Anticipation is at fever pitch for EastEnders’ 35th anniversary. A special week of episodes beginning on Monday 17th February (two days ahed of the actual milestone date, Wednesday 19th February) sees several explosive storylines collide on board a river boat party, culminating in at least one tragic death.
Soaps love marking their milestones with big twists and game-changing shocks, as a reward to loyal audiences who keep them on air so they can celebrate significant birthdays in the first place.
EastEnders has made a virtue of pulling out all the stops on important anniversaries over the years and served up genuine surprises that instantly became iconic moments. Ahead of the next milestone, here are some of Walford’s biggest anniversary twists thus far…
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Dirty Den dies again (2005)
Den Watts came back from the dead in 2003, 14 years after being shot by gangsters with a grudge and falling into the canal. Turned out he’d faked his demise so he had a lot of explaining to do when he showed up alive and well. Second wife Chrissie Watts grew tired of his philandering and teamed up with fellow scorned women Zoe Slater and Sam Mitchell to get revenge. Viewers tuned in on the soap’s 20th anniversary in 2005 knowing Den would be written out in some way due to the reprisal plan, but not how far things would go, and were shocked when Chrissie bludgeoned Dirty Den to death with the Queen Vic bust and sneakily managed to make Sam think she was responsible. Den was swiftly buried beneath the barrel store, remaining there for several months until Sam lost the plot and dug him up on Sharon and Dennis Rickman’s wedding day.
Stacey murdered Archie (2010)
An epic ‘whodunnit’ formed the basis of the 25th anniversary storyline, kicking off on Christmas Day 2009 when poisonous patriarch Archie Mitchell was killed by a weighty snow globe in (where else?) the Vic. Most of the cast had beef with the bad boy and bets were placed until the February reveal – in the soap’s first ever live episode – that Stacey Branning (as she was then) was the killer, having been raped by the menacing Mitchell while she was in the grip of a bipolar breakdown a few months earlier. Poor old Lacey Turner lost her voice days before before the show was due to go live, but she managed to pull it out of the bag on the night to deliver one of her most famous lines of dialogue.
Bradley falls off the roof (2010)
Fans knew the murder mystery would be solved in the much-hyped live episode, but hadn’t banked on the surprise death of Bradley Branning which was kept a secret until he fell off the roof of (where else?) the Queen Vic. Nice guy Brad had just tied the knot with his beloved Stace and the pair were trying to flee the cops in light of her killer confession. The Brannings never got over Bradley’s tragic exit, which sent dad Max spiralling into a pit of self-destruction he shows no sign of getting out of a decade on.
Ronnie was abused by Archie (2010)
Another jaw-dropper in the 25th anniversary live outing was Ronnie Mitchell admitting to little sister Roxy a horrifying family secret she had kept buried for more than 20 years – dastardly dad Archie had raped her when she was a teenager. Already pretty high up in the hall of fame as one of Walford’s biggest villains, this revelation confirmed Archie was even nastier than we’d thought. The impact of his abuse on traumatised Ronnie tormented the cursed character until her own death in 2016.
Kathy comes back from the dead (2015)
During one of several live scenes dotted throughout the 30th anniversary week in 2015, Phil Mitchell sneaked off for a secret rendezvous one rainy Thursday evening to some waste ground with a cracking view of the O2 Arena. A cab pulled up, and out stepped Kathy Beale – who we all thought had died in a car crash in South Africa in 2006. Kaff had done a Dirty Den and faked her death as part of horrid husband Gavin Sullivan’s crackers insurance scam, but she was desperate to escape her unhappy marriage and wanted to come home. Possibly the greatest twist in our list, and the one each subsequent anniversary must live up to…
Flashback to Lucy’s murder (2015)
It worked a treat with Archie, so EastEnders embarked on another whodunnit five years later with a year-long investigation climaxing on the 30th anniversary, that possibly stretched patience a bit too much looking back. Original character Ian Beale’s daughter was bumped off on Good Friday 2014, and after 10 months of mischievous misdirection we had an entire episode wind back to the night in question. It finally resolved the endless red herrings and whittled down the suspects to confirm young Bobby Beale had accidentally killed his big sister by whacking her with a jewellery box during a heated argument. The fallout is still being felt by the Beales today, and the 35th features Ian defending his killer son after a violent attack leaves him fighting for his life…
Dot kills Nick (2015)
Nostalgia always plays a big part in marking these milestones, and Dot Branning giving nasty drug-addict son Nick Cotton enough heroin to end his life brought EastEnders’ history full circle: in his dying moments, Nick admitted to his dear old ‘Ma’ he’d murdered Reg Cox 30 years earlier in exactly the same spot – the discovery of Cox’s corpse was the first scene in episode one of EastEnders back in 1985, and three decades later his killer’s body was found in a deliberate mirroring of the famous moment. But it was God-fearing Dot becoming a killer that was the real shocker – who’d have thought?
Meet Vincent (2015)
Richard Blackwood’s casting had been announced prior to the 30th anniversary live week, but little was known about the character he was to play or when he’d actually show up. His first appearance as Vincent Hubbard came as surprise to the audience as he strutted onto the Square for the first time during one of the live scenes, and it was soon revealed he was the secret husband of Kim Fox and had mysterious links to the Mitchell family.
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