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ANNABEL,  September 1986

East End Story

For half an hour, every Tuesday and Thursday evening, millions of people in Britain do exactly the same thing -- watch EastEnders.  John Kercher spoke to three of the cast members about life on television's most popular soap.

Life for Wendy Richard was very much an upstairs-downstairs affair as a child.  "Mostly because I was brought up in pubs where I wasn't allowed down into the pub during drinking hours.  So it was a case of staying in our accommodation upstairs," she says.

"I had a really happy childhood and we moved around a lot as my parents were licensees.  So they had pubs in in Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight and eventually, Mayfair in London's West End.  The London one was a lot of fun, because above the pub they had a restaurant and one of the beautiful things about this, for me as a kid, was the fact that they had these tubs of wonderful strawberry, vanilla and chocolate ice-cream.

"I used to creep into the kitchen and help myself to spoonfuls of the stuff, which used to annoy the chefs a lot and they'd go and tell my parents."

One thing which Wendy says depressed her a bit was the fact that she didn't get to see her parents as much as she would have liked.

"They always had to work a lot during the daytime and in the evenings, or doing all of the other chores that are associated with running a pub, so I was really brought up by nannies.  But I was lucky; they were all kindly, although I did have a favourite:  a Dutch lady called Wilhemina who was marvelous.

"She was with me at the West end pub and when I wanted to go and play she used to take me over to Hyde Park where I had one of the largest gardens you could ever want to romp around in."

The only day that Wendy managed to see her parents was Sunday.  "They were magical for me, because we all sat down to eat together and had a good chance to talk.  When I come to think of it, before my father died, I only really had one holiday with both of my parents together at the same time.  Usually it would have to be one or the other.  But as a kid I didn't notice it all that much, you just accept your lifestyle as it is."

Originally, Wendy was born in Middlesbrough, although her parents brought her to London when she was a baby.  Working in EastEnders is quite a contrast to her own origins.

"I remember when my name was put forward for one of the characters in the series, everything was done in top secret.

"Naturally I was very excited when I heard that I had been selected for a role but I couldn't tell anyone.  I had this best friend who begged me to tell her who I was playing and I wouldn't let on.  Even though she promised that she wouldn't spill the beans I refused to give in."

The role of Pauline came as a complete change from the type of role that Wendy had been associated with in the past.  She was best known for character Miss Brahms in the long-running hit comedy series, Are You Being Served?, in which she played assistant to Molly Sugden's outrageously funny Mrs Slocombe with the multi-colored hair, on the fashion counter.

Wendy didn't have much contact with theatre, films or the entertainment business at all when young.  "I went to boarding school a bit later during my education," she says, "and although  I loved it there and thought it was good for me because of the sense of community that it taught, we were quite restricted in what we did.

"For instance, no magazines were allowed and there was no television, which was a blow, because looking at my favourite programmes used to be a great enjoyment when I lived above the pubs.  We were just allowed the radio, and our reading material  was the Radio Times.  Not exactly hot stuff, but I didn't mind and neither did any of the other girls."

When Wendy's mother started up her own business she made a dream come true for her daughter and sent her to the Italia Conti Stage Academy.  "Although I only stayed about a year because I was lucky to be offered work."

And what a debut!  "It was being one of the attractive decorations in a Sammy Davis Jr. show at a London theatre.  It was marvelous.  Sammy gave all of us girls tickets for members of our family, so I brought along my mum and after the show, which ended at no particular time because he would keep going for ever if he felt good, I took her backstage to meet him!"

Many years later, Wendy was sitting in a restaurant with her then-husband, when Sammy sat down at another table.  "He was told by the person with him that I'd once appeared on stage with him and he just got straight up and came to my table to ask how I was and chat.  And then he came across again before he left to say goodbye and wish me luck.  It really surprised me because there aren't many people of his stature who would bother to do something like that!"

Now, Wendy receives her own mountains of fan mail, a great deal of which comes from children.  "I think they like the characters in EastEnders a lot and they're always writing to say so.  Quite a few adults write, too, and one man keeps sending me these beautiful lace handkerchiefs."

Wendy also admits that the schedules for filming can be tough.  "A couple of times each week we are often filming until ten at night, so your social life can get a bit low.  It's quite difficult to meet people."

She also says that she wouldn't mind a holiday.  "It was back in the Seventies that I last got away for one and I think I'm ready for one now.  We're working a sixty-hour week and so it can be a bit exhausting to say the least.  But then the people are marvelous and I'm so pleased that the series is such a success."

Wendy was recently reported as saying that you have to kiss an awful lot of frogs to find a prince.  But behind that is a story.

"Some while ago, John Inman told me a joke about a frog and I laughed so much that after that I began collecting ornamental ones from all over the place.  I've got quite a lot now."  But when she does find time on her hands, it's tapestry work that occupies her fingers.  "Honestly," she says, "my idea of rough living is three weeks without a manicure!"

John Kercher

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