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Angie Watts

Angela "Angie" Watts (née Shaw) was a fictional character on the popular BBC soap opera EastEnders. She was played by Anita Dobson from the first episode of the show until 1988 when the actress decided to quit and the character was written out.

Angie was well known for her cheeky banter, her huge bubble perm and turning to alcohol during her stormy marriage to cheating Den which ended when he handed her divorce papers on Christmas day, in an episode watched by a record-breaking 30.1 million viewers. Despite being the loud and feisty lady of Walford, and having a close relationship with her beloved adopted daughter Sharon, she didn't have much real happiness during her time in Albert Square and alcoholism finally claimed her life in 2002 when she died of cirrhosis of the liver.

Character creation

Background

Angie Watts was one of the original twenty-three characters invented by the creators of EastEnders, Tony Holland and Julia Smith. The character of Angie was originally going to be named Pearl and she, her husband and adopted daughter were to be the occupants of the soap's local pub, now famously known as The Queen Vic. Holland, who had worked as a barman in his youth, called upon his own personal experiences to invent the Watts family and the pub they lived in. Holland and Smith had always been critical of the way pubs had been portrayed on television feeling they lacked vitality and life, so they were determined that their pub and occupants were going to be more 'real'. The Watts were seen by Holland as integral to the shows success, partly because he had already guessed that the pub was going to be a monstrous battleground where emotions would run high on a regular basis, and also because the occupants would be providing the majority of the drama.

Angie's original character outline as written by Smith and Holland appeared in an abridged form in their book, EastEnders: The Inside Story. In this passage, Angie will be referred to as Pearl, her husband as Jack, her daughter as Tracey and her dog as Prince (known now as Den, Sharon and Roly respectively).

"Jack and Pearl are not criminals. They're not angels either. Villains perhaps? Well, he certainly is. They've been married for fifteen years, and haven't had sex with each other for thirteen of them. The marriage is a front for the sake of the pub's image. The daughter, Tracey is adopted - maybe for the same reason. They have a dog too - Prince - an Alsatian...Pearl met Jack at school, and they were sweethearts from the word go. Money and things are what interest her. Jack didn't give her these fast enough in the early stages of their marriage, which is partly why it turned sour. It also went wrong because of sex: he just didn't turn her on...or didn't turn her on enough. And she never stops reminding him of how much of a man he isn't. She is basically a scrubber, trying to reform herself. "Nobody turns me on like Jack" she says loudly in public, "I can't make it with another man." But she does, often...Class is what Pearl wants, and something she'll never pull off. Yes, she's attractive. She's also flash...Pearly the worker is no fool. She can keep two sets of books with the best of them, hire with skill and fire without mercy. Sexual innuendo is the key to her character. The wink. The tease..."Have you seen the Honda 750? Take me for a ride any time!"...Her pub is spotless. And the customer's always right. Except when he isn't. Then she can be so polite, he'll wish he'd gone to a wine-bar...Sometimes Pearl gets so legless that Jack has to throw her over his shoulder and fireman's lift her upstairs to their flat, where they have separate bedrooms...She's fun, she tries and she's trapped. She's also larger than life." (page 63)

Casting

The actress Jean Fennell was recommended for the part by the writer, Mathew Robinson. Fennell was born in the East End of London and both Holland and Smith considered her to have unique qualities to her personality, which combined "vitality and vulnerability, and an almost desperate nervous energy" - all of which were perfect for Angie. Fennell was given the role, however during rehearsals Holland and Smith began to realise that Fennell was wrong for the part. Julia Smith made the decision to re-cast the role of Angie, a decision which did not sit well with Fennell. With only four days to the first studio recording of EastEnders, Smith set about finding a suitable actress. Smith had taught the actress Anita Dobson many years earlier and remembered her as "sharp, brittle, very theatrical, with a vitality that was almost intense and a range of emotions that were alarming considering her youth." After a very successful reading Dobson was cast as Angie.

Character development

The Watts were the surprise hit characters of the show. Angie and Den were a live-wire couple whose on/off relationship made the Queen Vic pub exciting and unpredictable and millions of viewers tuned in to watch the destruction of their relationship on-screen. Den's clashes with Angie brought EastEnders to a peak of popularity and toppled rival soap Coronation Street from the top of the ratings chart.

During 1986 the series became dominated by Angie and Den's storylines and the focus of the programme was very much concentrated on their combustible relationship. The emphasis began early in 1986 with the arrival of Den's mistress Jan Hammond. Jan had been a powerful off-screen presence for the first year. Her menacing voice at the end of the telephone severely affected the mood of both Den and Angie and kept the audience on edge every time the phone rang. Jan's physical arrival at the Vic in January 1986 was one of the show's dramatic highlights. Her invasion of Angie's territory was a springboard to future emotional fireworks and a pre-cursor to Angie's further dependence on alcohol and her attempted suicide. Dobson had been opposed to the suicide storyline from the beginning, she fought hard to get the scripts changed but she was eventually persuaded to play the scenes and was applauded for a "brilliant performance". However Angie's suicide attempt provoked a massive reaction, not all of it favourable. There was a public outcry about the last two shots of the suicide episode, and Julia Smith subsequently had to cut one of them for the omnibus edition. Some accused the programme of sensationalising suicide and giving ideas to copy-cats. The build up to Angie's desperate action and its sickening aftermath were intended to demonstrate the full despair of her situation and Holland and Smith have maintained that the horror of its on-screen depiction was meant to deter, not encourage, the act.

Den and Angie's traumatic two-hander episode in October 1986 was a risky experiment. A thirty minute episode with only two people in it had never been attempted in a soap before. Holland and Smith feared that the episode would not hold up, however press and audience alike were in agreement that it did. Once it was done, it set a precedent and the programme has featured two-handers ever since. The episode was structured like a "tennis match" between Angie and Den, with a non-speaking window-cleaner forever strolling innocently into the action. It began with Den trying to tell Angie that he wanted a divorce. Angie was shocked and for a moment defeated, but she then dropped her bombshell and told Den that she only had six months to live. At first Den didn't believe her, but eventually Angie's hysterical performance convinced him. He crumbled and promised to stay with her and only after he left did Angie smile in triumph, letting the audience in on her secret that it was all a big lie. Written by Jane Hollowood and directed by Antonia Bird, this episode is considered to be one of the finest episodes in EastEnders catalogue.

The Den/Angie/Jan triangle was to continue for many months. The climax was a trip to Venice when Angie, convinced that Den had finished with his mistress, was taken there for a second-honeymoon, returning to London on the Orient Express. This gave the writers and producers an opportunity to open the show up from the confines of Albert Square. However the trip to Venice was fraught with problems and Dobson, Leslie Grantham (Den) and Jane How (Jan) were hounded by the press at all times. Their photographs appeared in British newspapers, thus ruining the shock surprise that Tony Holland had created, by including Den's mistress in the episode. Despite huge efforts from all involved the Venice episodes were only moderately successful, although the revelations discovered by Den in the episode set the scene for one of EastEnders most renown episodes, which aired on Christmas day that year. After over-hearing his wife confess that her illness was fabricated, Den filed for divorce. 30.1 million viewers tuned in on Christmas day in 1986 to witness Den handing Angie her divorce papers, giving the soap its highest ever episode rating, which has yet to be beaten by any other plotline from any other soap in the UK.

This storyline saw the separation of Den and Angie. Holland and Smith had anticipated that Den and Angie would be popular, but they had not guessed how hysterical the reaction to them would be. It was decided that Den and Angie would have to be played down for a while so that other characters would have the opportunity to shine through. The next few years saw Den and Angie struggle to get by without each other and eventually they reunited as business partners. However in 1988 Anita Dobson decided that she wanted to move on after three years playing Angie. She left in May 1988. Despite many alleged attempts at getting Dobson to reprise the role, she never accepted, commenting: “Why tarnish the gorgeous creation that was Angie Watts?”. The character of Angie Watts was subsequently killed off-screen in 2002 (dying of a drink related illness) and brought home to be buried by her on-screen daughter Sharon in order to facilitate the return of the actress Letitia Dean.

Storylines

Alcoholic Angie shared a love/hate marriage to her womanising husband, Den Watts, and refused to let him go even during their rockiest times. They had been married since 18 February 1968 - exactly 17 years before the series began - and together they ran and lived in The Queen Victoria pub on Albert Square. Angie and Den doted on their spoilt, teenage, adopted daughter, Sharon, who carried on loving them despite her resentment of Den's affairs and Angie's binge drinking.

Angie was good at putting on a front for the punters, dressing to kill, screeching outrageously with the girls, but inside she was a mess. Despite all her bravado, all she really wanted was a happy marriage with Den, who she never stopped loving, despite the fact that he treated her like dirt.

Marriage to Den

Den and Angie started 1985 by celebrating their seventeenth wedding anniversary, but it soon became clear that their marriage was a sham. Behind the scenes of their great business partnership, there was not much of a relationship going on. Den had been carrying on with his posh mistress Jan Hammond for a while, a fact that Angie was all too aware of. Early in the year, Den even managed to wangle a holiday to Spain with Jan, under the pretext that he was checking out a possible time-share holiday home purchase. With Den gone, Angie did what she always did in times of trouble, she turned to alcohol to drown her sorrows. She also set about trying to seduce the men of Walford in a bid to get back at her philandering husband. Lofty Holloway, Simon Wicks and even Arthur Fowler all fell victim to Angie's not-so-subtle flirting, but her only successful conquest was local builder, Tony Carpenter. Tony fell for Angie, but she was only using him to get back at Den. The affair was conducted in secret but they were caught in a passionate clinch in the middle of The Vic by Sharon. Angie had to bribe her daughter to ensure her silence, and even informed her about Den's infidelity. Sharon was disgusted that both her parents were guilty of adultery. Upon Den's return from his holiday, Angie called off the affair, but it wasn't long before Sharon gave Den the impression that her mother had been up to no good. Den confronted Angie, and she admitted to the affair, but unfortunately for her, Den wasn't concerned about her infidelity, more about his reputation, which only sought to upset Angie even more.

Although Angie tried to stop drinking, her attempts always failed dismally and by the end of the year she'd even been arrested for drink-driving when she crashed Den's car on the way home from a darts match. 1986 would prove to bring more trauma for Angie when Den's mistress, Jan, started to frequent The Vic. The physical arrival of Jan sent Angie's marriage into further decline as she was unable to contain her jealousy and anger. Angie became so depressed that she took a near lethal cocktail of booze and pills in an attempted suicide. By chance, Den returned home early following an argument with Jan, discovered Angie and rushed her to the hospital where she had her stomach pumped. Angie recovered, but was left shaken when she discovered how close to death she actually came. Upon recovering, Angie decided to play Den at his own game and so she began another affair with Andy O'Brien. Den was furious when he discovered them in bed together, but his rage was shortlived as he had more pressing things on his mind, such as the birth of his illegitimate daughter, Vicki Fowler. Angie's affair with Andy only lasted a month, ending when Andy got back with his ex-girlfriend Debbie Wilkins. Andy died in a road accident shortly afterwards.

As the year moved on, Den decided that he wanted to leave Angie so he could settle down and marry Jan. He finally got round to telling Angie his intentions in October, after which Angie became distraught. Desperate to hold on to her husband, announced that she was terminally ill and only had six months to live. Upon hearing this, Den became wracked with guilt, so he begrudgingly decided to revise his plans and stay with Angie. He set about organising a second honeymoon for them in Venice. However their holiday was ruined, when Jan turned up, and upon seeing her and Den together Angie went straight back on the gin that she'd not long given up. On the way home from Venice on the Orient Express a drunk Angie told the barman all about her big lie. Unfortunately for Angie, Den heard every word and from that moment on he reverted to his original plan to leave her, although he decided to wait a while before letting Angie know that he know about her "secret". On Christmas Day that year, Den decided to get his revenge. Thinking that her marriage was safe, Angie was happier than ever, that was until Den informed her that he'd heard her conversation with the barman on the Orient Express and then served her divorce papers as a Christmas present (this episode pulled in the highest amount of viewers the show has ever seen since its 1985 arrival - 30 million). In response, Angie and Sharon packed their bags and walked out of the pub, choosing to take the route through the public area to cause Den the most embarrassment possible.

Separation

Angie began 1987 by securing herself a job as the manageress of The Vic's rival drinking establishment, The Dagmar. Owner, James Willmott-Brown, was only too happy to have Angie's expertise on board for his new, suave wine bar. Angie and Den continued to row constantly and in a bid for revenge, Angie vowed to take Den 'to the cleaners' for her divorce settlement. In retaliation Den installed his mistress, Jan, as the new land lady of The Vic, which only sought to infuriate Angie even more. However, Den and Jan's cohabitation eventually led to the end of their relationship, when Den decided that Jan was too posh for him and so by the summer of that year he had given her her marching orders.

The Vic was floundering without Angie, a fact that she seemed to delight over, and the sheer pleasure of watching Den suffer was all she needed to make her 'grin and bear' The Dagmar's yuppie clientèle. However, behind her front, Angie was a wreck, drinking more heavily than ever and going on 'over the top' shopping sprees. By May of that year the divorce papers finally came through, but it seemed that neither Den nor Angie were coping without each other, and although they both professed to be pleased about the divorce, it was obvious to everyone else that they were far from happy. Seeing her parent's misery, Sharon decided to intervene by setting up a dinner date between them, which ended with them in bed together again. Angie and Den decided to keep their reconciliation quiet for a while, but by the end of the year, Angie finally lost her patience with The Dagmar clientèle, and after slapping one of the customers in the face, she marched over to The Vic and offered to come back to work, but only as a business partner this time and not a wife.

Angie's exit

Angie began 1988 with a health scare when she was rushed to hospital with kidney-failure; brought on by her excessive alcohol abuse. Upon her recovery Angie decided to take a well-earned holiday to Spain with her friends, Sonny and Ree. This led to Angie and Sonny falling in love and embarking on an affair. Sonny made arrangements for them to start a new life together, running a bar in Spain.

Angie returned to Walford (with her plans still secret) and tried to show interest in Den's plan to move the location of The Vic, but it was plain to see that her mind was elsewhere. Den soon 'cottoned on' that she was seeing someone else, and although he didn't care that she was with another man, he was concerned for the state of his business. Den visited a solicitor and returned with papers protecting himself and his business should Angie decide to leave him again. Angie did decide to leave in May of that year, still under a cloak of secrecy and only divulging her plan to leave on the night of her departure. Unfortunately for Angie, Den had already 'second guessed' her and when she attempted to leave he cruelly informed her that he'd sorted things so she wouldn't be able to get a penny out of him. After their final showdown Angie got into her taxicab and left Walford.

This was Angie's last appearance, although later that year, while Den was in prison, Sharon decided to join Angie in Spain and turned up unannounced, only to find out from Angie's boyfriend Sonny that she had left him and moved on to the United States. It was subsequently revealed that she moved to Miami where she remarried during February 1991.

Sharon eventually joined her in 1995 after the breakdown of her marriage to Grant Mitchell.

Death

In 2001 Sharon returned to Walford, and in April 2002, news reached London that years of heavy drinking had finally caught up with Angie and she had died from cirrhosis of the liver, at the age of 52. Despite having remarried, Angie had requested to be buried next to Den, which Sharon did for her when she returned her body to London in order to reunite her two 'dead' parents. Sharon's new club was re-named Angie's Den in her and Den's honour.

In fact, the body thought to be Den's was actually that of the mysterious Mr. Vinnicombe, the boss of The Firm - who had ordered Den's assassination. 14 years after Den's disappearance, it turned out that he had not died after all, and had faked his own death in order to get away from the gangsters who had been employed to kill him. However, Den eventually met his second demise at the hands of second wife Chrissie in February 2005. A body found under the basement of the Queen Vic six months later was quickly identified as Den's, and buried in his 'original' grave next to Angie.

Reception

Angie became one of the most iconic and popular characters in EastEnders' history. The character was said to become such a "phenomenon" that when Anita Dobson announced she would be leaving in 1988, her departure was reported on the BBC Six O'Clock News.

She was voted the number one television barmaid, the fifth most popular Queen of soaps and the 75th greatest television character of all time in separate Channel 4 polls. In addition, the moment that Den served Angie divorce papers has been voted the number one soap moment of all time in a 2004 poll.

References

External links

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