The tortured Grant Mitchell, who has been punching walls, wives, brothers, brothers-in-law, mums and anyone else who crosses his path over the past few years in EastEnders, is right up there with Minnie Caldwell in the Soap Hall of Immortality. And, though we know we shouldn't, we girlies are suckers for it. Bianca may fink 'e's a fug; Simon may counsel her to leave; Beppe may be offering her New Man solace to make up for the fact that Grant's 'ad a fling wiv 'er mum, but we all know why poor beleaguered Tiffany keeps on going back.
Forget all those pretty boys put in to make the female heart flutter; real women like bad boy Grant. This is a mystery to all the world's real men, who simply can't see why grown women, who'd ruthlessly freeze real- life miscreants out of all social intercourse, go gooey at the sight of those bulging biceps, jaw and eyes. But Grant Mitchell is the reason most of us watch EastEnders. I first fell for those dodgy charms the day someone stole the charity collection box from the bar at the Queen Vic. All the other characters rushed around. Grant just leant against the door, rolled his eyes and muttered: "Good old East End. Never lets yer down."
This is his true appeal: he's the boxer-philosopher, the shaven-headed romantic, the straight-faced comedian. Those eyes can go from shark to puppy dog in a single scene. He is, in other words, a Real Person.
For Grant is a first in the soaps, even in TV drama - the multi-dimensional wife-beater. Violent men on the box are usually little more than cyphers for domestic violence, one-dimensional monsters representing an act, not a state. Our comfort zones don't allow us, on the whole, to see the culprits as People Like Us: people who evince humour, depression, generosity, cynicism, kindness to old ladies, loyalty, genuine tears of remorse, deep thought, deep affections. Grant is not someone for whom violence is a driving force: for him it explodes only when he can't see the wood for trees.
The domestic violence debate has been crying out for a dramatic character like this, who can move the debate on from a simple one of women as victims to include the concept of men as victims of themselves. Grant is a brilliant character, brilliantly written, and brilliantly played by Ross Kemp, who is undoubtedly one of today's finest actors.
Kemp brings to Mitchell a level of vulnerability that a lesser actor would have muffed entirely: even when he's shrugging on his bomber jacket and shouting "leave it arrt" or "it's doin' me 'ead in", you still see a lost kid who never learned to talk. And when Tiff goes under the wheels of a car while running away from another outburst, one thing is for certain - those tears of sorrow and remorse will be completely believable.