Next week, EastEnders celebrates its 35th anniversary. While producers have promised some amazing and gripping scenes as the citizens of Walford take to the Thames for a death cruise, there are plenty of great moments to look back on.
As a lifelong EastEnders fan—I began watching from America on PBS when I was about 8-years-old—I decided to look back at 35 years of action in Walford, ranking the 35 greatest scenes in EastEnders history.
35. Linda and Martin “kill” Keanu (2020)
It’s not even been two months since Martin Fowler, on the orders of Ben Mitchell, was meant to kill Keanu Taylor. A drunk Linda Carter stopped that from happening, instead orchestrating a coverup. The convergence of two of EastEnders’ major storylines—Sharon and Keanu’s affair and Linda’s alcoholism—this was a return to form for the show and will be remembered for years to come.
34. Reg Cox’s body is found (1985)
Keanu might have survived, but the same can’t be said for poor ole Reg. EastEnders debuted on 19 February 1985 with the murder of pensioner Reg Cox. Arthur Fowler, Den Cox, and Ali Osman find him murdered in his flat (by Nick Cotton, as we later find out). Putting us right in the middle of the action from the very first scene, EastEnders showed from the very beginning it was unlike anything British tv had seen before.
33. Mark tells everyone his is HIV+ (1996)
When Peggy Mitchell found out Mark Fowler was HIV+, she orchestrated a hate campaign against him. In these scenes, Mark confronts her prejudice—and the prejudice of the community—by giving them the facts and insisting that he be served in his local. The are moving scenes proving that throughout its run EastEnders has never shied away from tackling controversial and topical issues, always with compassion and care.
32. Sonia has a surprise baby (2000)
“Well if your school had a sex education teacher they should sack him!” is still one of my favourite lines in EastEnders history. After a brief liaison with Martin Fowler, teenaged Sonia Jackson—who had no idea she was pregnant—went into labour. With the help of Mo Harris, Sonia gave birth to daughter Bex in this dark but comical scene that served to both continue the Fowler/Jackson families and establish Laila Morse (who plays Mo) as one of the greatest comic actors the show has ever seen.
31. Lou Beale’s home truths (1988)
Lou Beale knew she was dying, but she wasn’t going to go quietly into that gentle night. Rather, she gathered her family around to give them a piece of her mind (and a few heirlooms). It’s a classic scene in which Anna Wing shines as Lou, and reminds us that EastEnders is always at its best when it centres strong, smart women.
30. Pat and Peggy get drunk in an ice cream van (2009)
The friendship between Pat (Pam St Clement) and Peggy (Barbara Windsor), two of the most iconic characters in EastEnders history, is enough to make this scene stand out. Throw in a bottle of vodka, a bunch of sweets, and a peeved Shirley Carter and Phil Mitchell and you’ve got one of the funniest scenes the show ever did.
29. Nick Cotton kills Eddie Royle (1991)
It’s hard to pick out Nick Cotton’s most evil deed, but murdering Eddie Royle has to be near the top. The greatest villain in the soap’s history murdered poor Eddie and then framed Clyde Tavernier for the crime. It was the start of one of EastEnders’ most compelling stories to date, exploring racism in the criminal justice system and the perceptions of Black boys in modern Britain.
28. Syed admits he’s gay (and in love with Christian) (2011)
EastEnders has never shied away from telling compelling stories about LGBT people, and the journey of Syed Masood is one of the best in the show’s history. Syed didn’t expect to fall in love with Christian, but their connection proved too much for him to ignore. It’s hard to pick just one scene from this story of faith, family, and acceptance – but this, when Syed finally admits the affair to his family and friends, stands out.
27. Jim Branning proposes to Dot Cotton (2001)
I love a good romance, and it’s hard to beat the love story between pensioners Jim Branning and Dot Cotton. Neither one of them expected to find love again at their age, but find it they did, beginning one of the greatest partnerships in EastEnders history. Jim’s proposal to Dot on the London Eye is the most romantic scene the show has ever aired.
26. Johnny Carter comes out to his father, Mick (2014)
EastEnders has had many gay characters over the years, but never has a parent’s response to their child’s coming out been as pitch perfect as Mick Carter’s was when his son Johnny came out to him. Letting Johnny know that Mick loved him unconditionally, he gently coaxed his son into finally opening up. It’s still hard to watch this with dry eyes, and that’s down in no small part to the brilliant, compassionate performances of Sam Strike and Danny Dyer.
25. Phil sets fire to Frank’s car lot (1994)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Phil Mitchell is a bit of a pyromaniac. He famously set fire to the Queen Vic in 2010, but before that, he set fire to Frank Butcher’s car lot in 1994. Frank wanted to burn down the car lot for the insurance money, but what neither expected was that there would be a man there sleeping rough. That man died, and the guilt of his death has haunted Phil ever since.
24. “Hello, princess” (2003)
We all thought we’d seen the last of Den Watts when he died in 1989. No so! Despite having identified his body years before, Sharon was stunned when her father showed up in Walford very much alive. He’d be dead again soon enough (thanks to wife Chrissy and Pauline Fowler’s doorstop), and years later Kathy Beale would pull her own Lazarus stunt. But few things have surprised us more than the resurrection of Dirty Den.
23. The fire at the bed and breakfast (2011)
There’s so much going on here it’s hard to know where to begin, but what makes this scene truly iconic is the stellar performances by Nina Wadia and Ace Bhatti. Evil Yusef had been abusing Zainab for months, even threatening to kill her son. Plotting her escape with ex-husband Masood, Yusef caught them and set fire to the B&B in an attempt to kill him. Turning the tables on her abusive husband, Zainab convinced him his daughter Afia was in the burning building. The look on Yusef’s face when he finally realizes Afia is outside—right before he dies—is one of the most haunting yet satisfying moments in the show’s history.
22. Ronnie and Roxy drown in a pool (2017)
I hesitated to include this moment at all because I know how much people hate it. To be fair, I understand why. Killing off Ronnie and Roxy (and on the night of poor Ronnie’s wedding, at that!) is one of the greatest mistakes in the show’s history, and this scene is certainly one of the most controversial, at least among diehard fans. But it’s specifically because of that controversy that this scene belongs on this list. It was the end of an era as the Mitchell sisters bowed out and a lesson to future producers in thinking twice before you kill off one (let alone two) fan favourites.
21. Cindy Beale flees with Peter and Steven (1996)
Dastardly Cindy never took to married life or motherhood, cheating on Ian not once but twice—including with his half-brother, David. When Ian found out, he threatened to sue for custody of their children. Not having that, Cindy hired a hitman to take Ian out. She had a chance of heart at the last minute, but it was too late, and Ian was shot. Panicking—and realizing the police were hot on her tail—Cindy kidnapped her two sons but was unable to get her daughter, Lucy, instead leaving with her ragdoll. Cindy would later die giving birth to Cindy Jr, and both Lucy and Steven would meet grizzly fates of their own.
20. Whitney confesses that Tony has been grooming her (2008)
One of the most distressing but relevant storylines of the 2000s, Whitney’s confession that Tony has been sexually molesting her from the time she was 12 was difficult viewing in 2008. Shona McGarty and Patsy Palmer have a real chemistry that really sells the stepmother/stepdaughter relationship between Whitney and Bianca, and Shona especially gives a moving performance as Whitney comes to the realization that Tony didn’t love her, he abused her.
19. Jane admits that Bobby killed Lucy (2015)
The culmination of a nearly year-long mystery, on the 30th anniversary we finally learned who killed Lucy Beale. In one of the most shocking twists in EastEnders history, Lucy’s murderer turned out to be none other than her 11-year-old brother Bobby. Laurie Brett gives a heartbreaking performance as Bobby’s mum Jane—who kept his involvement a secret for months—and Adam Woodyatt really conveys Ian’s shock as he realises the truth. All this is made even more remarkable by the fact that it went out live.
18. The first gay kisses (1987/1989)
EastEnders—and Sir Michael Cashman–made history with the character of Colin Russell, the show’s first gay character and one of its most popular in the late 1980s. In 1987, the show broke new ground when it showed Colin kissing his boyfriend Barry on the forehead—the first gay kiss in soap history. They went a step further in January 1989, airing a kiss on the mouth between Colin and his new boyfriend Guido. Looking back, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about—but it was one of the riskiest and most controversial moments in the show’s 35-year history.
17. Ronnie realizes Danielle is her daughter (2009)
Ronnie Mitchell never could catch a break. Having given birth to a daughter just a teenager, Ronnie’s evil father Archie told her that the baby had died. Instead, Archie gave the girl up for adoption. Years later, Ronnie’s daughter, Danielle, turns up in Albert Square looking for her mother. Ronnie finally learns the truth and accepts Danielle—only for Danielle to be mowed down by Janine Butcher moments later. Samantha Womack’s piercing cries of “she’s dead!” still give us chills after all these years.
16. Trevor attacks Little Mo on Christmas Day (2001)
Warning: these scenes are very distressing. One of the most harrowing storylines EastEnders ever attempted was the abuse of Little Mo Slater by her husband, Trevor Morgan. For a year we watched as Trevor abused and tortured his poor wife in some of the most difficult viewing in the show’s history. This scene—which transmitted on Christmas Day 2001—is among the most memorable ever because of its sheer brutality. Viewers watched in agonizing horror as Trevor humiliated Little Mo, violently shoving her face into her Christmas dinner. He got his comeuppance the next year, I’m happy to report.
15. Mel leaves Ian after their wedding (1999)
If there is one consistent truth that runs through all 35 years of EastEnders, it is that Ian Beale is a wanker. He lied about daughter Lucy having cancer in order to get Mel to marry him. She found out mere minutes after their wedding on New Year’s Eve 1999, and in one of the greatest lines ever “Well guess what, Ian? I don’t love you, and I never have done,” Mel told Ian to bugger off as Walford rang in the new millennium.
14. Frank’s bowtie (2000)
Pat and Peggy spent a lot of time fighting over Frank, but you can hardly blame them once you see this scene. Charming wide boy Frank Butcher showed up on Pat’s doorstep wearing nothing but his birthday suit and a spinning bowtie. Of course, his wife Peggy didn’t know where he was, but that didn’t matter. This scene is instantly iconic and provided the internet with one of the greatest gifs ever – nothing screams “I quite fancy that” like Frank’s spinning bowtie.
13. Tiffany Mitchell dies (1999)
It’s hard to explain just how popular Martine McCutcheon’s Tiffany was in the late 1990s. When McCutcheon decided to leave to pursue her music career, producers killed her character off—a real shame, because who only knows what could have happened with Tiffany had she ever decided to return. Her death on New Year’s Eve 1998—run over by Frank Butcher (father of Janine, who herself enjoys a bit of automotive homicide) at the stroke of midnight following a fight with husband Grant Mitchell over their daughter Courtney—is one of the most tear-jerking in the show’s history.
12. Hassan Osman’s cot death (1985)
In the show’s first hard-hitting, topical storyline, Sue and Ali Osman’s infant son Hassan dies unexpectedly. Sue’s struggles to come to terms with her son’s death would be a central focus of early episodes, and baby Hassan’s death was itself a shocking moment. It set the standard for EastEnders storytelling—focusing on real issues real people face, but doing so with such compassion and humanity.
11. Phil and Grant crash into the Thames (1999)
No two Walford siblings have a more complicated relationship than Phil and Grant Mitchell. When Grant slept with Phil’s wife Kathy to get revenge for Phil having, years before, slept with Grant’s wife Sharon (who is now Phil’s wife, though he’s probably going to divorce her—like I said, complicated), Phil confronted him. It resulted in a car chase through East London, Phil trying to shoot Grant, and a crash into the Thames. Both brothers survived, though, and eventually made up—well, sort of.
10. Bradley falls off the roof of the Queen Vic (2010)
EastEnders doesn’t shy away from big, flashy stunts, but few can compare to the 25th anniversary episode. The culmination of the “Who killed Archie?” storyline, chief suspect Bradley Branning fell to his death from the roof of the Queen Vic while on the run from police. As it turns out, Bradley didn’t kill Archie—his wife, Stacey did. It remains the gold standard in live episodes and murder mystery reveals, and Lacey Turner and Jake Wood deserve special praise for their performances as Stacey Slater and her father-in-law Max Branning.
9. Phil is shot (2001)
In March 2001 the nation was asking itself one question: “who shot Phil Mitchell?” It was a gripping storyline precisely because most of Walford had a motive to shoot the hardman. The storyline dominated tabloids and was even covered by the evening news. In the end, it was revealed that Phil’s estranged partner Lisa was the culprit, though Phil eventually forgave her and, in 2019, they were even able to laugh about it. Good times.
8. Den Watts “dies” (1989)
The Mitchell brothers weren’t the first gangsters on Albert Square. In the late 1980s “The Firm” reigned supreme. Den Watts, the archetypical Walford bad boy, incurred their wrath when he used one of their cronies to burn down the Dagmar (in revenge for James Willmott-Brown raping Kathy Beale). Den was sent to prison for arson, but The Firm still thought he was a liability so orchestrated his “murder” in early 1989. Fourteen years later, of course, we’d learn that he had faked his death—but at the time, we all thought we’d seen the last of Dirty Den, the undoubtable breakout character from the original cast.
7. Dot helps Ethel die (2000)
Few soap characters are as beloved as Ethel Skinner. A cantankerous pensioner who lost her family to a doodlebug in the war, Ethel and Willy (a dog, not a penis) were two of the most delightful creatures to ever trot across Albert Square. With her health failing, though, Ethel decided to go out on her own terms. What transpired was some of the most touching scenes and most compelling story in EastEnders history as Ethel’s best friend, devout Christian Dot Cotton, wrestled with whether to help her friend end her own life. Dot eventually does agree to help Ethel, and it is perhaps the most moving scene in the show’s history.
6. Max’s and Stacey’s affair is revealed (2007)
Max and Stacey have such an exhausting history now that they’re a bit of a punchline, but back in 2007 their affair had viewers gripped. Stacey married Bradley Branning while carrying on an affair with his father, Max. It all came to a head on Christmas Day 2007 when Max’s daughter, Lauren, put on a DVD that ostensibly showed Bradley’s and Stacey’s wedding but which had also caught Max and Stacey doing the dirty. The look of horror on Jo Joyner’s (Tanya’s) face as she realizes what she is watching is both heartbreaking and riveting. Watching this unfold was a bit like watching a trainwreck—cringey and uncomfortable but impossible to look away.
5. “You bitch!” “You cow!” (1998)
Pat and Peggy might have wound up great friends, but they weren’t always so chummy. In 1998 they were fighting over—who else?—Frank Butcher, and in the process gave us one of the greatest rows in television history. Pat taunts Peggy about how Frank loves her more, Peggy taunts Pat about how she can’t arouse her own husband, and then they physically attack one another. If you say “you bitch!” in the right tone of voice, chances are someone around you will respond with “you cow!” – proving just how iconic this scene is.
4. Janine pushes Barry off a cliff (2004)
Look, I could an entire list of 35 of Janine Butcher’s finest moments. Stabbing herself to frame Stacey? Killing Michael and then blaming Alice? Her row with Laura right before Laura took a tumble down the stairs? All great moments. But Queen Janine’s finest—read: worst—moment is undoubtedly her first kill. Janine married poor Barry Evans for his money, thinking he was dying. When it turned out that Barry wasn’t dying, Janine took matters into her own hands and shoved him off a cliff on their honeymoon. While I always maintain that Janine didn’t mean to kill Barry, she certainly sat by and watched him die.
3. Den serves Angie with divorce papers (1986)
“This, my sweet, is a letter from my solicitor telling you your husband has filed a petition for divorce.” Those words still give me chills. Feeling that her marriage was about to fall apart, Angie Watts faked cancer to keep husband Den around. Of course, he found out because that’s a dumb plan, and he was not at all happy when he did. On Christmas Day 1986 Den served Angie with divorce papers – and more than 30 million people tuned in to watch.
2. Sharongate (1994)
There will never be another soap opera storyline quite like Sharongate. Certainly there will never be one as popular and gripping. Playing out over the course of not months, but years, Sharongate centered on the love triangle between brothers Phil and Grant Mitchell and the woman they’d both end up marrying, Sharon Watts. Sharon initially fell in love with Grant and went on to marry him, but in 1992 she had an affair with Phil. This continued to play out for another two years, coming to a head in 1994 when Grant discovered a recording of Phil and Sharon together—playing it at the Queen Vic for all of Walford to hear. It’s a legendary moment, one that still gets mentioned in casual conversation and even on the show.
1. “You ain’t my muvva!” (2001)
It’s hard to think of a more shocking moment in soap history than when Kat Slater revealed that sister Zoe was actually her daughter. Conceived when Kat’s uncle raped her as a young girl, Zoe grew up thinking her grandfather was her father. The truth came out when Zoe decided to move to Spain with her mother’s rapist uncle—and with that “You can’t tell me what to do, you ain’t my muvva!” became an iconic phrase. Michelle Ryan (as Zoe) and Jessie Wallace (Kat) convey the depth of pain, shock, and urgency these characters are experiencing. Nearly 20 years later, it remains the single greatest scene in EastEnders history.
Do you agree with my choices? Or do you think there are some glaring omissions? Leave your favourite scenes in the comments below!
Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.