Mark Fowler and Zack Hudson

Mark Fowler’s groundbreaking HIV storyline in EastEnders (1985-2003)

Mark Fowler was the first person to have been diagnosed as HIV positive in soap and now Zack Hudson is going through the same thing

Mark Fowler appeared in EastEnders between 1985-2003, with his HIV storyline being a first for the soap.

Who was Mark Fowler and what was his experience with HIV?

EastEnders' Mark Fowler is crying
Mark was the son of Arthur and Pauline Fowler (Credit: BBC)

Who was Mark Fowler in EastEnders?

Mark Fowler appeared in Walford in 1985, as the son of Arthur and Pauline Fowler.

He was originally played by the actor David Scarboro up until his first exit in 1987, then when Mark Fowler returned to EastEnders in 1990, Todd Carty took over the role.

During his time in Walford, Mark was a courier, market trader and foster carer. He was married three times.  The character left the soap in 2003, with his death being confirmed off-screen in 2004.

EastEnders' Mark Fowler is angry
Mark entered the soap as a troublesome teen (Credit: BBC)

Mark Fowler as a teenage troublemaker

EastEnders’ Mark was a troublesome teen in 1985 when the show began.

As a youngster, Mark got involved with drugs at the hands of Nick Cotton and joined a racist group called The New Movement. He was also a suspect in the murder or Reg Cox, whose body was found in the first episode of EastEnders.

Eventually, Mark ran away from home and his parents Pauline and Arthur eventually found him living in Southend-on-Sea.

Young Mark only returned to Walford on a few occasions after that, though his parents never stopped worrying about him!

He left Walford in 1987 but then returned three years later as a reformed character.

David Scarboro, who played Mark as a youngster, died tragically in 1988.

Two years later, EastEnders bosses cast Todd Carty as Mark for his return to the show in 1990.

EastEnders' Mark is looking serious
Mark contracted HIV (Credit: BBC)

EastEnders: Mark Fowler’s HIV Story – what happened to him?

Mark Fowler returned to Walford in 1990 with a more mature mindset, and a whole new outlook on life.

He’d changed because he had been diagnosed as being HIV positive and he was working hard to come to terms with what that meant for his future.

At the time, HIV and AIDS diagnoses still came with a lot of shame and misunderstanding, and understandably, Mark was reluctant to tell anyone about his illness.

Eventually he opened up about his diagnosis to close friend Diane Butcher, who persuaded him to go for counselling.

The counselling helped Mark come to terms with being HIV positive, and he felt comforted by the support.

Opening up

Mark eventually told his parents about his diagnosis but they weren’t very supportive at first. Arthur feared that his son would give him HIV,  and even went as far as bleaching the house to avoid contracting it.

But mum Pauline and sister Michelle managed to help Arthur understand Mark’s condition and were very supportive.

Mark had contracted HIV from an old girlfriend, Gill. He reconnected with her after he returned to Walford, but discovered her HIV had progressed to AIDS. The pair married and Gill passed away the day after their wedding.

Later, Mark met Ruth Aitken when visiting a sick friend at a hospice. They began a relationship and got married.

Mark v Peggy

When Mark’s HIV diagnosis became public, people didn’t have much knowledge of his condition and started avoiding his market stall, because they were scared of contracting HIV from Mark.

Peggy Mitchell led the locals in their boycott, leading Mark to confront them and their prejudice in a highly acclaimed scene in the Queen Vic.

Eventually, Mark and Peggy became good friends and he supported her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Peggy was the one who led the locals in boycotting Mark’s stall but the pair became good friends (Credit: BBC/YouTube)

Marrying Lisa

Mark and Ruth split when she cheated on him with Pauline’s cousin, Conor and got pregnant.

After Ruth, Mark started a romance with Lisa Shaw, who had been Phil Mitchell’s girlfriend. Mark was a shoulder for Lisa to cry on when Phil treated her badly and they fell in love.

But Mark was a prime suspect when Phil Mitchell was shot on his doorstep, though it turned out to be Lisa who pulled the trigger.

Mark proposed to Lisa Shaw after finding out that Lisa was pregnant. Baby Louise was actually Phil Mitchell’s daughter but for a while Lisa and Mark tried to pretend she was nothing to do with the Mitchells!

Mark ended up marrying Lisa but she was unable to stop loving Phil and had an affair with him.

EastEnders' Mark Fowler is sitting with Lisa and the baby
Mark and Lisa tried to pretend baby Louise was his daughter (Credit: BBC/YouTube)

Saying goodbye

In 2003, Mark received the devastating news that the medication he was taking to slow down the progression of his illness had stopped working.

Not wanting to have his family watch him decline, he left Walford on his motorcycle after saying a tearful farewell to his friends on the Square.

In 2004, Martin received the news that Mark had died after being diagnosed with the AIDS related condition, Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

EastEnders' Mark is grabbing Ashley by the throat
Mark made a few enemies (Credit: BBC)

EastEnders: Mark Fowler’s rivalries

Mark Fowler made a few enemies during his time in Walford.

Nick Cotton and Mark got into a few sticky situations as they tried to get their own back on each other. Mark spiked Nick’s drink and caused Nick to fall off the viaduct, almost dying in the process.

Nick then hired his son Ashley to get pay back on Mark. Ashley didn’t want to kill Mark so Nick tampered with the brakes of Mark’s motorbike himself.

Ashley didn’t know that his dad had done this and stole Mark’s motorbike only for it to end in tragedy when the brakes failed and Ashley was killed.

Mark also made an enemy out of Phil Mitchell when he dated Phil’s ex, Lisa.

Zack is HIV positive (Credit: BBC)

Zack Hudson and HIV

With Zack Hudson having been diagnosed as HIV positive, the issue is back in the soap once more and bringing back memories of Mark’s struggles. Zack’s best friend Martin is Mark’s younger brother, while Zack’s sister, Sharon Watts, was one of Mark’s friends.

Zack’s been nervous to tell anyone except Sam Mitchell and Whitney Dean about his diagnosis so far, but now he’s opened up to Martin and Sharon.

Things have changed a lot since Mark’s storyline back in the 1990s, and Zack’s prognosis is good.

But how will the residents of Albert Square react when the news gets out?

Read more: EastEnders cast 2023: Meet the full Walford line-up

Mark's HIV+ Announcement | Part 2 | EastEnders

EastEnders usually airs Mondays to Thursdays at 7.30pm on BBC One. 

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Tamzin Meyer
Assistant Soap Editor