When Den Watts tried to tell his wife Angie he wanted a divorce on Thursday 16 October 1986, EastEnders established a new tradition: the “two-hander”, an episode featuring just two characters. That’s become a recognised EastEnders format in the decades since.
With only 23 two-handers to date, the format accounts for just 0.3% of all episodes – but they do tend to be the ones you remember. The strategy was risky, as series creator and producer Julia Smith recalled in EastEnders: The Inside Story in 1987:
Den and Angie’s traumatic two-hander was a risky experiment. A thirty-minute episode with only two people in it had never been attempted in a soap before. Even with a tantalising story, and brilliant writing and acting, would the episode hold up? Press and public were in agreement that it did.
Wikipedia lists all the two-hander episodes, so I won’t repeat all those details here. But that list raises some questions: just how often does EastEnders do this? Is there any kind of pattern? Can we predict when the next one will happen? Let’s have a look.
The table below shows the original date of broadcast for every EastEnders two-hander, and how many days since the previous two-hander. (In the case of the very first one, I’ve counted the days since the show itself began.)
|1||Den and Angie||Thursday 16 October 1986||604|
|2||Dot and Ethel||Thursday 2 July 1987||259|
|3||Sharon and Michelle||Tuesday 4 April 1989||642|
|4||Grant and Phil||Tuesday 15 November 1994||2051|
|5||Pat and Peggy||Tuesday 27 October 1998||1442|
|6||Roy and Frank||Thursday 29 October 1998||2|
|7||Matthew and Steve||Thursday 3 February 2000||462|
|8||Ricky and Phil||Thursday 20 April 2000||77|
|9||Kat and Zoe||Tuesday 2 October 2001||530|
|10||Sonia and Dot||Thursday 9 May 2002||219|
|11||Phil and Sharon||Thursday 5 September 2002||119|
|12||Little Mo and Trevor||Thursday 31 October 2002||56|
|13||Lisa and Phil||Thursday 27 March 2003||147|
|14||Den and Sharon||Tuesday 30 September 2003||187|
|15||Den and Dennis||Thursday 1 April 2004||184|
|16||Kat and Alfie||Tuesday 25 May 2004||54|
|17||Den and Dot||Thursday 26 August 2004||93|
|18||Martin and Sonia||Friday 5 January 2007||862|
|19||Max and Stacey||Friday 26 March 2010||1176|
|20||Sharon and Michelle||Thursday 12 January 2017||2484|
|21||Phil and Jay||Monday 21 August 2017||221|
|22||Linda and Stuart||Thursday 13 December 2018||479|
|23||Jay and Lola||Thursday 18 May 2023||1617|
There’s no obvious pattern here. Clearly some producers like two-handers more than others. There’s a relative glut between 1998 and 2004. That period accounts for half the list.
Unsurprisingly, as EastEnders progressed from 2 episodes a week to 3 (in 1994) and then 4 (in 2001), changing production demands meant the format was used less often.
The only pairing to have happened more than once is Sharon and Michelle, but there’s an asterisk there as Michelle changed actresses in the meantime.
This year’s two-hander between Jay and Lola was the first in almost five years. Will we wait that long again until the next one? Quite possibly. The longest gap between two-handers is just under 7 years.
The average length of time between two-hander episodes is 608 days. If that broad pattern sticks, we won’t see another one until 2025 at the earliest.