Den was the original landlord of The Queen Vic. He perhaps is best known for his stormy love-hate relationship with his alcoholic first wife Angie. After nearly 20 years of marriage, he finally handed divorce papers to her in the 1986 Christmas Day episode that was watched by a record-breaking 30.1 million viewers, about half of the UK's population now. He was also well known for his later involvement with the criminal gang known as The Firm that eventually led to an attempt on his life in 1989. For 14 years, it was believed that the Firm's attempt on his life had been successful. But he returned to Walford in September 2003. 17 months later, his character was killed off again—at the hands of his manipulative second wife Chrissie.
His character was described by EastEnders Executive Producer, Louise Berridge, as being arguably one of the most iconic soap characters ever.
Den'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, Den will be referred to as Jack, his wife as Pearl, his daughter as Tracey and his dog as Prince (known now as Angie, Sharon and Roly respectively).
EastEnders' lead director Matthew Robinson recommended the actor Leslie Grantham for the part. Grantham had previously appeared on the London Fringe in a stage play Robinson had written. His only TV appearance at that point had been as Kiston, a small part in a 1984 Doctor Who serial Resurrection of the Daleks directed by Robinson. Julia Smith remembered that she had taught Grantham at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and regarded him as a "mature student", although she had never seen him "in action". They needed the character of Den to have "panache, charisma and electricity". They were initially uncertain about casting Grantham, but they both felt that the actor had "something", which they went on to describe as a "tensed up internal emotion of some sort, that was being held in. There was something behind the eyes, too. Barely contained violence almost..."
After a successful reading with the actress Jean Fennell (who was originally cast as Angie), he was offered the part. However, shortly afterwards Grantham contacted Smith and asked to speak to her urgently. He revealed that he had been found guilty of killing a German taxi driver while on army service in 1967, and spent 10 years in prison. Although there were fears that if this story got out, the resultant publicity would do enormous damage to the programme and the BBC, Smith decided not to withdraw Grantham from the role. In her opinion, he had paid the full penalty that society requires for a mistake committed in his past and it was a "Christian duty to forgive".
The story found its way into the British press far quicker than was expected. Three days after the transmission of episode one, EastEnders made the front page of a national newspaper for the first time with the headline "EASTENDERS STAR IS A KILLER." The security gates at Elstree Studios (where EastEnders is filmed) were swamped with journalists and photographers, and so began a "double-edged" relationship between EastEnders and the popular press. The devisers of the programme were quick to realise that whilst a newspaper's publicity may sometimes boost a soap's position in the ratings, it could equally help to tarnish it. In conjunction soaps could help to sell newspapers, and from then on stories about EastEnders and the cast began to fill their pages. Grantham became hounded by the press and the BBC was forced to put out a statement supporting him and their decision to employ a convicted murderer. In order to keep the press at bay, Grantham was smuggled out of the studios by the back route and decoy cars were used to lure the press away from his home, which all put an increasing strain on the actor. Eventually the furore quietened down, but it never went away entirely and nearly every article written about the actor during his first stint in the show, referenced his past. Press began to blur the characters in the show with the actors and it was at this point when Julia Smith — in an attempt to dispel confusion about reality and fiction — introduced the rule that no actor was ever to appear in public "in character".
Despite the controversy surrounding Grantham, the Watts, with Anita Dobson as the newly appointed Angie, 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 the viewers tuned in in their millions 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.
Early on in the series, the character of Den became central to the programme and was the focus of a controversial storyline involving the teenage pregnancy of Michelle Fowler. Press interest in the show escalated to record levels as journalists continuously tried to predict who had fathered Michelle's baby. In true whodunnit fashion, the audience had been kept in the dark as to the real identity of the father and were given teasers implicating several residents on the Square. The audience finally discovered the culprit in episode 66 of the programme, October 1985. The episode was written by series co-creator/script editor Tony Holland and directed by co-creator/producer Julia Smith, and was considered to be a landmark episode in the show's history. Four possible suspects were seen leaving the Square in the early half of the episode: Tony Carpenter, Ali Osman, Andy O'Brien and Den Watts. As Michelle waited by their rendezvous point a car pulled up and finally the fluffy white legs of Roly the poodle bounded out of the car, and gave it all away: Den Watts was the man meeting Michelle and it was he who had fathered her baby. It was when Den was revealed as the father that his famous nickname "Dirty Den" was created by the British press. The rest of the episode consisted of just one long scene, where Den and Michelle discussed whether or not to keep the baby. Up to that time it was the longest scene ever done in a soap-opera, lasting fifteen minutes. For a series that in its first eight months of existence had established a reputation for being fast-moving and rapidly cut, this was a bold experiment. It relied on just the one story and two actors to hold the audience for over half an episode. Tony Holland's handling of the awkward scene between a teenage girl and the father of her best-friend is deemed as one of the highlights of EastEnders first year. The finishing touch was the use of an alternative end title music, a variation of the normal one which replaced the dramatic drum beats with a longer, gentler piano solo introduction.
After this storyline the programme started to appear in newspaper cartoons as it moved more and more into the public mainstream. One such cartoon showed the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, telling her cabinet that the best way to alert the country to the dangers of AIDS was to give the disease to Den.
During 1986 the series became dominated by Den and Angie'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, a menacing voice at the end of the telephone, which severely affected the mood of both Den and Angie and kept the audience on edge everytime 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.
Den and Angie's traumatic two-hander episode in October 1986 was another risky experiment for EastEnders — 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, Grantham 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 renowned 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. Leslie Grantham had also decided that he wanted to move on, but Julia Smith didn't want the programme to suffer the double blow of losing both Den and Angie at the same time. The solution to the problem was one of the soap's most complex and creative exercises, that required intricate planning. The idea was to enable Den to stay as an on-screen presence for an extra year while keeping Grantham working for EastEnders for only a few months. Tony Holland and writer/editor Bill Lyons came up with a story to put Den in prison for a year, intending that material recorded in a block of intensive filming would then be included in the programme for the rest of the year. The programme didn't want to make Den into a criminal, however, so he had to be put in prison for doing something that could be justified to the viewing public — otherwise there would be no sympathy for him. The answer lay in a storyline that was running with another character — the rape of Kathy Beale. After simultaneously getting in way over his head with a criminal organisation (The Firm), Den torched The Dagmar in retaliation against Kathy's rapist and was then made to take the blame for the deed by the firm. After he refused, went on the run, and was nearly killed by the firm's heavies, Den turned himself into the police and was put on remand at Dickens Hill prison. For the next five months he was seen, in the company of a small group of new characters also confined in the prison, on a regular basis in EastEnders. This material was shot in less than a month at Dartmoor Prison, Devon. When these segments were written and recorded, they were done so entirely in isolation and in advance - the production team had no real idea of other material that would have to fit around it.
The character was eventually to bow out on 23 February 1989 in one of the programme's most famous episodes which attracted an estimated 20 million viewers. After escaping from custody Den returned to the famous canal (in Alperton) for one last rendezvous with Michelle. The episode ended with Den being shot by a member of the firm (who was carrying a gun concealed in a bunch of daffodils) and then falling into the canal. The scene where Den actually hit the water had to be taped at the BBC's Ealing Film Studios using a water tank, because the waters of the Grand Union Canal were deemed unsafe. When the episode was finished, however, Jonathan Powell, controller of BBC1, requested that the final shot be removed to allow for the possibility of Den returning at a later date. In protest, Tony Holland and Julia Smith had their names taken off the episode's credits. Den's exit ended up being the creators' final contribution to the show.
However, after 14 years presumed dead, executive-producer Louise Berridge made the highly controversial decision to reintroduce the character to the series and reunite him with his daughter Sharon, played by Letitia Dean. Grantham has alleged that the producers of EastEnders asked him to reprise the role many times since 1991, but he turned each offer down as he was unhappy with the returning storylines. Subsequent offers between 1995 and 2001 were also rejected because Den's screen family were no longer in the show and Grantham felt that a return at this time would have been little more than a publicity stunt. However, he accepted Berridge's offer to return in 2002 as he approved of the storyline and because Den had family ties within the cast - his adoptive daughter Sharon had returned after six years away, his other daughter Vicki was due to return, and Dennis Rickman - the son Den hadn't known existed - was also due to join.
The reintroduction of Den was part of a plan by scriptwriters to fight back against the continued success of ITV's long-running soap, Coronation Street. The character made his "dramatic return" in an episode that aired on 29 September 2003. On-screen, Den walked into Sharon's nightclub, Angie's Den, and greeted his stunned daughter with the words "Hello, princess." More than 16 million viewers watched his long-awaited homecoming, attracting 62% of the viewing public; it has been voted as the favourite TV soap comeback in an AOL online poll of over 23,000 viewers, taking over a third of the vote (37%).
Although the character's return was popular with many viewers, the British press branded the plot unrealistic and felt that it questioned the show's credibility. A severe press backlash followed after actor Leslie Grantham was outed in an internet sex scandal, which coincided with a swift decline in EastEnders ratings. Newly appointed executive-producer Kathleen Hutchison then made the decision to axe the character and he was killed off in a high-profile storyline, which saw his body buried in the cellar of The Queen Vic.
Grantham has denied that he was dismissed from the show as punishment for the internet sex scandal. He has claimed in his autobiography that he only ever intended to return to the soap for 18 months so his character's second demise would tie in with the show's 20th anniversary.
Den was married to Angie (played by Anita Dobson) and together they managed the The Queen Victoria pub in Albert Square. Den was notorious for his love affairs and shady dealings. Despite being a bad husband, Den was devoted to his and Angie's adopted daughter Sharon and was quite over-protective of his "princess". When the series began in 1985, Den already had an off-screen mistress, Jan Hammond and within months he had seduced the best friend of his daughter, Michelle Fowler. The teenage Michelle became pregnant and in one of EastEnders most famous storylines, viewers were encouraged to guess the identity of her baby's father. The revelation that it was Den led to him being dubbed Dirty Den by the tabloids. Michelle gave birth to Vicki in 1986 but her paternity remained a closely guarded secret throughout the early years of the series.
In 1986, Den was shocked to see his mistress Jan turn up in the Vic. This sent Angie spiralling further into depression and one night after being with Jan, Den came home to find his wife sprawled on the kitchen table after having taken an overdose. Angie survived but not long after Den tried to leave her for good and in a ground-breaking two-hander episode featuring only Den and his wife she announced that she had "six months to live". Although sceptical at first, Den soon crumbled and begged for Angie's forgiveness for all the terrible things he'd done, and promised to be there for her. In a guilty attempt to build bridges with his 'dying' wife he took Angie to Venice for a second honeymoon. As they returned home on the Orient Express Den overheard his wife admit that she had faked her illness to stop Den from leaving her. This discovery culminated in a Christmas Day episode in which Den served divorce papers to a shocked Angie. This episode was seen by an audience of 30.15 million viewers in the UK.
In 1987, the pair divorced, with Angie going to work at the Dagmar Pub. Angie vowed to get revenge on Den, vowing 'I want his blood!' and took him to the cleaners, taking everything from the Vic and putting Den in vast amounts of debt. Den split from his mistress after she accused him of treating her like Angie and began an affair with the catering manager at the Vic, Magda Czajkowski. On New Year's Eve he welcomed his ex-wife back to the Queen Victoria where they agreed to start again, working purely as business partners.
Their new found business relationship was short lived and Angie eventually left the Square for Spain in 1988. They never saw each other again.
Den was always subtly involved with the underworld organisation of Walford known only as The Firm. In the beginning of the series, Den's criminal connections were fairly low-key, being merely a wheeler-dealer who flogged cheap radios and duvet covers and whatever else he could find to his unsuspecting customers. However when local scoundrel Nick Cotton had been blackmailing Kathy Beale, Den rounded up the men of the Square to try and get Nick out of Walford. They cornered him one night in the Vic and Den threatened that, if Nick ever made trouble again, Den would get his old friend 'Mr. V' who he knew from school to help 'sort him out'. Nick left, scared, whereas Tony Carpenter laughed at him having believed it when he didn't, until he noticed the look of seriousness on Den's face. Then in 1986 the Firm used Den's home at the Vic as a safe house for one of their members, which Den had to reluctantly put up with, despite his and his families discomfort.
Then in 1987, during his and Angie's divorce, Den borrowed a load of money from the Firm to help with his increasing debt problems. The Firm were happy to help out for the favour he had done for them the year before, however when Den called the cops on some kids dealing drugs in the Vic, the Firm were quickly onto him - as it turned out that one of the kids had been the son of one of the Firm's top men. The Firm quickly got Den in their clutches and local gangster Brad Williams visited Den at the Vic one morning with one of the Firm's muscle men, ordering Den into the car and driving him off to a deserted factory. It was here that Den was informed that in order to clear his debts to both the Brewery and the Firm, he would have to go on a drug export trip to Morroco. Den was terrified and did his best to resist, reluctant to become a criminal on such a larger scale, and tried to refuse. The episode ended with Brad sharing a shifty look at his Firm member, before Den's face cringed in pain - he was not seen again for two weeks, having gone on the trip.
In 1988, the Firm were beginning to demand more favours from Den, with Brad making frequent visits so as the Firm could launder money from the Vic. Den began to get tire of his beloved pub and eventually decided to sell it to Frank and Pat Butcher. Den had been making plans with Angie, before her departure, to move elsewhere but the Firm decided to use him to run Stroke's wine bar with another one of the Firm's members, Joanne Francis. The wine bar was in reality just a front for an illegal gambling den in the cellar. Later that summer, a chilling storyline saw James Willmott-Brown, the proprietor of The Dagmar pub, rape his barmaid, Kathy Beale. Kathy was the wife of Den's best mate Pete Beale and it was Den who discovered her alone and afraid in Willmot-Brown's abandoned flat and carried her home. In angry retaliation he used his underworld connections to have the Dagmar firebombed, believing Willmott-Brown to have been inside at the time. At first the Firm were reluctant to help, but Den was determined to see Willmott-Brown pay and managed to persuade Brad to help him see the deed was done. Strokes's rival establishment was therefore eliminated although Willmot-Brown escaped the blaze unharmed. This didn't stop an enraged Den from confronting him in an alleyway and almost strangling him to death, threatening to kill him should he ever see him again.
The Firm's bosses, including Gregory Mantel, forced Den to take the blame in order to distances their organisation from the attack and forced Den to leave Walford and stay at a safe house elsewhere where his identity would be changed. Den soon realised that this was all a cover and in truth the Firm were planning to kill him. Den managed to escape and gain some help from a reluctant old school friend who managed to give him an alibi for while he had been on the run, having been put on London's Most Wanted list for suspected arson. Den managed to make it to the police station to hand himself in and in September 1988 he was remanded in custody at Dickens Hill prison.
In Dickens Hill Den got to know his fellow prisoners and their stories, even going on to encounter former neighbour Nick Cotton as a prison-mate. Prison quickly took it's toll on Den in his first couple of months, with many of the inmates refusing to trust him, some of them having connections with the Firm themselves. Even though Den's friends on the Square protest his innocence, Den quickly began to feel isolated, especially when Sharon found it to hard to visit him and have to see him in such a state. The gay Top Dog of the Prison, known as Queenie, took an instant dislike to Den and suspected him of being a grass, one night cornering him in his cell with some friends and beat Den to a pulp. Despite this, Den was still grateful to escape the pressures of his underworld connections outside and quickly rose through the prison ranks to become 'No.1' of his landing, especially after finding out that the true snitch in the Prison was in fact Queenie himself, which Den found out after some clever mind tricks. However, on the outside, the Firm were beginning to mistrust Den more and more until it got the point they decided they couldn't afford to let anything 'slip', henceforth meaning Den would have to be killed.
In February 1989, before leaving prison for his trial, Den had his wallet mysteriously swapped. On his way to court Den's taxi was intercepted by The Firm and he was kidnapped before managing to escape and going on the run. He stopped at a cafe and made various phone call attempts to Michelle and Sharon's flat. Sharon answered one of these calls but Den, heartbroken but knowing he couldn't answer, remained silent and hung up. When Michelle finally answered, he told her to bring Vicki for the two of them to meet him by the canal. Michelle went to the canal, yet defied Den's wishes by leaving Vicki with her mother. However, after Michelle had interrogated Mantel, who was still gunning for Den, they had decided to place a tag on her, having realised the connection between them.
Michelle went to meet Den, unknowing that she had members of the Firm watching her practically lead them to Den hiding at the canal. Michelle and Den talked and Michelle said that Den had the chance to be a family man with her and Vicki, if he just gave himself in to the police. Michelle tried to kiss him but Den couldn't find the strength to react, he was a broken man by this point, but said he was going to give himself into the police. But after Michelle had left, Den spotted a man walking towards him take out something from his jacket. Den turned the other way to see a seemingly ordinary couple walking towards him, the man carrying a gun that was concealed in a bunch of daffodils, which Den smiled at before the nozzle of the gun poked out of the flowers and fired a bullet towards him. Although he was not shot on screen, viewers heard him fall into the Walford Canal.
That canal was subsequently searched and no body was found, although his jacket was retrieved from the water and traces of blood found on the embankment matched his own. In 1990, Sharon found Den's distinctive signet ring with a 'D' initial for sale at the local market, and discovered it had been fished out of the canal by a local angler. This led to the police dredging the canal for a second time, and the discovery of a body, which Sharon identified as her father's. However, eagle-eyed viewers would have spotted that Den was not wearing his signet ring when he was shot.
In September 2003 Den returned to the series, claiming that he had been on the run in Spain since 1990 to protect himself and Sharon from The Firm. Den claimed to have actually attended his own funeral (out of sight) which indicates his leaving of England as in or after 1990, unless he left in England in 1989 and returned the following year. The body Sharon had identified as his was explained to have been that of former Firm boss Mr. Vinnicombe, murdered as punishment for Den's escape and dumped - with a hint of irony - in the canal, his teeth having been bricked out to prevent dental identification. When the body was found and wrongly identified as Den's, it had originally been believed that his face had been smashed in by a barge.
This followed plotlines explaining that 'The Firm' was now that of Jack Dalton, played by Hywel Bennett. Dalton had gained control of The Firm from Vinnicombe and ordered Den's death. He revealed to Den's long-lost son Dennis - though not yet to viewers, as his words were drowned by a passing train - that Den had survived the shooting. Dennis murdered Dalton in revenge and tracked down Den's posh former mistress Jan Hammond, who admitted helping Den escape the country after he had come to her for help and planting Den's ring (which had been in his wallet) at the canal to fool the police.
Den made his return on 29 September 2003; his first line was "Hello Princess", referencing his nickname for Sharon. His return was watched by more than 16 million viewers and was a big ratings success for EastEnders that year. It was revealed he owed the local video shop £9,000 because in 1988 he rented out Porky's II: The Next Day and never returned it, even though he was supposedly dead. The hapless Billy Mitchell's attempt to recoup this video rental fine was met with sneering derision and a curt dismissal from Den's presence. Sharon employed Den as manager of her nightclub Angie's Den (formerly e20, after Walford's fictional postcode), which she had renamed in honour of her parents. It was on the night of Den's return that he learnt the news of his former wife's death - she had died of cirrhosis Of The Liver 18 months earlier.
Upon Den's return he met his long-lost son Dennis - who was conceived during a fling with young woman called Paula Rickman, the daughter of one of his friends, in 1974 - and intervened decisively in his ongoing feud with Phil Mitchell. Den was soon enough reclaiming his patch, taking control of Angie's Den after Sharon asked him to be manager, and throwing drug-dealer Tariq into a skip after finding him trying to sell drugs to Vicki. Phil tried to stitch Den up a few times by reporting him to the police for 'perverting the cause of justice' as well as planting drugs in Angie's Den. Dennis began to get frustrated when Den's supposed plan to get Phil appeared to be in the process of failure.
Den wasn't the only person in Walford gunning for Phil. Den realised this when he had to stop Phil's ex-wife Lisa Fowler from shooting him in revenge for taking away their daughter Louise. Den promised Lisa that he'd help her get back at Phil - in time. Lisa however became too impatient with Den and quickly turned to the bottle. Running out of patience with her reckless behaviour, Den almost washed his hands of the desperate mother as she kept reminding him of his dead ex-wife, Angie. Still filled with guilt over Angie's pain, he quickly dashed to save Lisa just as she was almost at the point of suicide, telling her it wasn't the way and that she needed to hang on for her daughter's sake - she'd be back with her mother soon.
Den made Phil a generous offer for The Queen Vic and talked him into funding a warehouse robbery to be carried out by Den and Dennis in order to raise the cash. On Den's instructions, Dennis got himself arrested for affray on the night of the robbery, tricking Phil into taking his place rather than losing the money. Once they had broken into the premises, Den absconded with the escape ladder and the lion's share of the loot. Den then explained to Phil that he was punishing him for his treatment of Sharon, Lisa and Dennis, before fleeing the warehouse. As Den and Dennis drove off, Den convinced Dennis to keep their plan a secret from Sharon, before also telling him that he trusted him completely - he was his son (at which Dennis's stroppy front melted). Inevitably, Phil was arrested and charged with armed robbery, but escaped 3 weeks later and confronted Den on Christmas Day. Den convinced Phil of the futility of attacking him, paying him off with half the stolen money to support him while he was on the run. This also helped to bring Den and Dennis closer (if only for a short while) with the both of them managing to shake hands and call a truce, after which the Watts family danced together in the snow with the rest of the Square on a rare happy Christmas EastEnders episode. Indeed, Den never again had to endure the misfortune of encountering Phil Mitchell. Den then returned to Spain to "sell up" he was away until late March (this was due to Leslie Grantham appearing in a pantomime of Peter Pan as Captain Hook)
She arrived in Walford supposedly seeking her share of the money, but Den soon won her back and got her a job as a hairdresser in his mistress Kate Mitchell's salon. Den then started an affair with Kate and assured her that his marriage to Chrissie was just a business arrangement. Chrissie was still reeling at discovering that Den had children (he'd kept this a secret from her throughout their marriage), but when she discovered Kate's affair with Den she hacked off Kate's hair and smashed up the salon but eventually forgave them both after Den left for two months (due to Leslie Granthams two month suspension). On his return she threatened to kill Den if he ever strayed again. Den tried to win her back with flowers, champagne and a singing telagram of "Shaddupa you Face".
Den, Chrissie, Sharon, Vicki, Dennis and his girlfriend Zoe gathered around the table only for Dennis and Sharon to announce that they had resumed their affair. A disgusted Den split them up again by convincing a distraught Zoe into faking a pregnancy, knowing Dennis would never leave his own child like Den had deserted him. Dennis was forced to stay with Zoe but it was a pyrrhic victory for Den; while begging Sharon not to leave he said he didn't love Vicki half as much and she overheard. Both of Den's daughters left for America together and he never saw Vicki again.
Despite winning back his beloved pub Den developed insomnia and eventually conceded that the bricks and mortar meant nothing to him without Sharon. He had successfully broken up Dennis and Sharon but instead of trying to build a relationship with the only child he had left in Walford, Den seemed to be seeking revenge on Dennis for stealing Sharon's affections. Zoe urgently needed to get pregnant to maintain their deception so Den exploited her desperation and fear of losing Dennis to extort sex from his son's girlfriend. When Dennis eventually caught Den and Zoe in bed together, Den greeted him with a gloating smirk and the line, "Hello son" and Dennis left the Square to search for Sharon.
Ironically Zoe discovered that she had fallen pregnant to Den now that it was too late to pull the wool over Dennis's eyes. This happy news gave Den a new lease of life, representing an opportunity for him to finally get fatherhood right, but Dennis and Chrissie had the last laugh. Before leaving, Dennis had told Chrissie the truth about Den's relationship with Zoe and, feigning ignorance, Chrissie talked Zoe into aborting Den's baby.
This was only the beginning of Chrissie's plans for revenge; she teamed up with Zoe and Sam Hunter to exact their final revenge. The tabloids dubbed them "the three witches of Walford". On February 18 2005, the trio conspired to confront Den together and shame him into signing the Vic over to them with the threat of exposure. Naturally Den laughed this off, justifying himself by claiming to have shown them their weaknesses and challenging them to take responsibility for being so needy, gullible and stupid as to fall for him and his scams. He declared that exposure of his true character held no terror for him as; "There's not one single person round here that I give a toss about", only for Sharon to step out from the shadows behind him. Unbeknownst to her confederates Chrissie had phoned Sharon and told her that Den was very ill, luring her back to Walford, but Chrissie only used the confrontation as a way to provoke Den into confessing his sins, destroying him in the eyes of the only person he had ever loved unconditionally. Den followed Sharon into the street and begged her to stay, but it was too late. Den had split Dennis and Sharon up and used Sharon's infertility against her. Sharon said that she was an orphan; her father had died a long time ago.
Den walked back into the Vic to confront the three women and Chrissie taunted him that now he knew what it was like to lose the one thing in the world he loved most. He was furious with Chrissie for her scheming which had led to Sharon's rejection, and attacked Chrissie by repeatedly smashing her face into a fruit machine. Zoe defended Chrissie by hitting him over the head with an iron dog-shaped doorstop belonging, ironically, to his oldest surviving enemy Pauline Fowler. Sam couldn't find his pulse so she and Zoe ran off panicking as Chrissie told them to get ready to cover up the murder. She gazed down at Den and said, "I may not have been the first woman in your life, Den... but I am definitely going to be the last!" Den seemed to have cheated death yet again as he woke up, grabbing Chrissie's ankle and promising "You'll never get me out of the Vic!". Chrissie then grabbed the doorstop and brutally smashed it into his skull, killing him instantly. Chrissie let Zoe think she had murdered Den but Sam had secretly witnessed Chrissie's blow from the shadows.
Den's last words, "You'll never get me out the Vic!", proved appropriate as the Three Witches encased his corpse in concrete under the cellar of his pub, but he still casts a long shadow over the Square. As Sam pointed out to Chrissie; "He'll get his revenge. He always does. And when did being dead ever stop Den Watts before?".
Den's body was finally laid to rest in his 'original' grave with his first wife, Angie. Sharon was the only one of his children to attend the service as Vicki was still in America and Dennis still couldn't forgive his father for trying to come between him and Sharon. However, after a heart to heart with Sharon, Dennis eventually managed to drag himself to his father's grave and broke down crying in regret of not being able to form the relationship with his father that he'd always wanted. Dennis, like his father before him, was also murdered. He died just seconds into 2006, being killed by Danny Moon on the orders of local gangster Johnny Allen, leaving behind Sharon, who was carrying his unborn son. Seven months later, Sharon gave birth to Den's first grandchild, who was also named Dennis after his late father and grandfather. Dennis Rickman Jr. has yet to appear in the series, as Sharon departed from Walford before he was born.
The 2006 episode of Doctor Who entitled "Army of Ghosts" features a scene where Peggy Mitchell tells the "ghost" of Den to "get outta my pub!" as the only spirits that will be served are vodka, whisky and gin. Leslie Grantham is not seen in this episode.
In 1986 the duo Whisky and Sofa released a single called "Dirty Den", with lyrics making direct references to the character.