CELEBRITY, 6 February 1986
It must be a sign of the times that a harassed, overworked, middle-aged woman, with soft, straggling, blonde hair and a voice like a nutmeg grater, should now be the Queen of the British soaps.
Pauline Fowler, mother of three (the latest addition a not-altogether welcome surprise) and wife of Arthur, is most surely the No. 1 attraction in EastEnders.
Before Pauline, actress Wendy Richard had a very strong identity as the busty Miss Brahms, the slightly scatty [whacky or scatterbrained] assistant at Grace Brothers emporium in Are You Being Served?
For 13 years the evergreen Miss Brahms never aged a day. Others might show the effects of time, but Miss Brahms just got dewier [more refreshing] with every series.
In the course of that time, things had been good for Wendy Richard professionally, but her personal life was none too hot. her first marriage to businessman Len Black ended in divorce in 1971 and she vowed never to marry again.
But then she met advertising man Will Thrope [sic], lived with him for six years and finally said, "yes."
However that marriage also ended in divorce two years later.
Wendy was once again alone, but [playing] Miss Brahms kept her feeling and looking young and attractive, just like the sexpot of Grace brothers.
So, it took quite a bit of nerve to give up Miss Brahms' eternal youth, cut her long blonde hair, wear dowdy clothes and pad-up as pregnant practically from the beginning of EastEnders.
Wendy, however, has taken it all extremely well. Apart from the trauma of cutting her hair -- she was so upset the BBC gave the OK to grow it again -- she's weathering her new image fine.
Wendy's father died before she reached her teens. Her mother had to give up the large London pub she'd run in partnership with her husband, so she took over a guest house near King's Cross.
Mrs Richard [sic] sent Wendy to boarding school where she made sure Wendy learned how to do the books for the business, though no power on earth could educate her vowels.
"All the money we've spent on your education and you have this dreadful voice," her mother would cry.
"Don't knock it," Wendy would say. "One day I'm going to make a lot of money with it."
Sure enough, she's making an estimated £450 a week in EastEnders, and looking at her pale, drawn face, after hours of rehearsals, you can't help feeling she's earning every penny of it.
Not that she doesn't appreciate it -- she's known enough hard times to be glad of steady well-paid work.
If you've lain flat on your back for two weeks in a Croydon department store window to advertise beds, if you've packed clothes for a few quid a week in Fortnum's, if you've lost money by turning down roles that meant you had to strip, you're pleased with a regular pay packet.
The snag here is that with the six-day working week the cast put in for the twice-weekly serial, there's neither time or energy to spend much of it.
Wendy Richard likes good restaurants where she can share a bottle of champagne with her friends, but her work load rules out any real roistering.
Sundays, she says, she spends pottering, doing the ironing, talking to her plants and learning her lines in her smart West End flat.
After her mother died, Wendy ran the boarding house for two years, but eventually sold up and bought the flat with the proceeds.
Wendy will talk freely about herself up to this point. But only the most unwary would dare question her too closely about her private life.
Wendy Richard, for all her cheerful Cockney image, can be formidable if roused and no-one with any sense would want to do that.