EastEnders welcomes back one of its original cast members on Tuesday 19 February as George ‘Lofty’ Holloway (Tom Watt) makes his first appearance on screen since 1988.
The former Queen Vic barman returns to his old neighbourhood to attend the funeral of Dr Harold Legg, who passed away on Friday 15 February, and is joined by fellow vintage ‘Enders character Mary ‘the punk’ Smith (Linda Davidson). For those who can’t remember, or are just not old enough to know, here’s a brief history of Walford’s original geek.
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Lovable loser Lofty was a mild-mannered young man immediately identifiable by his round spectacles, sensible clothing, spiky hair and social awkwardness. A cross between a young Frank Spencer and a pre-cursor to The Big Bang Theory geek aesthetic, he was nicknamed Lofty (no one called him George) due to his above-average height. He was sweet, but a bit of a walkover. “It was a great part,” says Watt. “Really well written and funny as well – Lofty wasn’t just a poor sap or comic relief, he had some really big stories.”
The character’s backstory had him fulfil a childhood dream by briefly serving in the army only to be forced out due to his chronic asthma. When EastEnders started in 1985 he was readjusting to civilian life renting a flat above Dr Legg’s surgery and pulling pints in the Vic for Den and Angie Watts, while caring for an elderly aunt Irene who was in a hospice. What a saint (although pretty easy to wind up).
Jilted at the altar
His most memorable storyline was his unrequited love for teen mum Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully), who he worshipped and offered to marry when she had baby Vicky out of wedlock and refused to name the father. Eventually Lofty’s declarations of adoration wore her down and they got engaged, but in one of the most famous doof-doofs of all time in 1986 ‘Chelle got cold feet and ended up jilting him at the altar. “Back then Michelle was at the heart of EastEnders,” reflects Watt. “The whole relationship between her and Lofty was great, there was some great stuff to play and I really got on with Sue. At that point there was 25 million people watching.”
Forgiving Lofty gave Michelle another chance when she changed her mind yet again and the pair wed in secret a few months after the jilting debacle – while ‘Chelle’s dad Arthur Fowler spiralled into a nervous breakdown when it was revealed he stole money to pay for his daughter’s big day that never was. For about five minutes the Holloways, and Vicky, were a happy family unit but Michelle’s heart was never in it and when she aborted Lofty’s baby the marriage fell apart.
The character took a darker turn as he grew angry and bitter towards Michelle for terminating the pregnancy against his wishes, and couldn’t deal with being cruelly robbed of his chance at being a dad. It was one of the first times soaps had tackled the topic of abortion and the hard-hitting plot took its toll on Lofty who lost his light-hearted edge as he dwelt on his wife’s betrayal. Deciding there was nothing left for him in Albert Square he moved away in April 1988 initially to work as a handyman in a Bedfordshire children’s home. Subsequent on-screen mentions told us he later became a social worker, but by 2019 he’s gone back to his pub roots and is running his own boozer. Good on you, sunshine…
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