Friday, December 11, 2020

Godspeed Dame Barbara Windsor

Dame Barbara Windsor, who starred in several "Carry On..." films and the soap opera EastEnders, died yesterday, December 10 2020, at the age of 83. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2014.

Barbara Windsor was born Barbara Ann Deeks on August 6 1937 in Shoreditch, London. In 1939 her family moved to Stoke Newington, Hackney, London. It was there that young Barbara attended St Mary's Infants' School. During World War II she was evacuated to Blackpool. She later attended  Our Lady's Convent in Stamford Hill. She trained at the Aida Foster School in Golders Green.

Young Barbara made her film debut in 1950 in Cinderella at the Golden Green Hippodrome in London. She mad her debut on the West End as one of the chorus in Love from Judy at the Saville Theatre. In 1953 she took the stage name "Barbara Windsor," taking inspiration from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II that year. She made her film debut in The Belles of St. Trinian's in 1953. She made her television debut on the TV show Dreamer's Highway in 1954.

In the Fifties Barbara Windsor appeared in the movies A Kid for Two Farthings (1955), Lost (1956),  Make Mine a Million (1959), and Too Hot to Handle (1960). It was in 1964 that Barbara Windsor appeared as Daphne Honeybutt in Carry On Spying. She would become a regular in the "Carry On..." films. Over the years she appeared in Carry On Doctor (1967), Carry On Camping (1969), Carry On Again Doctor (1969), Carry On Henry (1971), Carry On Matron (1972), Carry On Abroad (1972), Carry On Girls (1973), and Carry On Dick (1974). She would later appear in various "Carry On..." revues on stage, along with other members of the "Carry On..." crew.

In the addition to the "Carry On..." films, in the Sixties Barbara Windsor appeared in Sparrows Can't Sing, for which she was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She also appeared in On the Fiddle (1961), Hair of the Dog (1962), Death Trap (1962), Crooks in Cloisters (1964), San Ferry Ann (1965), A Study in Terror (1965), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). In addition to "Carry On..." films, in the Seventies Barbara Windsor appeared in the movies The Boy Friend (1971) and Not Now Darling (1973).

In the Eighties Miss Windsor appeared in the movies Comrades (1986) and It Couldn't Happen Here (1987). She would be absent from the big screen until 2010, when she provided the voice of the Dormouse for Alice in Wonderland in 2010. She voiced Mallymkun in Alice Through the Looking Glass in 2016.

Barbara Windsor appeared frequently on television From 1961 to 1962 she was a regular on the show The Rag Trade. She was later a regular on Wild, Wild Women. She guest starred on Armchair Theatre, The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre, The Plane Makers, Before the Fringe, Dad's Army, The Rolf Harris Show, Ooh La La!, Comedy Playhouse, and Up Pompeii!. She appeared in the "Carry On..." TV movie Carry On Christmas.

In the Seventies Barbara Windsor was a regular on Carry On Laughing, the television show spun off from the "Carry On..." films. She also played Saucy Nancy on Worzel Gummidge. She appeared in the "Carry On..." TV movie Carry On Christmas: Carry On Stuffing. She guest starred on Ooh La La! and The Punch Review. She appeared in the TV movie Come Spy with Me.

In the Eighties she was a regular on the show Bluebirds. She guest starred on the shows Both Ends Meet, Super Gran, The Management, and Family Fortunes. It was in 1994 that she began playing Peggy Mitchell, landlady of the Queen Victoria Pub, on EastEnders. She took the role over from Jo Warne, who had played the character in ten episodes at the start of the series. Barbara Windsor continued to play Peggy until 2016. She guest starred as Peggy Mitchell in the 2006 Doctor Who episode "Army of Ghosts." In the Nineties Barbara Windsor guest starred on the show You Rang, M'Lord?, Frank Stubbs Promotes, The Great Bong, One Foot in the Grave, and Cor, Blimey! Her final appearance was in the TV movie Babs in 2017, a dramatization of her life.

Although Barbara Windsor was well known her appearances in movies and television, she had a very successful stage career. In the Fifties she appeared in such productions as Many Happy Returns at the Watergate Theatre in London in 1955, Red Riding Hood at the Shakespeare Theatre in Liverpool in 1955 and 1956, and Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be at the Theatre Royal in Stafford from 1959 to 1960 and then the Garrick Theatre in London from 1960 to 1962.

In the Sixties Barbara Windsor made her debut on Broadway in Oh, What a Lovely War! at the Broadhurst Theatre. She received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Later in the decade she appeared in Twang! at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London in 1965 and Come Spy with Me at the Whitehall Theatre in London from 1966 to 1967. Her stage career would continue to thrive over the next several decades. In the Seventies she appeared in such productions as Cinderella at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, The Owl and the Pussycat on tour in the United Kingdom, Carry On London! at the Victoria Palace Theatre from 1975 to 1977, and Dick Whittington at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon and then the Richmond Theatre from 1979 to 1980.

In the Eighties Barbara Windsor appeared in such productions as Entertaining Mr. Sloane at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith in 1981, The Mating Game  (various theatres),  Babes in the Woods at the London Palladium from 1987 to 1988, and a British tour of Guys and Dolls. In the Nineties she appeared in productions of Cinderella, Guys and Dolls, Aladdin, and Entertaining Mr. Sloan. From 2010 to 2011 she appeared in Dick Whittingdon at the Bristol Hippodrome from 2010 to 2011.

Because of her association with the "Carry On..." films (now regarded as classics, but derided in their time), I sometimes think Dame Barbara Windsor was underrated. In truth, she was an incredible talent with a real gift for comedy. One could not look at Barbara Windsor without smiling. Indeed, people forget that Barbara Windsor was nominated for both a BAFTA Award and a Tony Award, as well as nominations for British Soap Awards for her role as Peggy Mitchell on EastEnders. What is more, while Barbara Windsor was an enormous talent when it came to comedy, she was very good at drama too. After all, both Bluebirds and EastEnders were dramas. Chances are good that Barbara Windsor will always be remembered for the "Carry On..." films and EastEnders, but she had a full career in which she played a wide variety of roles.

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