Diane Maureen Butcher was a fictional character in the popular BBC soap opera EastEnders. She was played by Sophie Lawrence. Diane appeared as a regular character between 1988 and 1991, when Lawrence decided to leave. The character made several brief returns since this time in 1993, 1994, and 1997. On November 3, 2007, it was revealed that Diane and her sister Janine would both be briefly returning to EastEnders in 2008 for the screen death of their father Frank Butcher. It was revealed in Heat magazine that when Diane returns, she will be in a relationship with a woman.
Character creation and development
Background and casting
EastEnders had been on air for three years before the character of Diane made her first screen appearance in May 1988. At the time, big changes were occurring "behind-the-scenes". Co-creator Julia Smith took "a more back-seat role" as Series Producer, which allowed producer Mike Gibbon to take control of the making of the program.
The arrival of the Butcher family in May 1988 signified an end of an era for the soap, as Den and Angie Watts vacated their positions as landlord and landlady of The Queen Victoria public house, leaving the head of the Butcher family, Frank (Mike Reid), and his girlfriend Pat Wicks (Pam St. Clement) to take over tenancy. Along with Frank came his two teenage children, Ricky (Sid Owen) and Diane, played by Sophie Lawrence. Lawrence was 15 at the time, and she got the part in EastEnders straight after leaving stage school. Lawrence has commented, "I always just thought that I would be a dancer and go into a West End musical and that I would be very, very happy. Then I got EastEnders when I was 15 and it kind of changed my life."
Diane has been described as "dreamy" and someone who "was always destined for more romantic things than the reality of Walford." "Sensitive and artistic", for a time Diane was portrayed as the least troublesome of the Butcher family, the one who conformed the most, though she began to rebel against her father's heavy handed paternalism.
EastEnders writer Sarah Phelps has described the character as sharp, smart with elements of her mother in her. Phelps adds "she had a sharp tongue and a quick mind...you could see her looking at her family and looking at Walford...and thinking 'this ain't for me'." Sophie Lawrence has said, "Diane was a bit of a wild child...she was a bit naughty, she was always in trouble. I think it was something to do with losing her mother at an early age...She ran away [from home] to make a statement. I think it was a 'notice me' kind of thing. It worked."
In the 2008 television documentary EastEnders: Ricky and Bianca, Diane was described as "rather normal" for a member of the Butcher family. Upon her return in 2008, the character had altered and matured. Lawrence has commented, "coming back, she seems quite nice actually, she seem more relaxed. She's so much older I suppose, so she's sort of grown up really. She seems nice and kind and settled with her life."
The most notable storyline featuring Diane during her initial stint on the soap concerned the character running away from home in 1990. In the on-screen events, Diane was shown to be increasingly unhappy towards the latter part of 1989, exacerbated by the sudden departure of her boyfriend Paul Priestly (Mark Thrippleton). Diane decided to runaway from home in January 1990 when it seemed her family had forgotten her 16th birthday — they were actually planning a surprise party for her that she never got to see. Diane's disappearance dominated the programme in the beginning of 1990. Focus was placed upon the effect her departure had on the Butcher family, in particular her father Frank who searched unsuccessfully for his missing daughter.
When the storyline had originally been scripted in 1989, it was left open-ended, meaning that none of the writers or producers of EastEnders had decided whether Diane would ever be found. However, towards the end of 1989, EastEnders acquired a new executive producer, Michael Ferguson, and according to scriptwriter Colin Brake, one of his first decisions was that "Diane must be found". The subsequent story of her returning home and adjusting to life back in Walford was developed.
The episodes where Diane returned home aired towards the end of March 1990. They were written by Tony McHale. The episodes have been described as "extraordinary" and a "radical departure from the normal EastEnders form", because they used flashbacks to tell the story of Diane's three months living on the streets of London as a homeless girl. Simultaneously, they also told the present story of Frank finding Diane, and bringing her back to Walford. Colin Brake has described them as powerful episodes, which "returned EastEnders to the tradition of gritty realism that had been integral to the early episodes." In the flashbacks, it was revealed that Diane had lived rough on the streets and joined a gang of runaways, befriending a young girl named Disa O'Brien (Jan Graveson). Diane also became invoved with an artist named Matthew Taylor, who took nude photos of her and then constructed a life-size sculpture of her, which later turned up in Albert Square, enraging Frank. This ignited Diane's own interest in art, which was demonstrated later in the year when she painted a mural on the side of the Butcher household. Actress Sophie Lawrence did research for the storyline among real homeless people.
Subsequent storylines featuring Diane included involvement in the plight of pregnant runaway Disa, who Diane brought back to Walford to bond with her baby — Disa had initially abandoned the baby on Diane's doorstep on Christmas Day 1990. The bulk of the character's narrative concerned a blossoming romance with one of EastEnders' original characters, Mark Fowler (Todd Carty), who returned to the serial as a regular character in 1990 after a three year absence. The relationship was never consummated however, because in January 1991 Mark revealed to Diane that he was HIV positive — he was the first mainstream soap opera character to be diagnosed. The episode, written by Tony McHale, has been described as the "important" beginning to Mark's HIV storyline, as Mark's secret HIV status was finally revealed to the audience as well as Diane. In the on-screen events, Diane tried to be supportive to Mark and persuaded him to have counselling at the Terrence Higgins Trust, though their relationship was never quite the same again; when Mark, prompted by his mother Pauline, asked Diane to marry him, she turned him down and left the serial to move to France shortly after.
Off-screen Sophie Lawrence had decided to quit the soap to take on new projects, which included an attempt at a music career. She has commented, "I left because I wanted to play something different. In doing that, you have to grow out of the public's perception of you as an EastEnders character. But I wanted variety of roles. I felt I couldn't just carry on being Diane indefinitely. I wanted to be an actor, not just a personality."
The character has made numerous brief returns to the serial as a guest character. In 1993, she was featured in a special week of episodes, filmed on-location in Paris, France, where Frank discovered, to his horror, that Diane was pregnant with an unknown foreign man's baby. In June 1994, Diane returned to Walford as part of a storyline involving her father's disappearance. In 1997, another week's worth of episodes set in Paris reunited Ricky and Diane. Shortly after, the character returned to the soap's setting of Walford, but Lawrence reportedly quit weeks after making her comeback. She had since commented on her reasons for quitting so soon: "Going back to EastEnders was like going back to school and none of your friends are there. I was [originally] there with people like Nick Berry (Simon Wicks) and Letitia Dean (Sharon Watts) and they'd all gone. One of the young actors, who will remain nameless, made me a coffee and started telling me all about what it was like. He had no idea I'd been in the soap before." In addition, Lawrence was suffering physically as she was still getting over injuries she sustained from a car accident and was forced to remove a neck brace for filming purposes. On-screen, the character departed to travel with her musician boyfriend, abandoning her young son in her brother's care. Bosses at EastEnders had reportedly been keen for Lawrence to remain on the show, as they were hoping for an on-screen reunion of the Butcher family; Mike Reid had agreed to reprise his role as Frank, though Diane departed before his reintroduction.
Despite claiming that she would never return to EastEnders in 1997, Lawrence was upset when she discovered that both Sid Owen and Mike Reid (Ricky and Frank) were leaving EastEnders in 2000 as, in her opinion, it ruled out any chance of her character returning to the show. She commented, "It would be great fun to get all the Butcher clan back for a few months. I hear Diane's name mentioned quite a lot on the show — it makes me feel like I've never really left. But all the people I'm connected with are leaving, which makes going back harder and I'm really sorry about that. It would be great to have the Butcher clan come back for Mike's sendoff. But, sadly, I don't think there is the space for me to go back full-time." In 2002, she was asked if she would ever return to the soap and she responded, "If they asked me, I’d love to go back. Not on a long term contract or anything because I love doing other things but I’d definitely like to go back."
However, the character did not make another appearance in the soap until late March 2008. Sophie Lawrence was asked to reprise the role by executive producer Diederick Santer as part of a storyline that has been dubbed "Frank Week". Mike Reid died in 2007 and due to the popularity of the character he played, Santer decided that Frank would also be killed off in the serial. A funeral was held for the character as a tribute to both the actor and the "iconic" character he played. Lawrence was one of several actors brought back to the show especially for the storyline. She was joined by Charlie Brooks, who played her younger sister Janine and Sid Owen as Ricky. Of the three, only Owen's return was permanent.
Commenting to Digital Spy about her return, Lawrence said: "I've not been in the show for 11 years and it's not like I've ever thought "I'll never go back", you just think that your chance to go back has gone. It never crossed my mind that the occasion would ever arise, so when I got the phone call, it was really odd. There was never any doubt that I'd do it for Mike [Reid] and it's not something that's really been done — I don't think someone's ever died off-screen and then they've done the funeral on-screen. I think everyone was quite wary because it's quite an odd thing to do to have attended his real funeral and then go back to film it all over again. There was some trepidation about how it was going to work. But as soon as we arrived, it was like 11 years of your life had been wiped out and you'd been there the day before [...] I had this really lovely scene with Sid [Owen] where I said: "Isn't it strange, you imagine you’d come back and everything would be here waiting for us just like it was." Diane's saying everything's moved on, but for me it was the opposite, I'd got back there and everything was the same."
The character was brought back for a period of four episodes. Lawrence has revealed that she thought she would have minimal involvement in the storyline and was surprised at how much dialogue she was given. Each of the returning characters were given their own storyline; in Diane's case, she was in a relationship with a female doctor named Suzanne. Lawrence commented, "I think [Diane]'s quite alright now — she's come back and she's sorted. She knows the score." When asked if she would ever make a full-time return, Lawrence said, "Once you're re-established, you're a character that other characters can go and visit. For example, after Diane's left Walford again, Pat goes to stay with her for a couple of weeks. So there's no reason why I couldn't return for a two-week 'holiday' to see the kids!"
Diane arrived in Albert Square in 1988 as the daughter of second-hand car salesman, Frank Butcher and sister to Ricky Butcher. Her mother June died in 1987, and when her father remarried Pat Wicks and took over as landlord of the Queen Victoria pub, she lived with them there. Later the family moved out of the pub to run a bed and breakfast elsewhere on the Square.
Problematic and strong-willed, she fell for the Butchers' lodger Paul Priestly in 1989, much to Frank's annoyance. Diane took the relationship more seriously than Paul, and she was devastated when he finished with her to begin a fling with hairdreser Julie Cooper. Paul and Julie did not last, and he immediately returned to Diane. Scorned, Diane could not forgive Julie for taking Paul, and she played various vengeful tricks on her as payback, such as sabotaging the opening day of her salon and sending her a male escort to make her look desperate. Julie responded by flirting with Paul to infuriate Diane further, and their feud culminated in a showdown in The Queen Vic one night, which resulted in Julie humiliating Diane.Paul quickly lost interest in Diane. Ignoring his reticence, Diane convinced herself that Paul was contemplating proposing to her, so she was broken hearted when he returned to his home town in Leeds in December 1989; he left without saying goodbye to her or telling her that he was leaving.
Feeling misunderstood and unloved after believing that her family had forgotten her 16th birthday, Diane ran away from home in January 1990. She joined the down-and-outs on the streets of London. She was sinking fast when a street-wise teenager, Disa O'Brien, took her under her wing, showing her how to survive. Disa turned to prostitution for extra money, and Diane posed nude for photographs for a man name Matthew Taylor who made a sculpture of her. She eventually returned to Albert Square in March 1990, after months of searching by her father, but she struggled to adjust to life back in Walford. As a result of her time away, Diane developed an interest in art. When Taylor turned up trying to woo Diane, he deposited the life size sculpute of her in Albert Square. Frank was livid; he smashed up the statue and confronted Taylor, further alienating Diane.
Diane developed a friendship with Mark Fowler when he returned to his family home in 1990, and she enlisted his help in finding Disa, who was heavily pregnant and living in "Cardboard City". Disa refused their help initially, and after she gave birth to the baby, Disa abandoned the child, leaving her on Diane's doorstep on Christmas Day 1990. Diane and Mark cared for the baby in secret until they found Disa and persuaded Frank to allow her and the baby to stay in his mother Mo's empty flat. Diane took care of them and attempted to help Disa bond with her child. Diane was keen for her relationship with Mark to progress, though he was hesitant, which upset her. Eventually, Mark confessed that he was HIV-positive. She pledged to stick with him, even though the task was daunting. She acted as a confidante, helping him to face up to his illness and seek counselling and professional help. Diane was unsettled when Mark began spending time with his HIV+ ex-girlfriend Gill, and when Mark proposed to Diane in June 1991, she gently turned him down. The following month she left Walford to go on a fruit picking holiday in France. She telephoned Frank in September to say she would not be returning.
Diane was seen in 1993, when Frank visited her in France. He was horrified to discover she was pregnant, even more so when he discovered that she was unsure who the father was — A French man or a German man. After a heated argument Frank stormed off, refusing to speak to Diane, but they managed to make peace by the time Frank left — Diane drove to the ferry and tearfully waved Frank goodbye. Diane returned for a short stint in 1994, to inform Pat that Frank was alive and well and had merely run away from Walford following his mental breakdown — Frank had visited Diane off-screen in France. Ricky visited Diane in France in 1997, and spent time with her young son Jacques. Diane was in a tempestuous relationship with a Cameroonian musician named Thomas, and when this abruptly ended, she and son Jacques turned up in Walford, looking for a place to stay. However a short time later, Thomas visited Diane and asked her to go travelling with him on tour in Africa. Diane went without informing anyone she was going, leaving Jacques with Ricky and his wife Bianca. Pregnant Bianca struggled to care for troublesome Jacques, and even considered having an abortion as a result. Jacques was sent to live in Manchester with Diane's sister Clare, until Diane retrieved him and took him back to live with her in Paris.
In 2008 Frank died of Cancer at his and Diane's home in Paris. Frank had asked Diane and Ricky to have his funeral in Walford. Diane returned on March 31, 2008 alongside Ricky, where they met with their former stepmothers Pat Evans and Peggy Mitchell to convey the news of Frank's death. The following day, Diane was glad to see her sister Janine back for Frank's funeral. During a conversation with Janine, Diane revealed that she had been in a relationship with a woman called Suzanne for the previous three years. Diane has explained the absences of her son, Jacques (who refused to attend the funeral) and her sister, Frank's eldest daughter, Clare (Clare currently lives in Australia, and had already visited Frank when he was ill to say her goodbyes). At Frank's wake in the Queen Vic, Diane was approached by Ian Beale. Ian indicated that he wished to speak to Diane, who initially thought Ian was making a pass at her. She later realised that Ian wanted to speak to her about her experience of running away when she was a teenager. He believed her insights might help him find his own missing daughter, Lucy Beale. Diane told Ian back at his house about her experiences, for which Ian was grateful. Frank left little of value in his estate once his debts were settled, but he left individual gifts to each of his children. Diane received some of her old school paintings and drawings. Diane helped Ricky, Janine and Pat scatter Frank's ashes in the flowerbeds of the Square.
In reference to Diane's return to the soap in 2008 for Frank's funeral, Paul English from the Daily Record accused EastEnders of using actor Mike Reid's real death as "an opportunity to reintroduce some popular old faces. Boiled down, it's cashing in on the dead - but it's how Frank might have done it himself."
- Brake, Colin (1995). EastEnders: The First 10 Years: A Celebration. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-37057-2.
- "Sophie flies into town!", BBC, 2004-11-25. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- "Diane Butcher", BBC. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- Lock, Kate (2000). EastEnders Who's Who. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-55178-X.
- Kingsley, Hilary (1990). The EastEnders Handbook. BBC books. ISBN 0-563-206010-563-36292-8-2.
- Template:Cite episode
- Rick Fulton. "I'll hate to see Frank go... it means EastEnders' door could shut on me forever; Square's now out for Sophie", Daily Record, 2000-09-25. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- "AND EASTENDER SOPHIE IS LEAVING FOR LAUGHS", Daily Mirror, 1997-10-12. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- "What's Sophie's choice?", BBC, 2002-08-10. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- "Frank’s for the memories", The Sun, 2007-11-02. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- "Charlie Brooks and Sophie Lawrence", Digital Spy, 2008-03-29. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- "Sid cries real tears for Frank", The Sun, 2008-03-29. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- "Remembering Mike Reid", MSN. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- "Charlie Brooks and Sophie Lawrence", BBC, 2008-03-26. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
- Paul English. "Take A Butcher's At This Lame Comeback", Daily Record, 2003-04-03. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
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