Barbara Windsor

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Barbara Windsor

Barbara Windsor Maryebone Tree.JPG
Windsor in 2010
Born
Barbara Ann Deeks

(1937-08-06)6 August 1937
Died10 December 2020(2020-12-10) (aged 83)
London, England
OccupationActress
Years active1950–2017[1]
Spouse(s)
(m. 1964; div. 1985)
Stephen Hollings
(m. 1986; div. 1995)
Scott Mitchell
(m. 2000)

Dame Barbara Windsor DBE (born Barbara Ann Deeks; 6 August 1937 – 10 December 2020)[2] was an English actress, known for her roles in the Carry On films and for playing Peggy Mitchell in the BBC One soap opera EastEnders.[3] She joined the cast of EastEnders in 1994 and won the 1999 British Soap Award for Best Actress, before ultimately leaving the show in 2016 when her character was killed off.

Windsor began her career on stage in 1950 at the age of 13 and made her film debut as a schoolgirl in The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954) while studying Shipping Management at Bow Technical College.[4] She received a BAFTA Award nomination for the film Sparrows Can't Sing (1963), and a Tony Award nomination for the 1964 Broadway production of Oh, What A Lovely War!. In 1972, she starred opposite Vanessa Redgrave in the West End production of The Threepenny Opera.

Between 1964 and 1974, she appeared in nine Carry On films, including Carry On Spying (1964), Carry On Doctor (1967), Carry On Camping (1969), Carry On Henry (1971) and Carry On Abroad (1972). She also co-presented the 1977 Carry On compilation That's Carry On!. Along with Jim Dale, she was one of the last surviving regulars on the series. Her other film roles included A Study in Terror (1965), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and as the voice of Mallymkun, The Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016).

Windsor was made a Dame (DBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to charity and entertainment. She was awarded Freedom of the City of London in 2010.

Early life[edit]

Windsor was born in Shoreditch, London, in 1937 (her birth was registered in Stepney),[5] the only child of John Deeks, a costermonger, and his wife, Rose (née Ellis), a dressmaker.[6] The family lived in Angela Street. One of her maternal great-grandmothers, Mary, was the daughter of Irish immigrants who fled Ireland to Great Britain between 1846 and 1851 to escape the Great Famine of Ireland.[7] In 1939 at the start of WWII, Windsor's father was called up for the war and she and her mother went to live with her mother's relatives in Yoakley Road, Stoke Newington, where Windsor attended St Mary's Infants' School in nearby Lordship Road.[8] Windsor's mother initially refused to let her be evacuated, but conceded after one of Windsor's school friends was killed by a bomb.[9] She was evacuated to Blackpool to live with a married couple, although they sexually abused her. One of Windsor's friends, Mary, who lived a couple of houses away heard Windsor's screams and alerted her own parents who called the authorities. The couple were arrested and it was revealed that they were not married but brother and sister.[10] Windsor moved in with Mary and her parents although they struggled to cope with her loud behaviour. They sent Windsor and Mary to dancing school which sparked her interest in performing, although one night after a class, Mary's mother walked Windsor and Mary home, when Windsor found Mary's father kissing another woman in a bus shelter.[11] Humiliated by this, Mary's mother sent her back to London in 1944 along with a note from Windsor's dance teacher which read: “Barbara is a born show-off who loves to perform.”[6]

Impressed by this, Windsor's mother sent her to Madame Behenna's Juvenile Jollities, a drama school at which she appeared in several charity concerts and pantomimes. After the war, she passed her 11-plus exams, gaining the top mark in North London, and earned a scholarship for a place at Our Lady's Convent in Stamford Hill[6] although she was expelled because she argued with the Reverend Mother after she refused to let her have time off to appear in a pantomime.[12] Instead, Windsor moved to the Aida Foster School, Golders Green, and took elocution lessons. When Windsor's father came to watch a performance, she was ridiculed by the others as her father had begun working as a trolley bus conductor and had come in his uniform. Enraged, Windsor covered the girls in theatrical face powder, throwing more over the chaperone who tried to stop her.[13] Despite this, Windsor was chosen to appear in the chorus of the musical Love From Judy in the West End in 1952 which ran for a successful two years.[14] Her stage name of "Windsor" was inspired by the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.[15] By the time Windsor was sixteen, Windsor's parents' divorced and Windsor was unwillingly made to testify against her father in court.[16] Awarded to her mother, after the divorce Windsor ran up to her father but he just carried on walking, ignoring her. Every time he saw her, whether he walked past her house or his bus drove past, he blanked Windsor.[17]

Career[edit]

Shortly after, Windsor made her film debut as an uncredited extra in 1954 playing a schoolgirl in The Belles of St. Trinians.[18] She followed this with several other uncredited roles until she appeared in Too Hot to Handle with Jayne Mansfield. Mansfield demanded Windsor to appear at the back of the scene they shared as she was worried Windsor's blonde hair and large chest would overshadow her own.[19] After this, Windsor made her television debut when Johnny Brandon, whom Windsor had starred with in Love from Judy, asked her to appear in his television series Dreamer's Highway. Windsor later appearing in musical shows Variety Parade, The Jack Jackson Show and Six-Five Special, regularly singing with bands. She then became a regular cabaret act at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho, and went on to do the same at the Winston's club alongside Danny La Rue and Amanda Barrie.[6][20]

After joining Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East,[21] she came to prominence in their stage production Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be[21] and Littlewood's film Sparrows Can't Sing (1963), achieving a BAFTA nomination for Best British Film Actress.[22] She also appeared in the comedy film Crooks in Cloisters (1964),[23] the fantasy film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Ken Russell's musical film The Boy Friend (1971), as well as the TV sitcoms The Rag Trade and Wild, Wild Women.[24]

Carry On films[edit]

Windsor came to prominence with her portrayals of a "good-time girl"[25] in nine Carry On films. Her first was Carry On Spying in 1964 and her final one was Carry On Dick in 1974.[26] She also appeared in several Carry On... television and compilation specials between 1964 and 1977.[27]

One of her best known scenes was in Carry On Camping (1969), where her bikini top flew off during outdoor aerobic exercises. In typical Carry On style, exposure is implied but little is in fact seen.[28]

From 1973 to 1975, she appeared with several of the Carry On team in the West End revue Carry On London!.[29]

She was strongly identified with the Carry On films for many years, which restricted the roles she was chosen to play later in her career.[30]

Theatre work[edit]

Windsor starred on Broadway in the Theatre Workshop's Oh, What a Lovely War! and received a 1965 Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.[6] She also appeared in several stage productions including Lionel Bart's musical flop Twang!! (1965) (directed by Joan Littlewood), The Beggar's Opera (1967), Come Spy with Me (1966–67) with Danny La Rue and in thirty pantomimes between 1950 and 2011.[6]

In 1970, she landed the role of music hall legend Marie Lloyd in the musical-biopic Sing A Rude Song. In 1972 she appeared in the West End in Tony Richardson's The Threepenny Opera with Vanessa Redgrave. In 1975, she toured the UK, New Zealand and South Africa in her own show, Carry On Barbara!, and followed this with the role of Maria in Twelfth Night at the Chichester Festival Theatre.[6]

In 1981, she played sex-mad landlady Kath in Joe Orton's black comedy Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Lyric Hammersmith, directed by her friend Kenneth Williams. She reprised the role for a national tour in 1993.[31]

She was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1992 when she was surprised by Michael Aspel on stage at the Theatre Royal, Windsor.[32]

EastEnders[edit]

Waxwork of Windsor as Peggy Mitchell displayed in Blackpool

When EastEnders was launched in 1985, the producers said they would not cast well-known actors (although Wendy Richard was a rare exception). Windsor has said that she would have liked to have been part of the original cast.[33] By 1994, this policy was relaxed, and Windsor accepted an offer to join EastEnders. She took over the role of Peggy Mitchell (who was previously a minor character played by Jo Warne in 1991), for which she received the Best Actress award at the 1999 British Soap Awards,[34] and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 British Soap Awards.[6]

A debilitating case of the Epstein–Barr virus forced a two-year absence from the role between 2003 and 2005, although Windsor was able to make a two-episode guest appearance in 2004. She rejoined the cast full-time in the summer of 2005. In October 2009, Windsor announced she was to leave her role as Peggy Mitchell, saying she wanted to spend more time with her husband.[35] On 10 September 2010, her character left Albert Square after a fire destroyed the Queen Victoria pub, of which she was the owner.[36]

In July 2013, it was announced that Windsor was to return for one episode, which aired on 20 September 2013.[37] She again returned for a single episode on 25 September 2014,[38] and made a further appearance for EastEnders 30th anniversary on 17 February 2015.[39] In February 2015, Windsor, along with Pam St Clement (Pat Evans), took part in EastEnders: Back to Ours to celebrate 30 years of EastEnders. Windsor and St. Clement looked back on some of their characters' most dramatic moments.[40]

In November 2015, Windsor secretly filmed a return to EastEnders, which was shown in January 2016. After this, it was confirmed that the character would be killed off later in the year. This was Windsor's decision, as she said that as long as Peggy was alive, she would always be drawn back to playing her.[41] Her last appearance aired on BBC One on 17 May 2016.[42]

Later years[edit]

Windsor hosted two series of the BBC documentary Disaster Masters in 2005.[43] Windsor provided the voice of the Dormouse in Walt Disney's live action adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (2010), directed by Tim Burton.[44] Windsor appeared in the pantomime Dick Whittington at the Bristol Hippodrome over the Christmas/New Year period of 2010/2011.[45] In September 2010, it was announced that Windsor would be fronting a TV campaign for online bingo site Jackpotjoy as the Queen of Bingo.[46] She appeared as herself in one episode of Come Fly with Me in January 2011.[47]

Windsor in 2009

From 2011 onwards, she regularly did presenting work for BBC Radio 2 music and showbusiness history programmes, and also was a regular stand in for Elaine Paige on Elaine Paige on Sunday. She reprised her voice role of the Dormouse in the film Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016).[48]

In May 2017, Windsor appeared in a cameo role as herself in BBC Television's biopic about her life, Babs, written by EastEnders scriptwriter Tony Jordan. It showed Windsor in the 1990s as she prepared to go on stage and recalled events from her life, including her childhood, marriage to gangster Ronnie Knight, and her roles in the Carry On films.[49]

Personal life[edit]

Windsor was married three times, and had no children.

  1. Ronnie Knight (married 2 March 1964,[50] divorced January 1985)
  2. Stephen Hollings, chef/restaurateur (married 12 April 1986 in Jamaica,[51] divorced 1995)
  3. Scott Mitchell, former actor and recruitment consultant (married 8 April 2000)[52]

Before her marriage to Ronnie Knight, she had a one-night stand with East End criminal Reggie Kray, and an affair with his older brother Charlie Kray.[53] During the time of making her later Carry On films she had a well-publicised affair with her fellow actor and co-star Sid James which lasted 3 years until his death in 1976.[2] Windsor was initially uninterested in James, 24 years her senior, but later stated that she thought she would have sex with him once and then he would go away[54] but James reportedly became obsessed with Windsor and became suffocatingly possessive of her to the extent that during the Carry On London! tour he shouted at Bernard Bresslaw because he had helped Windsor off the stage, the reason being that Bresslaw had touched Windsor.[55] James, who was also already married, would send Windsor a dozen red roses with a note attached with the words "Love Romeo" and even arranged to see her in Australia during her Carry On Barbara one-woman show as he could not bear to be without her.[56] He would also embarrassingly state his love for her in public and to Windsor's friends, but the affair began damaging her mental health and so she ended it. Devastated by her decision, James became depressed and started to drink strong whisky and died soon after from a heart attack.[57] Another of Windsor's Carry On co-stars, Kenneth Williams, accompanied her and Knight on their honeymoon and also brought his mother and sister with him.[58]

Windsor also dated Gary Crosby in the 1960s,[59] and had brief sexual encounters with Victor Mature,[59] Anthony Newley,[60] Ronnie Scott,[61] James Booth,[62] George Best[63] and Maurice Gibb,[64] the latter two while she was still married to Ronnie Knight. In the late 1950s, Windsor became engaged to singer Cliff Lawrence but he physically beat her.[59] In her autobiography, All of Me, Windsor stated that she often turned up to Winston's, the club where she sang, with a black eye and detailed one occasion of when Lawrence dragged her down the street by her hair.[59] Windsor terminated the relationship and then started dating Ronnie Knight. Windsor said that Lawrence would spy on her and Knight from telephone boxes and only left them alone after Knight threatened Lawrence that he would fight him.[65]

In her autobiography, Windsor talked about her five abortions: three in her twenties, and the last at the age of 42. She said she never wanted children as a result of her father rejecting her after her parents' divorce.[66]

Windsor was best friends with fellow actor Anna Karen whom she met while filming Carry On Camping and who later went on to play Peggy Mitchell's sister Sal Martin in EastEnders for twenty years.[67]

Windsor had a friendship with the late Amy Winehouse, and in 2012, she became a patron of the Amy Winehouse Foundation.[68]

Health[edit]

In April 2014, Windsor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and she chose not to make the condition public, but it was known to her friends and colleagues. On 10 May 2018, Windsor's husband, Scott Mitchell, publicly revealed her condition.[69] In January 2019, Mitchell and some of Windsor's former co-stars from EastEnders announced that they would be running the London Marathon in aid of a dementia campaign.[70] Mitchell said that Windsor's health and mental state had been deteriorating, and there had been moments when she no longer recognised him.[71]

On Windsor's 82nd birthday in August 2019, she and Mitchell became ambassadors for the Alzheimer's Society. On the same day, Mitchell and Windsor appeared in a video for the charity, in which Windsor said, "Unite with me, against dementia". Mitchell highlighted the problems many face with the disease, and urged viewers to sign a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, saying he "urgently needs to address these challenges."[72] In August 2020, BBC News reported that Windsor had been moved into a care home in London.[73]

Death[edit]

Windsor died on 10 December 2020, aged 83.[74][75] The next episode of EastEnders, broadcast on 11 December 2020, was dedicated to Windsor's memory. As well as this, the 2017 biopic Babs, which documented Windsor's life, was also broadcast.[76] Among those who paid tributes to her were her EastEnders co-stars, entertainers, politicians including Boris Johnson, former Prime Minister David Cameron and Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer, and members of the Royal family, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge—who described Windsor as "a true national treasure ... a giant of the entertainment world"—and Charles, Prince of Wales with his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.[77][78][79]

Windsor's funeral took place on 8 January 2021. She was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. The service was attended by Anna Karen, Christopher Biggins, Ross Kemp, David Walliams and Matt Lucas amongst others although numbers were limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Floral decorations on Windsor's coffin made out the words "The Dame", "Saucy" (Windsor's catchphrase in the Carry On films) and "The Queen Peggy". Windsor's funeral programme featured the famous photo of her in Carry On Camping, a photo that she said "will follow me right to the end".[80]

In popular culture[edit]

Windsor was played by Samantha Spiro in Terry Johnson's play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick, which premiered at the National Theatre in 1998.[81] Rachel Clarke took over the role of Windsor in the touring production of the play in 2001.[82] Spiro reprised the role in the subsequent film adaptation, Cor, Blimey!. The latter also featured a cameo appearance from Windsor, playing herself.[83]

In the 2006 BBC television film Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!, Windsor was again played by Rachel Clarke.[84] Spiro reprised her role as Windsor in the biopic Babs in 2017, with Jaime Winstone and Honor Kneafsey playing younger versions of Windsor.[85]

Honours[edit]

Windsor was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2000 New Year Honours and in the same year she was the first person to be inducted into the newly created BBC Hall of Fame.[86] In August 2010, she was given the Freedom of the City of London,[87] and in November 2010, she was honoured by the City of Westminster at a tree planting and plaque ceremony.[88]

She was inducted into the Hackney Empire Walk of Fame on 25 May 2017.[89][90]

She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to charity and entertainment.[91][92]

In November 2014, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of East London.[93]

Commonwealth honours[edit]

Country Date Appointment Post-nominal letters
 United Kingdom 2000 – 2016 Member of Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) MBE
 United Kingdom 2016 – 10 December 2020 Dame Commander of Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) DBE

Scholastic[edit]

Chancellor, visitor, governor, rector and fellowships
Location Date School Position
 England 2015–10 December 2020 Royal Central School of Speech and Drama Honorary Fellow[94]

Honorary degrees[edit]

Location Date School Degree Gave Commencement Address
 England 20 November 2014 University of East London Doctor of Arts (D.Arts)[95] Yes

Freedom of the City[edit]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1954 The Belles of St. Trinian's Schoolgirl Uncredited [18][97]
1956 Lost Young Girl in Chemist [27]
1959 Make Mine a Million Switchboard Operator [27]
1960 Too Hot to Handle Ponytail [27]
1961 Flame in the Streets Girlfriend Uncredited [98]
On the Fiddle Mavis [27]
1962 Hair of the Dog Elsie Grumble [27]
Death Trap Babs Newton [27]
1963 Sparrows Can't Sing Maggie [27]
1964 Carry On Spying Daphne Honeybutt [27]
Crooks in Cloisters Bikini [27]
1965 San Ferry Ann Hiker Girl [27]
A Study in Terror Annie Chapman [27]
1967 Carry On Doctor Nurse Sandra May [27]
1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Blonde [27]
1969 Carry On Camping Babs [27]
Carry On Again Doctor Goldie Locks [27]
1971 Carry On Henry Bettina [27]
The Boy Friend Hortense [27]
1972 Carry On Matron Nurse Susan Ball [27]
Carry On Abroad Sadie Tomkins [27]
1973 Not Now, Darling Sue Lawson [27]
Carry On Girls Hope Springs [27]
1974 Carry On Dick Harriet [27]
1977 That's Carry On! Barbara Windsor [27]
1986 Comrades Mrs. Wetham [99]
1987 It Couldn't Happen Here Seaside landlady / Neil's mother [27]
1994 Pussy in Boots Wandawoman [100]
2001 Second Star to the Left Babs Voice [101]
2010 Alice in Wonderland Mallymkun [27]
2016 Alice Through the Looking Glass [27]

Television[edit]

Years Title Role Notes Ref.
1954–1955 Dreamer's Highway Unknown 2 episodes [102]
1961–1963 The Rag Trade Gloria 15 episodes [27]
1962 The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre Babs Newton Episode: "Death Trap" [27]
1962 A Christmas Night with the Stars Gloria The Rag Trade segment [103]
1963 The Plane Makers Marlene Episode: "Any More for the Skylark?" [104]
1963 The Rag Trade Judy 8 episodes [27]
1964 Comedy Playhouse Cynthia Spooner Episode: "The Hen House" [105]
1964 Two Plus Two Louella Episode: "A Funny Thing Happened To Me on My Way To the Altar" [27]
1965 The Des O'Connor Show Nurse Episode: #2.1 [105]
1967 Before the Fringe Various 2 episodes [105]
1968–1969 Wild, Wild Women Millie All 7 episodes [27]
1968 Dad's Army Laura la Plaz Episode: "Shooting Pains" [27]
1968 Ooh La La! Chiquette/Giboulette 2 episodes [106][107]
1969 The Rolf Harris Show Maid Marion Episode #3.12 [102]
1969 Carry On Christmas Various TV film [27]
1970 Comedy Playhouse Polly Episode: "Meter Maids" [105]
1970 Up Pompeii! Nymphia Episode: "Guess Who's Coming to Sin'Er Nymphia" [105]
1970 Carry On Christmas Jim Hawkins TV film [27]
1972 Carry On Christmas Various TV film [27]
1973 Ooh La La! The Shrimp Episode: "The Lady from Maxims" [102]
1973 The Bob Monkhouse Offensive Stripper TV film [27]
1973 Carry On Christmas Various TV film [27]
1975 Carry On Laughing Vera Basket Episode: "The Prisoner of Spenda" [27]
Marie Episode: "The Baron Outlook" [27]
Sarah Episode: "The Sobbing Cavalier" [27]
Lady Miranda Episode: "Orgy and Bess" [27]
Maisie Episode: "The Nine Old Cobblers" [27]
Lottie Episode: "Who Needs Kitchener?" [27]
Lady Mary Episode: "Lamp-Posts of the Empire" [27]
1976 The Mike Reid Show Various Episode: #1.0 [27]
1977 The Punch Review Various Episode: #1.3 [102]
1977 Come Spy with Me Mavis Apple TV film [27]
1980 Both Ends Meet Doris White TV pilot [27]
1980 Worzel Gummidge Saucy Nancy 4 episodes [27]
1983 Carry on Laughing's Christmas Classics Barbara Windsor TV film [27]
1987 Filthy Rich & Catflap Mum Episode #1.1 [27]
1987 Super Gran Ethel Episode: "Supergran and the Heir Apparent" [27]
1988 The Nephew Aunty Vicky 3 episodes [27]
1988 Terry in Pantoland Various TV film [108]
1989 Norbert Smith: A Life Greenham Women's Leader TV film [27]
1989 Bluebirds Mabel Fletcher 6 episodes [109]
1990 Family Fortunes Fairy Episode: "Celebrity Christmas Special 2" [27]
1991 You Rang M'Lord? Myrtle 2 episodes [110]
1992 Double Vision Snow Queen Boss TV film [27]
1993 Frank Stubbs Barbara Windsor Episode: "Starlet"
1993 The Great Bong Mabel Voice [27]
1994–2010
2013–2016
EastEnders Peggy Mitchell Series regular, 1,668 episodes [27]
1995 One Foot in the Grave Millicent Episode: "The Affair of the Hollow Lady" [102]
1999 The Nearly Complete and Utter History of Everything Highwayman Robbery Victim TV film [27]
2000 Cor, Blimey! Barbara Windsor TV film [27]
2001 Second Star to the Left Babs Voice [111]
2006 Doctor Who Peggy Mitchell Episode: "Army of Ghosts" [112]
2011 Little Crackers Shop Assistant Episode: "My First Brassiere" [105]
2011 Come Fly With Me Barbara Windsor Episode: #1.4 [113]
2015 Children in Need Star Wars sketch [105]
2017 Babs TV film [102]

References[edit]

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