Early and personal life
Grantham was born on 30 April 1947 in Camberwell, London, the son of Adelaide (née Flinders) and Walter William Grantham (1915–1998). He enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers regiment of the British Army in 1965, at the age of 18.
Grantham married Australian Jane Laurie in 1981. The couple have three sons and divorced in 2013.
On 3 December 1966, Grantham attempted to rob a taxi driver, Felix Reese, in Osnabrück, Lower Saxony, West Germany. In a struggle between the two men, Reese died after being shot in the head. In his statement to the police following his arrest, Grantham said that he did not know the gun was loaded and it had gone off during the struggle, which would have resulted in a conviction for manslaughter had a jury believed this version of events. However, at his trial in 1967, he was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Although he had committed the murder in West Germany, he served the entirety of his sentence in various British prisons. This was because soldiers and officers convicted of any criminal offence that warrants a sentence of over two years are automatically transferred to Her Majesty's Prison Service, since they are also automatically dishonourably discharged.
Grantham was released in 1977, having served 10 years. While he was in Leyhill Prison in Gloucestershire, he acted in several plays for inmates and members of the public, and edited the prison newspaper. He was encouraged to get more involved in acting professionally by the convicted former Labour Party politician T. Dan Smith, who was also an inmate at Leyhill in the mid-1970s. He also met actress Louise Jameson during her visit to Leyhill in the mid-1970s; she had also encouraged him to take up acting and he became good friends with her.
On release from prison, Grantham decided to pursue an acting career and trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. His theatre work included a role in a play at the Battersea Free Theatre written by television director Matthew Robinson. In 1982 Grantham made his television debut as Boollie in a BBC2 Playhouse edition called Jake's End. The following year he appeared as Frank on an episode of the short lived sitcom Goodnight and God Bless. Grantham was then cast by Matthew Robinson as Kiston, the henchman of Davros, in a 1984 Doctor Who serial, Resurrection of the Daleks. He also played a signals sergeant in episode 12 of the mini TV series The Jewel in the Crown and wrote a play entitled A Reason To Live, which won the Gloucester Drama Festival award for best original play. In 1985, he made a brief appearance in the film Morons from Outer Space, but by the time this film was released, Grantham had found fame in quite a different environment, and with a much more high-profile role.
In 1984, Grantham auditioned with the BBC for a part in its new soap opera EastEnders, which aired in February 1985. He was recommended by Matthew Robinson, who was to become a key member of the EastEnders production team. Grantham had auditioned for the role of market trader Pete Beale, but he was offered the part of Den Watts. The character, landlord of The Queen Victoria public house, quickly became a national favourite and gained the nickname Dirty Den mostly because of the awful way he treated his wife Angie, played by Anita Dobson, with one of his many affairs occurring at the age of 39, when he fathered a child with 16-year-old Michelle Fowler, played by Susan Tully.
On 25 December 1986, Grantham's character served his on-screen wife with divorce papers, with the famous line "Happy Christmas, Ange". The episode was watched by a record 30 million viewers – over half the British population. In 1988, the character sold his pub to Frank Butcher, played by Mike Reid, and gradually drifted out of key storylines until finally departing in February 1989, although his final scenes had been filmed the previous autumn. Grantham had announced his intention to leave the show early in 1988, around the same time that it was announced that Dobson would be leaving the show. However, the show's bosses had not wanted to suffer the double blow of losing its two biggest characters so close together, and set about an intensive block of filming which would allow Den to remain on screen into 1989, while enabling Grantham to remain on EastEnders only until the previous autumn.
Den had become involved with The Firm over the summer of 1988 and his only option was to flee the square. After a spell on remand in custody and a dramatic escape from the police and from members of the Firm who ambushed him on his way to court, viewers watched a mysterious gunman shoot at Den with a gun hidden in a bunch of daffodils, before hearing a splash. A shot depicting Den's death was cut from the final scene, in the hope that Grantham might one day be persuaded to return to the role. The following year, a body believed to be Den was found in the canal.
From 1989 to 1990, Grantham played Danny Kane in the crime television series The Paradise Club alongside Don Henderson. He went on to appear in television series such as Cluedo as Colonel Mustard, The Detectives (1993) and 99-1 (1994–95). In 1994, he narrated volume one of Frank Harris's erotic classic My Life and Loves. In 1997, he produced and starred in the sci-fi mini-series The Uninvited.
Alongside Melinda Messenger, he was the co-host of the game show Fort Boyard from 1998 to 2001. Also in 2001, he appeared in Lily Savage's Blankety Blank. He also reunited with his EastEnders co-star Anita Dobson in the two-part mini-series The Stretch which aired on Sky One in 2000 and in a 2004 British gangster film titled Charlie.
Return to EastEnders
During the 1990s, Grantham was approached more than once by BBC bosses about a possible return to EastEnders, but rejected each of these offers, often feeling that the storyline at the time would not be the right one to suit any potential comeback.
However, on 3 May 2003, it was confirmed that Grantham would be returning to EastEnders later that year to reprise his role as Den after 14 years. On 29 September 2003, his return to EastEnders was aired, with him arriving at the nightclub E20 now owned by his adopted daughter Sharon, portrayed by Letitia Dean.
It was revealed that Den had survived the shooting and fled to Spain with the help of former mistress Jan Hammond (Jane How), while the body found a year later in the canal had been wrongly identified. Over 17 million people watched one of the most anticipated TV events of the year on Monday 29 September as Den spoke the famous words, "Hello, princess".
There had been much speculation in the media after Den's departure as to whether the character really was dead - particularly after the original search of the canal site where he was shot failed to uncover any trace of him. BBC bosses said that Den's return had been on the agenda almost every year since the character's departure in 1989, and the first offer for him to return had been made as long ago as 1991. Grantham had turned down every offer to return until the one made to him in early 2003, feeling that his character did not have adequate links to the show for a comeback to be anything more than an attempt to boost ratings – particularly when Den's daughter Sharon was away from the show from 1995 to 2001, leaving Den without any family in the cast. By 2003, however, his daughter Vicki, played by Scarlett Alice Johnson, had rejoined the cast and a previously unknown son called Dennis Rickman, played by Nigel Harman, was also in the series – the product of an affair between Den and a young woman called Paula Rickman, 30 years earlier.
In December 2004, Den arranged a scam to get back The Queen Vic from Sam Mitchell (Kim Medcalf), 16 years after he had sold it to Frank.
Online sex scandal
In May 2004, a Sunday newspaper printed photographs of Grantham exposing himself and masturbating whilst sucking his finger in a sexually-suggestive manner via a webcam from his dressing room to an undercover reporter named "Amanda." Grantham also allegedly dressed as Captain Hook whilst pleasuring himself, and insulted several cast members of EastEnders, including Shane Richie (Alfie Moon), Wendy Richard (Pauline Fowler), Kim Medcalf (Sam Mitchell) and Jessie Wallace (Kat Moon). Grantham released a statement which read, "I am wholeheartedly ashamed of my behaviour and feel that I have let down my colleagues, as well as my friends and family." He also added, "In some small recompense I intend to make a donation to charity as a mark of my apology." He maintained in later interviews that he 'was set up'. He attempted suicide three times as a result of the scandal.
Departure from EastEnders
In November 2004, it was confirmed that Grantham would be leaving EastEnders in the New Year. Bosses stated that the character would be killed off, but this time "the coffin lid would be nailed shut".
On 18 February 2005, 16.2 million viewers tuned in to view his character's second demise, this time at the hands of second wife Chrissie, portrayed by Tracy-Ann Oberman, who hit him over the head with a dog-shaped iron doorstop during a confrontation in the Vic.
Grantham later appeared in two UK tours of Beyond Reasonable Doubt, a stage adaptation of a Jeffrey Archer play, alongside Simon Ward and Alexandra Bastedo, and remained a popular Christmas pantomime villain. He directed and starred in a pantomime of Peter Pan at the Alban Arena in St Albans during Christmas 2005, which was a sell-out and received excellent reviews. After Grantham left EastEnders in 2005, he spoke out publicly against the show, criticising its over-the-top, far-fetched storylines, saying 'there was a murder every week... that's not real life'.
In October 2006, it was announced that, in his first television role since leaving EastEnders, he would appear in the long-running ITV1 police drama series The Bill, playing the role of Jimmy Collins, who was on the run from prison. The episode aired on 8 February 2007. This was Grantham's second appearance in The Bill as he previously appeared in a few episodes in 1998 also coincidentally playing another character named Jimmy.
In February 2010, Grantham appeared in EastEnders: The Aftermath on BBC Three to mark the live episode of the show and its 25th birthday. He was interviewed by Kirsten O'Brien from the bar of The Queen Victoria pub which his character had once owned. Grantham was cast for the lead role in the UK thriller movie DeadTime.
From 28 November to 11 December 2010, Grantham appeared as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Lincoln Theatre Royal's production of A Christmas Carol. He portrayed the main character John in the Bulgarian TV series The English Neighbour, based on the novel of the same name. In 2015 he appeared in the film Mob Handed (2016 Release) directed by Liam Galvin playing a detective.
Grantham returned from Bulgaria for treatment of an undisclosed medical condition. He died on 15 June 2018, aged 71. It was reported the cause of death was lung cancer. The episode of EastEnders broadcast that evening was preceded by a continuity announcer stating "With Leslie Grantham, and soap's greatest bad boy Dirty Den in mind, we head to the Square." The episode was dedicated to his memory and a title card tribute was shown at the end.
- Silenced: Georgi Markov and the Umbrella Murder (2013) – Narrator (English version)
- The English Neighbour (2011) – John
- The Bill (2007) – Jimmy Collins (1 episode)
- Charlie (2004) – Richard Waldeck
- Heartbeat (2002) – George East (1 episode)
- The Stretch (2000) – Terry Greene
- Bernard's Watch (1999) – Mr. Rattle (Series 3; Episode 13)
- The Bill (1998) – Jimmy Smith (4 episodes)
- Fort Boyard (1998–2001) – Boyard (57 episodes)
- Wycliffe (1997) – Patrick Durno (1 episode)
- The Uninvited (1997) – Philip Gates
- 99-1 (1994–95) – Mick Raynor
- The Detectives (1993) – Danny Kane (1 episode)
- Cluedo (1993) – Colonel Mustard (6 episodes)
- Woof! (1992) – Mr Flint (1 episode)
- The Grove Family (1991) – Bob Grove (1 episode)
- The Paradise Club (1989–1990) – Danny Kane (20 episodes)
- Winners and Losers (1989) – Eddie Burt (3 episodes)
- Alas Smith & Jones (1986) – (1 episode)
- EastEnders (1985–89, 2003–05) – "Dirty" Den Watts (562 episodes)
- Morons from Outer Space (1985) – motorway policeman
- Dramarama (1984) – Mo's dad (1 episode)
- The Jewel in the Crown (1984) – signals sergeant
- Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks (1984) – Kiston (2 episodes)