We live in an age where soap spoilers abound and storyline leaks to the press are commonplace, so you’d have thought it would be difficult for a show like EastEnders to screen a completely unexpected cliffhanger. Yet this was what happened last night when Jane Beale shocked ex-husband Ian (and viewers at home) with her surprise reappearance in Albert Square.
“My phone went into meltdown,” says actress Laurie Brett, who plays Jane. “I had texts, tweets and calls from friends saying that they thought I’d actually broken Twitter. It was phenomenal and just shows what a surprise the simple stuff makes when you don’t have spoilers. I think we need more of that.”
No doubt hashtag #Jane will be trending again this evening as Brett’s brief return continues in the episode set to air on BBC1 at 7.30pm. Her scenes will see Jane interacting once again with Ian, a man whose nerves are currently shredded thanks to intimidation from Phil and thoughts of proposing to current girlfriend Denise. But did Brett herself have any butterflies at the thought of reuniting with former co-star Adam Woodyatt?
“It was like putting on a pair of old slippers,” she laughs. “We worked together for eight years and the minute we were on set and doing our lines, it was easy. You really hit the ground running on EastEnders because of the speed of filming, but once I got back into the swing of it, it was fantastic.”
Brett has been away from Walford for two years and can now be regularly seen as headteacher Christine Mulgrew on school-based drama Waterloo Road, a new series of which begins this Wednesday. So what was it like swapping the classroom for the EastEnders set at Elstree?
“Really strange. I was in the middle of filming some intense Waterloo Road stuff and Christine was in a dark place mentally. So I felt a little bit all over the place playing the jolly Jane role again. However, it was brilliant because I spent a lot of time on the Square, so it was really nostalgic coming back. Constant déjà vu, but lovely.”
And how difficult was it to keep the secret from those viewers who try to root out every twist and turn of upcoming episodes? “It was probably a harder secret operation for the press office at EastEnders and the executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins, but they did a sterling job. I was really pleased that it had the surprise it did because I wasn’t sure what the impact would be. Jane is a nice character and a lot of people identify with her, but I didn’t ever really think she was as popular as last night proved. So I was absolutely thrilled.”
EastEnders continues tonight at 7.30pm on BBC1