Sunday, 19 February 2012

EastEnders first wimp! The Trials of Lofty Holloway

Time to remember one of EastEnders original and best characters. The gormless George "Lofty" Holloway was played by Tom Watt. Lofty is one of the serial's original characters, making his first appearance in the third episode, 26 February 1985. Lofty was generally depicted as a meek, luckless and hapless victim. A long running storyline concerns his relationship with the character Michelle Fowler. Lofty bid farewell to Walford on 19 April 1988.

George Holloway, nicknamed 'Lofty' due to his above average height, serves in the army but has to leave because he suffers with chronic asthma; he settles in Walford and gets a job as a barman at The Queen Victoria Public House. Lofty is devoted to his aunt Irene, who lives in a hospice, stricken with inoperable cancer. He takes on the task of caring and visiting her and is devastated when she eventually dies in 1987. He grows close to Michelle Fowler after she falls pregnant in 1985 and refuses to name the father - the actual father, Den Watts, is Lofty's employer although Lofty never discovers this. Michelle finds the prospect of bringing up a child daunting. Lofty struggles to see Michelle unhappy and chivalrously offers to marry her and help bring her baby, Vicki, up as his own. Although Michelle does not love Lofty, she accepts his proposal, realising that she can never be with her baby's real father. However, on their wedding day, Michelle is visited by Den in secret and this makes Michelle reconsider her options; she jilts Lofty at the altar, devastating him.
When Michelle changes her mind months later, Lofty is overjoyed and sneaks Michelle away for a secret wedding. Money is sparse for the couple and Michelle is never truly happy in marriage; she quickly tires of Lofty. When Lofty begins pressurizing Michelle to have another baby with him and to allow him to adopt Vicki, she is unwilling. She discovers that she is pregnant with Lofty's child and decides to abort. Lofty is devastated with Michelle's betrayal and their marriage breaks down. He grows depressed about losing the child he wanted so badly and amidst continued hostility with Michelle, he decides to leave Walford and take a job working as a handyman in a children's home in Bedfordshire. He skulks away in the middle of the night in April 1988 without anyone but Den witnessing his departure. It is subsequently revealed that Lofty works as a Social Worker.
Lofty (George) Holloway was one of the original twenty-three characters invented by the creators of EastEnders, Tony Holland and Julia Smith. Both felt that to help complete the community there was a need for a character in his early twenties. He had to be someone a bit different. Not brash and confident like a lot of the older men, and not boisterous like the younger ones. A loner, maybe someone forced to be a loner. A person who "stuck out like a sore thumb". Someone that was happiest in a group but still couldn't find one that he fit in with. Tony Holland had previously been in the army and found that ex-soldiers had these problems when they tried to reintegrate as civilians. So they decided that Lofty would be an ex-soldier, forced to quit because of his asthma. He was happiest in the army and felt incomplete without the group setting, the all-male camaraderie and even the security of the uniformity that the army provides.
Lofty's original character outline as written by Smith and Holland appeared in an abridged form in their book, EastEnders The Inside Story.
"Born of a working-class London family, which was very respectable: Church of England and ex-army...Lofty grew up in a house where his father was only really happy when reminiscing about his army days and his mother was ultra-possessive and narrow minded...His friends were always vetted...He grew up to despise his mother and have a tolerant pity for his father...His best moments came in the Boy Scouts, the summer camp, and the feeling of belonging...On his eighteenth birthday, he walked into an army careers office and from then until the age of twenty-one had the happiest years of his life in the RASC...He adored the army - It gave him a uniform, and set the limits...Then the shock - he was discovered to be physically unfit...Dormant asthma...He was invalided out of the service...And, he had no taste for civilian life...His Auntie Irene (now in a hospice) secured the flat above Ethel Skinner's for Lofty...He misses the security of the Army...He works in the pub - cash in hand." (page 60)
The invention of Lofty had been an afterthought, and during the casting he was still considered as something of an "enigma" to the creators and writers alike. This had made casting difficult as Holland and Smith were unsure about what they were looking for. The actor Tom Watt was suggested by one of the writers. Holland and Smith liked that his physical appearance (gauche and childlike) made him stand out (they likened him to the accident-prone sitcom character, Frank Spencer). It was decided that these attributes fitted the character perfectly and Watt was subsequently cast in the role.
The BBC's official EastEnders website describes Lofty as "a mug although a lovable one". In 1987, Bob Shields of the Evening Times described Lofty as a "portable funeral". He added, "Beneath the facade of his National Health glasses smoulders the fire and passion of a cold toilet seat."
One of the most notable storylines Lofty was involved with was his marriage to the teenage mother, Michelle Fowler. Michelle and Lofty's church wedding was a massive target of press speculation before the episodes aired. They wanted to know two things, firstly the design of Michelle's dress, and secondly whether or not she would jilt Lofty at the altar.
Anticipating a press furore, it was decided to shoot the wedding in a church in private grounds where the press would not have access. However the press still turned up in large numbers, and security men had to be hired to keep cameramen away from the story action. Huge lorries were parked in front of the entrance to the church so that nothing could be seen, and the cast arrived in disguise. Finally strong lights were shone into the eyes of the journalists and photographers, making them extremely angry, and they constantly tried to gain access to the grounds by breaking the security barrier and telling the production team that they were really extras needed inside the church.
The entire episode was written by David Ashton, and was devoted to Lofty and Michelle's wedding day. At the time it was deemed as one of the best cliffhangers of the series, with the episode ending as the bride arrives at the church door and hesitates. Michelle and Lofty's eventual marriage helped to consolidate a fast growing audience. The young couple had come together under enormously difficult circumstances. The subsequent storylines were purposefully built to keep the audience guessing about the future of their relationship. Were they married for the wrong reasons? Would the relationship survive? and what would happen if Lofty wanted a child that was their own?
The character remained in the show for three years, and eventually departed in 1988 when the actor decided to move on. On screen, Lofty, heart-broken after Michelle's abortion, moved on to become a handyman in a children's home.

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