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Den vs. Phil: Don’t Get Better Than That
By Michael McCarthy
A combination of Mack the Knife,
Richard III, The Godfather and
Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.
He’s back. It could only be Leslie
Grantham, completely inhabiting
the body and soul of Dirty Den
The marvellous character actor
Sidney Greenstreet, a.k.a. Casper
Gutman, describes Bogart’s Sam
Spade thus: “You are a character,
sir, one never knows what you’ll
say or do next.” If that isn’t Den
Watts to the life, I’ll eat my pen,
nib and all.
It’s been 14 years since Den’s
body was fished out of the canal –
a victim of that old adage: When
you dance with the devil – Jack
Walton – you pay the piper.
Sharon saw her father buried.
Den left behind not one, but two
daughters, Sharon and Vicky, the
offspring of his affair with the
teenage Michelle Fowler, Sharon’s
Flash forward. Sharon owns the
club left by Steve Owen and renamed
“Angie’s Den” for her
mother. Vicky, now a precocious
teen, is living with Sharon. They
are a family of sorts. At this juncture,
Dennis Rickman, having been
in prison for GBH, enters their
lives when he comes to stay. A
product of an abusive home, Dennis
suffered both physical abuse
from a number of his mother’s
boyfriends and psychological neglect.
He has never known the love
and security a family is capable of.
Fatherless, the young Dennis fell in
love with Jack Dalton, a murderous
Fagin who used the vulnerable boy
and turned him into a criminal.
Both father and son fell under the
influence of this vicious crime
Slowly, Dennis comes to accept
his family and allows himself the
trust he could never accept on the
street. And then Jack Dalton, Dennis’s
surrogate father, rears his ugly
head, pitting Phil Mitchell against
Rickman. Dennis must kill Phil or
An alliance of need forms between
Phil and Dennis, each wanting
to protect their family, Phil
with Kate and his daughter Louise,
Dennis with Sharon and Vicky.
Phil Mitchell, the tough guy of the
Square, can’t bring himself to do
the deed, so he hands Dennis the
gun. Once Dalton is dead, Phil
moves to implicate Dennis with the
police and with Andy Hunter, Dalton’s
successor. Phil even pays to
have Dennis beaten up. When
Sharon confronts Phil in the Vic,
she slaps him, and Phil slaps her
Dennis has been harbouring a
secret. It seems that their father is
alive. Sharon refuses to believe it,
but Vicky takes it on herself to
track down Den Watts and bring
him back to Albert Square, right
after Dennis and Sharon, in another
twist to the storyline, have made
And there he is, Den Watts,
back at the Vic, oozing that elusive
combination of sex and danger.
He and Sharon, father and
daughter, have at each other. She
rejects him because of 14 years of
silence, and he walks out of the
Queen Vic and onto the dark
streets of Walford.
One episode ends with Leslie
Grantham, a sleek jungle cat, moving
through his old hunting
grounds. The walk, the way
Grantham moves, and the eyes, reflecting
a series of very mixed
emotions in a silent war, all contained
in a mass of contradictions,
make words unnecessary. This is
the art of an actor on top form,
with these violent emotions coming
one on top of the other, raising
melodrama to raw, naked, genuine
Dennis Watts has come back to
his family, and no one, not even
Phil Mitchell, can get away with
slapping his “Princess.” Phil
Mitchell has met his match.
An earlier episode is set in a
tunnel, where Den talks Lisa out of
shooting Phil. This episode ends
with Den telling Lisa there are
other ways to deal with Phil.
Den Watts versus Phil Mitchell.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Postscript: My research took
me to an interview with Leslie
Grantham in Albert Square & Me,
edited by Larry Jaffee.
I quote Leslie Grantham on Den
Watts (interviewed by telephone by
Larry Jaffee). “A ducker and a
dive. He’d do a deal here and he’d
do a deal there, and it always sort
of ends coming back on him. Den’s
problem was he was a big fish in a
little pond. And that was all it
I must beg to differ with Leslie
Grantham. I’m sure that he truly
believes his assessment of Den
Watts. But in any creative process,
whether in acting or in writing,
there is sometimes a disconnect between
conscious thought and the
unconscious. The mind is saying
one thing and the instincts are saying
just the opposite.
Craft, beauty and art, when
they connect, create something far
greater than the separate parts. And
when it all comes together, it’s our
hearts and not our minds that respond.
We feel and are moved
emotionally. Whether it’s the
writer, the actor, the director, they
have transcended their craft and
tricked us all into participating
from our own life experience. It’s
in the eye of the beholder!