It’s the cliffhanger that sets the template for all festive episodes to come – Den Watts surprises Angie by revealing that he knows she’s been fabricating her terminal illness. He then hands her his Christmas gift: divorce papers. An audience of 30.1 million gives a collective gasp.
2) Max and Stacey’s affair revealed (2007)
Most families get the odd DVD as a stocking filler – some stand-up comedy, maybe, or a classic from Hollywood’s golden age. Not the Brannings though: they get to settle down around the TV to witness patriarch Max kissing his son’s bride. Have you ever seen so many shocked faces in one room?
3) Jamie dies (2002)
One of the show’s most well-remembered exits as Jamie Mitchell – his spleen damaged following a run-in with Martin’s car – dies in hospital with Sonia at his side. It’s a sequence made especially memorable by the use of a classic happy-sad counterpoint as Jamie expires just as Billy gets married to Little Mo.
4) Kat and Alfie leave in a Capri (2005)
Here’s proof positive that EastEnders can do feelgood if it wants to as a reconciled Alfie and Kat set off to travel across the United States in a second-hand Ford Capri. OK, so the baby-swap nightmare and Kat’s infidelity were awaiting them when they got back but at least they were happy for a while!
5) Arthur’s breakdown (1986)
In another highlight from the year of Den’s divorce papers, Arthur Fowler – having stolen the Walford residents’ Christmas club money to fund daughter Michelle’s wedding – has a nervous breakdown and smashes his living room to pieces. We also get to see the penny drop for Pauline as she works out that Den is actually the father of Michelle’s baby.
6) Archie Mitchell is murdered (2009)
Having alienated virtually the whole of Walford, evil Archie is struck about the head by an unseen assailant. The resulting whodunnit became one of the most talked-about plotlines, with Stacey ultimately revealed as the killer during the live episode that was broadcast to celebrate the soap’s 25th anniversary in February 2010.
7) Bianca’s abortion (1997)
After marrying Ricky, Bianca becomes pregnant but has a termination after a prenatal scan reveals that the baby has spina bifida. As she comes to terms with the trauma, vicar Alex gives a speech on the subject of hope before switching on the Square’s Christmas tree lights.
8) The death of Pauline (2006)
A row between Pauline and Sonia results in – shock horror! – the family fruit bowl lying smashed. But by the episode’s end, an even more important icon of the Fowler clan has met a terminal end as Pauline collapses and dies in the Square. Not that Wendy Richard was happy with her exit from the show: “I did say, promise me you won’t make Pauline nasty before she goes. And unfortunately, they did,” she said to the Biography channel. “I wasn’t too happy with the way it was done.”
9) Arthur begins his affair with Mrs Hewitt (1992)
Christine Hewitt may have started out as a client of gardener-for-hire Arthur, but pretty soon he was tending to more than just her privet hedges. Their affair begins here in this Christmas Eve instalment, with Arthur then proceeding to spend the best part of 1993 darting between wife Pauline and his mistress.
10) Frank Butcher returns (1995)
Following Frank Butcher’s disappearance in 1994, Pat takes up with car dealer Roy Evans and, by November, the pair are living together. But after Pat ignores a letter from a psychiatric hospital saying that her husband wants a reunion, her Christmas is interrupted by a surprise visitor…