EastEnders’ new producer Kate Oates is settling into the big chair at Elstree and has begun to tease her plans for the show, including the return of several familiar faces.
Speaking to the Daily Star, the former Coronation Street, Emmerdale and The Archers boss said there would be no cast cull and instead promised the return of at least two or three old faces returning early next year.
Oates’ current appointment makes her the only person in history to have run each of the UK’s ‘big three’ soaps, so what does her track record on the cobbles and in the Dales tell us about which characters she’s likely to bring back? And who do we really want to see rock up in Walford again? Read on for our top 10 predictions…
Max’s vendetta against the Beales has apparently been forgotten, so there’s no reason for Jane (Laurie Brett) to stay away seeing as she was only run out of town due to Max’s murky threats, which never really made sense in the first place. Oates rebooted Corrie’s Barlow clan by reintroducing Peter, Daniel and Adam – a similar approach to Walford equivalent the Beales feels likely. And Ian is a complete spare part without his fourth wife.
As part of Operation: Bolster the Beales, is now the right time to get Bobby out of prison, recast from young Eliot Carrington and repositioned as an angry, brooding young man? He turns 16 next year, exploring the impact of killing his sister and having his family cover it up sounds right up Oates’ street, given her history of highlighting male mental health and using complicated, tortured baddies – see Pat Phelan and Cameron Murray.
Forget the baffling reasons Ben left (something about Ciara Maguire and some old copies of the Walford Gazette), let’s get actor Harry Reid home, pretend this this last year never happened and have him resume his rightful place as a legacy character. Half Mitchell, half Beale, his torn loyalty provides an important link between the clans. Oates is keen to address the lack of LGBT characters, having been the brains behind Emmerdale’s #Robron and Corrie’s #Kana, so bring him back with a new fella too. Plus Phil needs someone to work in the Arches seeing as he sacked Keanu and the place is populated with non-speaking extras.
Talking of Ben, remember he has a daughter? It’s very rarely mentioned which is a complete waste of potential plots. During an experimental phase with his sexuality before accepting himself and coming out, Ben’s fumble with sort-of distant cousin Lola resulted in baby Lexi. Lola and the kid went up north in 2015, but Billy Mitchell’s bottle blonde granddaughter was woefully underused, and Danielle Harold never enough credit for gutsy, natural performance. But she could only come back if Ben did, to see how he’d handle being a proper father, so that’s kind of a deal breaker.
A common thread through Oates’ time on Corrie and Emmerdale is her love of a brooding alpha male. Ross Barton, Peter Barlow, Cameron Murray – think what she could do with Walford’s archetypal tough guy with a marshmallow heart. Ross Kemp’s last return in 2016 was for the very important occasion of Peggy’s death, but he’s never ruled out coming back again.
Mark Fowler Jnr
Now his Emmerdale alter ego Joe Tate is no more (possibly), Ned Porteous is available so could Oates be courting him to reprise his pre-Home Farm role of Grant and Michelle’s grown-up love child – especially if on-screen father Ross Kemp is on her wish-list? We waited two decades to meet Mark Jnr and he was in it for all of five minutes so there’s plenty more to explore.
Talking of alpha males let’s put Stacey’s volatile big brother in the mix. How would testosterone-filled Sean fare in the girl power dynamic of the Slater house? He’s still got beef with old love rival Max Branning as they both battled for Tanya’s heart at one stage. One of EastEnders’ biggest discoveries of recent years, Robert Kazinksy has since gone on to US success with True Blood and Pacific Rim, but if Kate Oates can persuade Georgia Taylor to be Toyah Battersby again after 16 years of her saying no, anything’s possible.
Is Vincent dead? In witness protection? Technically he’s in training on the ice rink as Richard Blackwood is doing Dancing on Ice when it returns in January, but his unsatisfactory exit as the ‘Enders super grass left many unanswered questions. Tameka Empson, aka Vincent’s abandoned wife Kim, recently promised some of those answers may be coming at Christmas time as Mrs Fox-Hubbard prepares to give birth to a baby Vincent will never see – or will he?
Bianca & Ricky Butcher
They come as a pair so obviously we’re counting Patsy Palmer and Sid Owen as one person, before you start doing the maths. It’s a huge niggle that teenage tearaway Tiffany’s parents don’t seem interested in her welfare and are nowhere to be seen – no wonder she’s falling in with a bad crowd. What parental rights does Whitney have over her sister? They aren’t even biologically related. There’s definitely a place for the Square’s 1990s sweethearts as they hit middle age.
Walford is severely lacking in matriarchs at the moment, and tiger mum Carol, played brilliantly on and off for the last 25 years by Lindsey Coulson, was one of the best of her kind. Robbie and Sonia aren’t doing an awful lot, Max and Jack could do with some sisterly guidance from their sibling, and a possible return for Bianca would be a bonus and recreate the glory days of the Jackson/Branning brood. And didn’t she sort of have a thing with Masood last time round?
We miss minxy Janine and her sly schemes. Like Corrie’s Tracy Barlow she’s a product of a hugely dysfunctional soap dynasty that’s shaped her into a hard, but extremely witty, individual. Charlie Brooks is one of those stars like Jessie Wallace and Letitia Dean who go in and out of the show every few years, and no current character has mean Janine’s mix of glamour and destruction. Imagine her being enemies – or mates – with Rainie Branning?
The prodigal Beale son is another likely bet to bring back, and almost certainly recast as the last person to inhabit the role (there’s been a few) was Ben Hardy, currently playing Roger Taylor in Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Peter fled to New Zealand after twin sister Lucy’s grisly murder, so he’s perfectly placed to face the demons of his past and give us some good tortured-but-handsome-young-man action – especially if Jane and Bobby were also back.
Maddy Hill was utterly brilliant and woefully underused as Mick and Linda’s tom boy daughter Nancy – can you blame her for leaving when she had hardly any storylines? The depleted Carters need some of their number back, and with Oates also overseeing Casualty where Hill currently plays parademic Ruby, she could easily organise a split work rota so she plays Nancy for half the week (or something like that, they can work out the finer details).
She made a brief but brilliant return last year, and was mentioned very recently as daughter Louise went on holiday with her unstable mum, so she’s obviously on the agenda. Lou is virtually turning into her volatile parent what with her attempted blackmail on Sharon for her affair with Keanu, if Lisa were to rock up and get wind of the fling she’d waste no time in twisting the knife into ex Phil just to get one over on him.
Little Mo Mitchell
The ever-expanding Slater house is the Tardis of the Square so if Kacey Ainsworth did fancy that much-talked about return there’d probably be a bedroom for her. Best remembered for the domestic violence storyline with abusive husband Trevor, Mo was also married to Billy but their marriage fell apart after she was raped and fell pregnant as a result. Bill’s getting nowhere with Honey, so how about bringing back another old flame to try and reignite?
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