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RADIO TIMES, 14 December 1990


Pauline is the Salt of the Earth

. . . says our glamorous cover star Wendy Richard of her old friend from the Square. But that's just one of the qualities that goes into making a Mother Courage into a soap queen

There's an X factor in the birth of every showbiz star, a touch of luck, a chance meeting that leads to a break, one small job that opens bigger doors.

With Wendy Richard, the X factor was a corset. Remember the Little X Girdle ads - a girl jumping joyfully with arms and legs stretched wide in a perfect X shape? One of those human Xs was a teenage Wendy Richard, now Pauline Fowler, Mother Courage of Albert Square and Queen EastEnder.

She moved into modeling because it helped pay the bills when she was a drama student, making the most of perfect hands and feet - she shares with another soap star and one-time model, Julie Goodyear, Bet Gilroy of Coronation Street, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this week.

Wendy's hands appeared in close-up on a drinks commercial. The neat size-five feet sold shoes, stockings and stood elegantly by garden furniture. But the big grin of the Little X girl got her noticed and set those perfect feet on the road to Albert Square.

Wit sit drinking coffee in Marylebone, where West Ender Wendy lives, and she talks about Pauline as if she were an old friend. She has known her, been her, for nearly six years, and admires her greatly.

"She's a grafter, the salt of the earth. She had to take a lot of shocks from Michelle and I think she coped remarkably well. Fortunately, things have changed a bit for Pauline and I'm glad. She's gone to work in a paint factory and she's earning a decent wage at last. She can go into the Vic and have her favourite, a gin and tonic, and that's fair enough. Mr. Ferguson (the executive producer) told me a few months ago he wanted to upgrade Pauline, but I told him, "You mustn't make her glamorous". If you look back, Pauline hasn't really changed at all over the years."

It's easy to understand Michael Ferguson wanting to posh up Pauline. Wendy, at fortysomething, is an attractive, often glitzy woman. The temptation to let Pauline 'break out' must be strong. Wendy's own instincts are probably right, though. Viewers are comfortable with her in her cardigans, woolly hat and scarf, used to the resigned way she accepts daughter Michelle's mistakes and husband Arthur's lack of get-up-and-go.

Wendy says she couldn't imagine working in a factory herself, although she has had a variety of jobs. "When Daddy was alive we had pubs, so I've worked in bars. I've worked in all the big department stores and as an audio typist. Then my mother bought a little hotel in St. Pancreas and I did the bookings, accounts, and waited on tables.

"Pauline gets a bit fed up with Arthur but she loves him. How she has stood it sometimes I've no idea. She's very worried about the new garden business, the answerphone and all that. Is Arthur letting himself in for trouble again? She's very devoted to her twin brother Pete, too. It's important for her to keep the family together. That's whey when her problem son Mark suddenly came home, it was like her winning the pools."

Pauline's other son, Martin, is 5 now. "Always played by little John, a smashing kiddie," says Wendy. "He makes us laugh when he joins in the dialogue. Once when Michelle asked Arthur if they'd eaten and he said: "We had an Indian, didn't we Martin?" He said: "Yes, and a cowboy 'n' all."

"It's funny, I feel sometimes like a real mother to Michelle. The number of times people in the street have stopped me and said: "Why don't you give that Michelle a good smacking?" and I've said: "Oh, for the chance!"

Post-Little X and pre-EastEnders, Wendy was well known as a different daughter. She was Joyce Harker in the 60s soap The Newcomers. "Then a couple of episodes of Dad's Army -- those were fun -- and I was in No Blade of Grass, the last film that MGM made in England. Then for 12 years I was Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served? -- not as dizzy as people thought, that Miss Brahms. Then Albert Square."

Wendy's personal world is a long, long way away, of course. She has an elegant flat and indulges in occasional bouts of shopping frenzy which make her "go all quiet when the AmEx card comes in". And best of all, the handsome new husband, Paul Glorney. "Don't you call him my toyboy!" she laughs. "He's just a couple of years younger than me!"

When Terry O'Neill took our cover picture of Wendy, perfectly primped and gorgeously gowned by Frank Usher, he asked if she was going on to somewhere nice.

"No," she replied. "I'm going home to wash the kitchen floor." She wasn't joking.

There's certainly a bit of Pauline Fowler in Wendy Richard. And that must have been the first time a kitchen floor took precedence over flaunting a 500 Frank Usher creation. Worth a small memorial? Perhaps a Little X marks the spot.

Hilary Kingsley


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