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The Imminent Return of 'Charlie Slater'

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Here's a scoop. Charlie Slater will be making a return to Albert Square later this year, reports his alter-ego Derek Martin in an email to the Walford Gazette.

Maybe it's because my dad is a retired New York City cabbie, but I always had a soft spot for good old Charlie, who certainly had a rollercoaster ride since the Slater brood hit Walford in 2000. A few of the highlights: Charlie learns his brother Harry had raped grown daughter Kat when she was a teenager. Charlie later goes to prison for beating daughter Little Mo's rapist, and loses his taxi driver's licence in the process. He fails as a mechanic at The Arches, and since then never really figured out a stable way to support his family.

Axed about 13 months ago, Charlie was last seen in Walford feeling guilty about botching his babysitting assignment last year.

"Just wanted to let you know that I am going back into EastEnders sometime this year," Martin wrote in an email to me last week. "I hope you are well and perhaps I may call in and see you one day". He was referring to a long, put-off trip to New York.

When we met four years ago at a swanky hotel off the Kensington High Street the first thing Derek wanted to know was whether I was related to Sam Jaffe, the B-list Hollywood actor from yesteryear. It turned out that, Martin was a major fan of old-school Hollywood: Bogie, Cagney and Raft, et. al. Born in Bow in 1938, he told me he could have easily become an East End gangster and went to the same school as Charlie Kray. A jack of all trades and master of none, Martin somehow found his way into movie stunt work, and late in the game became a proper actor.

Here's a little known fact about Derek Martin: he was originally recruited by EastEnders co-creator Julia Smith to play Den Watts - a role far cry from Charlie the sap. But as Martin's luck (much like Charlie's) would have it, he was unavailable due to another acting commitment. At the time, before EastEnders launched 17 February 1985 - 27th anniversary this week - Martin was something of a Brit TV A-lister, as the star of the early 1980s, well regarded detective series Law & Order.

A few years later, BBC Elstree called again to see if he was available to play Frank Butcher - to no avail. I'm sure Mike Reid still thanks Martin in heaven for that gig. Three times the charm, the Charlie Slater part came around just at the right time.

Meanwhile, Frank's main squeeze recently Pat called it a day in Albert Square. The permanent departure of Pam St Clement from EastEnders underscores the youth movement that the series has embarked on in recent years. Wendy Richard, a good friend of mine before her death in 2009, often complained during the previous decade that she disapproved of the show's direction.

Anna Wing, who played original Albert Square matriarch Lou Beale, lamented to me in 1996 that even back then - eight years after they killed off her character - that the series did not do enough for "the old bags". Her son Mark Davy Wing, a drama professor at New York University, recently told me last year that his mum, who turns 98 years young this Halloween, still climbed the stairs of her house.

At the time of our Walford Gazette interview in 1996, Wing said EastEnders "could use some older people who are very experienced with life; old bags give weight".

While it's not known yet to even to Derek Martin under what circumstances Charlie will be making his return, it's nice to know that Dot Cotton will have another familiar face around who remembers what life was like before mobile phones, Tweeting, and Lady Gaga.