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Interview on Woman's Hour (2007)

Martha Kearney

Broadcast by:
BBC Radio 4
Probably from BBC Broadcast House, London

"[??]" is used to indicate uncertain transcription phrases.

MK : "Hello!  She's been in show business for more than forty-five years."

(a brief musical interlude playing a bit of 'Come Outside')

MK : "From Sixties dolly-bird to East End matriarch:  Wendy Richard reflects on her career . . "

(there follows some sounds bits from the other features of the day's other interviews.)

MK : "Albert Square really won't be the same.  On Christmas day, Pauline Fowler was found lying in the snow, by her late husband Arthur's bench.  She died from a brain hemorrhage.  After 21 years in EastEnders, the actress Wendy Richard had decided to leave.  In a moment, we'll discover why.  But first, here is that row with Sonia, who's married to her son, Martin -- who was married to her son Martin.  She doesn't want Pauline to emigrate."

(a clip from the show follows:  an argument between Sonia and Pauline.  Broken is the fruit bowl . . .)

MK : "And that was the moment when Sonia hit Pauline.  Do you think Sonia should be done for [charged with] murder?"

WR : "I don't know.  I don't know what happened after I left, I'm afraid; I didn't even know the cause of Pauline's death.  I'm afraid I'm as much in the dark as everyone else."

MK : "Will you carry on watching?"

WR : "Well, to be honest with you, I haven't had time to watch it . . . since I left, since I started work two days after I left.  And then I had my two-week cruise, and then I was back working again, and then I was away over Christmas and New Year.  I didn't particularly want to watch the last episodes, but I did watch yesterday morning, I watched a DVD of one of the tribute programs to Pauline; which was done by Daisy Beck [?], and I think was extremely well-done, and it was very sad at the end, and I've had very good feedback from people who saw it when it went out."

MK : "So what do you think about the way that Pauline left the Square?"

WR : "Well, I wasn't happy with the way they changed her character before she left; all of that was totally wrong.  But, I'm afraid I just gave up fighting in the end.  I mean, nobody knew Pauline better than I, and I just thought, oh, just get on with it and go, and that's what I did."

MK : "What was that you didn't like about how they changed.. . ."

WR : "Because they made her nasty, and she's not a nasty woman.  She wasn't vindictive; she just cared about her family, and the way they had her behaving, and the things they were saying -- first of all, they never should have remarried Pauline, and that's when I resigned, in 2005.  I said, this is all wrong.  There are some women, when they are widowed, never remarry, and Pauline is one of those women.  But nobody would listen, so I resigned."

MK : "It must have been a hard decision after, what, 21 years . . ."

WR : "Well, I discussed it with my partner, John, and we have no mortgage; we've got our money from the income tax and everything.  And when work isn't fun anymore -- well, when I say fun, it was jolly hard work, but, you know, you have to enjoy it, otherwise, you can't give your best.  And apart from that, I couldn't believe in it anymore.  And David Croft, my old governor from the old days, always said 'always play it for truth, whatever you do', and I couldn't play it for truth anymore, because there was nothing I could believe in it.  And so I found it very difficult."

MK : "What do you think about the long-term future of the show?"

WR : "I've no idea.  I don't know what their plans are.  Really, it's not my place to comment."

MK : "Looking back over your time in EastEnders, what are your favorite scenes with Pauline?"

WR : "Oh, some of the scenes I've done with Dot Cotton, June Brown.  She is a wonderful actress."

MK : "In the launderette . . ."

WR : "In the launderette, or anywhere, indeed.  Sometimes in the Fowler's house.  I mean, I think June is absolutely wonderful, and she is a national treasure and I hope they look after her."

MK : "And also, there's all those early dramas, involving Michelle and Dirty Den . . ."

WR : "Oh, yes . . .  You see, people forget how good EastEnders was in the beginning and the wonderful storylines that we had.  I mean, the Watts over at the pub, and then the Fowlers.  It was just, really good, true-to-life stuff.  Pauline's had just about everything that life can throw at her, to cope with . . ."

MK : "Teen-age daughter becoming a mum, a son with HIV, Arthur in prison, what, twice?"

WR : "No, I think he was in prison once, and then he had a breakdown, didn't he?  But, ah, no, he was in twice, you're right.  But . . . things like that don't happen in real-life, but they do, but probably not so quickly; you know, sort of one thing after another."

MK : "And when you came across, behind the scenes, new directors on EastEnders, you used to enjoy winding them up quite a lot . . ."

WR : "Oh, yes, yes, I'd like the look of terror in their face when I tell them I don't do props, I don't do this, I don't do that, and you'd see this panic . . .  And all the crew stand there beaming, because they all obviously know me over the years.  We had a very good working atmosphere, very good indeed.  And that's what I miss, actually, is the crew, the camaraderie amongst them, because, you know, we used to have a good time. . . ."

MK : "Now obviously it wasn't just EastEnders, part of your very long career.  You were also Miss Brahms, the sexy shop assistant in Are You Being Served?  Here's a scene from a show in 1981 . . ."

(a clip from AYBS follows.)

MK : "You're laughing your way through this, Wendy.  It's obvious it was an enjoyable time."

WR : "Oh, yes, you see . . .  Molly, Molly Sugden.  What a brilliant actress.  And she was such a good sport.  I mean, the way they used to dress her up, when she was a little girl, aged three-and-a-half, and had that short, frilly frock on, and the tap shoes and that bright red curly wig.  And all sorts of things; that was one of the kinder outfits they had her wear.  And I think that's where I learned most of my looks for Pauline, was from Molly, because she could definitely freeze an oxen at a hundred yards, with some of Mrs. Slocombe's looks.  And, yeah . . . absolutely great.  Very happy days."

MK : "The looks for Pauline were really tightly controlled, weren't they?  You used to have to get special permission in order to change your hair style."

WR : "Well, yes, which is understandable, because -- it is supposed to be real-life -- and they don't you to change your character, because they don't want the viewers confused.  You just can't walk out of, say, the Queen Vic and reappear in the launderette half an hour later and have a different hair-do.  But when I wanted to have my hair cut, it coincided with Pauline being away in Florida, visiting Michelle.  So that was fine, and I came back with the short hair -- thank goodness --  and just another character said 'Oh, Pauline, I like your new haircut'.  'Oh, thank you, Michelle made me do that; you know what girls are like, daughters are like.' and that sort of thing.  So that had a sense of reality to it."

MK : "But are there -- now that you have the freedom to change your looks -- are you going to do anything more radial?  I think you were quite annoyed that there are some reports that you were going to have plastic surgery?"

WR : "Oh, yes, as if I'd have a face-lift on television, I mean . . .  And what incensed me was they also said a boob job.  Now, I've had breast cancer twice, and I find that comment an insult to all women who've had breast cancer, because unless you've had a mastectomy and you're having reconstruction work on your breast, you do not mess with nature.  I mean, and apart from that, at my age, what would I want with a boob job for?  For heaven's sake, ridiculous . . .  but anyway, that's that.  'No' is the answer."

MK : "And with your breast cancer, certainly the first time you got it, you were determined to carry on working as much as possible. . ."

WR : "Oh, I did, I went back to work two weeks after my operation.  In fact, in the twenty-two years I worked on EastEnders, the only times I was off work was once with pneumonia, once with conjunctivitis, and there was one other thing, and twice with cancer.  And that was the only time I was off work; five times in twenty-two years isn't bad going, is it?"

MK : "Absolutely not.  So what are your plans for the future, you said you started working two days after leaving EastEnders, I can't believe that. . . "

WR : "Yes, yes, I did a week co-presenting City Hospital from St. Thomas' and Guy's [sic].  I absolutely loved that, so I'd like to do more presenting.  I've got three other engagements lined up, but being superstitious as we are in this business, I do not say anything until after I sign on the dotted line."

MK : "But you won't be working in a launderette, because you don't know how the things work, do you?"

WR : "No, no!  When my own washing machine broke down, our local launderette's Pauline is actually called Jeffrey, he wasn't there that day, otherwise he would have helped me.  But I could feel the eyes of these women sitting behind me boring into the back of my head.  And I thought, you know, really you should get up and offer to help me, because I would have done the same for you.  I thought it was very unchristian of them . . ."

MK : "Absolutely.  Well, best of luck to you [?] . . .  Break a leg, as you show-business [?}  . . ."

WR : "Thank you very much."

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