Den was born on 11 July 1946 to Dennis Watts and Mrs Watts and grew up in Walford. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Den went to school with people who later became crooks and gangland members, such as members of The Firm (Walford Investments). Because of this, Den could easily become involved in crime. He was friends with Ted Hills, Gavin Sullivan and Henry Hubbard. Den later began associating himself with criminal East End organisations. Den developed a reputation as a womaniser, and among others in his youth he had sex with Pat Evans, the first wife of his best friend Pete Beale. He then settled down at a young age with his school friend Angie Shaw. They married in February 1968. Den backed away from the crime scene once he married, but did occasionally buy and sell stolen goods.
Together Den and Angie leased the tenancy for The Queen Victoria public house, but their marriage was tempestuous and Den had affairs. One affair with a woman named Paula Rickman in late 1973 resulted in a pregnancy, and she gave birth to Den's son, Dennis Rickman, in 1974; Den knew nothing of the child for decades. Unable to have children together, Den and Angie adopted a young girl named Sharon; both doted on her. Den and Angie's relationship was mainly sexless, and in 1980 Den began a long-running affair with the upper-class Jan Hammond; Angie knew about the affair and developed alcoholism.
1956–1986: Marriage with Angie WattsIn February 1985, Den found the dead body of Reg Cox. Den carried on seeing his mistress Jan, and kept trying to make secret phone calls to her but was always interrupted by family or guests coming into room, especially Angie and Sharon.
Despite being married and having a mistress, Den is unable to turn down the advances of his daughter's best friend, Michelle Fowler, in 1985; they have sex one night after closing time in the Queen Vic. When 16-year-old Michelle falls pregnant, she refuses to name the father, fearing repercussions for Den and herself. When she gives birth to a daughter, named Vicki, in 1986, Den is prohibited from having anything to do with her; he is allowed to hold his daughter once, and provides money for Michelle in secret. For many years the secret is kept hidden, but Michelle's mother Pauline (Wendy Richard) witnesses Den handing Michelle money in secret, and is one of the first to realise the truth, igniting a feud between Den and Pauline. Den employs Ethel Skinner, Simon "Wicksy" Wicks and Lofty Holloway as bar staff at The Vic but is very demanding of them, if he sees them chatting to customers, or in Wicksy's case, chatting up the female customers, Den would say "Get on with some work" to them. However he did do them favours if needed and later was seen as a father figure to Lofty.
1986-1987: "Happy Christmas Ange"Den and Angie's marriage continues to sour, despite their strong professional personas. However, Angie struggles to contain her jealousy regarding Den's mistress. She grows desperate, becomes severely depressed and attempts suicide in March 1986 but Den puts a stop to it. Still, Den makes plans to leave Angie permanently; in a bid to prevent this, Angie fabricates a story that she is dying and has only six months to live. Den is gullible enough to fall for the lie and opts to stay with her and he attempts to rebuild his relationship with Angie, promising to be there with her until her death. He takes Angie to Venice for a second honeymoon, but liases with Jan who, it turns out, is also there. Guilty about her lie, Angie gets drunk on the return journey via the Orient Express and confesses the truth to a barman: that she is not actually dying. Angie is unaware that Den has overheard her drunken confession; he bides his time, and gains revenge on Angie by serving her divorce papers on Christmas Day 1986. He then says "Happy Christmas Ange". That same night, Pauline Fowler sees Den hand Michelle some cash, and guesses that he must be Vicki's father. The Watts's divorce and Angie damages Den by demanding a large divorce settlement. Den runs the Vic alone, initially assisted by Jan, but this relationship ends when Jan grows disillusioned with Den's treatment of her. Den has a fling with the Vic's caterer Magda Czajkowski, but is scorned when she eventually opts to date Simon Wicks instead. When single again, Den begins to realise that the Vic's trade is floundering without Angie. In January 1988, Den admits that he is Vicky's father to Pauline. She slaps him and says she will do what she can to banish Den from Walford. In April 1988, Lofty leaves Walford after breaking up with Michelle and Den says he is always here if Lofty ever needs him. Only Den watches Lofty quietly leave Walford forever.
Realising The Vic is floundering without Angie, and with some meddling from Sharon, Den and Angie decide to reunite as business partners, and she returns to live at the Vic. However, it is short-lived, because Angie falls in love with her friend Sonny. Realising that Angie is planning on leaving him, Den visits a solicitor and makes certain that Angie has no claim on the Vic. Angie leaves Walford for Spain in May 1988 with nothing. Frank Butcher lliases with Den to take over the tenancy. Den and Frank become good friends for a while.
1988-1989: The Firm
Having always been connected with the criminal organisation known as The Firm, Den's involvement escalates in 1988. He gives up tenancy at the Vic in May 1988 to Frank Butcher. He does this so he can run Strokes Winebar with Joanne Francis (Pamela Salem), which is really the Firm's illegal gambling den. When Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth) is raped by James Willmott-Brown (William Boyde), Den manipulates a Firm member, Brad Williams (Jonathan Stratt), to burn down James's business in revenge. The attack, however, goes against the Firm's wishes, and when the police begin an investigation they start to suspect the Firm's involvement and the true nature of Strokes Winebar is close to being discovered.
The Firm's bosses, including Gregory Mantel (Pavel Douglas), force Den to take the blame for the arson in order to distance their organisation from the attack. They take Den to a safe house, promising to alter his identity. Den soon realises this is a cover and, in truth, the Firm are planning to kill him. Den manages to escape and hands himself in to the police to save his life, and in September 1988 he is remanded in custody at Dickens Hill prison.
In Dickens Hill, Den struggles initially, with many of the inmates refusing to trust him. Inmate Queenie Price (John Labanowski) takes an instant dislike to Den and suspects him of being a "grass", one night cornering him in his cell with some friends and beating him. Despite this, Den unveils Queenie as the true prison-snitch and gains respect, rising through the prison ranks to become "No.1" of his landing. On the outside, the Firm decide that Den is still a liability; they fear he will inform the police about their dealings and again decide that Den has to die. They break Den out of captivity and kidnap him while he is being accompanied to trial in February 1989. However, Den escapes again and makes plans to flee the country. He contacts Michelle, requesting that they meet by a canal where they have held secret meetings in the past, so he can say goodbye to her and Vicki. Unaware that the Firm is following her, Michelle unwittingly brings them straight to Den and he is shot by a man who is hiding a gun in a bunch of daffodils. A splash is heard, indicating that Den's body has fallen into the canal.
The police search for Den's body. Initially it is not found; however, after Sharon finds Den's signet ring being sold on a market stall in 1990, she requests that the canal be searched again, unaware that Den had not been wearing the ring at the time of the shooting. This time, a body is found, and Sharon identifies it as Den, even if there is a small bit of room for doubt. The body is buried that year. Den's old cellmate Barnsey even attends the funeral.
1989-2003: Presumed dead
Den is believed dead and that he fell into the canal after being shot in February 1989. After this, believing he is dead, The Firm have nothing more to do with Albert Square. Strokes is shut down and the Square is a quieter place to live.
In the intervening years, Sharon and Vicki grow up. Sharon and Michelle's friendship is tested in 1989 when she says Den is Vicki’s father. In May 1990, Sharon sees a ring which she believes is Den's on a market stall in Bridge Street Market. The canal is dredged and a body is found. There are no teeth so the body cannot be traced by dental records. The body is believed to be Den's (when in fact it was Mr Vinnicombe, the Firm's boss) and Den is finally "buried" in May 1990. Sharon wears a red coat for the funeral. Somehow, Den was aware of this funeral and secretly watched from nearby bushes. He then returned to exile in Spain.
In 1993, four years after Den's "death", Mandy Salter overhears a discussion between Sharon and Michelle that Den was Vicki’s father. She soon maliciously spreads the gossip around, Mandy never knew Den but had heard a lot about him. Pauline was not pleased.
2003: Return from the dead and feud with Phil
Sharon and Vicki discover Den has a son that he did not know of, Dennis, who joins them in Walford. Like Den, Dennis has involvement with the Firm, and after some digging he discovers that Den is not actually dead; after surviving the shooting in 1989, he fled to Spain with help from Jan and went undercover. Hearing this, Vicki traces Den and brings him back to Walford in September 2003. Sharon has mixed emotions: upset and anger, having assumed him dead for so many years. Den explains that the body found in the canal was that of Mr Vinnicombe, a senior member of the Firm, who was murdered as punishment for Den's escape and dumped in the canal, his teeth having been bricked out to prevent dental identification. Vinnicombe's body had wrongly been identified as Den's and Jan had assisted in this cover-up by planting Den's signet ring by the canal. Den admits to Sharon that at his "funeral" in May 1990, he stood in some trees nearby watching the service. He mentions how Sharon was wearing a red coat that day. Den's grievances with the Firm are pardoned by its acting boss, Andy Hunter (Michael Higgs), and Den returns to live in Walford to assist Sharon in managing her nightclub.
Den gets embroiled in a feud with Sharon's ex-boyfriend Phil Mitchell after hearing Phil has hit her, and also had Dennis beaten up during a feud between Dennis and Phil. Den sleeps with Phil's sister Sam Mitchell (Kim Medcalf), then dumps her promptly as part of his revenge tactic. He then promises another of Phil's abused former girlfriends, Lisa Fowler, that he will help her get back her daughter, who is in Phil's custody. Den talks Phil into accompanying him and Dennis on a warehouse robbery, but during the robbery, Den takes the money then obstructs Phil's getaway, he confiscates the ladder and throws all the money down, and Phil is caught by the police and remanded. Phil manages to escape several weeks later, confronting Den on Christmas Day; in order to stop Phil attacking him, Den pays Phil off and Phil flees into the night, going on the run.
2004: Family problems and a heart-to-heart with Dot
Family problems arise when Den discovers that Sharon and Dennis are in a romantic relationship; Den accuses it of being incest, despite Sharon and Dennis not being blood-related. He attempts to split them up, goading Dennis about his neglected childhood and the sexual abuse he experienced in a children's home. In fury, Dennis assaults Den and accidentally hits Sharon in a rage. Den tells Dennis that, in order to remain part of the Watts family, he must split from Sharon; Dennis obliges and begins a relationship with Zoe Slater (Michelle Ryan).
In 2004, it is revealed that Den had remarried whilst in Spain in 1999, and his estranged wife Chrissie (Tracy-Ann Oberman) moves to be with him in Walford. Den still cannot remain monogamous, and when Chrissie discovers that he has been sleeping with Kate Mitchell (Jill Halfpenny), she threatens to kill him if he ever cheats again. To rebuild his family, Den attempts to regain the Vic from the Mitchells; he blackmails their lawyer Marcus Christie into convincing Sam that Phil, who is still on-the-run, needs immediate money. Sam sells the Vic to Den at a vastly reduced price and he reinstates his family at the pub in time for Christmas. Things go wrong when Den discovers that Sharon and Dennis have resumed their affair, and in order to split them up, Den persuades Zoe to lie that she is pregnant with Dennis's baby. Unwilling to allow Dennis to leave his unborn child, Sharon leaves Walford with Vicki, leaving Dennis and Zoe unhappily together. In apparent retribution towards Dennis for inadvertently being the cause of Sharon's departure, Den manipulates Zoe into having sex with him so she can get pregnant and pretend the baby is Dennis's; when Dennis catches them having sex, Den appears pleased.
In the wake of this, Dennis leaves in search of Sharon but not before telling Chrissie about Zoe and Den's affair. Den's wife had left him following his affair, and his relationship with his son was in tatters after he propositioned his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Dot was arguing with her husband, Jim Branning (John Bardon) and was very reluctant to tell him about her secret cancer illness. Den and Dot forced each other to examine their relationships with others.
Late one evening Den spotted some youths vandalising the launderette. After seeing off the thugs, Dot emerged from the back room and Den could see that she had been crying. Dot began to engage Den in conversation about his wife Chrissie Watts (Tracy-Ann Oberman) and how he felt now that she had left him. Den's response was blasé, which angered Dot and she accused him of putting up a front. Dot chastised Den for his demeanour and pointed out that he couldn't face up to his own guilt. She told him that he treated his friends and family appallingly and when he had heard enough and turned to leave, he found that Dot had locked him in and refused to give him the keys. As Den was forced to continue the conversation Dot pestered him more about Chrissie and threatened to haunt him if he didn't plead Chrissie for forgiveness.
Eventually, Dot informed Den that she was dying and he was shocked to hear that she had kidney cancer. However Dot became cagey when Den quizzed her about her illness. He wanted her to have the best care possible and even offered to pay for it, but Dot rejected his help - she had chosen not to have her cancer treated. She wanted to face death with dignity and begged Den to keep her secret quiet as even her husband, Jim, didn't know she was suffering. Den wasn't convinced by Dot's motives for keeping her illness from Jim, but she believed that she was acting in his best interests. Den insisted that Dot's deceit would destroy her marriage and told her to open up to Jim. Den then slyly told her that if she didn't come clean with Jim, she couldn't take the moral high ground next time he messed up. They both decided that they needed to sort their marriages out.
When Jim arrived to collect Dot, Den explained that she was sorting him out and squeezed Dot's hand tenderly before leaving. At home Den apologised to his son and heeding Dot's advice, he bit the bullet and called Chrissie. Meanwhile, Dot took Den's advice and decided that it was time to come clean to Jim.
2005: "You'll never get me out of the Vic!"
When Zoe discovers she is pregnant with Den's child, Chrissie persuades her to abort and concocts a plan of revenge on Den to ruin him in the eyes of Sharon and gain ownership of the Vic. She recruits Zoe and Sam (both scorned by Den) and they confront him, setting it up for Sharon to discover Den's deeds. Sharon subsequently disowns Den in February 2005 and in a rage, Den assaults Chrissie and is only stopped by Zoe, who hits him over the head with an iron doorstop in the Vic. Den is assumed dead, but when Chrissie is alone with him, he stirs and grabs her ankle exclaiming "You'll never get me out of the Vic!"; Chrissie responds by hitting him on the head with the doorstop. He dies moments later. This time, he is dead.Sam secretly witnesses the fatal blow, but Chrissie continues to allow Zoe to think it is she who has killed Den. The three women bury Den in the Vic cellar and concrete it over. Arguments between the women occur, and Sam and Chrissie becomes broiled in a feud to regain ownership of the Vic, with Sam blackmailing Chrissie and digging up Den's body in the hope that Chrissie will be imprisoned, and Chrissie subsequently framing Sam for Den's murder, which leads to Sam's imprisonment. Eventually the truth is revealed, and Chrissie is imprisoned after pleading guilty.
In 2015, it is revealed Den was once in a gang which included Phil's father Eric Mitchell - along with his partner-in-crime Gavin Sullivan and their associates: Henry Hubbard and Ted Hills. It soon transpires that Gavin is actually Sharon's biological father, and that Den had apparently done a deal with Gavin: he would adopt Sharon in exchange for Gavin partaking one of Den's criminal jobs.
In 2020, Den's grandson Dennis Rickman was killed after Ian Beale locked him in a cabin on The Smith-Holland due to his abuse towards Bobby Beale. This leaves Vicki Fowler as the last living blood relative of Den.
Behind the Scenes
- In late 1984, Leslie Grantham won the role of Den Watts, the womanising small-time dodgy landlord of The Queen Vic. In February 1985, Leslie's conviction for murder almost 20 years before was splattered all over the front pages. He was reprieved from the sack this time. Due to his major role in the show, and that characters rollercoaster relationship with Angie, Leslie Grantham and Anita Dobson (who played Angie) were under media scrutiny all the time.
- In 2003, after 15 years away, Leslie agreed to return to EE, as Den's death was never 100% proven. Den had been living in exile in Spain.
- On 15th June 2018, the news came that Leslie Grantham had died aged 71.
"Pauline, either put up or shut up." - to Pauline Fowler.
"Oh, you could keep this performance up for a lifetime. Like on the Orient Express. Like in the bar, chatting up the barman. 'Oh, I've told my husband this terrible lie. Not a little white one, but a big black one'. Remember Ange? Because I do, because I was sitting four feet away from you lapping up every word. Six little months to live. Six tragic little months, and poor old Angie's gonna pop off. That has got to be the sickest joke you've ever played, and Den Watts fell for it. Well now the joke's on you. This, my sweet, is a letter from my solicitor telling you that your husband has filed a petition for divorce. It also tells you to get yourself a solicitor pretty damn quick. Happy Christmas, Ange." (To Angie Watts)
"What you see is what you get, take it or leave it!" (To Dot Branning)
"You'll never get me out of the Vic!" (Final line before he was bludgeoned with a doorstop by Chrissie)
|Lou Beale | Pauline Fowler | Arthur Fowler | Michelle Fowler | Mark Fowler | Pete Beale | Kathy Beale | Ian Beale | Den Watts | Angie Watts | Sharon Watts | Ethel Skinner | Dr Legg | Dot Cotton | Nick Cotton | Sue Osman | Ali Osman | Saeed Jeffery | Naima Jeffery | Lofty Holloway | Tony Carpenter | Mary Smith | Kelvin Carpenter | Andy O'Brien | Debbie Wilkins | Pat Butcher | Simon Wicks|