Dame Barbara Windsor: Away from her roles on TV, the star’s own life was just as colourful | Ents & Arts News
She was the Carry On star who left little to the imagination, who later became loved as the EastEnders matriarch behind the often-screeched catchphrase: “Get outta my pub!”
A soap legend, Dame Barbara Windsor leaves a lasting legacy following her death at the age of 83.
Born Barbara Ann Deeks in Shoreditch, east London, in 1937, she made her stage debut at the age of 13 and her West End debut at 15.
After changing her surname to Windsor during the Queen’s coronation year in 1953, her first film work, a small part in The Belles Of St Trinian’s, came just a year later.
A handful of films and TV shows followed, and in 1964 she was nominated for the best British actress BAFTA, for playing Maggie in Sparrows Can’t Sing.
But it was her roles in the Carry On films that made her a star.
Dame Barbara’s contribution to the British comedy series started with Daphne Honeybutt in Carry On Spying in 1964, and continued with films including Carry On Doctor, Carry On Matron and Carry On Abroad.
Her most famous scene came in 1969’s Carry On Camping, which saw her character Babs’ bikini top ping off during an exercise lesson.
She appeared in nine of the films altogether, before going on to find roles in TV shows such as Worzel Gummidge, One Foot In The Grave and You Rang, M’Lord?
It was in 1994, when she first walked into EastEnders’ Albert Square, that she enjoyed her career resurgence.
As Queen Vic landlady Peggy Mitchell, mum to the infamous Phil and Grant Mitchell, played by Steve McFadden and Ross Kemp, she became one of the soap’s best-loved characters, and a national treasure.
Peggy extolled the virtues of “faaamily” and went to great lengths to protect her children.
She was small in stature, but Dame Barbara (helped by her blonde beehive) made her character’s presence huge – squaring up to several of the soap’s most notorious villains during her time behind the bar in the fictional east London borough of Walford.
It was a role which earned her two British Soap Awards, for best actress in 1999, and lifetime achievement in 2009.
Dame Barbara starred in the soap until 2010, with a break between 2003 and 2005 due to illness.
She returned for several guest appearances before her final episode in 2016, in emotional scenes which saw Peggy take an overdose after learning her breast cancer was terminal.
In interviews at the time, the star said she “grieved” for Peggy following her death, and that she couldn’t bring herself to watch her final moments on screen.
Away from EastEnders, Dame Barbara’s own life was just as colourful – as told in her autobiography, All Of Me: My Extraordinary life, released in 2000.
As well as detailing her career on stage and screen, she spoke candidly about her relationships and personal life.
Married to former nightclub owner and convicted criminal Ronnie Knight from 1964 to 1985, she famously had a much-publicised affair with her Carry On co-star Sid James.
She was also connected with East End gangsters the Kray Twins, and had relationships with both Reggie Kray and the twin’s brother, Charles.
Windsor was later married to chef and restaurateur Stephen Hollings, from 1986 to 1995, before finding love with her third husband, Scott Mitchell, in 2000.
She never had children, but had no regrets about not being a mother, saying she never had “those maternal feelings”.
Her story was told in a BBC biopic in 2017, starring Jaime Winstone and Samantha Spiro.
With a cameo in the show herself, she was said to have told Winstone: “You’re more me than me!”
As well as acting, the star was known for her charity work.
A big supporter of the Poppy Appeal, she once famously said that people who do not wear them for Remembrance Day could “sod off” – live in a Sky News interview.
She was also involved in high-profile work with Age UK and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and in 2012 became a patron of the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
In the 2000 New Year Honours, Dame Barbara was awarded an MBE. In August 2010, she was given the Freedom of the City of London, and in November that year she was honoured by the City of Westminster.
For services to entertainment and charity, she was made a dame in 2016.
“For a little East End lady to be made a dame just for doing a job that she loves – that’s a bit good isn’t it?” she told Sky News at the time.
A Buckingham Palace source was quoted in reports as saying: “The Queen was delighted when Barbara’s name was put forward.
“Like Her Majesty, she is someone who has been part of the fabric of the way of life in Britain for many years.”
In May 2018, Dame Barbara’s husband revealed she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014, saying he had decided to speak about it openly as her memory loss and confusion had been growing worse.
He later told how he would show his wife her old comedy films and episodes of EastEnders to help trigger her memory.
Dame Barbara spoke out about the disease herself in October 2018, releasing a video calling on people to run the 2019 London Marathon to raise funds and awareness.