The Queen Vic hasn’t had a Christmas Day like it since Dirty Den served Angie Watts with divorce papers in 1986. This year, the Walford boozer comes under new management: yes, big-screen tough guy Danny Dyer will be taking over as family-man landlord Mick Carter, with his screen wife, Linda (Kellie Bright).
But it’s not Bright who will be competing with Dyer for top billing at the Queen Vic. When it comes to having a bark worse than their bite, the star of such hits as The Football Factory, Human Traffic and Vendetta faces stiff competition from the newest starlet on the square: a bulldog called Lady Di.
A British bulldog is in the best traditions of the East End, but why the name? She’s “perfect for the family”, says Dyer. He is, after all, head of a family of mustard- keen royalists taking over at the pub.
But which cast member has Lady Di (real name: Hot Lips) taken to the most? “Whoever has the bit of ham to feed her,” says Dyer. “She’s got an owner and a trainer on set with her. This dog’s got an entourage.Linda Henry [who plays Shirley] is actually the best with her. She’s like a dog whisperer.
“You know, bulldogs look aggressive, but they’re not. They’re soft, to be fair. But we’re still finding our feet and so is she. Just look at her little paws – she doesn’t know what she’s doing half the time. But generally, she’s as good as gold. She has her moments, but we’re nightmares sometimes, too.”
All this comes mere weeks after Radio Times campaigned to get more pets into the BBC’s primetime soap. Now EastEnders will have two pooches, after Abi took in a stray called Tramp earlier this month.
Both Dyer and Bright admit to having felt the spirit of Christmas soaps past when they were first shown around the pub set, especially the area at the foot of the stairs where Leslie Grantham turned the tables on Anita Dobson. “We both walked into that back area where the phone is and yelled, ‘Oh my God!’” squeals Bright. “I love it. It’s still my favourite place to do a scene.”
“It is just so iconic,” says Dyer. “Although my reaction wasn’t quite as camp as yours.”
“You were a little bit camp,” counters Bright.
So how close will Dyer’s landlord be to Dirty Den? “There is definitely a Den and Angie feel to it,” says Dyer. “Mick’s an alpha-male role, but not in an obvious way, like running around with a gun. Our relationship is old school.”
Co-star Bright is quick to agree: “They’re either bang into each other or they are...”
“Banging each other,” laughs Dyer. “It’s all or nothing. That’s the beauty of it.”
Dyer is keen to dismiss his hard-man persona as “b******s”. But if evidence were needed that he is really just a big softie at heart, then how about his own preferred choice of Christmas TV viewing?
“I used to have a bit of a cry in front of The Snowman. That was the first time I got choked up at anything. It sent me bandy as a kid. I was very touched. And I was gutted every Christmas when it never snowed – it just used to pour down every Christmas Day.”
Then he adds, with that patented brutal honesty: “Trouble is, I bought the Snowman DVD recently for my little daughter Sunnie. And she couldn’t care less for it, to be honest.”
See EastEnders Christmas Day, 8:30pm BBC1