|Portrayed by|| Gretchen Franklin |
Alison Bettles (CivvyStreet)
|First Appearance||19th February 1985|
|Last Appearance||7th September 2000 (Deceased)|
|Age|| 86 |
(previously thought to be 85)
|Date of Birth||19 February 1914|
|Date of Death||7 September 2000|
She was an original EastEnders character who could always be found walking her dog Willy, who she adored. She and Dot Branning were lifelong friends. They would wind each other up but were deeply dependent on each other. Ethel trusted her so much that she asked her to help her die in 2000 after she was diagnosed with cancer.
Ethel's most famous line was "Where's my little Willy?" or "Has anyone seen my little Willy?"
Ethel Skinner (born Ethel Lewis) was born on the 19th February 1914 in Camden Town in London and grew up and lived most of her life in Albert Square after moving to the East End aged 16. During World War II, while living with her parents, she stormed out of the house after arguing with her father about wearing too much make-up, vowing to never set foot in the house again while he was still there. She came back the next day to find both her parents dead, a German Doodlebug having fallen on the house while she was away. Having lived through this bleak period of her life she began a downward descent into dressing in a provocative fashion and flirting with any man she deemed fit enough of her attention. Ethel eventually married William Skinner, whom she spent many happy years with. They could not have children. After his death she acquired a pug and named him Willy after her late husband. Ethel had many lifelong friends, two of which were Lou Beale and Dot Branning. It was her friendship with Dot that lead to one final plea for help to a friend. In the year 2000 Ethel was suffering from terminal cancer. She begged and pleaded with Dot to help her die with some respect, and after much persuasion and soul searching Dot obliged her dearest friend.
Ethel Skinner is one of the original characters that appears in the first episode of EastEnders in 1985 and her early history is depicted in EastEnders spin-off, Civvy Street. Ethel was born in London's East End (other sources say Camden Town) on the 19th February 1914, and lived in Albert Square for most of her life, remaining there through the Second World War, and even witnessing the death of her entire family, who were wiped out by a doodlebug. This tragic event sent a young Ethel into shock and subsequently she developed eccentric behaviour. She began dressing outrageously, wearing garish make-up, flirting with anyone in trousers, and knocking back Gin - traits that lasted well into her old-age. Ethel's husband William Skinner had died and she never really recovered from it - she even named her pug dog after him, 'Willy', or "my little Willy" as she often calls him.
Ethel had never had children, a fact that she regretted in her old-age and so Willy became her surrogate child, and she loves him dearly. Willy goes everywhere that Ethel goes and so she is devastated when he is kidnapped in 1986. She searches for him everywhere and even holds a seance to see if she can contact him, but Willy is nowhere to be found. Detective Roy Quick works on the case and eventually finds Willy in the possession of an old Latvian refugee, who has renamed him Rasputin. Willy is returned to an overjoyed Ethel, although she has to pay the man in order to get him to relinquish ownership. Ethel has been a lifelong friend of Lou Beale and Dot Cotton and the trio remain close in their old-age. They can often be found reminiscing or gossiping in The Queen Victoria public house, where Ethel also regularly thrills the punters with her repartee, her version of the cancan, or her plain sense of fun. Out of the three Ethel is the most light-hearted and she is never frightened to stand up to the over-bearing Lou and interfering Dot. She has her run-ins with both over the years, and yet their friendship endures right to the last.
Ethel lives above Dr. Legg's surgery and works as the cleaner in the pub. She is somewhat of a troublemaker and often spreads the most insane rumours about and gets her words mixed up with hilarious consequences. She is famous for her questionable ability to read-palms and tea-leaves, once even earning a living from it. After Lou's death in 1988 Ethel and Dot become an inseparable double-act and although the two argue constantly, they actually depend on each other a great deal. Despite the fact that Ethel appears totally barmy, she can be quite astute when she wants and she is always the first to point out the malicious ways of Dot's villainous son, Nick Cotton. Ethel is never afraid to stand up to Nick, even kneeing him in the groin once when he attempts to mug her. She also correctly figures out that Nick is trying to poison Dot to get her money, and she refuses to back down, despite Dot falling out with her because of her accusations. Following several falls and a broken hip, Ethel is persuaded to move out of her residence above the surgery and into sheltered housing in 1988. Although she is strongly opposed to this initially, she eventually comes to enjoy her new home, though she would continue to show up in Albert Square regularly.
Ethel has several romances with senior bachelors on Albert Square. Her ex-boyfriend from the war years, Ernie Mears, returns to Albert Square in 1985 and proposes to her. However, the offer is conditional. Ernie is allergic to dogs and Willy, Ethel's constant companion for the past 9 years, would have to go. Ethel seriously considers Ernie's offer but gently declines. In 1988 she finds romance again with a friend of Dr. Legg's, Benny Bloom. Dot loathes Benny and does everything she can to talk Ethel out of dating him. Ethel and Benny discuss marriage, which Ethel agrees to, mainly to spite Dot, who calls her a silly fool for wanting to remarry at her time of life. However, after discovering pets aren't allowed in the manor where Benny lives, Ethel the engagement was called off, once again because of Willy. A few months later Ethel hears news that Benny has died and has left her £2000, although his daughter tries to contest the will for a while.
In August 1989 Ethel meets a new love interest named Reggie Thompson. He invites her to go on a coach trip to Clacton for a dancing competition. Ethel is so excited that she shows Reggie a saucy nightie she has bought for the trip. When Dot, Marge Green and Mo Butcher find out about the trip, they decide to go as well. Reggie arranges dancing partners for them and the ladies practise hard at the community centre for months before the trip. But upon arriving on holiday, Ethel grows disappointed in Reggie when he starts to show interest in another woman named Gladys. On the night of the dancing competition, Ethel finds that Reggie has run off with Gladys and she has no partner in the grand ballroom except for her 'little Willy'. In 1992 Ethel's adored pug Willy succumbs to old-age and she has to make the heart-breaking decision to put him down. Regulars at The Queen Victoria pub raise money to buy Ethel a new dog, but she refuses to accept it, saying Willy is irreplaceable. By the mid 90s Ethel is seen much less frequently. She is seen occasionally however, usually when a big event is occurring or to celebrate Christmas and New Year with her old friends on the Square. After 1997 Ethel is not seen in Walford for three years, although she is mentioned often, particularly by Dot, who will often visit her off-screen in her sheltered housing.
A very frail Ethel returns to Albert Square in 2000, arriving unannounced at Pauline Fowler's house. Ethel had run away from her retirement village and had decided that she was going to come back to the square, to live in the place she loves with her old friends. Ethel is now restricted to a wheelchair and it is left to Dot to cater for her every need, which often leaves her exhausted. Ethel appears to have lost none of her zest for life, despite her considerable age, so it is a huge shock to Dot when Ethel reveals that she is suffering from terminal cancer and is not going to live much longer. Ethel reveals that she has come home to the square to die, but instead of waiting to die in agony, she wants to choose her final moments so she can die with dignity. She has been storing her morphine tablets for many weeks and it is her plan to take an overdose before the pain becomes too unbearable. However, before being able to execute her plan, she becomes too weak and is unable to administer the drugs without Dot's assistance. Dot is devastated and initially refuses to help Ethel, as to help another take their own life goes completely against her strict Christian principles. Dot spends many agonising weeks wrestling with her conscience, but she eventually agrees to grant her old friend's final wish. On the night of her 85th birthday (it was actually her 86th, but she'd always lied about her age), after a celebratory party at The Vic, Ethel decides that this was to be her last night. After blowing out the candles of her birthday cake and bidding Dot an emotional farewell, Ethel takes the pills, aided by Dot, and dies peacefully in her sleep. Ethel's last appearance is in September 2000. Her departure also marked the end of actress Gretchen Franklin's lengthy acting career; she was nearly 90 when she left EastEnders, and died on 11 July 2005 at the age of 94.
In 1985 Ethel was supposed to be 65 years old, and if you go by the date of EastEnders first episode, it would have been her birthday that day, which was the day Reg Cox was found almost dead in his flat. In the Dot and Ethel 2 hander in 1987, her year of birth was given as 1920. However in February 1995 she had her 80th birthday in The Vic. This put her year of birth as 1915. When she was dying in September 2000 she had another birthday, her 85th. On her deathbed though, she said it was not really her birthday and she was actually 86 years old. Thus her actual DOB should be 19th February 1914. Her deathbed confession was that she has always lied about her age.
Just to add to the confusion, her grave says she was born 19th February 1919.
- ↑ Episode dated 29th May 1986