In 1983 the BBC approached Holland and Smith to produce a new experience for their channel, a bi-weekly soap-opera that would rival the long established ITV favourites, Coronation Street, Crossroads and Emmerdale Farm. The BBC wanted this new serial to reflect "London, today!" and together, Smith and Holland came up with the idea of a programme set in a Victorian Square within the East End of London, focusing on its close working-class families and eccentric Cockney inhabitants. Thus, EastEnders was born.
Holland and Smith wanted a primary focus of EastEnders to be a large extended family, representative of the type most typically found in the East End of London. Holland was from a large London family himself, and in creating some of the show's characters he was able to use some of his own experiences as inspiration for EastEnders central clan the Beales and Fowlers. In creating the stories and characters, Holland delved into family stories, past and present. His aunt Lou Beale came to inspire the EastEnders character of the same name, along with her two children Peter (Pete) and Pauline.
Holland also used some of his experiences as a barman in London's pubs and clubs to create the dynamic pairing of Den and Angie Watts, the owners of the Queen Victoria. Holland worked on EastEnders for four years, initially as script-editor and going on to script many episodes himself. After four years, Holland and Smith decided to leave EastEnders together in 1989 following a dispute with BBC bosses as to whether the character of Den Watts (played by Leslie Grantham) could return to the series following his exit in February of that year after being shot and supposedly killed. The character would ultimately return to the show 14 years later, having survived the shooting despite being presumed dead.
On his departure from EastEnders in 1989, Holland was approached by Ireland's national broadcaster RTE to give their new urban soap opera Fair City its structure and story lines for the first season.
In 1991, they were famously tempted back to the 'world of Corn' by the BBC to produce Eldorado, loosely based around the lives of expats in Spain. Their new show was launched in July 1992, but plagued by a string of on and off-screen problems, it received little of EastEnders success, and was axed a year later, in July 1993.
In 2001, he was awarded with a Special Achievement Award from the British Soap Awards, and in 2004 he appeared on the Channel 4 documentary How Soaps Changed The World.
Episodes written by Tony Holland
- Episode 183 (18 November 1986)
- Episode 184 (20 November 1986)
- Episode 185 (25 November 1986)
- Episode 194 (25 December 1986 - Part 1)
- Episode 195 (25 December 1986 - Part 2)
- Episode 361 (21 July 1988)
- Episode 362 (26 July 1988)
- Episode 363 (28 July 1988)
- Episode 371 (25 August 1988)
- Episode 383 (6 October 1988)
- Episode 405 (22 December 1988)
- CivvyStreet (26 December 1988)