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How long has 'EastEnders' been running?

How long has EastEnders been running? EastEnders Queen Victoria pub
The Queen Victoria pub has been at the heart of 'EastEnders' since the start. (Image credit: BBC)

How long has 'EastEnders' been running?

EastEnders started on Tuesday 19th February 1985 on BBC1. It is set in Albert Square in the fictional east London borough of Walford, based on the real-life areas of Hackney and Dalston, and follows the day-to-day lives of the residents. 

Created by Londoners Julia Smith and Tony Holland, its gritty, dramatic slice of working-class community life was designed to compete with ITV rival Coronation Street and quickly became known for tackling controversial issues that had never been explored on other soaps. 

EastEnders was an instant hit and became a TV institution, initially showing twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays until a third Monday edition was added in April 1994, followed by a fourth episode on a Friday in August 2001. 

The 1986 Christmas Day episode where ‘Dirty’ Den Watts served wife Angie Watts divorce papers remains one of the most-watched TV shows in UK history and started a tradition for all soaps to save their biggest storyline twists for the all-important festive period. 

Over 35 years and more than 6000 episodes, EastEnders has introduced some of soap’s most iconic characters and launched many successful acting careers, but which stars have been associated with the soap the longest? 

Who are the longest-serving actors in 'EastEnders'?

Here are EastEnders’ top 10 longest-serving cast members. We’ve chosen actors who are regulars in the current cast going from their earliest appearance. Some actors have had breaks from the show over the years, but if they are permanent fixtures on-screen now then they still count as long-servers even if it’s not continuous service!

Adam Woodyatt 

Ian Beale EastEnders

Adam Woodyatt has planed Ian Beale since the first episode of 'EastEnders'.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Ian Beale

First appearance: 19th February 1985

In EastEnders' first episode, entrepreneurial Ian was a fresh-faced teenager dreaming of becoming a successful chef. He is one of Walford's most enduring faces who has survived a shooting, bankruptcy, beatings, homelessness and six marriages to five different women, making him the soap’s most married character! Woodyatt appeared continuously from day one until taking an extended break from January 2021, but is expected to return in 2022. 

Letitia Dean

Sharon Watts EastEnders

Sharon has had her fair share of heartache over the years.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Sharon Watts

First appearance: 19th February 1985 

Dirty Den’s pouting princess grew from a maneating teenager in episode one to eventual landlady of childhood home the Queen Vic. Along the way, she’s endured stormy romances with brothers Grant Mitchell and Phil Mitchell in the classic ‘Sharongate’ storyline, the tragic loss of true love Dennis Rickman and son Denny, numerous doomed relationships and a painkiller addiction. Dean has had several periods away from the show, but has been a regular since returning for a third time in 2012.

Gillian Taylforth

Kathy Beale EastEnders

Kathy made a miraculous return from the dead in 2015.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Kathy Beale

First appearance: 19th Februrary 1985

Introduced as mum to Ian and wife to stallholder Pete in the first episode, Kathy left Walford for South Africa in 1998 and was killed off screen in a car crash in 2006 – or so we thought. In 2015’s 30th anniversary live episode Taylforth made a spectacular return revealing Kathy had faked her death! She was soon back on Square where she belongs and now has her hands full keeping an eye on grandsons Peter and Bobby while Ian is away.

Steve McFadden

Phil Mitchell EastEnders

Phil has been ruling Albert Square since the 90s.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Phil Mitchell

First appearance: 20th February 1990

Hard to believe that tough guy Phil was the ‘nicer’ Mitchell sibling when he and thuggish brother Grant arrived, seeing that he’s one of telly's most notorious villains feared by the Walford locals. Phil has battled a booze addiction, taken a few bullets and countless beatings, survived fires, struggled to be a decent dad, done countless dodgy deals, and had turbulent romances with some of Walford’s most high-maintenance women including Sharon, Kathy, Shirley and now Kat. 

Natalie Cassidy 

Sonia Fowler EastEnders

Natalie has been playing Sonia since she was a child.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Sonia Fowler

First appearance: 2nd December 1993

Cassidy was just 10 when she started playing Sonia, second-youngest of the chaotic Jackson clan. Much loved for her trumpet-playing prowess as a kid, Son’s most famous storyline saw her become a mum at 15 without realising she was even pregnant! These days, she’s is one of the more sensible residents of the Square. Cassidy left in 2007, and made a few cameos until rejoining as a regular in 2014. 

Perry Fenwick

Billy Mitchell EastEnders

Downtrodden Billy has been living in Phil's shadow since 1998.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Billy Mitchell

First appearance: 2nd November 1998

Phil’s cousin Billy was a nasty piece of work when introduced as abusive uncle and guardian to orphaned Jamie. As we learned more about Billy’s own troubled childhood, he became more sympathetic and fans took him to their hearts. Gormless Bill is treated as the black sheep of the Mitchell family, but is a much-loved member of the community and proud dad, granddad and great-granddad – even if he does have the worst luck in the world!

Charlie Brooks

Janine Butcher EastEnders

Charlie recently returned to Walford as Janine.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Janine Butcher 

First appearance: 28th June 1999

Brooks was the third actress to play Frank Butcher’s wayward daughter, following Rebecca Michael (1989-1993) and Alexia Demetriou (1993-1996). One of soap’s most outrageous bad girls, Janine has murdered two husbands, tried to poison another, and had one drop dead within minutes of marrying her! Walford’s black widow made a spectacular return in September 2021 after leaving in 2014, 22 years from when Brooks made the part her own. 

Jessie Wallace

Kat Slater EastEnders

Kat Slater is an iconic part of 'EastEnders'.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Kat Slater

First appearance: 18th September 2000

Lairy leopard-print loving Kat is a true EastEnders icon, best known for the shock twist that little sister Zoe was actually her daughter, revealed in the much-quoted ‘You ain’t my muvvah… Yes I am!’ scene from 2001. Tough but vulnerable Kat has calmed down since bursting onto our screens more than two decades ago, and is now loved up with Phil Mitchell after years of on/off romance with ex-husband Alfie Moon. Wallace has left the role twice before and began a third stint on the show in 2018.

Rudolph Walker

Patrick Trueman EastEnders

Patrick has become a firm fan favourite over the years.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Patrick Trueman

First appearance: 13th September 2001

Acting legend Walker celebrated 20 years as rum-loving patriarch Patrick in September 2021, who originally jetted in from Trinidad sporting his famous hat for the funeral of ex-wife Audrey to reconnect with his estranged sons - and never left. Patrick is a father figure to Denise Fox and Kim Fox, though they’re not biologically related, and is still something of a ladies’ man even in his 80s, returning from an extended trip to Trinidad a few years back newly-married to younger woman Sheree! 

Lacey Turner

Lacey Turner as Stacey Slater in EastEnders

Lacey has become a fan favourite as Stacey Slater.  (Image credit: BBC)

Plays: Stacey Slater 

First appearance: 1st November 2004

Kat’s cousin Stacey moved in with the rest of the rowdy Slaters when she was a teenager and became one of EastEnders’ most popular characters. Strong and sassy, Stace has battled mental health issues, been jailed for murdering rapist Archie Mitchell, had an abortion, a scandalous affair with her former father-in-law and countless catfights. The part was created especially for Turner when she auditioned to play Ruby Allen, and she has won more awards than any other UK soap actor for her acclaimed performance. Stace was absent from 2010 for three years but was reinstated as a regular from 2014, though Turner has had two maternity leave stints since then.

EastEnders airs Mondays at 8.05pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7.35pm and Fridays at 8.30pm on BBC One - see our TV Guide for full listings. You can also catch up on episodes on BBC iPlayer now.