EastEnders executive producer Chris Clenshaw has shared secret details surrounding the soap's highly-anticipated Christmas Day episode.
Back in February, a special flashforward episode showed six Walford matriarchs — Stacey Slater, Suki Panesar, Linda Carter, Sharon Watts, Denise Fox and Kathy Cotton - stood over the body of an unknown male corpse at The Queen Vic, with the tagline 'Christmas Day 2023.'
Sharon was wearing a blood-splattered wedding dress, while Stacey could be seen with blood on her hands. Denise, meanwhile, was holding a broken bottle of champagne, Linda had a split lip, and the sleeve on Kathy's dress was ripped.
As Sharon stooped over the man's body, she revealed, "He's dead." The victim was then shown to be wearing a pair of distinctive amber cufflinks.
With just weeks to go until we find out who is dead - and who has killed him - Chris joined us for a special Q and A...
We know that a big Christmas story will be the mystery surrounding ‘The Six’ — will you be dropping more clues in the run-up to Christmas?
Chris: "Christmas Day is a momentous occasion for EastEnders. We're very pleased with the positive fan reaction to the storyline since February, and I’d say it’s definitely an episode to watch live on Christmas Day.
"What will become apparent is who the potential body is. At the moment it could almost be any man in Walford, but as we head towards Christmas, it will become clearer who the final line up of men could be.
"There are lots of twists and turns, and I think you will be guessing as to the identity of the victim right up until the very end. Each of 'The Six' women has their own stories, as they have done throughout the year, and through December the stories culminate and bring the women together in The Vic on Christmas Day.
"It’s not the last you’ll see of those cufflinks. Phil has them at the moment. Rocky won them in the poker match with Nish, and he gave them to Jack because he didn’t like the look of them. Jack then lent them to Phil when he was getting married to Kat."
Will the events of Christmas Day be a catalyst for 2024 storylines?
"The events of Christmas are a catalyst. 'The Six' are bound together after the events of Christmas Day, and each of their lives will never be the same. What’s great is from Christmas we have Stacey, Suki, Linda, Stacey, Denise and Kathy together, so be prepared for a lot more scenes with this group of women, which is fantastic because it’s not often you see some of them interact that much as they’re mostly in stories surrounding their own family group."
If there was a recipe for a successful and satisfying EastEnders Christmas Day episode, what would the ingredients be?
"EastEnders at Christmas is always huge. People still refer to it as the 'EastEnders Christmas Special.' I bump into people and they say, "What’s the EastEnders Christmas special this year?" which I absolutely love, because it is. I think there are so many ingredients.
"I have a top three of ingredients, starting with shock and surprise. The story on Christmas Day is something that you would’ve been building for quite some time — most likely for the best part of the year — and there should be a huge, metaphorical bomb that is going to detonate. It can’t be predictable. We hope to deliver something that the audience aren’t expecting.
"At the heart of Christmas has to be about the characters we care most about and who we are invested in. I feel so lucky that we have such a rich cast with so many iconic characters.
"Our flash forward episode we set up in February, and we broke form doing something that we’ve never attempted before in our 38-year history, flashing forward to a scene on Christmas Day, 10 months into the future. But I think part of why it’s been such a success since, as well as it’s being a mystery and a guessing game, is because of the six women at its centre — Stacey, Suki, Linda, Sharon, Denise, Kathy — are each the the head of their family and each formidable in their own right. So I think character for second.
"Thirdly, I think it should feel like Christmas but it should still feel relatable. So I think it’s important that we have all the same rituals that the rest of the nation is going through on Christmas Day, and while it may feel hugely dramatic, it should also feel as though you could quite easily find yourself in the position that the characters find themselves in. So whether that’s Den giving Ange the divorce papers or it’s Max and Stacey’s affair being revealed, or it’s ‘Who killed Archie?’ or even ‘The Six’, you could still say ‘I can see how that is quite a plausible.' No-one wants to be in that position but you can easily put yourselves in their shoes.
"Finally — and I've realised this is four now — wit and humour are key, because it’s Christmas."
When did you first start planning Christmas 2023?
"It’s quite tricky with this one because we broke the format, so we started planning it even earlier than usual. I started this job in January 2022 and started planning Mick Carter's last Christmas. We started planning Christmas 2023 before last Christmas - as in last Christmas in the real world."
How important is building momentum?
"We literally told the audience in February that there’d be a death at Christmas. What keeps the audience guessing is the question of 'How?' It was the same last year — most people knew that Danny Dyer was leaving the show and Mick Carter would be leaving Walford and I think it was the 'How?', that was the question on everyone’s lips. So it’s about laying those foundations. Building the momentum to what should be a climactic Christmas Day is hugely important."
What can you tease about early 2024?
"It’s really hard without giving away what happens at Christmas. We’ve got lots more to play out. There will be a Christmas miracle and a New Year miracle for Whitney."