By Charles S.P. Jenkins
Phil Daniels is perhaps best known for his starring role in The Who’s film Quadrophenia. His role as Jimmy led to his playing a cockney in a number of other productions before coming to the role of Kevin Wicks in EastEnders.
I remember that when he first appeared in Walford as Kevin Wicks, I was decidedly unimpressed with the character. I think that this was mainly due to his whimpering around his kids, the dozy Deano and less dozy Carly. Apparently he had plans to see the kids ‘settled’ and then to take off and ‘travel the world’. However, he does not go. No, he decides to stay and, with the kids, he settles into the house of his cousin by marriage, Pat Evans. This leads to our being treated to endless boring plotlines centring on their domestic dealings. I couldn’t wait for him to change his mind and ‘sling ’is hook’, as we used to say in the East End, and GO!
Not long after the arrival of the Wickses, into the Vic walks Denise Fox, played by Diane Parish, a former Lovejoy character, and now here as a mother of two spoiled girls. The elder, Chelsea, is lazy and thinks herself a beauty who upon arrival throws herself at Grant Mitchell during one of his return visits. The younger is unpleasant and surly and supposed to be a ‘clever’ child. Although this child is named Libby, she answers to the ludicrous name of Squiggle! She takes a shine to Darren Miller, which proves that she and her sister are demonstrating an early tendency towards making poor choices in men!
I dismissed both Kevin and Denise as two more dull characters to fill the screen while we awaited the further exploits of Phil Mitchell. And then it happened: Kevin was sat at the bar of the Vic one early evening bemoaning something of absolutely no interest when in walks Denise, grumpy as ever, and the two met, and… my opinion changed.
There have been great ‘pairings’ in film and on the stage: Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; the couple in The Thin Man series (William Powell and Myrna Lloyd), Cary Grant and just about any woman he worked with. Of course, ‘on-screen chemistry’ does not always translate into ‘off-screen attraction’, but as far as I was concerned, this on-screen ‘odd couple’ certainly looked made for each other.
Although this meeting of Kevin and Denise was hardly the forerunner of ‘a match made in heaven’, I did not see it that way at all. Instantly sparks flew between them. She, being the obvious aggressor and Kevin, defending himself against what he saw as an unprovoked attack! How on earth did I think that they were a match made in heaven, you may be asking? But sparks and insults often hide an attraction between two apparent combatants. Anyway, upon reflection I soon realised what it was about these two characters that appealed to me and made me believe them to be an ideal couple on screen.
I have to confess that I have disliked and been disliked by some in the past that I eventually changed my opinion of, and I could tell that despite the spats, Kevin and Denise were destined to ‘find each other’ sometime. But this is not the point: what was it I saw in these two characters that made me suddenly like them together?
Allow me to tell you about my parents. My mother was a true East Ender, from the Borough of Bethnal Green, while my father came from the South London Borough of Dulwich, where actor Dennis Harman went to school. My parents were like ‘chalk and cheese’, quite different in personality and had spats often. However, one was able to see their attraction for each other, which was especially evident when they danced together, which they often did in our kitchen. To see them ‘move together to the music’ was quite magical. They were graceful, and although I am sure that they were not especially great dancers, together, they gelled and moved in perfect unison to the rhythm of the music. As a child, I loved to watch them dance.
Something else about my parents that Kevin and Denise have in common with them: they were short, perhaps even tiny! My mother was 4 feet 11 inches tall, although she insisted she was five feet in height. My father was 5 feet 1 inch, but was what you would call wiry. They were both dark with jet-black hair, which my father inherited from his Welsh ancestry. From where came my mother’s colouring, I know not. Both also knew how to dress to their best advantage and always looked fine when they went out, and they made a handsome couple.
Seeing Kevin and Denise together at the bar of the Vic immediately made me think of my folks: both small and dark, with Kevin being wiry. I wondered how long we were going to have to wait for these two to realise that they were ideally suited?
Denise has a temper, which brought a great deal of friction to their early attempts at starting a relationship. There were multiple misunderstandings when they tried to ‘go on a date’, each abruptly ending with Denise walking off in a huff. She can be quite the pit bull. Despite this, Kevin chose to respond to Denise’s tantrums by showing a side of him so far not seen on screen. Since he obviously had begun to have ‘strong feelings’ for her, brave Kevin appeared undaunted by these failures and kept coming back with the hope that she had calmed down and he could continue to try ‘to win the hand of the fair maiden!’
Even Denise’s daughters noticed that there was ‘something’ between their mother and Kevin. While Chelsea actively encouraged her mother to be nicer to Kevin, the spoilt, unpleasant and loud Libby became openly hostile to the kind overtures made by Kevin to her. Libby, who is supposed to be a clever child had her head in the clouds and yearned for her mother to fall back in love with her father, the odious Owen Fox. Obviously the child saw her parents and herself living happily ever after in some distant fairyland on a planet far, far away!
So why was Denise no longer with her husband? Like many failed marriages in Britain and elsewhere, the abuse of alcohol can be found as the root cause of their breakdowns. This was the case with Denise and Owen Fox. Apparently, she had fled her husband and their life together along with her daughters and escaped to Walford. Here she took up the position of postmistress in order to support her family. And like Kevin, she was trying to make a new life for them.
Meanwhile, once Kevin decided to stay in Walford, he took over the car lot and began selling second-hand cars, while Carly took up the job of a mechanic along with Gary and Minty at Phil’s garage under the Arches and Deano tried to show off his skill as a vendor in the Bridge Street Market.
Things now looked set for Kevin and Denise to finally go on a date. Daughter Chelsea was working at a restaurant where the owner had taken a shine to Kevin. Chelsea was soon fired, but Kevin stepped in and got her reinstated. When this owner insulted Chelsea and Denise a little later, Kevin, always the gentleman, sided with Denise and gave the owner a piece of his mind. All now looked set for the couple to finally get together, as Denise became less hostile towards Kevin.
But as we all know, even though Kevin and Denise appear on screen to be a great couple, and despite the fact that it looked as if all would go smoothly for them, dark clouds were sure to be looming on the horizon together with a meddling unpleasant child causing havoc. Alas, the path of true love never runs smoothly, especially in a soap opera!
Dr Charles S.P. Jenkins is solely responsible for the fine websites stories-of-london.org and eastend-memories.org