Me and my mate Dirty Den, a real-life murderer

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                FRIENDS (UP TO A POINT): Tavener, third left, with Grantham on his left

ROGER TAVENER remembers two encounters with actor Leslie Grantham, the roguish Dirty Den in TV’s EastEnders, who has died aged 71

Venice. Late 80s.

I arrive on a water-taxi from Marco Polo airport and step off into St Mark's Square.

There are hundreds of tourists milling around.

Above the hubbub, a booming voice: “Mr Tavener, I presume. I suggest you eat the prawns, preferably a few days old.”

The Beeb are in the middle of filming an EastEnders episode and it’s quite embarrassing.

I’d never met Dirty Den, actor Leslie Grantham, but he'd obviously read my stuff, and wasn’t very impressed. And wants me to know it.

I’m in for a tough week. I’ve never watched the show. I phone my mum for the latest storylines if I need to.

But we meet, during interviews, and bury the hatchet, fortunately not in my fucking head.

He's already served a long prison sentence for shooting dead a taxi-driver during national service in Germany.

He's actually a really good bloke, full of that Sarf Londonesque humour, entertaining and great company.

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And, at the time, the UK's top male TV star. So it’s an important contact at a time when Express editor Nick Lloyd wants loads of soap news.

If 15 million a week are watching the show, then we need to pick up as many of them as we can, he reasons. And he’s right.

Les is enjoying the company of the hacks and he’s holding court. Wine flows.

He has a birthday. Express snapper Dougie Morrison doesn’t realise he's the only one singing “Yappy birthday to you,” in an upmarket Venetian restaurant.

Later, about 5.17am, on the way home, we play football against the local road roadsweepers in the square. The doors of the Cathedral are our opponents’ goal. Sacrilege?

Les is in goal. The Sun's Kevin O'Sullivan, a useful right-winger, plonks one on my head and we beat the Azzurri 1-0.

Kev, the Star's Geoff Baker and I form a decent relationship with the actor.

It all goes pear-shaped when his co-star Angie, actress Anita Dobson, quits a year later.

I need a front page so run a load of exclusive stuff which, in truth, was off the record. Most of it uncomplimentary to Ms Dobson.

A few months later I’m in Monte Carlo. Grantham's there launching a new show.

And he's seriously angry. 

He tells my girlfriend that if he finds me he’s going to throw me in the Med. I kind of believe him. He’s got form, after all.

This is where I came in. 

So I find a nice corner in Harry's Bar and enjoy the Riviera. While my colleagues feed me with info.

We never met again... And I lived to tell this tale.



© 2005-2018 Alastair McIntyre