|Duration 1993, 2000–2001|
Father Nick Cotton
Half sister Dotty Cotton
|Classification Former; regular|
Grandmother Dot Cotton
|Portrayed by Rossi Higgins (1993)
Frankie Fitzgerald (2000–2001)|
First appearance Episode 886 29 July 1993
Last appearance Episode 2123 14 June 2001
Spin-off appearances The Return of Nick Cotton (2000)
Introduced by Leonard Lewis (1993), John Yorke (2000)
Similar Celestine and Etta Tavernier, Lilly Mattock, April Branning, Polly Becker, Gita Kapoor
Ashley Cotton is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, the son of Zoe and Nick Cotton (John Altman) and the grandson of Charlie (Christopher Hancock) and Dot Cotton (June Brown), played by Rossi Higgins in 1993 and then by Frankie Fitzgerald in 2000.
Ashley first appears in Walford along with his mother Zoe Cotton (Elizabeth Chadwick) in 1993, at the age of nine. He meets and becomes close to his grandmother, Dot Cotton (June Brown), who later leaves the square with him, Zoe and Nick to live in Gravesend. Dot leaves Gravesend and returns to the square in 1997 without Ashley or his parents and reveals that Ashley and Zoe have moved away to get away from Nick.
Ashley returns to the square briefly in July 2000 to visit Dot for a few days. It is obvious he has taken after his father when he gets up to mischief. Nick is later released from prison and reunites with Ashley and Zoe in the special spin-off episode titled "The Return of Nick Cotton" which aired on 1 October 2000. Ashley wants to come with Nick despite Zoe's reluctance so he and Nick gets into a car and decides to travel before returning to Walford. When they return to Walford and settle in with Dot, Ashley is under the influence of his villainous father Nick and starts taking drugs and gets involved in robberies with Nick. After a series of arguments with both sides of his family, he drifts between each of his parents until a fateful summer evening in June 2001. He steals Mark Fowler's (Todd Carty) motorbike after an argument in The Queen Victoria, unaware that his father has cut the bike's brakes in hope of killing Mark. Nick, Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard) and Dot shouts at Ashley to stop but he couldn't stop the bike until he comes face-to-face with a pedestrian. Ashley swerves to avoid the pedestrian and brakes sharply, but the motorbike flips over a pavement and Ashley crashes into the laundrette. 17-year-old Ashley dies instantly and Nick is riddled with guilt. Dot later overhears an argument between Mark Fowler and Nick, discovering that Nick is responsible for Ashley's death. After Ashley's funeral, Dot confronts Nick and throws him out of the house.
Writing for The People in July 2000, Sharon Marshall revealed Ashley would be returning to EastEnders now played by Frankie Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was appearing in a variety show when he was spotted by a talent scout who suggested he send some photos to the BBC's casting department. A few months later, Fitzgerald was asked to audition for the role of Ashley. While on his way home from the audition, Fitzgerald was told he had won the part. Marshall revealed Fitzgerald was hired after producers noted his resemblance to John Altman, who plays his on screen father, Nick. An EastEnders spokesperson said "They could easily be father and son. They've got the same brooding dark-haired looks." Marshall said Fitzgerald was set to "steal the show - as well as a few young Walford hearts" as Ashley. She also stated the character would be a chip off the old block, spelling trouble for the residents of Albret Square. Of his casting, Fitzgerald said "I am thrilled and honoured to be playing Nick Cotton's son and can't wait to work with John. People keep asking me what the storylines are but I am as eager as everyone to know." Fitzgerald made his debut as Ashley on 27 July 2000.
Ashley's first scene back in Albert Square saw him stealing pineapples from the fruit and veg stall, showing the character was similar to his father. In September 2000, Martyn Leek of the Sunday Mercury reported Nick Cotton would be returning to EastEnders to find his son. Nick's return scenes were filmed in Birmingham, with a BBC spokesperson saying "We were filming in Moseley and Winson Green all week. Nick is trying to get his son Ashley back on the straight and narrow so it is a bit of a turnaround from how he used to be." Lisa Perrott, the publicist for EastEnders said Birmingham was chosen as they needed to film scenes away from the Albert Square setting and the location suited the storyline. Ashley and Nick meet during a special spin-off episode, entitled The Return of Nick Cotton, which was broadcast on 1 October 2000. Nick comes face to face with Ashley after he catches him trying to steal his car. Sue Smith of Daily Mirror said "A chip off the old block, their reunion is bound to wreak havoc."
In June 2001, Fitzgerald was axed from EastEnders and his character died following a motorbike accident. Fitzgerald told Ian Woodward of the Daily Mirror that he was shocked and disappointed when he learned he was being axed from the show. The actor said "I was dumbstruck. I thought I was going to be in Albert Square for a long, long time." Fitzgerald found filming Ashley's deaths scenes difficult and he said he thought about death a lot before they filmed his last scene. He explained "I went over and over in my mind the whole aspect of dying. Even though I knew it was pretend time, it had a big impact on me. It freaked me out. I felt utterly drained."
In March 2001, a major storyline saw Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) shot by unknown assailant. William Hill took bets on who shot Phil and Ashley came third with the odds of 13-2. Shortly before the character's departure, the Daily Mirror's Ian Woodward said Ashley had clearly become "one of the more popular teenagers in EastEnders."