Our tribute to the late Wendy Richard

by Lynn Connolly
Wendy Richard and husband John Burns

Wendy Richard and husband John Burns

We at Unreality TV were all very saddened to hear about the death yesterday of actress Wendy Richard MBE who died as a result of breast cancer at a clinic in Harley Street with her husband John Burns at her side.

As our tribute to Wendy, we’ll take a look back over her life and career and how this wonderful actress contributed so much to British television, stage and film…

Early career

Wendy in Are You Being Served?

Wendy in Are You Being Served?

Born Wendy Emerton on 20th July 1943, Wendy first became a household name for her role as the sexy shop assistant Miss Brahms in the classic comedy show Are You Being Served? However, Wendy had had a successful TV career that began long before she joined the cast of Are You Being Served?

She made her first TV appearance as a teenager in Stranger on the Shore which debuted in 1961 and this was followed by a role on the BBC soap The Newcomers in which she played Joyce Harker. The show centered around a London family – the Coopers – and ran for four years from 1965.

Wendy in Dad's Army

Wendy in Dad's Army

Wendy also had a number of roles in comedy shows such as Dad’s Army and The Likely Lads and appeared in two Carry On films, during which time she first met Barbara Windsor who of course plays the role of Peggy Mitchell, one of Pauline Fowler’s long-term friends/foes, depending upon the antics of each other’s families primarily!

I didn’t know until yesterday that in 1962, Wendy’s voice was used on the single Come Outside, although she was not credited for it. Here’s the track… and you’ll instantly recognise her voice!


Wendy in EastEnders with new baby Martin

Wendy in EastEnders with new baby Martin

For just over twenty years, Wendy of course played the feisty Pauline Fowler in EastEnders and was in fact in the show from very first episode – which aired in 1985 – until she left in dramatic fashion during the Christmas Day episode in 2006.

While Wendy was at the height of her popularity in EastEnders, she was given the well deserved honour of being appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to television.

Here are clips of Pauline’s first and last appearances on the Square…

Wendy’s ‘Enders career wasn’t without controversy and it was alleged that she and Leslie Grantham – who played Dennis Watts – did not get along well at all. There was also a time when Wendy refused to play a scene in which the script writers had written that Pauline should launch a “vicious tirade” against Margaret Thatcher, however Wendy was a staunch supporter of Thatcher and she refused to perform the scene, accusing the script writers of using the series as a “soapbox” for their own political biases.

With regard to her exit from the show, it was speculated at the time that her departure was to do with her health however in an interview with the Telegraph, Wendy said,

“Health had nothing to do with my leaving EastEnders.

“I left because I wasn’t happy. Also, I couldn’t believe in what they wanted me to do and unless I can find some truth in what I am doing, I cannot play it.”

Wendy was referring to the fact that scriptwriters had Pauline marrying her new love interest, Joe Macer.

Pauline marries Joe Macer

Pauline marries Joe Macer

Wendy added: “Pauline remarrying was wrong. Some women never remarry. My mother never remarried after Daddy died. I always had it in my heart that Arthur was Pauline’s husband and that was that.”

After EastEnders

In 2007, Wendy appeared in the second series of ITV1’s sitcom Benidorm in which she played a wheelchair-bound and generally unpleasant character who was the mother of one of the resort’s reps. In the show, Wendy’s character quickly got into an old lady bitch-fight with the equally odious Madge. Here’s a clip from one of the episodes in which Wendy appeared…

That same year, Wendy was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at the British Soap Awards for her role in EastEnders however, it was at this time that she began to cut back even further on the work she did due to her failing health. Nonetheless, in February 2008, she appeared in the Marple TV series as Mrs Crump in the episode A Pockeful of Rye and also starred in ads for the Post Office.

Wendy’s cancer

Wendy was first diagnosed with breast cancer in the mid 1990s and then, after several years of remission, her cancer returned in 2002. The cancer then again went into remission and Wendy was told she was cancer free in 2005, however, as we know, the cancer returned and by October 2008, Wendy had decided to marry her partner John sooner rather than later after she announced to the press that her cancer had been confirmed as terminal.

It was in January 2008 when doctors found cancer cells in her left armpit and further investigation revealed that Wendy’s cancer had metastasised to her left kidney and bones, including her spine and ribs.

Yesterday, Wendy’s agent Kevin Francis reported that the much loved actress had died in the morning at the age of 65. Francis told press, “She was incredibly brave and retained her sense of humour right to the end”

Dozens of Wendy’s colleagues have paid tribute to her including Shane Ritchie who told The Sun, “I am absolutely devastated. My heart goes out to John, Wendy’s husband, and her family.”

Another of Wendy’s long serving EastEnders colleagues, June Brown, said: “I missed her enormously when she left EastEnders. She was a wonderful woman.”

The Sun also reported that just last month, Wendy – who lost her hair at the start of the year – said that she was determined that her illness wouldn’t kill her.

She said: “I’m certainly not thinking about dying. Wendy Richard is going to be around a long time yet.”

What a brave lady… thank you for years of wonderful entertainment Wendy. You were one of a kind.

Wendy Richard, 20th July 1943 – 26th February 2009

Wendy Richard, 20th July 1943 – 26th February 2009

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.