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Eastenders’ Top 10 Iconic Nastiest Villains

Eastenders’ Top 10 Iconic Nastiest Villains

Soap opera villains are the characters we love to hate and Eastenders has given us some of the most dislikeable, disturbing and downright nasty villains in television history.

Right from the very first Eastenders episode to be aired back in February 1985, the show has been rife with murder, scandal, crime and deceit, and it is often the characters responsible for wrongdoing who become Albert Square’s most notorious. Read on to find out what ‘Nasty Nick’ actor John Altman thinks of his position in the poll and about his famous character.

In this article we’ve picked out the 10 Eastenders characters who in our opinion are the most villainous to date, with the top 4 being ranked in order from results of a recent Twitter poll undertaken by WhichBingo. Do you agree? Should any of the new generation be on our list? Or are there any notorious names missing from our list?

Let us know in the comments.

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10. Archie Mitchell

He may have only featured in Eastenders for a year and a half, but Archie Mitchell made quite an impact on Albert Square during that time. Anyone on the show with the surname Mitchell is likely to be involved in a few scrapes here and there, but Archie’s track record included scheming to destroy his daughter’s marriage and starting a relationship with his wife’s step-daughter, as well as blackmail, manipulation and rape. His chickens came home to roost in December 2009 when a bust of Queen Victoria was pushed onto him, killing him and creating a riveting ‘whodunit’ storyline that gripped the nation.

9. Ian Beale

As well as holding the honour of being Eastenders’ longest-standing character, Ian Beale has been dubbed the show’s ultimate villain. This might sound strange if you last cast an eye on Walford’s event in the late 1980s, back when Ian, played by Adam Woodyatt, was a fresh-faced young man with high hopes for the future. But he soon began to try and weasel his way to success by lying to people and exploiting them, and at any given moment in the 90s and 2000s you can find Ian short-changing people, doing dodgy deals and being notoriously tight-fisted. Indeed, in 2001 Ian was voted as one of the top five television characters that people “most love to hate” in a Channel 4 poll. Long may his reign of sneakiness continue!

8. Grant Mitchell

Ross Kemp’s portrayal of Grant Mitchell earned him a career in television as the presenter of grimy documentaries and encounters with some of the real world’s meanest characters. How did he earn a place among such frightening company? By playing one of the most volatile and dangerous characters ever to grace Albert Square, that’s how! Grant might have mellowed in his later years, but back in the 1990s he was seemingly always hitting people, whether it was his girlfriend’s boss Eddie Royle, his girlfriend Sharon, his brother Phil or his other girlfriend Tiffany. Oh, or Ian Beale, of course. He left Albert Square for Portugal in 1999, but has made various appearances since then, always with at least a hint of menace about him.

Eastenders Grant (Ross Kemp) and Tiffany Mitchell (Martine McCutcheon)
Eastenders Grant (Ross Kemp) and Tiffany Mitchell (Martine McCutcheon)

7. Cindy Beale

Cindy Beale recently made a sensational return to Eastenders, 25 years after she supposedly died during childbirth in prison. Those who remember her antics in the 1980s and 90s will know to expect a wild ride from Cindy, who previously allowed her former husband Ian Beale to believe her baby by another man was his, then cheated on Ian with David Wicks for a year, and then hired a hitman to murder Ian! She was arrested for conspiracy to murder but allegedly died in childbirth in 1998, however her body was never seen and she is back under a new name, Rose Knight.

6. Phil Mitchell

The third Mitchell to appear on our list, Phil is a well-known Walford criminal who has been getting up to no good since 1990. Played by Steve McFadden, Phil has committed just about every crime you could care to mention, with violence a regular theme in his life since he was abused by his dad as a young boy. Phil accidentally killed a homeless man in a fire before descending into alcoholism and carrying out crimes including armed robbery, firing a gun at his brother Grant, abusing Lisa Fowler and attempting to murder Dennis Rickman by attacking him with a brick. He was also famously shot in 2001, generating national news as the ‘Who Shot Phil’ storyline unfolded, and to this day he is still causing havoc all over Walford.

Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell)and Daniel Coonan (Carl White) film a nasty car crash scene
Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell) film a nasty car crash scene. Picture source: Alamy Licensed Account

5. Steve Owen

In just over three years on the show, the character of Steve Owen became one of Eastenders’ most recognisable faces – not just because he was played by Spandau Ballet bass player Martin Kemp. After buying Walford nightclub the Market Cellar, Steve became embroiled in a gripping dramatic storyline that saw him murder his former girlfriend Saskia Duncan and framing his employee Matthew Rose for the crime. If that wasn’t enough, Steve went on to pit himself against fellow Albert Square villain Phil Mitchell in an intense feud, the flames of which were fanned by Steve going into business with Grant Mitchell and sleeping with the Mitchell brothers’ younger sister Sam. The feud lasted until Steve’s untimely death in a car chase with Phil, and Kemp received multiple award nominations for his performance as one of Eastenders’ greatest villains.

EastEnders two new stars former Spandau Ballet singer Martin Kemp and Tamzin Outhwaite
EastEnders two new stars former Spandau Ballet singer Martin Kemp and Tamzin Outhwaite . Picture source: Alamy Licensed Account

4. Stella Crawford

Phil Mitchell was an Eastenders villain with his very own villainous fiancée, Stella Crawford, who became one of the most hated characters in Albert Square history between 2006 and 2007. Played by Sophie Thompson, Stella seemed at first to be a harmless, mild-mannered lawyer, but her front of innocence soon gave way to reveal a sinister personality. Her jealousy of Phil’s attention towards his son Ben prompted Stella to bully the young boy, abusing him physically and emotionally. This continued until the day of Stella and Phil’s wedding, when Ben revealed the truth during the ceremony, whereafter Stella jumped to her death in one of most memorable and dramatic TV moments of the 2000s.

3. Janine Butcher

Many will argue Janine Butcher, known as Walford’s Queen of Evil, should be top of this list after more than two decades of crime, scheming and murder. Janine was just a young girl when she first appeared in Eastenders in 1989, with Rebecca Michael in the role, and she went on to be portrayed by Alexia Demetriou and Charlie Brooks as the character grew up through the 90s and 2000s. A difficult childhood in which she was thrown out of her family home preceded Janine driving a wedge between her father Frank Butcher and his wife Peggy Mitchell. Janine went on to marry five different men, strike up feuds with the likes of Pat Butcher, Sonia Fowler, Kat Slater and Laura Beale, and attempt to kill her third husband Ryan Malloy by poisoning him. Janine’s husbands were rarely safe; she murdered Barry Evans in 2004 by pushing him off a cliff, and she stabbed and killed her fourth husband Michael Moon by stabbing him to death. There was, however, often clear motive for Janine’s actions and while viewers might not have condoned her responses, she was one of the most relatable villains in Eastenders’ history.

2. Dirty Den

The actor Leslie Grantham shot to fame on the back of his portrayal of Eastenders’ ultimate villain, Dennis ‘Dirty Den’ Watts. Den uttered the first words spoken by any Eastenders character when he said: “Cor, stinks a bit in ‘ere, dunnit?” upon entering Reg Cox’s flat in episode one, and he was soon given the nickname “Dirty Den” in tabloid newspapers amid the storyline in which he made teenager Michelle Fowler pregnant. He had various other mistresses while landlord of The Old Vic and he oversaw all manner of hijinks while getting involved with criminal organisation The Firm. He starred in a scene viewed by an audience of more than 30 million when handing his wife Angie divorce papers, and then left the show after being shot. He returned in 2003 announcing he had faked his death, but two years later Den was bludgeoned to death by his second wife, Chrissie, with 17 million viewers tuning in to watch the demise of a legend.

1. Nick Cotton

Known forever on Albert Square as Nasty Nick, Nick Cotton was an archetypal East End bad guy from the very outset of the show. The first episode of Eastenders in February 1985 featured its first death, with Den Watts, Ali Osman and Arthur Fowler discovering war veteran Reg Cox almost dead in his chair. The old man later died and a murder inquiry was launched culminating in Nick Cotton confessing – while in prison three years later – to Reg’s murder. He went on to kill his own mother on multiple occasions, by poison and suffocation to name just two. He was a master manipulator committed numerous frauds and thefts, dealt drugs and attempted to fake his own death. With his greasy black hair and trademark leather jacket, there will never be another Eastenders villain quite like Nasty Nick.

We spoke with John Altman recently about the enduring legacy of Nick Cotton and his badboy ways and he has a theory as to why this is the case. He said,

I’m very proud to have been voted EastEnders’ number one bad guy. And proud that Nick has the highest murder rate in over 30 years on the soap.

You know, the producers didn’t water the character down. A lot of what he said wouldn’t be allowed now, but he never softened. Other villainous characters (Dirt Den, Phil Mitchell) mellowed over time. Nick never did. He was truly bad.

At one point, the producers wanted to make the character gay, but it was decided this wouldn’t work. You never felt sympathy for Nick, he was just always rotten.

Also, Nick appeared in the very first episode of EastEnders and people have fond memories of that time and praise the early days of the soap. It was the golden-age of EastEnders.

Did Nick have any redeeming features?

As an actor, I tried to find a redeeming feature. Deep down, despite how he treated his mother, (played by the late June Brown who John remained friends with for many years until her death) he did love her. He very kindly decided not to kill her with a poisoned pie.

Visiting the bingo halls as Nick Cotton

It seems neither John or his alter ego Nick Cotton was a match for the mighty game of bingo, however. John told us,

Back when I did appearances as Nick Cotton, I used to appear at bingo halls. I’d get mobbed by middle aged women and get covered in pink lipstick. That was until the bingo started, then they’d quickly put me down and run back to their seats before the first number was called.

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