Mostly Credited As: Wendy Richard
Birth Name: Wendy Emerton
Date Of Birth: July 20, 1943 (Age 65)
Country Of Birth: United Kingdom
Birth Place: Middlesbrough, Cleveland, England
Date Of Death: February 26, 2009
Cause Of Death: cancer
Height: 5' 6" (1.67 m)
Wendy Richard, who has died aged 65, was an actress who made her name playing the buxom, dippy Miss Brahms in the TV comedy series Are You Being Served? Yet she will be most remembered for an altogether different role that of the long-suffering matriarch Pauline Fowler in EastEnders. During her 21 years in the popular BBC soap, the dowdy, unsmiling laundrette worker had to cope with her teenage daughter's pregnancy, her father's death, her son's HIV, and her husband's infidelity (to which she responded by smacking him on the head with a frying pan). "She was once described as the Boadicea of battle-axes," the actress said of her character. "It is something I take as a compliment."
Richard's private life was scarcely easier than Fowler's. Born Wendy Emerton in Middlesbrough in 1943, she was brought up in hotels run by her parents. Her father killed himself when she was 11, and her mother eventually died of alcoholism. Meanwhile, Wendy immersed herself in an acting career, taking the name Richard because it was "short and neat". Duetting with Mike Sarne, she scored a No.l hit in 1962 with Come Outside, but only earned £15 for her contribution (which mainly consisted of whining "give over" and "lay off" as Sarne tried to coax her out of doors for a bit of "slap and tickle"). On screen she specialized in playing comic characters, appearing, for example, in Carry On Matron as the pregnant Miss Willing. These reached their zenith in an innuendo-laden BBC sitcom set in an antiquated department store. Although dismissed by critics as vulgar, Are You Being Served? was watched by some 22 million people at the peak of its success, and ran from 1973 to 1985.
By then, Richard longed for a grittier role, and she certainly found one in EastEnders. Although in the early days Pauline Fowler showed a warmer side, she gradually morphed into one of the most irritating characters in popular drama. She wasn't a scheming bitch, she wasn't a cuddly matriarch. She was just miserable. This, of course, wasn't the fault of the actress, who doggedly did as she was told until 2005, when she quit, feeling Fowler's decision to remarry was out of character. "Some women never remarry," she said at the time. "My mother never remarried after daddy died." Richard herself was married four times, the last of them to a man 20 years her junior, who cared for her during her treatment for the cancer that killed her. When she wasn't acting, Richard collected ornamental frogs.