Leslie Michael Grantham (born 30 April 1947, in Camberwell, England) is a British actor best known for playing "Dirty" Den Watts in the BBC soap opera EastEnders from 1985 to 1989 and again from 2003 to 2005.
Grantham was sentenced to life imprisonment at his trial in 1967. Although he had committed the killing in Osnabrück, Germany, he served the entirety of his imprisonment in various British prisons. This was because soldiers and officers convicted of any criminal offence that warrants a sentence of over three months are automatically transferred to HM Prison Service, since they are also automatically dishonourably discharged. Grantham was released in 1977, having served 10 years. While he was in Leyhill Prison, he acted in several plays for inmates and members of the public, and edited the prison newspaper. He was encouraged to get more involved in acting professionally by disgraced politician T. Dan Smith, who had also been an inmate at Leyhill. He also met actress Louise Jameson during her visit to Leyhill in the mid 1970s; she had also encouraged him to take up acting.
In 1984 he auditioned with the BBC for a part in its new soap opera EastEnders, which was due to go on air in February 1985. Grantham had auditioned for the role of market trader Pete Beale, but when the series went on air he got the part of Dennis Watts. The character, landlord of the Queen Victoria public house, quickly became a national favourite and gained the nickname Dirty Den mostly because of the way he treated his wife Angie, played by Anita Dobson, and at the age of 39 he fathered a child with 16-year-old Michelle Fowler.
On Christmas Day 1986, Grantham's character served his on-screen wife with the divorce papers, with the famous line - "Happy Christmas Ange" and the episode was watched by a record 30 million viewers - over half the British population. In 1988 the character Den Watts sold his pub to Frank Butcher and gradually drifted out of key storylines until finally departing in February 1989. Den had got involved with The Firm and his only option was to flee the square. Viewers watched a mysterious gunman shoot at Den with a gun hidden in a bunch of daffodils, before hearing a splash. A shot depicting Den's death was cut from the final scene, as the show's producers hoped that Grantham might one day be persuaded to return to the role. The following year, a body believed to be Den's was found in the canal, although again, not shown on screen.
He then became best known as the co-host of the game show Fort Boyard alongside Melinda Messenger which he presented from 1998 to 2001. He also reunited with his EastEnders co-star Anita Dobson in a one-off television film titled The Stretch which aired on ITV in 2000 and in a 2004 British gangster film titled Charlie.
It had been revealed he survived the shooting and fled to Spain, with the help of former mistress Jan Collins, while the body found a year later in the Canal was wrongly identified. Over 17 million people watched one of the most anticipated TV events of the year on Monday 29 September as Den spoke the famous words, "Hello, princess".
There had been much speculation in the media after Den's departure as to whether the character really was dead. BBC bosses said that Den's return had been on the agenda almost every year since the character's departure in 1989, and the first offer for him to return had been made as long ago as 1991. But Grantham had turned down every offer to return until the one made to him in early 2003, feeling that his character did not have adequate links to the show for a comeback to be anything more than a publicity stunt - particularly when Den's daughter Sharon was away from the show from 1995 to 2001, which left Den without any family in the cast. By 2003, however, his daughter Vicki had rejoined the cast and a previously unknown son called Dennis Rickman (played by Nigel Harman) was also in the series - the product of an affair between Den and a young woman called Paula Rickman, 30 years earlier.
Den's former on-screen wife Angie had left the show in 1988, and actress Anita Dobson was made several offers to return to the show, but turned each one down and felt that the character would be ruined if she made a comeback. BBC bosses finally gave up on having Angie back in the show and the character died off-screen in 2002.
He also allegedly dressed as Captain Hook whilst pleasuring himself, shared his sexual fantasies about animals , insulted several cast members of EastEnders (including Shane Richie, Wendy Richard and Jessie Wallace) and made comments regarding the poor quality of the scripts. Grantham released a statement which read, "I am wholeheartedly ashamed of my behaviour and feel that I have let down my colleagues, as well as my friends and family." He also added, "In some small recompense I intend to make a donation to charity as a mark of my apology."
He had apparently described co-star Shane Richie (who played Alfie Moon) as "self-infatuated", but Richie subsequently stated that Grantham had been forgiven by the cast and they were happy to joke with him about it.
On 18 February 2005, 16.2 million viewers tuned in to view his character's second demise, this time at the hands of new wife, Chrissie who hit him over the head with a dog-shaped iron doorstop after he attacked her during an argument. Grantham's departure from the soap was reportedly the result of adverse newspaper publicity generated by the actor's Internet sex scandal months earlier for which he had initially received a suspension from the programme, although he has stated that he did not want to renew his contract.
In his autobiography that was released in October 2006, Grantham put an end to the rumours that he was dismissed from EastEnders by revealing that his return to EastEnders was only ever going to be for 18 months, in order for his second demise to coincide with the show's 20th anniversary.
Six months after Den's last appearance, he returned again, this time as a corpse. Sam Mitchell was arrested after being caught digging up a body in the basement of the Queen Vic. The body was quickly identified as Den's, and Sam was charged with his murder. In October 2005, Sam's brothers Phil and Grant returned to Walford and managed to put her in the clear by obtaining a tape-recorded confession by the real killer, Chrissie, who was promptly arrested.
In January 2005 a newspaper report claimed that Grantham was in the process of writing his autobiography, which he denied. However in June 2006 he confirmed he was in fact working on the book, titled Life And Other Times, for which he had been offered a "substantial sum" by Timewell Publishing. The book went on sale in bookshops across the UK on 18 October 2006. He discussed his book in an interview with Digitalspy, where he also mentions that his return to Eastenders was only ever going to be 18 months long, as bosses want his exit to tie in with the 20th anniversary of the popular soap. This put paid to endless speculation that he had been forced out the show as punishment for the internet sex scandal.
In October 2006 it was announced that, in his first television role since leaving EastEnders, he would appear in the long-running ITV1 police drama series The Bill, playing the role of Jimmy Collins on the run from prison. The episode aired on 8 February 2007. This was Leslie's second appearance in The Bill as he previously appeared in a few episodes in 1998 also coincidentally playing a character named Jimmy.
In February 2007, he began a tour of the UK with the Donald Churchill play, The Decorator. In April 2007 it was announced that he will play Private Walker in a stage production of Dad's Army leading the Daily Mail to comment that "At least there'll be one member of the cast who has actually shot a German" - in reference to Grantham's killing of the German taxi driver some 40 years earlier.
He had made a handful of bit-part roles on other television programmes prior to joining EastEnders, most notably Doctor Who, but was virtually unknown to the British public when he made his first appearance as Den Watts on 19 February 1985. Interestingly, his most famous character was referenced on the revived series of Doctor Who in 2006. In the episode "Army of Ghosts" the Doctor and others watch a piece of an episode of EastEnders wherein the ghost of Den Watts is supposedly returning to the pub. It is promptly told to leave before the channel is changed.
Four days later, however, the Daily Mirror revealed that Grantham had spent a decade behind bars for killing a German taxi driver. He had warned BBC bosses about his criminal past when agreeing to join the new series in late 1984, but they had vowed to stand by him even after the media went public with Grantham's past. Grantham had also volunteered to quit the show if his colleagues were unhappy with him, but they backed him up and he remained with the show for the next four years.
The character of Dirty Den was still an icon in the eyes of many viewers by the time of his "return from the dead" in 2003, and Grantham was by now one of the most recognisable actors on British television. The decision to bring back a supposedly dead character was controversial, but it boosted EastEnders viewing figures for a while, and the character of Den was at the centre of many notable storylines for several months afterwards.
The internet sex scandal in May 2004 brought great public shame on Grantham, particularly in the tabloid press. There were constant calls for him to be sacked, but he returned after a two-month suspension without pay. Later that year it was confirmed that Grantham would be leaving the series, and that the character would once again be killed off - but this time there would be no comebacks. Den was finally killed off in February 2005, and it was not until the autumn of the following year that he silenced the speculators who were still claiming that he had been sacked as punishment for the webcam incident, by confirming that his return to EastEnders was only ever going to be for 18 months, to tie in with the show's 20th anniversary
Resurrection Man Dispels All Doubt; Leslie Grantham Has a Habit of Rising from the Dead, Whether It Be on TV, as EastEnders Bad Boy Den Watts, or on Stage in a Jeffrey Archer Play. He Spoke to Helen Gabriel about Work, Wine and West Ham
Jun 13, 2005; Byline: Helen Gabriel He's back - again. The last time he appeared on our screens, Leslie Grantham was taking a fatal blow from...
Dirty Den hopes to kill you with laughter in new play ; EastEnders legend Leslie Grantham talks to Martin Green about his dead funny show
Oct 05, 2011; Dirty Den is coming back to Chelmsford on a mission to leave Essex in stitches with a play called Death by Fatal Murder at the...