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|Portrayed by||Lindsey Coulson|
|Created by||Tony McHale|
|Introduced by||Leonard Lewis (1993)
Matthew Robinson (1999)
Diederick Santer (2010)
|Duration||1993–97, 1999, 2010–|
|First appearance||16 November 1993|
|Spin-off appearances||EastEnders: Last Tango in Walford (2010)|
|Date of birth||3 October 1962|
Carol Ann Jackson (née Branning) is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Lindsey Coulson. The character was introduced in 1993 as part of a new problem family. Coulson decided to quit the role in 1997, but she returned temporarily in 1999 as part of a storyline that marked Carol's daughter Bianca's exit. On 25 October 2009 it was confirmed that she would return along with other members of the Jackson family, Sonia, Robbie and Billie, on 15 February 2010, although her first appearance in 2010 is in EastEnders: Last Tango in Walford, an episode released exclusively to DVD on 8 February 2010. Carol is depicted as a tough, working-class grafter, fiercely defensive of her four children. Carol's storylines include relationships with several men including David Wicks, Alan Jackson, Dan Sullivan, Connor Stanley, Eddie Moon and Masood Ahmed, and the death of her son Billie from binge drinking. Carol, along with the rest of her family took a break from the show in 2012, and returned on 29 October 2012.
Carol Branning was born in the East End of London, as the third child of Jim and Reenie Branning. When she was 13, she fell in love with David Wicks (Michael French) and slept with him when she was 14, resulting in a child, Bianca (Patsy Palmer). Carol's family tried to force her to have an abortion. However, her brother, Derek Branning (Jamie Foreman), hated David and after learning of Carol's pregnancy, beat David up and terrorised his family. This resulted in David and his family leaving Walford for Romford in 1976, with David believing Carol aborted their child. Carol then had a son, Robbie (Dean Gaffney), with Gary Bolton (Bruce Byron), whom she was engaged to, but left him when he got another woman pregnant. She then had a one-night stand with Terry Cant producing Sonia (Natalie Cassidy) before finding love with Alan Jackson (Howard Antony) and having a second son, Billie (Devon Anderson). Though unmarried, Carol and her children all took Alan's last name.
Carol arrives in Albert Square in 1993, working alongside Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard) as Dot Cotton's (June Brown) replacement in the launderette. She soon moves to the Square with her family, Alan and his grandmother Blossom (Mona Hammond), and her four children. Carol is soon forced to tell David, who returns to Walford, that he is Bianca's father when it looks like they are about to start a relationship. David agrees to keep this a secret from Bianca, but is forced to tell her when she tries to seduce him. Carol and Alan attend the wedding of Carol's sister April (Debbie Arnold), where her father Jim (John Bardon) and brother Derek (Terence Beesley) show their disapproval of Carol and Alan's interracial relationship. After April is jilted by her fiancé, Alan decides he wants to marry Carol there and then. However, Alan grows jealous of Carol's renewed friendship with David and embarks on an affair with singer Frankie Pierre (Syan Blake), moving out of the Jacksons' house, leaving Carol to reignite a romance with David. Both affairs are short lived and Carol and Alan soon reunite.
Billie is the only witness to an armed robbery and is kidnapped to prevent him from testifying in court. He is eventually returned safely, but Carol and the rest of her family (bar Bianca) are placed in a witness protection programme and move away from Walford for their safety. In her time away, Carol separates from Alan due to his mental breakdown and starts a relationship with Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass). Carol, Robbie and Sonia return to Walford with Dan, and it is revealed that Dan was in a relationship with Bianca when she was 15 and he was married. Bianca keeps this a secret from Carol, but they begin an affair during a family holiday. The affair only ends when Carol becomes pregnant with Dan's baby, however, Carol finds an old photo of Bianca and Dan and quizzes him about it. He tells only part of the truth and says that they had a relationship long before he ever met Carol. Carol believes this but is angry at Bianca for not telling her. Carol confronts Bianca who reveals the affair, not knowing what Dan had said. Carol throws Dan out, tells Bianca's husband Ricky Butcher (Sid Owen) about the affair and disowns her daughter. She aborts Dan's child and leaves Albert Square in 1999. Off-screen, in the years following, Carol moves to Balham with Billie. She tends to her father in 2007 following his stroke, but remains estranged from Bianca and her children.
Carol turns up uninvited to Bianca and Ricky's second wedding to stop her son Billie attending. Despite initial animosity, Carol and Bianca make amends for the past and Carol moves back to Walford, having lost her job in Balham as a school secretary. Billie and Carol regularly clash regarding Carol's controlling parenting and Billie's connection with a gang. When a gang member attempts to shoot Billie, Carol's brother Jack (Scott Maslen) is accidentally shot instead. Blaming himself, Billie joins the army and despite initial opposition, Carol gives her blessing.
Billie is given leave on his birthday, so Carol arranges a party for him and his friends. Copious amounts of alcohol are consumed by Billie and the next day he is found dead on the settee. Distraught, Carol pushes away her family, suggesting they are responsible for Billie's death, until her brother Max (Jake Wood) tells her Billie only joined the army to get away from her. When Carol sees a video on Billie's laptop in which he says she is a control freak and wants her to die, she is devastated. She bans her family from attending Billie's funeral, and it is only she, Alan and Blossom who attend. In her grief, Carol attempts to kiss Alan, but he rejects her as he is now married with a young son. Struck by sadness, Carol plans to commit suicide by overdose, but is interrupted by Connor Stanley (Arinze Kene), one of Billie's friends and a gang member; they comfort each other and end up having sex. Carol disapproves of Connor's criminality and so their relationship ends and reignites several times. On one break, Connor begins dating Bianca's stepdaughter, Whitney Dean (Shona McGarty). Connor sleeps with Carol and Whitney simultaneously, until Bianca finds out and attacks Connor with a metal pole. Bianca is imprisoned and Connor's mother Kendra (Sharon D. Clarke) warns Carol to leave Connor alone.
In 2011, Carol meets a love-interest, Eddie Moon (David Essex), but their relationship ends when Carol discovers Eddie has been seeing Vanessa Gold (Zoe Lucker). Old feelings resurface between Carol and David Wicks when he returns to Walford in 2012 after years away, to visit his dying mother Pat (Pam St. Clement). Carol's brother Derek (now Jamie Foreman) still loathes David because of their rivalry in their youth and for getting an underaged Carol pregnant; he forbids Carol and David's reunion. David's feud with Derek escalates to violence. After convincing Carol to leave Walford with him, David changes his mind when he sees how much her grandchildren need her; he devastates Carol by leaving without her.
Upon being released from prison, Bianca struggles to support her family and gets into debt. In desperation, she steals money from a market trader; the police are called and Bianca is sent back to prison, in Suffolk, for six months. Wanting to be near Bianca, Carol temporarily moves to Suffolk with her grandchildren. She returns to prepare for Bianca's return and discovers Derek is using the house for criminal activities. She orders him to get rid of his merchandise, but he just stocks it in the garage. Derek dies of a heart attack, and on the day of his funeral, Carol discovers a letter from David that Derek hid from her. The letter contains a telephone number but when she calls it, it has been disconnected.
Carol and Masood Ahmed (Nitin Ganatra) bond and arrange a date, but it suffers a setback due to Masood's personal life. Carol has a relationship with Bianca's probation officer, Steve Lowe (Michael Simkins), but Bianca objects and Masood breaks up the relationship on Carol's behalf. Carol and Masood then arrange another date.
1994 was a historic year for EastEnders, as in April, a third weekly episode was introduced. Due to the programme's increased frequency, a number of new characters were introduced to the regular cast in the latter part of 1993 and early 1994. Among them were the Jackson family: mother Carol (Lindsey Coulson), her four children, Bianca (Patsy Palmer), Robbie (Dean Gaffney), Sonia (Natalie Cassidy), and Billie (Devon Anderson), as well as Carol's partner Alan Jackson (Howard Antony). Though Carol and Alan were not initially married in the serial, and though Alan was only the biological father of Billie, the whole family took on Alan's surname. The family was created by writer Tony McHale. None of the actors cast as the Jackson family were matched for appearance or screen compatibility. Cassidy has commented, "it was all decided without doing that. I don't think it particularly mattered that none of us Jackson kids looked like each other because all our characters had different dads!" Carol was Coulson's first major television role.
Various members of the family began to appear sporadically from November 1993 onwards, but in episodes that aired early in 1994, the Jacksons moved from Walford Towers, a block of flats, to the soap's focal setting of Albert Square. Their slow introduction was a deliberate attempt by the programme makers to introduce the whole family over a long period. The Jacksons have been described by EastEnders scriptwriter Colin Brake as a "classic problem family".
In an interview from 1995 that was published by Larry Jaffee in 2009, Coulson described Carol as "fiery, loud and determined". However, Coulson added that she played Carol as possibly more approachable as time progressed, adding, "It's difficult to find a level when you step into a soap, it's so fast-moving. You're not really sure who you are or what you're doing. I think as the actor relaxes, maybe the character softens a little. Everybody's trying to find their level." Author Kate Lock has suggested that "Carol always looked careworn and sounded snappish, but then, as pointed out repeatedly, she's had to make a lot of sacrifices in her life, raising four kids single-handedly, missing out on any chance of a career". Carol is depicted as a grafter who is fiercely protective of her problematic children. Discussing Carol's role as a mother, Coulson has said, "I think a lot of mothers find their adolescent children hard work, and with four children well, what more can I say? She's out working, trying to get money. She's always tired - it's hard being a mum."
Author Dorothy Hobson has likened Carol to a more modern version of Coronation Street's Elsie Tanner (an iconic soap opera character who appeared on a rival network from 1960–1984) due to their shared single mother status: "[Carol's] image was that of a single mother. Keeping her family together and having a life of her own was Carol's role in life. She followed in the tradition of Elsie Tanner, but because she was a woman from the 1990s, her children were from a number of fathers and her strength as a mother was that she had kept her children together. Life was hard for Carol, and while she experienced a varied life she always struggled to maintain her independence and sexuality. One always felt that Carol Jackson was a smouldering sexual woman for whom the experience of motherhood and the time spent looking after her children had necessitated her leaving her sexuality on hold, ready to be reignited at some time in the future."
Having originally appeared between 1993 and 1997 and again in 1999 and despite Coulson ruling out a return to the programme in 2008, it was announced on 25 October 2009 that Carol would return to the show in 2010 along with her children Robbie, Sonia and Billie. Coulson is quoted as saying, "I'm thrilled to be returning to EastEnders after all these years. I'm also excited and intrigued to find out what Carol and her family have been up to since we last saw her and where she will be going next." A source told entertainment website Digital Spy: "Everything's being kept hush-hush about the Jacksons' return at the moment, but there are certainly a load of questions to be answered. Will the frosty relationship between Carol and Bianca thaw? Are Sonia and Martin still together? And how will Robbie react when he learns of his beloved Wellard's death? Everyone's so pleased to have them back." The family will return for Bianca's second wedding to Ricky Butcher (Sid Owen) as part of the show's 25th anniversary. Executive producer Diederick Santer explained that he wanted great stories to get people talking, saying "The wedding is the perfect opportunity for us to bring back the much-loved Jackson characters – Carol, Sonia, Robbie and Billie."
Grief and reinvention 
In September 2010 it was revealed that Billie would be killed from alcohol poisoning, leaving Carol devastated. Although Coulson felt Anderson's departure was premature, she praised the storyline's "huge shock value". Coulson felt heartbroken when she was filming Billie's death scenes, of this she stated during an interview with Inside Soap: "When we had to play the scene where Carol sees Billie lying dead in the living room, it was really sad - not just because a mum had lost her son in tragic circumstances, but also because I felt almost as though I was losing Devon too."
Coulson revealed that she was exhausted from playing Carol's grief for a period of six weeks. She added she was pleased because upon her return she had hope for a demanding storyline. Asked how it felt to portray the storyline Coulson stated: "Incredibly satisfying, For them to give me that lovely storyline is a compliment, and it was wonderful." The storyline progresses into Carol realising Bianca is her biggest support, of this Coulson claims: "I think there’s a bit of Bianca going, 'What about me? I’m still here.' Carol’s projected so much of her love onto Billie, because nobody else needed her." After the episode aired it received a great deal of praise from fans on Digital Spy.
Carol's grief makes her lash out at those nearest to her and she tries to end her own life by taking an overdose, but later changes her mind. Speaking of the development in the storyline, Coulson commented: "It's a journey Carol goes on and she makes some terrible decisions." Coulson later revealed she wanted Carol to have more friends. Carol is then paired with Glenda Mitchell (Glynis Barber) as they strike an "unlikely friendship" and move in together, after she feels unable to live at the home her son died in. Coulson felt that Carol was reinventing herself, she also stated: "It's a strange pairing, but it'll be interesting to see if they can find common ground." Barber also admitted she is a fan of the pairing, expressed her desire for Glenda to lead Carol astray and stated: "The characters are very different but actually have a lot in common." Coulson has also admitted she felt it important viewers could see how strong Carol can be, she added: "I'd like to show viewers that Carol is strong enough to transcend all of this, because people have to - but it won't just go away."
Carol then starts sleeping with Billie's old friend Connor Stanley (Arinze Kene). Discussing the storyline, Coulson stated: "For her, though, this is a brief moment where she doesn't have to think about Billie's death. It's not even lovely sex - it happens in a fit of loss and grief." Coulson feels at this point Carol crosses a major boundary because he was Billie's friend.
Since Carol's exit in 1999, writer Dorothy Hobson used Carol's continued absence on-screen despite numerous upsets in her children's lives as indicative of lack of realism in soaps. In a 2000 storyline, Sonia gives birth to a child at 15 without Carol present. Hobson commented, "The power of motherhood, and the strength of the needs of children for their mothers, continued as part of a storyline after [Carol] had left [...] Ignorant of the fact that she was pregnant until she gave birth, Sonia then struggled to accept her own motherhood and her baby [...] The character and the production cried out for the guest reappearance of Carol Jackson; you knew she might be judgemental towards Sonia, but she would have sorted out her problems and supported her as a mother. The characteristics displayed by mothers were missing just when Sonia needed support and guidance. Unfortunately [Lindsey Coulson] had left the series and the ending was unsatisfactory in terms of realistic resolution. The audience may well have felt that while Sonia was in such a difficult situation someone should have contacted Carol [...] It is a nice example of the limits of realism of characters; ultimately they are always at the mercy of the availability of the actors. I do not know whether the actress was available, or, in fact, whether the production team wanted [Carol] to be available to support Sonia, but it would have certainly been more realistic if [she] came back to Walford, even if only for a short period of time."
Coulson was nominated in the Best Serial Drama Performance category at the 16th National Television Awards in 2011 for her portrayal of Carol. She was also nominated for 'Best Actress' and 'Best Dramatic Performance' at the 2011 British Soap Awards, and for 'Best Actress' at the 2011 Inside Soap Awards. In March 2011, EastEnders won in the Soaps and Continuing Drama category at the Royal Television Society Programme Awards, and the judges praised Coulson's portrayal of Carol, saying the soap was "A real class above the rest with a stunning central performance from Lindsay Coulson."
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