Ask any EastEnders fan for the names of long-dead characters they’d like to revive and you can bet that Kathy, Cindy and Pat would make the list. So prepare for some wish-fulfilment during this year’s Children in Need as those three quintessential heroines – along with Ian Beale’s murdered daughter Lucy – are resurrected, for one night only.
“Kathy and Cindy both died off-screen, so for years I’ve been coming up with ways to bring them back,” admits actor Adam Woodyatt, who plays Ian. “Anything can happen in the world of soap. I thought it was quite plausible when Leslie Grantham returned as Dirty Den. The trouble is, to do that again would be pushing the boundaries. But what they’ve done for this sketch is joyous. Filming it was one of my best days at work.” And that’s saying something from the EastEnders veteran who has been going to work on set for the past 30 years.
The special mini-episode made for Children in Need sees Ian knocked unconscious when he’s whacked by the door of a washing machine in the launderette – after which he’s haunted by the spectral quartet. Home-wrecking ex-wife Cindy is in his kitchen, Lucy reunites with her dad for a touching encounter, Pat is back running the Queen Vic, while Kathy is – where else? – in the Bridge Street café.
“As soon as I got into the caff, put on my apron and Kathy’s old earrings and got stirring those beans, it was like I’d never been away. It was wonderful,” says Gillian Taylforth, who last appeared as Kathy – Ian’s mother – in 2000. “Adam said to me, ‘I can’t tell you how great it is to have you back.’ He’s a lovely lad. He still calls me mum, you know. Last year, when my partner Geoff Knights passed away, Adam texted me straight away saying that he was thinking of me and the children. We have a lovely relationship.”
For Taylforth (more recently a star of Hollyoaks on Channel 4), the trip back to the EastEnders lot in Elstree was nostalgic, especially with the show’s 30th anniversary fast approaching. “Walking down that Bridge Street set brought back a lot of memories. I can still picture myself in the first episode out on Pete’s market stall and this 16-year-old Adam coming over as Ian to ask for his dinner money. Now look at him!
“Julia Smith [Eastenders’ co-creator and first producer] told us all back in 1985 that we were going to be household names. And I remember my dad saying, ‘Well, so is Domestos.’ So there was no way I was going to get above myself!
“None of the cast had any idea how big EastEnders would be. I’d always done bits and bobs of acting and then gone back to secretarial jobs. I remember sitting in the canteen with Anita Dobson [Angie] and Letitia Dean [Sharon], talking about what we’d do at the end of our 18-month contracts. Anita said she’d go back to the stage and Letitia that she’d pursue her singing, but I said I’d need to brush up on my Pitman’s shorthand training!”
Three decades on and Adam Woodyatt is the only one of the original line-up never to have left the show. So how does he feel about the live episode for its 30th birthday in February? “I’ve put in for holiday leave, I asked for sick leave – and both were turned down,” he laughs. “Joking aside, I’m actually really looking forward to it.”
The anniversary episode will see the “Who killed Lucy?” mystery finally resolved. So does Woodyatt think Ian could be the culprit? “It’s possible,” he says. “All the cast are trying to work it out. But if it was Ian, I’d be having a long chat with our executive producer Dominic Treadwell- Collins to find out why. I wouldn’t buy that one.”
But does Woodyatt ever think Ian’s days could be numbered? “This place is like home,” he says. “Like having a second family. And besides, Steve McFadden [Phil Mitchell] and I reckon that if a nuclear bomb went off in Walford, we’d be the ones walking out of the dust cloud saying, ‘Did you hear a bang?’”
Children in Need is on BBC1 tonight (14th November) from 7.30pm