EastEnders two-handers statistics: How often do they happen?

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.)

#CharactersDateDays
1Den and AngieThursday 16 October 1986604
2Dot and EthelThursday 2 July 1987259
3Sharon and MichelleTuesday 4 April 1989642
4Grant and PhilTuesday 15 November 19942051
5Pat and PeggyTuesday 27 October 19981442
6Roy and FrankThursday 29 October 19982
7Matthew and SteveThursday 3 February 2000462
8Ricky and PhilThursday 20 April 200077
9Kat and ZoeTuesday 2 October 2001530
10Sonia and DotThursday 9 May 2002219
11Phil and SharonThursday 5 September 2002119
12Little Mo and TrevorThursday 31 October 200256
13Lisa and PhilThursday 27 March 2003147
14Den and SharonTuesday 30 September 2003187
15Den and DennisThursday 1 April 2004184
16Kat and AlfieTuesday 25 May 200454
17Den and DotThursday 26 August 200493
18Martin and SoniaFriday 5 January 2007862
19Max and StaceyFriday 26 March 20101176
20Sharon and MichelleThursday 12 January 20172484
21Phil and JayMonday 21 August 2017221
22Linda and StuartThursday 13 December 2018479
23Jay and LolaThursday 18 May 20231617

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.

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