28 May 2011

EastEnders: Roly The Poodle

Remember Roly Watts, the poodle who scampered around the Queen Vic, upstairs, downstairs, in and out of the ructions between Den and Angie in the mid-to-late 1980s?

I loved Roly. So interested in him was I that I remember wondering if his name was actually Roland? Surely Roly was always short for Roland? But the love of my life (that week) convinced me that such thoughts could lead to madness - he was Roly, he was a dog, so normal rules didn't apply, and I didn't actually write to the BBC to ask as I had intended.

And I'm glad I didn't - the official EastEnders cast card above, which I discovered recently, seems conclusive evidence that he was actually simply called Roly.

Roly was a real star of the show. He listened with apparently higher intelligence than most of the locals to conversations around him, caused poor Naima to prang Ali's taxi when she was out for a driving lesson with her husband, joined forces with Ethel's little Willy to scoff down the meat intended for the Vic's pub grub pies, and did Pauline and Arthur Fowler a tremendous favour when he tore up the dreadful knitted robe Ethel had concocted for Martin's christening.

Angie rather disgracefully tried to blame Roly for the noises Sharon heard when Ange was "entertaining" Tony Carpenter in a "sauce for the goose" get-back at Den moment. Roly had been very restless that night, she porkie-pied. Sharon was not convinced.

Angie could be a bitch at times, describing Roly as a "mangy, half-wit mongrel" and a "shag pile on wheels", but the fact that, in the story-line, Roly had been a present from Den to Sharon shortly before the series began might have coloured her feelings somewhat. She and Den were fighting a bloody battle for Sharon's affection, each trying to win their adopted daughter's love.

And sympathy.

Actually, it concerned me for a while that Sharon appeared to be unduly influenced by Roly when it came to her hairstyle, but taking a quick look around me at the real world, I encountered such a battery of weird and bad taste barnets (including my own) that I decided it was just a coincidence. Sharon didn't actually aim for the Roly look, although there were times when her "best friend" Michelle Fowler, in the on-going battle for Kelvin Carpenter's affections, thought that Sharon was a right dog anyway.

Roly was in the limelight when the mystery of the father of Michelle's baby was finally solved. Michelle arranged to meet the man down by the canal, and several locals were seen receiving telephone calls and hurriedly leaving the Square. But it was Roly jumping out of Den's car that finally gave the game away.

On-screen, Roly was the complete professional. Gretchen Franklin, who played Ethel Skinner, once commented that he wasn't a strong dog, and couldn't do as much as Ethel's little Willy, but there was no evidence of this when the camera was rolling.

Den and Ange were originally to have had an Alsatian called Prince, but finding a pooch of that type lightly coloured enough so as not to blend in with the pub's colour scheme and the other dowdy interior sets proved very difficult indeed.

Then Janimals, a company which specialised in providing and training animals for television and films, called EastEnders producer Julia Smith with the news that they had a seven-month-old apricot standard poodle and it would take them three weeks to train him.

The poodle, dear Roly, got the part, became the property of the BBC, complete with his own I.D. card, and went to live with Julia.

The 1987 book, EastEnders - The Inside Story by Julia Smith and Tony Holland reveals that Roly and Willy were regarded as EastEnders cast members, not props.

Roly in the mid-1980s, pictured with his fictional home, the Queen Victoria public house, Albert Square, London, E20, and his real life landlady, EastEnders producer Julia Smith.

The canine character outlived the 1980s. He was killed off in the early 1990s, run over in the Square.

In real life, Roly was not in the best of health and died in 1995.

He remains my favourite EastEnders canine of all times (sorry, Willy, loved ya too, but!) and, in fact, probably my favourite telly dog as well.

Those '80s days with Roly, Den, Ange and Sharon at the Queen Vic still make great viewing.

And, somehow, the idea of Den and Ange having such a dog (an Alsatian called Prince would have been so much more appropriate) added a delicious touch of the absurd and slightly surreal to the proceedings.

The explanation that Roly had been bought for the already poodle-haired Sharon was convincing, but he still didn't blend in with his dog rough surroundings, and seeing macho man Den out walking him often reduced me to giggles!

1985 - Den (Leslie Grantham) and Angie (Anita Dobson) slug it out whilst the wonderful Roly looks on. I often wondered what he was thinking at times like that...


entssouthwales said...

Roly had a cast card? My Goodness - I wonder if Bouncer from Neighbours had one!

Drew said...

Well, Roly truly was a star! Bouncer was too - he befriended Mrs Mangel, after all! :)