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CELEBRITY, 17 March 1988
You couldn't imagine two people more different than actress Wendy Richard and her EastEnders' alter ego, Pauline Fowler.
Pauline is frumpy, harassed, dogged by bad luck and has somehow managed to collect the cares of the world on her shoulders. Wendy is bright, glamorous, talented, successful and the only things she collects are rave reviews -- and hundreds of frogs!
Crystal frogs, china frogs, froggy teapots, froggy mugs, pictures of frogs, tapestry frogs -- you name it, Wendy's got an example of it.
"It's all getting a bit out of hand these days," she admits. "Even my dressing-room at the studio is full of them!"
The craze started when Wendy was working on Are You Being Served? with zany actor John Inman.
She explains, "I was looking for antique glass which was my passion at that time and I saw a beautiful 1920s china jug shaped like a frog. John told me a silly joke about a frog and that's what set me off. I have over four hundred in all and the collection's still growing."
Now that she's an established favourite in Britain's most watched soap opera, Wendy does find that people identify her with long-suffering Pauline Fowler.
In spite of her convincing Cockney tones, Wendy was actually born on Tees-side, but for many years her parents ran a pub in Shepherds Market, Mayfair. "So I was really brought up in London most of the time," she insists.
It was in another pub run by her parents, in Gants Hill, Essex, that Wendy -- an only child -- got her first taste of the theatre.
"About once a month, my parents used to have an evening when they had amateur dramatics in the big lounge at the back of the pub, and I was allowed to go and watch with a couple of school friends. I thought it was marvellous!"
Wendy never performed in the pubs herself, though.
"Oh no, certainly not," she laughs. "My father would never have allowed that!"
When times were difficult, she did work in a bed and breakfast hotel run by her mother. "But that was earlier in my career," Wendy explains, "when there were long gaps between acting jobs. I also worked behind a bar -- Queen Vic please note! -- and as a shop assistant, which was good experience for Are You Being Served?"
That smash-hit series gave her probably her best-known role before EastEnders -- as the glam but daffy Miss Brahms, the redoubtable Mrs Slocombe's shopgirl sidekick, but Wendy doesn't regret giving up that sexpot image for something a little grittier.
"There comes a time," she says, "when you realise you can't go on playing dolly birds for ever. When I was invited to play Pauline, and given a week to think about it, I realised what a good character she was and that I would be mad to turn it down. Playing Pauline gave me a chance to prove that I could really act.
"She's a very hard-working woman and I feel sorry for her with all the trials and tribulations she has to put up with, but I'm not really like her -- I'm not married with three children and I don't have a husband who's unemployed. But I do like to think I'm a sympathetic person and people can bring their problems to me. The trouble is that people treat me like an Agony Aunt and viewers who write to me expect me to have all the answers!"
And although Pauline Fowler is a wonderful part to play, Wendy doesn't want to end up being typecast again. "I still go off and do other things," she explains, and some of her jobs are far removed from life in Albert Square. At Christmas, for example, she played Dandini in Cinderella at the Beck Theatre, Hayes, when she enjoyed the chance to show off her long, shapely legs and a stunning figure that Pauline's frumpy clothes never allow us to see.
"I love pantomime," Wendy laughs, "especially seeing the little children's faces, and hearing them squeal and laugh and shout at everything. It's lovely."
But even while the panto was on -- she was doing seven shows a week -- Wendy still had to turn up at the Elstree Studios for the filming of EastEnders.
"We do get certain rest weeks," she reveals, "every two months or so, but I won't get any for some time to come because I've already been given time off to do the pantomime."
Such a heavy schedule allows Wendy very little time to relax, so when she is free she likes to go to a health farm and about once a month, again if she has the time, she visits Alan Herdman's gym in Covent Garden.
"I'm also a vitamin freak," she admits. "Everyone at work laughs at me about that but I like to cover all my bets so I take everything, from A to K!
"Fortunately, my mother had a good skin and I've inherited that from her."
And to keep up her glamorous off-screen image, Wendy's recently lost a lot of weight on the Cambridge diet and says she's never felt -- or looked -- better.
She blames her weight gain -- at one point she ballooned to over 11½ stone [161 pounds] -- on being in love! She and her boyfriend Paul are planning to marry this year (it'll be Wendy's third stab at matrimony) and she claims she always puts on weight when she's really happy.
Now, though, with a lot of willpower and sturdy encouragement from Paul, she's showing that she's still a real looker!
Making personal appearances is another thing that brings Wendy a lot of pleasure, but she doesn't appear as Pauline on these occasions.
"Oh no," she says. "I'm booked as Wendy Richard and all my fan mail comes to Wendy Richard so they don't want me to turn up in a frumpy blue overall, do they?"
And although she enjoys meeting her fans, like many other stars, Wendy finds that there's a price to be paid for being a household name.
"You have no privacy," she says regretfully, "and I like to lead a very quiet life away from work." But she doesn't mind giving interviews. "That's different," she says. "It's when the Press hound people, that's the bit I don't like -- and when I'm misquoted!
"For instance, although I do have a friend who is a clairvoyant, it's not true that I asked her whether I should take the part of Pauline. I've seen that written in magazine articles and it's not true."
She does admit to a fascination with clairvoyancy [sic] and astrology, though she doesn't believe in using them as anything other than a guideline -- and she's very superstitious. She won't ever walk under ladders or wear green, and she would never, never cut her nails on a Friday or a Sunday.
"Because if you do," she maintains, "you'll have the Devil with you all the week!"