Returning to EastEnders on Tuesday 19 February is none other than Mary Smith (Linda Davidson), making her first appearance since 1988 for the funeral of old friend Dr Harold Legg.
More famously known as ‘Mary The Punk’, the iconic character was among the original cast of the show – which celebrates its 34th anniversary on the day of her one-episode comeback – and her cameo, alongside fellow old face Lofty Holloway (Tom Watt), has been met with nostalgic delight from long-time fans. If you’re struggling to remember, or perhaps were not even alive when the character was around in the mid-1980s, here’s a reminder of what made mardy Mary a soap icon…
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Anarchy in Albert Square
You couldn’t miss hard-faced single mum Mary – she was the only northerner in Albert Square and was caked in punk rocker make-up with accompanying hairdo and Sex Pistols clothes straight out of a King’s Road charity shop. Living at No.23B (where Reg Cox was found dead in the very first episode and where the rowdy Taylor clan now reside) she was a brittle, defensive thing – but beneath the feisty front was a scared young woman… “Tony Holland, who created EastEnders with Julia Smith, told me he based Mary on a young woman he saw walking down the street with all the punk make-up on, like camouflage, wearing a mohawk and a short skirt wheeling a pram with a tiny baby. It was such a powerful image, her look covered a vulnerability. I could completely relate to her spikiness and determination.”
Mum’s the word
Mary’s backstory told us she’d fallen unexpectedly pregnant while touring with a punk band and escaped her disapproving family and wound up in the east end of London with baby daughter Annie. Clueless and naive, but too proud to admit it, Mary struggled with motherhood and Annie was constantly in peril due to her neglect and partying lifestyle. The poor kid was left home alone on more than one occasion, once when a fire broke out, and Mary’s illiteracy meant she accidentally gave her the wrong medication once. Annie is back with her mum for Dr Legg’s funeral, and Davidson is still in touch with Samantha Crown, the original child actor who played her. “She’s in her 30s now and recently had a baby! Her mum sent me some pictures over Christmas.” Frankly it’s a miracle Annie survived Mary’s early parenting mishaps.
Friends and neighbours
Mary formed a very unlikely friendship with Dot Cotton (later Branning), who took her under her Christian wing and offered her advice and help whenever she could, although spiky Ms Smith often threw it back in her face. She wasn’t very lucky in love, and had her heart broken by unrequited crush nurse Andy O’Brien and sleazy married man Mehmet Osman (brother of original cafe owner Ali) who slept with her for a bet. Kind-hearted rock’n’roll roadie Rod Norman was the closest Mary came to a functional adult relationship but her compulsion for self-destruction and substance abuse eventually pushed him away.
Unable to hold down a job with her fiery temper and flakiness, Mary’s route to the world’s oldest profession, one of her most memorable storylines, began when she started working as a stripper with her sassy mate Sheena which led to paid lap dances for pervy neighbour Saeed Jeffrey, and eventually to full-on soliciting encouraged by nasty Nick Cotton and ex-brass Pat Wicks. Arrested and beaten while on the game, this was one of Mary’s lowest points – but help was at hand…
Dot felt compelled to contact Mary’s parents Chris and Edie who hot foot it from Stockport hoping to bring Mary and Annie back up north, starting a bitter custody battle for Annie that ended with Mary taking control and boarding a bus with her daughter out of Albert Square, sticking two fingers up as it drove off in her final doof doof in May 1988. Fast forward 31 years and Mary’s made a success of her life as she strolls into the Vic for the first time in decades to be reunited with Dot – although their alter egos have never lost touch. “My favourite memories are of working with June Brown,” smiles Davidson of her bond with the soap legend. “She was an instrumental part of my life and helped me so much with the character. June remains a great friend to this day.”
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