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WOMAN'S WEEKLY, 23 September 1997
I was terribly overawed when I first saw her," John says, remembering the day he met Wendy Richard and the rest of the cast of Are You Being Served? back in 1972. "I walked into that rehearsal room at the BBC and I was the only person there I'd never heard of. I'd seen Wendy in a series called The Newcomers. I knew Frank Thornton from Small World, Trevor Bannister from The Dustbinmen, and Mollie Sugden had been Jimmy Clitheroe's mum. All I'd been up to that point was John Inman.
"But Wendy and I clicked right away. We're both Cancerians, and Wendy is always such a motherly soul, easer to help people be at ease. If you're ill it's always Wendy who drops in a get well card. She visits an old folks' home near where she lives, and often takes them fresh eggs from a farm near the studios at Elstree.
"We lived so close together back then that we used to share a car to rehearsals, since neither of us can drive. At weekends, we used to meet for a drink at her local pub, which was just down the road from my house."
Twenty-five years later, they still meet up as often as possible, despite Wendy's busy schedule on the EastEnders set. And when they do, says John, the laughter is non-stop: "At the moment she may be playing Pauline, the most miserable woman in the world," he concedes, "but off-screen Wendy does love to laugh. I have to confess I don't watch the show much because I don't understand what they say and I don't think any human being anywhere lives as miserably as they appear to live in that square. But just as soon as Wendy takes off Pauline's horrible old cardigan she's a bundle of laughs again.
"We did a stage show of Are You Being Served? and one day she and I were treating the rest of the cast to a lunch outside in the garden -- it was a wonderful summer day. Well, Wendy could smoke for Britain, and at the time, I was her closest runner-up. We were in the kitchen, making omelettes, and smoking, and at the same instant, the ash from both our cigarettes fell into the mixture. Wendy was aghast, but I said, 'Just beat it in and they'll think it's black pepper.' And we did.
"After that, I used to say to Wendy on stage, 'Pass the black pepper, Miss Brahms,' and she'd crack up. The rest of the cast never found out what made her giggle, and the omelettes, as I seem to recall, were highly praised!"
With a friendship as long as theirs, it's hardly surprising that Wendy has become a part of John's family life as well. "I have two nieces and Wendy made a big hit with them as kids. They're just as fond of her as I am," he says. "When she had to go into hospital a while back, they called every day to keep up with her progress and when she came out they were delighted."
Like all true friends, John can see Wendy's faults as well as her virtues. "She has so many good qualities -- which makes her one bad one all the more noticeable. For a generous person, which she most certainly is, she can be amazingly self-centered at times. If Wendy feels like going out for an Indian meal, for instance, everybody has to go out for an Indian meal. She can be very bossy. On the other hand I give as good as I get, so she could probably say the same things about me, and probably would! What else are friends for?"