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WOMAN, 6 January 1992

I'm Back, He's Free!

He had the famous catchphrase, she had the lovely legs. They used to be on show week after week in the comedy series Are You Being Served? This week everyone's back and Wendy Richard can't wait, as Daphne Lockyer reports:

Wendy Richard is undergoing a transformation. Having arrived from a grueling morning working on the EastEnders set, she's now being turned from the grumpy and slightly dumpy Pauline Fowler, who she's played for the last seven years, into an altogether more glamorous TV character.

A dash of lipstick here, a touch of blusher there and the all-important falsies (eyelashes, that is) and the transformation is complete. Wendy looks at herself and smiles with satisfaction. It isn't every day you get to trade an image as down to earth as an Albert Square cuppa for something as fizzy and dizzy as the champagne she's currently sipping.

Not that the soap actress is a bubble brain. Far from it. It's just that she's about to go back to the role of the ultimate blonde airhead, Shirley Brahms, in a long-awaited sequel to the comedy series Are You Being Served?.

From January 3, the BBC sitcom Grace And Favour will favour us with Wendy's considerable comedy talents . . . to say nothing of her legs, which are causing quite a stir among BSkyB viewers and the American public who are currently being treated to re-runs of the original TV series.

"I get fan letters from people all the time saying how much the series makes them hoot and how much they like my legs," the actress says. "Let's hope that since we made Are You Being Served? neither my legs, nor the humour, have deteriorated.

"I think I can vouch for the humour, because when I first saw the scripts for Grace And Favour I giggled just as much as I did when I first read the ones for Are You Being Served?" Wendy says. "There's something about that brand of seaside postcard humour that makes me crack up. I'd have been heartbroken if they'd made the series without me."

In this series, the cast, which includes all the old regulars like John Inman and Molly Sugden, get up to their usual hilarious antics -- Miss Brahms even has to milk a cow! What appealed most to Wendy about it was that despite the intervening decade, the characters remained the same. Miss Brahms, for example, is still a Miss after a failed romance with an amusement arcade owner from Newport Pagnell.

As for the setting -- it may now be a hotel (left to the characters in Mr. Grace's will), instead of Grace Bros. department store, but says Wendy: "The whole feel of the series is just as it was. It's like bumping into an old friend you haven't seen for years and realising that everything between you is still just the same as ever."

There were similar feelings, too, about acting with the same cast. "Don't forget that we all worked together for 12 years," Wendy points out. "John and I have been best friends ever since the first series. We're constantly at each other's houses and if he's in panto I go to see him, and vice versa.

"Molly (Sugden), too, I've seen whenever I've been able to. And all the others I've at the very least sent Christmas cards to."

It doesn't take long to work out that Wendy cleaves to the familiar -- whether it's people or parts. "I'm not a person who gets bored with my friends -- most of whom I've known for years -- or with the parts I've played," she explains. "Otherwise I couldn't have been Miss Brahms for 12 years and Pauline for seven."

Not that it's been easy juggling the two roles When Wendy first signed up for EastEnders she had an understanding with the show's producer that if another series of Are You Being Served? were made she'd be allowed to take part. "But time-wise it's been very grueling to do both," she says.

During the filming of Grace And Favour, Wendy was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. "It doesn't leave much time for a home life," she says.

Fortunately, her husband, Paul Glorney, is very supportive. Despite a slight age difference (he's 41 and she's 44 -- "though please don't call him my toy boy"), he's the most mature man she's ever been involved with.

In spite of two other unsuccessful marriages, Wendy remains optimistic about the years ahead with the man she married two years ago. "Let's just say I'm a lot more sensible now than I was when I was , say, 20. Life's for learning and I've learned a lot."

Among the lessons -- if she ever needed to learn it -- is that, by and large, the showbusiness world has as much depth as a puddle. It's perhaps for this reason that she has married someone outside the business -- Paul works as a carpet fitter. "We started seeing each other after he went to lay a carpet in a friend's house." Wendy smiles.

Unlike other stars, Wendy tends to shun glitzy do's in favour of a quiet time with Paul at one of their two homes either in central London or down by the sea in East Sussex.

"I'm not one of those actresses who think that real life is something they do at work. I know that real life is what you leave behind when you go out in the morning and slam the front door," she says.

In truth, the way Wendy tells it, what she leaves behind sounds like a very cosy set up. On her precious rare days off she cooks or does tapestry, while Paul tends to his rose garden. Often they can be seen walking their dog (called Shirley Brahms) on the beach.

To add to all this there are also the visits from Paul's three children by his first marriage.

"They're the kind of kids you'd be proud to call your own," says Wendy with just a trace of sorrow that she's never been a mother herself. "Sometimes I do regret it, and other times I think I probably wouldn't have been able to take advantage of all my opportunities if I'd had children. Either way, it simply didn't happen, and I just have to accept that," she says.

It was Wendy's mother who first saw her daughter's acting potential and sent her to stage school. And one of Wendy's few regrets is that her mum and dad didn't live to see her success.

"There again," she says, "my mum did at least get a taste of it. Shortly before she died I'd had a cameo role in a film starring Albert Finney and I took her to the Odean Leicester Square when there was a picture of me up in lights. She was thrilled to bits."

Though Wendy has been in the business for more years than she cares to remember, she still fells the thrill of success. "I still get a kick out of hearing an audience clap or getting a letter from a viewer," she says. "In fact, I still thank the Lord for all the wonderful things in my life."

Chief among these is Paul and last year they celebrated their marriage with a trip to Australia, Hawaii and Singapore.

"I remember Paul saying that he never dreamed he'd ever have a holiday like that. And the truth is, if I look back, I don't suppose I did either -- which is why I still count my blessings."

In other words, Wendy still views her success as a kind of gift from above. She -- more than anyone -- knows the meaning of the phrase Grace And Favour.

Daphne Lockyer

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