The Creation of Nick Cotton
Nicholas Charles "Nick" Cotton is a fictional character from the British soap opera EastEnders played by John Altman on a recurring basis from the soap's debut episode on 19 February 1985, in six separate stints (1985 to 1991, 1993, 1998, 2000 to 2001, 2008 to 2009 and from 2014 onwards). Nick is the son of characters Charlie (Christopher Hancock) and Dot Cotton (June Brown), and the father of Charlie (Declan Bennett), Ashley (Frankie Fitzgerald) and Dotty Cotton (Molly Conlin). His storylines have seen him twice commit murder; Reg Cox in 1985 and Eddie Royle in 1991 respectively, succumb to a heroin addiction, his racism and attempts to poison his own mother, causing the death of his son Ashley and faking his own death, amongst numerous other misdemeanours. Nick was also the subject of a special spin-off episode, The Return of Nick Cotton, which aired in October 2000. He has been voted one of television's all-time most villainous characters in a Channel 4 poll. On 29 July 2014, it was confirmed that John Altman would return and Nick appeared onscreen again on 24 October 2014. He is the shows original villain as a result of his actions.
Nick Cotton was the twenty-fourth character invented by the creators of EastEnders, Tony Holland and Julia Smith. Nick was not part of Holland's and Smith's original vision for EastEnders, and his creation came about as an afterthought. The first episode of the series was to include the death of an elderly resident, Reg Cox, who had been brutally attacked in his home, and left to die. During the first writers' meeting, where the writers were introduced to the intended characters and early scripts, each independently wanted to know which character had killed Reg. However, Holland and Smith had never intended for the murderer to be unveiled. They had no idea who had killed Reg Cox, and they had felt that "the who" was not important. The fact that he was dead following an attack was the important issue, and Reg's murder was not intended to be solved, it was only there to tell the audience, from the outset, that Walford was a rough and tough place.
The writers opposed this. They accused Holland of throwing away a great opportunity and suggested that a murder hunt would provide an array of dramatic possibilities that would captivate the audience. After deciding that all of the twenty-three original characters were incapable of committing the crime, Holland decided to invent an entirely new character, in the form of Nick Cotton. The original character outline for Nick read: "His image is exclusively macho. Vanishes for weeks on end. Mum doesn't ask questions... Unlike Den, Nick is a real crook. Worms his way into people's confidentiality and homes. From then on, lives on his wits. Waiting for the moment to strike; to nick the cash and disappear...Usually chooses his victims who, for one reason or another, are frightened to report him...Nick's a heroin addict."
As Nick was only intended to be a semi-regular character, Julia Smith was not involved in his casting and the actor John Altman was chosen by the directors.
"Nick Cotton is an EastEnders legend. His complex relationship with Dot, his criminal tendencies, and his addiction to heroin, violence, and everything else that's bad have made him one of the show's best-remembered and best-loved villains. We're very excited that he - and the talented John Altman who plays him - will be returning to the Square." —Executive producer Diederick Santer on Nick's 2008 return to EastEnders.
June Brown (Dot Cotton)
June Muriel Brown, MBE (born 16 February 1927) is an English actress, best known for her role as Dot Cotton in the long-running BBC soap opera EastEnders. In 2005, she won Best Actress at the British Soap Awards and also received the Lifetime Achievement award at the same ceremony. In 2009, she was nominated for Best Actress at the BAFTA TV Awards. She is only the second performer to receive a BAFTA nomination for their work in a soap opera (the first was Jean Alexander). Her other television appearances include Doctor Who (1973-1974) the comedy series Now and Then (1983-1984) and the 2003 TV film Margery and Gladys opposite Penelope Keith. She was made a MBE in the 2008 Queens Birthday Honours.
Dorothy "Dot" Branning (also Cotton) is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera, EastEnders, played by June Brown since 1985. Dot first appeared in EastEnders in July 1985 as the mother of criminal Nick Cotton (John Altman). The character has worked as a launderette assistant for most of that time along with original character Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard). Dot moved away with her son and his family in 1993.
June returned to the role in 1997, and Dot was shown moving back to Albert Square, and has continued since that time. Dot is the second longest-serving character currently appearing in EastEnders, surpassed only by original character Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt). In a special episode entitled EastEnders: Dot's Story (2003) a young Dot was played by Tallulah Pitt-Brown in flashbacks. In April 2012, June took a six-month break from the show to write her memoirs. Dot temporarily departed on 18 May 2012. She returned on 14 January 2013.
Dot's relationship with her wayward son Nick (John Altman), has been a feature of the character's narrative since her inception. Unlike Dot, Nick is scripted as a semi-regular character, one who comes and goes sporadically and, as authors Jill Marshall and Angela Werndly have observed, "we know heartache is in store for Dot Cotton every time her son, 'Nasty Nick', turns up. The recurrence of generic elements means we derive pleasure from expectation and prediction."
Executive producer Diederick Santer has discussed the "wonderfully dysfunctional mother-son relationship" Nick shares with Dot and her perpetual willingness to give Nick another chance regardless of his history of wrongdoing. Santer explained: "There’s that thing where you sort of dare to hope that someone’s changed, which is really tragic. They’ve let you down a hundred times, and yet you still hope that the hundred and first time they’ll have changed." Actor Leslie Grantham has stated that Dot is the "one friend in [Nick's] life", while series story producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins has affirmed: "Dot’s always going to forgive him. And that’s the beauty of Nick and Dot." Concurring with this sentiment, John Altman (Nick) agreed: "No matter what he does, she’ll forgive him. So did a lot of gangsters' mothers throughout history. Probably Al Capone's mother thought he was a sweet lad, you know."
One of Nick's most notable returns to the series occurred in 1990. Nick returned to his mother's life with the claim that he was a born-again Christian, which happened to coincide with her £1000 win on the bingo. EastEnders writer Sarah Phelps explained: "For Dot, the idea that Jesus had finally spoken to Nick, that was all her Christmases coming at once! Nick knew that. It was sort of obvious that Nick could be saying 'Jesus walks with me' and then just go out and kick somebody or nick their wallet." With the help of a fake priest, Nick managed to convince his mother of his new-found faith and then began a slow campaign to control her eating habits and poison her in order to claim her money. Discussing the storyline, scriptwriter Colin Brake has indicated that at first it was not clear to the audience whether Nick had reformed or not, but as the weeks passed it became obvious that he did intend to kill his mother, as he was shown practising a fake suicide note in Dot's handwriting – a foil to cover the intended murder; according to Brake, Dot remained blithely and perhaps purposefully ignorant to his wrongdoing. The episode which culminated the storyline, written by P.J. Hammond, was set solely in Dot's house and featured an unusually small cast consisting of Nick, Dot, Nick's estranged father Charlie, Dot's close friend Ethel Skinner and Alistair the fake priest. At the last moment, in what Altman has called the "one time we saw a glimmer of Nick’s good side", Nick backed out of his plan and stopped Dot from eating the poisoned meal he had intended to kill her with. Once again Dot was left alone, broken-hearted at what her own son had been prepared to do to her.
Other storylines have concentrated on Dot's various attempts to reform Nick, such as in 1991, when Nick returned with a heroin addiction. As the plot unfolded, Dot tried to curtail Nick's addiction by locking him in his room and forcing him to go cold turkey. His resulting paranoia and cravings led him to escape and murder the first person he encountered, The Queen Victoria landlord Eddie Royle (Michael Melia). The episode where Eddie was murdered was the big autumn launch episode for 1991. Nick stood trial in January 1993; however, "he got away with murder" for a second time in the serial. Other scams have included Nick's attempt to con Dot by claiming he had AIDS in 1998 after escaping from prison, which ultimately led to Dot having him re-imprisoned. Then followed a plot that saw him largely responsible for the death of his son Ashley (Frankie Fitzgerald) in 2001, ultimately leading Dot to disown Nick.
Following pleas from Brown to resurrect Nick, John Altman returned to the serial again in December 2008, in a storyline that saw Nick attempt to con Dot again, this time aided by a previously unheard of daughter, Dotty (Molly Conlin). Altman explained: "Nick needed something, because I think if he didn’t have little Dotty, for him to walk through that door, she would just have treated him as a complete outcast." As the storyline progressed, it was revealed that Nick and Dotty had intentions to kill Dot for her inheritance; they concocted a plan to make her think she had developed dementia then overdose her with sleeping pills, which fails when Dotty has a change of heart and Nick flees once again after causing an explosion and being disowned by Dot.
John and June Brown are very good friends off screen.
Nick Cottons 2014 (and final) Return
by Daniel Kilkelly for Digital Spy 25 October 2014
EastEnders is reintroducing the show's most memorable villain as Nick Cotton has returned to Walford.
Following his brief appearance at the end of Friday night's episode, Nick horrifies his son Charlie (Declan Bennett) next week by arriving at Dot's house unexpectedly, threatening to reveal the fact that his recent 'death' was faked.
EastEnders' executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins recently promised to tell "the Nick story to end all Nick stories", so there is bound to be huge drama ahead for the Cottons and the Mitchells as the iconic character causes more trouble. This week, Digital Spy had an exclusive chat with John Altman, who plays Nick, to hear more gossip about what's in store.
How does it feel to be back on EastEnders?
"First of all, as an actor, it's great to be working. It's also fabulous to be given some quite powerful storylines - and I love EastEnders, so it's great to be back!"
Were you surprised when you got the call to return?
"It's always a nice surprise when they do get in touch. Over the years, sometimes I've had long stretches away from the show. That can be as long as nine years, which means I have to get on with my life outside of EastEnders - I don't sit by the phone waiting for it to ring! "There have been a couple of times when I've had to say no to returning because I've been doing something else, but this time it worked out."
How did you feel about the fake death storyline for Nick?
"I knew about Nick returning from the dead long before anyone else knew about it, because the executive producer Dominic and story producer Alex [Lamb] told me about their plans. Of course I had to remain quiet about that, and it's quite hard because I couldn't really tell anybody at all. You have to be careful if you're talking in a taxi or on a train, because you never know who might overhear you! "I had to keep the truth a closely-guarded secret, but that's part of being up here at EastEnders. I love surprises and I wouldn't want to know myself what was coming up."
Keeping it quiet must have been a challenge
! "It was particularly difficult when Nick's funeral came around! People kept saying to me, 'Isn't it terrible that they've killed him off and you weren't even there?'
People were moaning about it and saying he was a great character so it shouldn't have happened! "I just had to listen to them and say, 'You're right, I don't know anything about it either'. Something went round about me being annoyed about it, but that wasn't actually true - it was just what I had to say in order to cover it all up!"
Why does Nick decide to return next week?
"Nick has got himself into a bit of a fix. He's run out of money again and he's been out of the country, mixing with the criminal elite in Spain I believe! Once again, he's on his uppers and he always comes back to the Square when that happens so that he can tap up someone there to help him out. "Nick is in a bit of a corner, though. Having declared himself dead, he doesn't want to be seen. He's almost returning in spirit form!"
What kind of a relationship can we expect between Nick and his son Charlie?
"It's going to be fractious. Nick had Charlie many years ago and left Yvonne to bring him up. He did pop by occasionally but not very often, so Nick was one of those absent fathers. Charlie has a lot of resentment about the fact that Nick was never there when he was a little boy, but at the same time, Nick is still his dad. "There's that 'blood is thicker than water' thing bubbling under the surface, so we can expect to see some very powerful run-ins between Nick and Charlie. You'll also see some quite tender and emotional scenes, because they are father and son and they haven't seen each other for a long time."
How about Nick and Yvonne?
"Yvonne is Nick's wife. It's the only time he's got married, although he seems to have a string of kids all over the place! Maybe there are others, I don't know! Nick didn't tell Dot about Yvonne, which is typical. "Yvonne will become entangled in the evil web of Nick. I think they're very different people. She was a nurse way back and met Nick when he'd just come out of a remand centre, so it was a case of opposites attracting. There's still passion between the two of them, but Yvonne is fighting that because she doesn't really want to get sucked back into the evil world of Mr. Nicholas Cotton!"
Cotton is a huge name in soapland, so are you pleased to see the family being expanded with these new characters?
"Very much so. The family is quite dysfunctional in many ways, which is probably due to Nick and also Nick's father, who was the original Charlie Cotton. "I always felt that Nick's dad died a little bit too soon into the history of this soap. That was a bit of a gratuitous killing-off, I thought. They said it was to draw Nick and Dot closer together, but I never believed that and thought they should have kept Charlie Cotton for a lot longer. He was a great character and a really great actor. Sadly Chris Hancock is no longer with us. "As an actor, you get to love your on-screen family and I'm sure that's the same with the rest of the cast too. To see the Cotton family expanded is good and quite exciting, as there are new faces to be playing with." Dominic has gone public with the fact that Nick Cotton vs. Ronnie Mitchell will be a big storyline!
Are you looking forward to that?
"Yeah! That was a surprise to me. Ronnie has already bumped somebody off, hasn't she? The score right now is three kills for Nick and one for Ronnie! Those two characters will definitely be going head-to-head. "Nick isn't best pleased that Ronnie and Charlie are together because she's a Mitchell. He's never liked the Mitchells - particularly Phil. Anything to do with the Mitchells, Nick does not like, so you can expect to see a few fireworks going off long after Bonfire Night!"
Are you excited about the long-term arc planned for Nick?
"Very, yes! They've cooked up some pretty dastardly events. There's some very dramatic stuff coming up and I'm very proud to be a part of it again."
What's it like to work with June Brown again?
"With the show's anniversary coming up you suddenly think, 'Crikey, I've known her for 30 years!' June is a dear friend and we meet up when we can, but of course she is employed at EastEnders and that keeps her very busy. Now that I'm up here again, it's a reminder that you almost get cut off from the rest of the world because it takes over your life. "It's great to be back with June. There's a lot of pressure, as you might suddenly get six scenes thrown at you to film the next day, so you've got to get your head down until midnight or 1am to cram them all in. June is amazing for her age because she's working under that same pressure quite a lot, but she loves what she does."
Did you get a chance to catch up with June before your return?
"Before I started back, I actually went over to see June and we spent five hours together combing through the script, just making sure that it was right. Bless them, there are loads of writers and they don't always get it exactly right - they sometimes write Nick how they think he is, rather than how he actually is. "The standard of the writing on the show is very good, but as we go along, we'll sometimes see sections of the script that we don't think is quite how it should be, so we'll put a little change in here or there. We don't do that over-dramatically because that would cause chaos, but sometimes we'll put something in or take a line out. "Myself and June know the characters so well and we're a bit of a double act, really - maybe we should do some comedy over the holiday season!" Nick is such a well-known character.
When did you first become aware that he was reaching that iconic status?
"I suppose it takes time to become iconic. It's hard for me to completely see it because I play it, but it's probably over the last five years that people have started writing that down. I was quite pleased when they did, as it's certainly no bad thing, is it?"
You obviously have worked outside of the show too, so have you ever wanted to move on from Nick?
"Well, people will never forget Nick, will they? The acting business is a strange one - you just don't know from one month to the next where you're going to be half the time, so it's very insecure in many ways. But at the same time, that's exciting - I quite like the gypsy life. "I never know whether I'm going to be on the road like I was when I was doing Chicago a few years back, or going off to do a film in Liverpool, which I did before coming back to EastEnders. That was called My Lonely Me and was directed by Joe Scott. That's going to Cannes in 2015, so I'll be going down there. "I have lots of unfulfilled ambitions. The film world beckons again and I love it. I've never worked in America and I've never actually performed on the West End stage, so who knows what the future holds?"
And in the end....................February 2015
All photographs © BBC/Kieron McCarron
'R.I.P eternal anarchist #NickCotton. I enjoyed inhabiting your world & I am truly grateful to all cast and crew who shared the shadows with me'
Tweeted by John @johnaltman4real on Friday 13th February 2015