SO WHO killed Archie Mitchell? It’s the question that has gripped the nation all week. And the waiting is nearly over.

Sometime after 8pm tonight, after we have enjoyed Ricky and Bianca’s bound-to-be-raucous wedding reception and seen Peggy confront Janine (again), the killer of Walford’s latest arch-villain will be dramatically revealed. And then those famous drum-beats will kick in as the EastEnders theme tune rolls.

You can bet there will be a few sighs of relief on the set of the London soap. Because tonight’s episode is going out live – for the first time in the soap’s history – to celebrate its 25th birthday.

It all seemed a good idea at the time nine months ago, jokes EastEnders executive producer Diederick Santer in this week’s Radio Times. And it will certainly give this 25th anniversary special episode an edge.

But it has been a logistical nightmare. One of the reasons for shooting tonight’s episode live was so that not even cast members and producers would know the identity of Archie’s murderer beforehand. The killer him- or herself apparently only found out a few days ago. But, soap schedules being what they are, eight weeks worth of EastEnders that follows tonight’s show has already been shot – all in a way that “doesn’t reveal to the actors and producers who killed Archie”.


Which brings us back to the central question, who did kill Archie?

Personally, my money’s on Dirty Den. I know, I know, he’s dead, bludgeoned to death (for the second time) in a cellar in 2005. But he’s already risen from the grave once – remember that odd shooting from behind a bunch of flowers in 1989? Then he turns up out of the blue years later without a scratch on him. He’s done it once, so why not again?

Nothing would surprise York author Donna Hay. Until not so long ago Donna made a living writing about soaps for national magazines such as Chat, TV Times and What’s On TV.

It meant watching all the soaps every day – even Hollyoaks.

And it got to the stage where soaps were taking over her life, she says. “I could no longer separate fantasy from reality.”

Now, after a few months going cold turkey to recover her sanity, she dips in and out of the soaps because she likes them. She’ll be watching tonight – if only to see if any of the actors fluff their lines.

So who does she think did Archie in? There are plenty of candidates, she points out.

There is Stacey, who was raped by Archie. There is Stacey’s boyfriend, Bradley.

There’s Peggy Mitchell, Archie’s brother’s former wife who, in typical dastardly style, Archie married himself, then manoeuvred out of the Queen Vic, leaving her homeless. And there’s Phil, because Phil’s always a suspect, whatever happens.

And what about Grant? Well… he’s in South America, Donna explains. But there is talk he might come back.

And Den? “Well, he has died twice,” Donna says. “But he is a bit like Lazarus, so who knows?”

Donna could spill the beans if she was so inclined. “They sent me an advanced storyline,” she says, riffling through it as we speak. But she wouldn’t do that, of course. So we’ll just have to wait, like everyone else.


Kate Lock has a unique insight into the characters of Walford. The York writer and former Press columnist has written no fewer than five EastEnders books – including Blood Ties: The Life And Loves Of Grant Mitchell, Tiffany’s Secret Diary – “a bestseller,” Kate says – and Bianca’s Secret Diary. She also once wrote a who’s who guide to characters in the show.

With a track record like that she’s got to be in the know. So I put it to her: who killed Archie?

There’s a puzzled pause. Then the answer comes back: “Who the hell is Archie?”

It turns out Kate is no longer a regular viewer. “I’m just too busy to watch it these days,” she says. “The last time I watched it was Who Shot Phil Mitchell?”

Kate, Kate. Her failure to keep up with the show doesn’t stop her hazarding a guess, however. And it is a fairly insightful one, as you would expect.

“Is Phil in the frame?” she asks. “I’ll go for him. It’s usually him.”

Poor Phil. So misunderstood by everybody.

• EastEnders, tonight, 8pm, BBC1.

What the fans reckon...

THERE is no chance at all of advertising sales executives Karen Gadsby and Mary Clayton agreeing over who killed Archie. Both huge fans of the show, they’re convinced they know the identity of the killer – and have the arguments to prove it.

“It was Ronnie, Archie’s daughter,” said Mary, right, 42, who lives in Melrosegate. “She’s had massive emotional disagreements with her father ever since he gave her daughter away. He lied to her about her daughter’s existence. He said she had been killed in a car accident. It was only years later Ronnie found out her daughter was alive.”

Well, that’s a motive, certainly. Karen, 44, left, is convinced Mary has got it wrong, however. “I think it is one of the Mitchell brothers,” she said. “Phil promised his mum Peggy that he would kill Archie, and all he did was threaten him.” And Grant? Admittedly he’s supposed to be in South America, Karen said. “But he could have come back and killed him off.”

He certainly could – providing Ross Kemp, the actor who plays him, can take time off from investigating Britain’s brutal gang culture and sorting out the war in Afghanistan, that is.

Karen and Mary have been fans of EastEnders from the very early days, when Den and Angie ran the Queen Vic and Lofty was hopelessly in love with teenager Michelle.

So what is it about the programme they like? It is not to be taken too seriously, Mary cautions. “But I love all the drama, and I find it quite amusing that there is so much going on in these people’s lives.”

It is the cliff-hangers she likes, mum-of-three Karen says. That and the time of day it is on. “It’s just right. You’ve had tea, you’ve sorted the kids out, sorted out the dishes, and you can relax for half an hour before starting again.”

EastEnders’ top ten deaths (before Archie)

• Den Watts 1 – shot by an unseen assassin hiding behind a bunch of flowers, 1989

• Den Watts 2 – bludgeoned to death by someone wielding Pauline’s “doggy shaped doorstop”, as York author Donna Hay colourfully puts it, in 2005. He had it coming

• Arthur Fowler – brain haemorrhage, 1996. And even in death his eyelids carried on flickering

• Tiffany Mitchell – hit by a car, 1998

• Saskia Duncan – killed in a fight with Steve Owen, 1999

• Steve Owen – died in a car fire, 2002

• Danny Moon – shot to death, 2006

• Pauline Fowler – murdered by a blow to the head, 2006. At last!

• Trina Johnson – impaled, 2009

•Owen Turner – strangled, 2009

EastEnders’ top ten weddings (before tonight)

• Lofty and Michelle – first attempt in September 1986 failed when she jilted him at the altar

• Lofty and Michelle 2 – two months later, in November 1986, the wedding actually went ahead. But it all ended in tears when Michelle decided to abort their child and left the Square to take a job working as a handy(wo)man at a children’s home

• Pat Wicks and Frank Butcher – June 1989

• Ian Beale and Cindy Williams – October 1989

• Sam Mitchell and Ricky Butcher elope to Gretna – July 1991

• Grant and Sharon – December 1991

• Phil and Kathy – February 1995

• Ruth and Mark – April 1995

• Dot Cotton and Jim Branning – 2002

• Peggy and Archie Mitchell – April 2009. Ooh, Peggy, what have you done?

The former cast star

STEVEN Hartley wasn’t prepared for the attention he received when he was pushed into the national spotlight.

His first job on leaving Danesmead secondary school in York was as an advertising executive with the Yorkshire Evening Press, then based in Coney Street.

When he landed the role of Matthew Jackson in EastEnders a few years later, he was 28 and until then had mainly worked as an actor in repertory theatre. “Suddenly every second person in the street knew me.”

His character, Matthew, was the manager of the local Walford music store who, in 1988, became the love interest for health visitor Carmel Roberts. Amazingly, 15 million people tuned in to watch his wedding to Carmel on January 26, 1989.

Initially a kind, easy-going man, over the course of the two years Steven was in the show, Matthew became violent and abusive towards his wife.

Steven, now 49 and playing the role of Bill Sykes in Oliver at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London, is proud of the work that he and Judith Jacob (who played Carmel) did. “We were one of the first inter-racial couples on TV, and it was one of the first examinations of domestic violence, too.”

Back then there were only two shows a week. But the filming schedule was still gruelling, Steven says. “You could do 15 hour days, five days a week, easy – and then on Saturday do some pick-up shots.” But he loved being on the show. “It was a time when there were really iconic characters, like Dirty Den and Angie.”

As a young man, he also enjoyed the celebrity lifestyle, he admits – although sometimes it went too far. “I was single, and any time I had any kind of liaison it made the national newspapers. That wasn’t great.”

It is more than 20 years since he left the show. He doesn’t have time to watch it now, so has no idea who is in the frame for Archie’s death. But he isn’t surprised by the continuing popularity of EastEnders.

“There is a real immediacy to it. And I think people identify with it. Yes, there are too many things happening to the characters – but they are things that could happen to anybody. And because it is immediate, it has the ability to tackle relevant issues.”