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RADIO TIMES, 26 October 1985

Family matters in Albert Square

Will it be William?  Paul perhaps?  Or even Lou's favourite, Albert?  It's baby Fowler's christening this week, and, as the clan gathers at the font, Eithne Power meets the faces behind the folk at number 45

It's 11.30 am and Wendy Richard concludes a rather moody examination of herself in her BBC dressing-room mirror at Elstree studios.  She's waiting to be called for another EastEnders rehearsal and she looks extremely tense.

The long blonde hair that was the hallmark of the bounteous Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served? is tied back in an elastic band.  She's wearing a typical Pauline Fowler outfit -- blue synthetic blouse and blue jeans -- and she looks as if someone is going to burst in and announce that the machines have gone made in the launderette again.

With EastEnders it's difficult to know where the actress leaves off and the fictional character begins.  The only real giveaway is Wendy Richard's hands -- fine, long and white.  You don't have hands like that if you're 40, your husband's been out of work, you do the morning shift in the launderette, your teenage daughter is pregnant, your new 'surprise' baby has been desperately ill with gastro-enteritis, the christening has had to be postponed, and after a morning mopping up suds, you come home to a sink of dirty crockery.

All that before you resume your position as the strong woman of the close-knit family, living in an over-crowded house in a crowded East End square, surrounded by neighbours with problems like illegitimacy, adultery, gambling mania, class tension and racism -- to name but a few.

And they all seem to think that Pauline, earthy, sensible, loving and harassed, can help them.  "There aren't a lot of laughs in life for Pauline," says Wendy.  "In fact, since the beginning of the serial I don't think that woman has had one carefree moment.  She could do with a bit of light relief, and so could I.

"Mind you I sometimes feel envious of the close family thing, the loyalty, the way they all rally round."  She's an only child herself, orphaned and twice divorced, and her lifestyle in a West End flat is a far cry from Albert Square, E20.  That's now, but Wendy's no stranger to struggle.  There was her father's death in 1954, her mother's hard work in a small bed-and-breakfast near King's Cross ("We had to have a roof over our heads").  Then there was the terrible year when her mother died and Wendy tried to run the business while her own work dried up disastrously.

The dizzy Miss Brahms, an evergreen girl in her early 20s for 12 years, made the actress a household name.  Now, for the first time, she's playing a woman her own age -- and she's glad of it.

(The remainder of the article focuses on Bill Treacher and Anna Winger.)

Eithne Power

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