However, as soon as the regular gruelling schedule of EastEnders production established itself, it became clear that Scarboro was not happy in the role. The stress of the heavy workload and the sudden fame that came to all the actors became difficult for him to cope with. He became unhappy with the schedule and his scripts and refused to play Mark as a racist as was intended. Holland and Smith decided to write the character out of the show to allow the actor to come to terms with the situation better. On-screen, Mark was being implicated in the murder of Reg Cox and was being tempted into heroin by Nick Cotton. Fearing Nick and the police, Mark ran away from home in April 1985. As this had not been the original plan for the character, it meant a hectic period of re-writing early in 1985. The first fifty-odd scripts were reworked to accommodate this major change. Many of the stories intended for Mark were subsequently given to Kelvin Carpenter, Ian Beale and Mark's sister Michelle - which partially explains why her character became so prominent in the first year. It still left a gap though, because several of Mark's functions in the serial, as slightly the eldest of the youngsters, could not have been taken over by the others. A new character needed to be introduced to restore the balance to its original shape, which is why the character of Simon Wicks was introduced. This meant introducing the audience to a character and a story approximately a year before it had been originally intended.
Scarboro returned to the show briefly in December 1985 in a storyline that saw Mark's parents, Pauline and Arthur search for him in Southend. The storyline's intention was to help highlight the problems some parents face when their teenage children disappear from home. He returned again for brief stints in 1986 and 1987. His final appearance as Mark was on Christmas day 1987. However, the actor was never to make a full-time return and Scarboro committed suicide in 1988.
Subsequently, the role was recast in 1990 to the actor Todd Carty, renown for his role as Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill. At this time, Mark returned to the series as a permanent character. The most notable storyline involving Mark was the revelation that he had contracted HIV. Mark discovered he was HIV positive in 1991, and informed his family of this on Christmas Day that year. There then followed a traumatic journey as he struggled first to come to terms with the news, then track down his previous partners to inform them that he was infected with the virus. The problems didn't end there, however, as Mark then had to battle with the fear and ignorance of those living around him including his parents. Many of Albert Square's residents initially rejected him when they found out that he was HIV positive. Mark married one of his ex-partners Gill, who had also been infected with the virus but in her case it had progressed to full-blown AIDS, and she subsequently died the day after the wedding. The episode in which Gill died (written by Debbie Cook and directed by Leonard Lewis) has been been chosen by writer Colin Brake as one of the most memorable episodes of 1992. In his book, EastEnders: The First Ten Years Blake comments, "Although in many ways the episode was sad and downbeat it was not without its positive aspects, as Mark talked to his sister about his own mortality." Susanna Dawson, the actress who played Gill, found the experience of playing a person living with, and dying from, AIDS so intense that she co-produced an educational video based on the subject for use in schools and wrote a book, The Gill and Mark Story, to accompany it.
Mark became the first mainstream soap character to be diagnosed as HIV-positive. The storyline came after a government request to "spread the word". Mark's story also helped dispel the myth that HIV is an automatic death sentence. He lived with the condition for 13 years before dying of an AIDS related illness. The Terrence Higgins Trust worked with the production team for the duration of Mark's story. Despite all the public health campaigns concerning HIV transmission, the biggest peak in requests for testing in Britain was seen in January 1991 when Mark Fowler was diagnosed HIV-positive. Carty has commented: "I feel that the storyline educated people at a time when there were lots of misconceptions about HIV and Aids…My main concern was that they'd get it right and, overall, I think they did - because it showed someone living with HIV, as opposed to dying of it."
The storyline was widely applauded for the way it handled the plot and the following issues that the scriptwriters explored, from antiretroviral drugs, safe sex and prejudice. The storyline was so successful in raising awareness that a 1999 survey by the National Aids Trust found teenagers got most of their information about HIV from the soap.
The character of Mark remained in the show for a further 13 years after his reintroduction, and featured in an array of storylines including two failed marriages, which were scripted to highlight the difficulties that can occur in a relationship when one partner has HIV and the other does not. Ultimately Mark overcame the stigma and he enjoyed several years of happy, healthy living before finally succumbing to an AIDS-related illness and dying in April 2004 off-screen. EastEnders executive producer Louise Berridge said Carty had made a "fantastic contribution" to the soap and Mark has been a "pivotal figure" on Albert Square, but the character had finally run its course.
Campaigners have since suggested that Mark's HIV storyline could have been handled better in the latter years. Lisa Power, head of policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said "in some ways the storyline was not reflective of what was happening at the time as the condition was more common among the gay community". She also said "he was perhaps killed off too early as advancements in drugs are helping people live for much longer... Saying that, one decent soap episode is worth a thousand leaflets in schools. That is why we would always go out of our way to help scriptwriters. TV and films can be very powerful."
Mark was the son of Albert Square residents Arthur and Pauline Fowler (two of the key original characters in the series). Initially, Mark was a brooding and rebellious teenager. He got involved in drugs with Nick Cotton, attempted to join a racist organisation known as The New Movement, was a suspect in Reg Cox's murder, and generally clashed with his parents. With no solution to these problems in sight, he abruptly left home in April 1985 without informing his parents. He moved away from Walford without telling anyone where he was going, and wasn't seen again until eight months later. After Mark contacted his parents through a runaways' agency, an extremely worried Pauline and Arthur tracked him down to Southend-on-Sea in December 1985. Mark had settled there. He had found work as a mechanic at a go-cart track and was living with an older, Swedish woman named Ingrid and her children, who knew Mark as Daddy! He and Ingrid split up soon afterwards and Mark moved on to do farmwork in Wales and then to Gloucester and finally Newcastle.
Mark returned to Walford several times in 1986 for brief visits. In July 1986 he came with his Welsh friend Owen Hughes. The duo caused problems after the school-girl Cassie Carpenter stole their cannabis and was caught smoking it by Cassie's mother and father, Tony and Hannah. The entire Carpenter family refused to speak to the Fowlers for a while after. In November 1986 Pauline heard news that Mark was being held in Borstal detention centre for drug offences, burglary and assaulting a policeman. Pauline went to visit him in February 1987. She found him unrepentant but due to be released in a few weeks. After his release, he briefly returned to Walford, but despite Pauline's pleas he refused to return home permanently.
Mark wasn't seen until Christmas day 1987, when he showed up unexpectedly to spend the day with his family. Here Mark astutely figured out that Den Watts was his niece's father, although he refrained from divulging this to the rest of his family. This was the last time Mark was seen for several years. He spent his time drifting and travelling the country on his motorbike.
Mark subsequently returned to Albert Square in September 1990 a changed man. Mark was more caring and sedate, having left his rebellious stage well behind. His gained maturity was in no small way due to the fact that he had contracted HIV whilst he was living away from the Square, which forced him to become more responsible. Mark struck up a close friendship with Diane Butcher and initially kept his secret hidden from everyone. However as he and Diane grew closer he finally decided to tell her the truth about his HIV status in January 1991. He believed that he had come into contact with the virus through Gill (although this was never confirmed), his girlfriend in Newcastle, who also turned up briefly in the middle of the year, but disappeared when she saw him kissing Diane. Mark initially denied to Gill that he was infected with HIV, but later told her the truth. Mark's relationship with Diane never became serious, not for her at least. She was a useful confidante however, and managed to persuade Mark to face facts and go for counselling at the Terrence Higgins Trust. Mark initially turned on his male counsellor, relaying all his bitterness at being a potential AIDS victim, but he eventually began to feel the benefits of discussing his status. Diane kept Mark's secret. He loved her for it and asked her to marry him. However she gently turned him down and shortly afterwards left Walford to live in France.
Towards the end of the year, following the example of his friend Joe Wallace who finally came clean to his parents about being gay and being HIV-positive, Mark decided to let his parents in on his secret. By this time he had become involved with Rachel Kominski, who advised him against it, but Mark tiring of pretence, went ahead and on Boxing Day told Pauline and Arthur that he was HIV-positive. They sat in stunned silence while he scattered helpful leaflets around the house and then fled to the countryside. When he returned, he faced his mother's irrational terror and severe hostility from his father. Arthur's ignorance was apparent initially, as he would often get scared that he would catch HIV from Mark. He went to painstaking attempts to bleach all the cutlery that Mark had used to avoid infection. Mark's mother and sister Michelle were understandably distraught, but they were also instrumental in helping Arthur understand Mark's illness, and were a huge support to Mark during this time.
Mark's relationship with Rachel never really got off the ground and ended in 1992. The animosity at home thrust Mark back into the arms of his girlfriend Gill, who moved down to London and started to become seriously ill. Gill's HIV had already progressed into full-blown AIDS and her deterioration was rapid; she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was placed in a hospice.
Mark realised that he was truly in love with her and asked her to marry him. Mark and Gill married in June 1992, and managed one night of their honeymoon in a hotel, before Gill was readmitted to the hospice where she died. A devastated Mark spent the rest of the year in shock and began drinking heavily.
Mark took the rejection badly and he began neglecting his health by not taking his HIV medication. During Christmas that year he was rushed to hospital after collapsing. When Shelley found out that Mark was ill she rushed to him and confessed that she really cared for him and so they decided to reignite their relationship. Shelley was desperate for Mark to meet her family and go on holiday together with her parents. She became slightly infatuated with him and tried to spend as much time with him as she could. Mark felt that the relationship was moving too quickly and he soon began to tire of Shelley. By March 1994 Mark had decided to finish the relationship, but when he tried to break it off Shelley resorted to emotional blackmail, saying that she risked her own health being with him, so he owed her. When this didn't work she threatened to tell the rest of Walford about his HIV status, but when Mark called her bluff she didn't have the guts to go through with her threat and decided to leave Walford instead.
Later in 1994, Mark's friend Joe Wallace died of an AIDS related illness, and after a trip to the hospice to see him, he ran into a Scottish woman named Ruth Aitken, who was also visiting her friend in the hospice. After a brief conversation the two decided to go to a pub to drown their sorrows. They began a relationship and for once Mark seemed to have found a woman who could deal with his HIV status without getting hysterical. Ruth was the daughter of a strict Presbyterian minister, who refused to give his blessing to her union with Mark and disowned her when she announced in 1995 that she was planning to marry him. They married anyway - in Scotland - soon after. However problems in their marriage began to surface. Ruth had persuaded Mark - and herself - that she was happy about not having any children, but it soon became apparent that she was fooling herself.
In 1996 Mark was forced to confront the Square's prejudices, when the residents discovered his HIV status. The depth of ignorance concerning the illness didn't help matters and, led by Peggy Mitchell, the residents began boycotting Mark's fruit and veg stall, fearing they would catch the virus from his produce. Pauline sprang to her son's defence and she and Peggy were involved in a vicious slap fight, but even Pauline couldn't diffuse the prejudice, and Mark returned home one day to find the words "AIDS scum" graffitied on his wall. This was too much for him and he decided to present his neighbours with a few facts about his illness in The Queen Vic; forcing them to acknowledge their bigotry. Peggy remained uncertain, but was forced to realise that Mark might appreciate a bit of support when, at the end of the year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
In 1997 Mark and Ruth began fostering a six year old girl named Jessie Moore, but having to give her back proved too heart-breaking and by this time rot had began to set in on their marriage. When Mark's cousin Conor Flaherty began showing interest in Ruth, Mark became severely jealous and the relationship fell apart. After they split Ruth succumbed to Conor's charm and ended up falling pregnant with his child. She eventually left Walford in 1999 with Conor, leaving Mark heart-broken.
In 2000 Mark's feud with Nick Cotton resurfaced after he discovered that Nick had given his brother, Martin, dodgy ecstasy. Mark snapped and after spiking Nick's drink, he led him up to the Walford viaduct and watched in delight as an intoxicated Nick plunged to the ground, severely crippling himself in the process. Nick was vengeful and enlisted his son Ashley to take revenge on Mark. Ashley stole Mark's motorbike and attempted to run Mark over whilst driving it, however Nick had already drained the brake fluid from the bike the night before. Ashley crashed into the launderette and was killed. Nick left the Square shortly afterwards and never crossed paths with Mark again.
Mark held a soft spot for Lisa Shaw, who was in a rocky relationship with his enemy, Phil Mitchell. When she left Phil, she turned to Mark. Mark took her in and they began a relationship, much to Pauline's despair. Together, they concocted a plan to pretend that the child she was carrying was Mark's, even though the real father was Phil. Mark offered to raise the baby so Phil could be completely erased from Lisa's life. To facilitate their lie, Mark insisted that he'd taken all the relevant precautions in relation to his HIV, stating that he had undergone sperm washing, and they had everyone fooled for a while. Mark loved Lisa so much that he stayed with her after she shot Phil (who survived), and Mark proposed to her in 2001 shortly after baby Louise's birth.
However Phil discovered the truth about the child's parentage from Louise's god mother Sharon Watts, and vowed to take an active role in his daughter's upbringing. Mark and Lisa married in March 2002, but their happiness was shortlived. Seeing Phil with Louise stirred up buried emotions in Lisa and she began to grow estranged from Mark. After just five months of marriage, Lisa left Mark after resuming her affair with Phil. It was ultimately revealed that Phil was not interested in Lisa and only wanted Louise, and upon realising this, Lisa escaped to Portugal with Louise.