Mark Albert Fowler is a fictional character in the BBC soap opera EastEnders. Mark, an original regular character when the series started in February 1985, became a semi-regular after his original portrayer David Scarboro was written out of the role in April 1985. Scarboro made brief returns to the role in 1986 and 1987. Scarboro died by suicide in April 1988, and the role was recast in 1990, with Todd Carty taking on the role. From this point the character was a permanent fixture in the series and Carty remained in the role until the character was written out of the series in early 2003. Initially a delinquent teenager, he became a changed man when he was 22. His contracting HIV forced him to grow up fast and accept his responsibilities. He frequently found it difficult to accept the restrictions of the illness, which finally claimed his life in April 2004.
Mark is the elder son of Albert Square residents Arthur Fowler (Bill Treacher) and Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard). Initially, Mark gets involved in drugs with Nick Cotton (John Altman), attempts to join a racist organisation known as The New Movement, is a suspect in Reg Cox's (Johnnie Clayton) murder, and generally clashes with his parents. With no solution to these problems in sight, he abruptly leaves home without telling anyone. He isn't seen again until eight months later when he contacts his parents through a runaways' agency and Pauline and Arthur find him in Southend-on-Sea. Mark is now living with an older Swedish woman named Ingrid and her children who call Mark Daddy and is working as a mechanic at a go-cart track. He and Ingrid split up soon afterwards and Mark moves on to work on a farm in Wales and then Gloucester and finally Newcastle.
Mark returns to Walford several times for brief visits. In July, he brings his Welsh friend Owen Hughes (Philip Brock). The duo cause problems after Cassie Carpenter (Delanie Forbes) steals their cannabis and her parents, Tony (Oscar James) and Hannah Carpenter (Sally Sagoe), catch her smoking it; the Carpenters refuse to speak to the Fowlers for some time afterward. In November, Pauline receives news that Mark is in Borstal detention centre for drug offences, burglary, and assaulting a policeman. Visiting him, Pauline finds him unrepentant but due for release in a few weeks. After his release he briefly returns to Walford, but refuses to stay despite Pauline's pleas. He isn't seen again until Christmas the same year, when he visits unexpectedly to spend the day with his family. Mark astutely guesses that Den Watts (Leslie Grantham) is his niece's father but keeps this to himself. This is the last time Mark is seen for several years
Mark returns to Albert Square, a changed man. He is more caring and stable, having grown out of his rebellious stage. His new maturity is due to the fact that he has contracted HIV, which has forced him to become more responsible. Mark develops a close friendship with Diane Butcher (Sophie Lawrence) and initially doesn't tell anyone about his HIV status. But as he and Diane grow closer, he finally tells her the truth. He believes that he contracted the virus from Gill Fowler (Susanna Dawson), his girlfriend in Newcastle, who visits briefly later that year but leaves when she sees him kissing Diane. Mark initially tells Gill that he isn't infected but later tells the truth. Mark's relationship with Diane never becomes serious but she is a good friend and confidante and persuades Mark to have counselling at the Terrence Higgins Trust. Mark initially turns on his male counsellor, relaying his bitterness at being a potential AIDS victim, but later feels the benefits of the counselling. Mark loves Diane for keeping his secret and he asks her to marry him but she gently refuses and leaves Walford to live in France.
Later that year, following the example of a friend Joe Wallace (Jason Rush) who had told his parents about being gay and HIV-positive, Mark decides to tell his parents. By now, he is dating Rachel Kominski (Jacquetta May), who advises him not to but Mark is tired of the pretence. On Boxing Day Mark tells Pauline and Arthur that he is HIV-positive. They sit in stunned silence while he scatters helpful leaflets around the house and then goes away for a while. On his return, he faces Pauline's irrational terror and Arthur's hostility. Arthur's ignorance is apparent initially as he fears that Mark will pass HIV on to him; he even bleaches everything Mark touches to avoid infection. Pauline and Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully) are understandably distraught but help Arthur to understand the illness, and are a huge support to Mark. Mark's relationship with Rachel ends, and the animosity at home send Mark back to his girlfriend Gill, who moves to London and becomes seriously ill. Gill's HIV has already progressed into AIDS and her deterioration is rapid. She is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and goes into a hospice. Mark realises that he is in love with her and asks her to marry him. Mark and Gill marry, and their honeymoon consists of one night in a hotel, before Gill returns to the hospice and dies.
Mark later befriends local teenage tearaway Mandy Salter (Nicola Stapleton) but their friendship is severely tested when she becomes obsessed with him. Mark, still grieving for Gill, is horrified when he discovers that Mandy has been reading his late wife's diary and has dressed up in her clothes. Despite this, he invites Mandy to live with him after Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth) throws her out. On Christmas Day, Mandy goes to visit her mother but is attacked by her stepfather; Mark arrives just in time to rescue her and invites her for Christmas dinner at the Fowler household.
Mark takes over running the family fruit and vegetable stall in the market after his uncle, Pete Beale (Peter Dean), leaves. He also begins casually dating his sister's housemate Shelley Lewis (Nicole Arumugam), but is reluctant to tell her about his HIV status. Whilst on a trip to Amsterdam, Shelley makes it clear to Mark that she wants to sleep with him, forcing him to admit his HIV status. Shelley is furious that he did not think to tell her this before and tells him she never wants to see him again. Mark takes the rejection badly and stops taking his HIV medication. During Christmas that year, he is rushed to hospital after collapsing. When Shelley finds out that Mark is ill, she returns and admits that she really cares for him and they reconcile. However, Shelley tries to rush things by asking Mark to meet her family and go on holiday with her parents. She becomes infatuated and tries to spend as much time with him as she can. Mark fears that the relationship is moving too quickly and Mark decides to end it. When he tries to tell Shelley this, she uses emotional blackmail to stop him, saying that she has risked her health being with him so he owes her. When this doesn't work, she threatens to tell everyone about his HIV status, but leaves Walford when her bluff doesn't work.
Mark's friend Joe Wallace dies of an AIDS related illness, and after visiting him in the hospice, he meets a Scottish woman named Ruth Aitken (Caroline Paterson), who is also visiting a friend. After a brief conversation, the two decide to go for a drink together. They start dating and Ruth copes with his HIV status but her father, a strict Presbyterian minister, refuses to give his blessing to her relationship with Mark and disowns her when she announces her plans to marry Mark. They marry in Scotland but problems surface in their marriage. She persuades Mark - and herself - that she is happy about not having children, but it is soon clear that she is fooling herself. Mark is forced to confront the Square's prejudices when the residents discover his HIV status. Mark is devastated when Arthur dies of a brain haemorrhage after being involved in a prison riot. On the day of his father's funeral, Mark becomes angry that Willy Roper (Michael Tudor-Barnes) had framed Arthur for embezzlement and assaults Willy at the cemetery. He believes that he was the one who led to Arthur's death. The depth of ignorance concerning the illness doesn't help and, led by Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor), the residents begin to boycott Mark's fruit and vegetable stall, fearing they will catch the virus. Pauline springs to her son's defence and she and Peggy have a vicious fight, but even Pauline can't diffuse the prejudice, and Mark comes home to find the words "AIDS scum" graffitied on his wall. This is too much and he decides to present his neighbours with a few facts about his illness in The Queen Victoria; firstly by telling them that he doesn't have AIDS but is HIV positive, which is a noncontagious virus, forcing them to acknowledge their bigotry. Peggy remains uncertain, but is forced to realise that Mark might appreciate a bit of support when she is diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mark and Ruth foster a six-year-old girl named Jessie Moore (Chelsey Paden), but returning her to her mother proves too heartbreaking and their marriage goes into crisis. When Mark's cousin Conor Flaherty (Seán Gleeson) shows an interest in Ruth, Mark gets jealous and the relationship falls apart. After they split, Ruth succumbs to Conor's charm and becomes pregnant by him. She leaves Walford with Conor, leaving Mark heartbroken.
Mark's feud with Nick Cotton (John Altman) resurfaces after he discovers that Nick gave his brother, Martin Fowler (James Alexandrou), ecstasy. Mark snaps, spikes Nick's drink, leads him up to the Walford viaduct, and watches delightedly as the intoxicated Nick falls. He survives but he is severely crippled, and he vengefully enlists his son Ashley (Frankie Fitzgerald) to take revenge on Mark. Ashley steals Mark's motorbike and attempts to run him over but Nick had drained the brake fluid from the bike the night before. Ashley crashes into the launderette and is killed. Nick leaves the Square shortly afterwards and never sees Mark again.
Mark grows fond of Lisa Shaw (Lucy Benjamin), who is in a rocky relationship with his enemy, Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden). When she leaves Phil, she turns to Mark. Mark takes her in and they start dating, much to Pauline's horror. Together, they concoct a plan to pretend that she is expecting Mark's baby when Phil is the actual biological father. To facilitate their lie, Mark insists that he'd taken all necessary precautions in relation to his HIV and they fool everyone for a while. Mark loves Lisa so much that he stays with her after she shoots Phil (who survives), and Mark proposes shortly after baby Louise's birth. However, Louise's godmother, Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean), tells Phil the truth about Louise's parentage and vows to take an active role in his daughter's upbringing. Mark and Lisa marry, but their happiness is short-lived: Lisa is still very much in love with Phil and Phil knows it so he seduces her in order to get more access to Louise. After Sharon discovers Phil's intentions, she talks him out of his plan and he ends the affair with Lisa, but Mark finds out and leaves the Square for a while. After just five months of marriage, Lisa leaves Mark and resumes her affair with Phil. However, Lisa soon realizes her mistake and wants to reconcile with Mark but Pauline refuses to tell her where Mark has gone.
In January 2003, Mark's doctor tells him that his body is rejecting the medication that will prolong his life and slow down the onset of AIDS. Accepting that he's about to die, he decides to leave rather than let his family see him endure a slow, painful death. He makes a tearful farewell to his family and friends and rides off on his motorbike. In April 2004, Martin receives a telephone call from Mark's nurse, informing him that Mark has died of the AIDS-related illness, Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His body is returned to Walford and he is given a heart-felt send-off by the residents.
Mark Fowler was one of the original twenty-three characters invented by the creators of EastEnders, Tony Holland and Julia Smith. Mark was a member of the first family of EastEnders, the Beales and Fowlers, and Holland took the inspiration for some of the series' earliest characters from his own London family and background. Mark's original character outline as written by Smith and Holland appeared in an abridged form in their book, EastEnders: The Inside Story.
|“||Mark will be leaving school at Easter and is fairly certain to be joining his dad in the dole queue. Mark is a very tough little lad, and at a very dodgy stage in his development...There's a kind of amoral streak in his nature...The area does have a brutalising effect on a lot of its youngsters (page 55)||”|
Several young actors were seen and read for the part of Mark (including Gary Hailes, who would later play the gay barrow boy, Barry Clark). On paper, David Scarboro was the least likely to get the job as he was relatively inexperienced, having previously only appeared in a little-known made-for-television film and Grange Hill. His reading was not a huge success as he mumbled most of his lines. However, Holland and Smith were taken with his appearance, particularly his "piercing eyes", which reminded them of James Dean. They felt that he would be "dynamite on-screen", and his likeness to their vision of the character was uncanny, so they offered him the role.
Mark was originally scripted to be a wayward delinquent and was due to feature heavily within the first year of the series. However, as soon as the regular gruelling schedule of EastEnders production established itself, it became clear that Scarboro was not happy in the role. The stress of the heavy workload and the sudden fame that came to all the actors became difficult for him to cope with. He became unhappy with the schedule and his scripts and refused to play Mark as a racist as was intended. Holland and Smith decided to write the character out of the show to allow the actor to come to terms with the situation better. On-screen, Mark was being implicated in the murder of Reg Cox (Johnnie Clayton) and was being tempted into heroin by Nick Cotton (John Altman). Fearing Nick and the police, Mark ran away from home in April 1985. As this had not been the original plan for the character, it meant a hectic period of re-writing early in 1985. The first fifty-odd scripts were reworked to accommodate this major change. Many of the stories intended for Mark were subsequently given to Kelvin Carpenter (Paul J. Medford), Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) and Mark's sister Michelle (Susan Tully) - which partially explains why her character became so prominent in the first year. It still left a gap though, because several of Mark's functions in the serial, as slightly the eldest of the youngsters, could not have been taken over by the others. A new character needed to be introduced to restore the balance to its original shape, which is why the character of Simon Wicks (Nick Berry) was introduced. This meant introducing the audience to a character and a story approximately a year before it had been originally intended.
Scarboro returned to the show briefly in December 1985 in a storyline that saw Mark's parents, Pauline (Wendy Richard) and Arthur (Bill Treacher) search for him in Southend. The storyline's intention was to help highlight the problems some parents face when their teenage children disappear from home. He returned again for brief stints in 1986 and 1987. His final appearance as Mark was on Christmas Day 1987. However, the actor was never to make a full-time return and Scarboro committed suicide in 1988.
Subsequently, the role was recast in 1990 to the actor Todd Carty, renowned for his role as Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill. At this time, Mark returned to the series as a permanent character. The most notable storyline involving Mark was the revelation that he had contracted HIV. Mark discovered he was HIV positive in 1991, and informed his family of this on Christmas Day that year. There then followed a traumatic journey as he struggled first to come to terms with the news, then track down his previous partners to inform them that he was infected with the virus. The problems didn't end there, however, as Mark then had to battle with the fear and ignorance of those living around him including his parents. Many of Albert Square's residents initially rejected him when they found out that he was HIV positive. Mark married one of his ex-partners Gill (Susanna Dawson), who had also been infected with the virus but in her case it had progressed to AIDS, and she subsequently died the day after the wedding. The episode in which Gill died (written by Debbie Cook and directed by Leonard Lewis) has been chosen by writer Colin Brake as one of the most memorable episodes of 1992. In his book, EastEnders: The First Ten Years Blake comments, "Although in many ways the episode was sad and downbeat it was not without its positive aspects, as Mark talked to his sister about his own mortality." Susanna Dawson, the actress who played Gill, found the experience of playing a person living with, and dying from, AIDS so intense that she co-produced an educational video based on the subject for use in schools and wrote a book, The Gill and Mark Story, to accompany it.
Mark became the first mainstream soap character to be diagnosed as HIV-positive. The storyline came after a government request to "spread the word". Mark's story also helped dispel the myth that HIV is an automatic death sentence. He lived with the condition for 13 years before dying of an AIDS related illness. The Terrence Higgins Trust worked with the production team for the duration of Mark's story. Despite all the public health campaigns concerning HIV transmission, the biggest peak in requests for testing in Britain was seen in January 1991 when Mark Fowler was diagnosed HIV-positive. Carty has commented: "I feel that the storyline educated people at a time when there were lots of misconceptions about HIV and AIDS…My main concern was that they'd get it right and, overall, I think they did - because it showed someone living with HIV, as opposed to dying of it."
The storyline was widely applauded for the way it handled the plot and the following issues that the scriptwriters explored, from antiretroviral drugs, safe sex and prejudice. The storyline was so successful in raising awareness that a 1999 survey by the National AIDS Trust found teenagers got most of their information about HIV from the soap.
The character of Mark remained in the show for a further 13 years after his reintroduction, and featured in an array of storylines including two failed marriages, which were scripted to highlight the difficulties that can occur in a relationship when one partner has HIV and the other does not. Ultimately Mark overcame the stigma and he enjoyed several years of happy, healthy living before finally succumbing to an AIDS-related illness and dying in April 2004 off-screen. EastEnders executive producer Louise Berridge said Carty had made a "fantastic contribution" to the soap and Mark has been a "pivotal figure" on Albert Square, but the character had finally run its course.
Campaigners have since suggested that Mark's HIV storyline could have been handled better in the latter years. Lisa Power, head of policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said "in some ways the storyline was not reflective of what was happening at the time as the condition was more common among the gay community". She also said "he was perhaps killed off too early as advancements in drugs are helping people live for much longer... Saying that, one decent soap episode is worth a thousand leaflets in schools. That is why we would always go out of our way to help scriptwriters. TV and films can be very powerful."
Carty had said that the late EastEnders star Wendy Richard was like a mother to him. "When I was filming my goodbye scenes, those tears were real. Seeing Wendy break down was one of the most poignant moments. The whole day was so emotional - I had to hold it together and stay strong for Wendy". Carty had also told The Mirror that the pair had struck up a 20-year friendship after they were cast.