His name is up there in the pantheon of iconic 1990s TV characters, but few people realize the real-life turbulence behind the fictional character of Wellard the dog.
By, 25 Jun 2019
Wellard, a Belgian Tervuren, was introduced to the EastEnders cast of characters in November 1994, when young Robbie Jackson (played by Dean Gaffney) took in an apparent stray – only to be forced to return the dog to neglectful owner Mr Hammond.
When Wellard then ran away to return to Albert Square, Robbie realized he has been mistreated, and took custody of him from his brutal former owner. He soon proved his love for the dog by choosing him over a girlfriend with a dog allergy.
But even as Wellard added a soft spot to the notoriously grim and hard-edged world of EastEnders, the actor portraying the dog was hiding a not-so-deep secret: he was a she.
Zenna, who was cast for her mongrel-like looks and ability to take direction, fell pregnant in 1996, much to the shock of the show’s producers who though the actor was male. She later delivered an astonishing ten puppies.
She was briefly replaced by a looky-likey during maternity leave, but the damage was done. Facing the same prejudice so many human actresses encounter, she was forcibly retired in 1998 due to her fading looks – ironic, since the make-up department had needed to use gel to get her looking as rough and unkempt as the script demanded.
Like the Redgraves, but dogs
Like so many great acting dynasties, Zenna was supplanted in the public eye by her own daughter. Her name was Chancer, and she was in turn replaced by Zenna’s granddaughter, Kyte, best known for her performances in Touch of Frost, 102 Dalmatians, and Gladiator.
Wellard was finally killed off in 2008 - heart-wrenchingly, it was Robbie’s sister, Bianca, who was responsible for feeding the dog the chocolate that killed ‘him’. Dogs are allergic to chocolates, which are very dangerous for them. Digital Spy called it the eighth saddest dog death in fiction.
The character had confronted dognapping, road accidents, and the dubious infamy of having sunk his teeth into Ian Beale’s bottom over the years as he was passed from character to character in Robbie’s absence.
A follow-up dog, Wellard 2, briefly took to the limelight on Robbie’s return to Albert Square in 2015 when the now middle-aged character bought a dog for his son.
However, the dog’s role was short-lived, no doubt caught up in the behind-the-scenes politics that so frequently rob actor Dean Gaffney’s presence from British TV screens.