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VERONICA, 10 January 1987

(Thanks to Anneloes for the translation from the original Dutch!)


Once the blossom of Are You Being Served?

Wendy Richard: A Strong Personality in EastEnders

Wendy Richard. We've known her forever as the young, somewhat naive, girl from the British comedy series Are You Being Served? Yet some viewers may have trouble recognizing her in her new role as Pauline Fowler in EastEnders, which is also of British origin. The lively young girl has swapped places with a strong woman already marked by the hardships of a life that has given her nothing for free. Her (TV-)husband has been made redundant and she tries to make ends meet on Albert Square as a worker in a launderette.

The role of Pauline is clearly much more closely related to Wendy's own background than to the role of Miss Brahms. Pauline is a woman with strong character, one who survives regardless of the drubbings that fate gives her. A British journalist has remarked, that it is difficult to see where fiction ends and reality begins. Dressed in jeans and a matching blouse and ready to fight till the very end, Pauline is the pillar of the series. Not for a moment "out of place" or "out of character". The only thing that shows Wendy has never really had to do any dirty work is her slender and uncalloused hands. A detail.

Apart from that there is a certain bond of destiny between the actress and the woman she portrays. Pauline has learned to deal with life. Lady Fortune has not often been kind to her. She is the head of a turbulent household. Her husband has been made redundant, her daughter becomes pregnant and the baby, an accident, is not very healthy. Her mother can't get along with her husband. After a long day in the launderette she still has to do the housework. A look at the life story of Wendy teaches us that, as Pauline, she knows what she is talking about. But along with the similarities, there are big differences. Wendy is of humble descent. An only child, already parentless and twice divorced. Her father passed away in 1954. Wendy: "The difference between Pauline and myself is, that I have never known a close-knit family life."

After her father's death, Wendy's mother started managing a small hostel near King's Cross in London. Wendy: "We had to have a roof over our heads, after all." Mother survived her husband by only a few years. Without success Wendy ran the hostel for some time, while she desperately tried to get employed elsewhere. The irony is, that with all the scars on her soul, Wendy would shine in comic roles as an actress, often using the thick accent of Cockney English. Another interesting thing about her career is how it started. Her first professional experience in show business was when the still youthful actress was on an English top 10 hit of a certain Mike Sarne, a contemporary of Kim Wilde's father Marty, at the start of the Sixties. The title of the hit was Come Outside, sung in the aforementioned Cockney accent. Wendy was the girl sung to, and, while struggling, she finally gives in: "Well, all right..."

In England people got to know her as an actress in comic and dramatic roles. In series like The Newcomers, in which she plays the manager of a supermarket, Harpers West One, Dixon of Dock Green and No Hiding Place. Much later, outside of England she became famous on Are You Being Served?, one of the best comedies ever made. And Wendy Richard also played Miss Brahms in some movies based on it [Are You Being Served?]. Nobody could have predicted that the series would run for ten years and that Wendy had to play a 20-year old salesgirl until she was 32. Make-up works miracles, evidently. By the way, that was not the first comedy series in which she starred broadcast in the Netherlands. According to sources she also appeared in episodes of Please Sir and Dad's Army, but not many TV-viewers will be able to recall her in those series. Almost at the same time as the start of EastEnders, the by-then twice divorced actress moved to a new home. Everything was done by other people, except for moving her "frog collection", consisting of 400 frogs of all sorts of material and craftsmanship. Wendy: "I have frog soap, frog animals and all sorts of things with frogs printed on them". She should marry Kermit!

Children

Wendy, who is back into the limelight because of EastEnders, also has had to deal with the negative side of her popularity. With big letters the tabloids not only mentioned that Wendy had to cut her beautiful long hair short for the part of Pauline, but in letters just as large, it also said that she was about to divorce for the second time. Wendy: "I never talk about my private life. It does not concern others. But you may know that I do not have any children from either marriage. That is a good thing, because splitting up is less difficult. When I got the part in The Eastenders [sic] they asked me if I had any experience with children, because Pauline is the mother of two rascals. Well, I didn't have any experience with children and, to play my role well, I gathered some knowledge about it, visiting friends of mine. They have children and I thought they were so unruly, that I wanted to thoroughly shake them."

Nevertheless, Wendy gets along fine with David Scarboro and Susan Tully, who are her son and daughter in The Eastenders. "Those two already dream of a life on the stage. But I have warned them that it isn't all 'scent of roses and moonlight'. Anyway, they are a bit like me. I also wanted to be an actress when I was a child, but one day I read an article which said you didn't only have to have beautiful teeth for that, but also a beautiful nose. And if at all possible, you had to look a lot like Doris Day. I had no idea about these three 'qualities' and so I have doubted for years whether I would ever be a good actress."

Lodwijk Rijff / Jan de Beer


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