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Dame Barbara Windsor dies aged 83

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Dame Barbara Windsor dies aged 83

Dame Barbara Windsor has died at the age of 83.

The actress was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014.

Windsor’s husband Scott Mitchell, who broke the news of her illness in 2018, said in a statement: 

“It is with deep sadness that I can confirm my darling wife Barbara passed away at 8.35pm on Thursday 10 December at a London care home. I’ve lost my wife, my best friend and soulmate and my heart or life will never feel the same without you.”

Barbara was born Barbara Ann Deeks in Shoreditch, London in 1937.

She first glimpsed theatrical life after being evacuated to Blackpool where she attended a dance school, making her stage debut at the age of 13. It would be the first of many treading of the boards including a stint on Broadway.

She appeared in her first film, The Belle’s of St Trinians, in 1954, adopting the stage name of ‘Windsor’ shortly afterwards. It was inspired by the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.

In the early 1960s, Barbara joined Joan Littlewood’s workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. During this time, she appeared in Fings Ain’t What They Used T’Be and Littlewoods’ 1963 film Sparrows Can’t Sing, which earned her a BAFTA nomination for Best British Film Actress. But she was best known for her portrayals of a good time girl in nine Carry On films before starring in the ATV television version of the big screen funnies and, in more recent times, as Peggy Mitchell in the BBC One soap EastEnders.

Sir Cliff Richard and Dame Barbara Windsor in a sketch from Cliff’s ATV series in the sixties.

Barbara with the late Sid James in a scene from Carry On Dick.

The Carry On films were largely based on innuendo and Seaside Postcard humour as stars including Kenneth Williams, Sid James and Hattie Jacques found themselves in farcical situations. The first of the films to feature Barbara was Carry On Spying in 1964; the last was Carry On Dick a decade later.

Despite appearing in less than a third of the franchise’s output, her memorable turns as a sexpot would see her become indelibly linked with the series. A famous scene from Carry On Camping sees Barbara’s character lose her bra while taking part in an exercise class. During her Carry On career, she had a long-running affair with co-star Sid James, which ended just before his death in 1976. ITV later dramatised these events in a TV film, Cor Blimey! in 2000, which was based on Terry Johnson’s award-winning play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick.

Barbara’s career had, by her own admission, hit a dry spell prior to the BBC offering her an ‘opportunity to play her age’ as Peggy in 1994. She made her first appearance as the forthright Mitchell matriarch in November of that year. Bosses saw potential and built on an initial ‘trial run’, with Peggy later taking replacing Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean) in The Queen Vic following Sharon’s split from her son Grant.

She starred in the soap until 2010 with Peggy hollering her iconic catchphrase ‘Get Outta My Pub!’ at The Queen Vic’s punters for much of that time. A number of guest appearances followed before she left the show for good in 2016.

Peggy’s memorable storylines included a love triangle with Pat Evans (Pam St. Clement) and Frank Butcher (Mike Reid); a vicious feud with Sharon, and battling cancer on three separate occasions.

The character’s outspoken nature often offended her fellow Albert Square residents but one tirade in particular proved controversial when she attacked Mark Fowler for being HIV+. The scene led to Barbara receiving criticism from viewers who had bought into the on screen drama a little too much. Her close pal Danny La Rue came to her defence by pointing out the distinction between actress and character.

The character’s last hurrah saw her return to the Square to see out her final days after being diagnosed with cancer for a third time. However, unbeknown to her family, Peggy took steps to end her life before the cancer got her.

Grant (Ross Kemp), Peggy (Barbara Windsor) and Phil (Steve McFadden) during Babs’ final EastEnders stint in 2016.

BBC One Drama ‘Babs’ with Barbara Windsor central, Jaime Winstone right and Samantha Spiro left.

After leaving the soap Barbara made occasional acting appearances including as the Queen of Jackpot Joy bingo, voicing The Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, and a cameos in a dramatization of her own life story Babs, which starred Jaime Winstone and Samantha Spiro.

She was made a Dame in the 2016 New Years Honours list for services to charity and entertainment. In May 2018, she and her husband Scott made the decision to go public with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis due to an exacerbation of symptoms. Scott revealed the life-limiting illness was the reason for the definitive ending to her EastEnders character in 2016 and that she would henceforth be retiring from showbusiness.

In a show of support, a number of her EastEnders co-stars ran the London marathon to raise money for Dementia Revolution in 2019. Earlier this year, Scott revealed that Barbara had been moved into a care home after her symptoms had become unmanageable at home.

Barbara’s father, John, encouraged her early talent for performing; her mother, Rose, was snobby about the East End and sought to suppress her Cockney accent by sending her to elocution lessons. When Barbara was 16, the Deeks’ quarrelsome marriage ended in divorce, and Barbara was forced to testify against her father in court, resulting in them no longer speaking.

She was thrice married to Ronnie Knight (1964-1985), Stephen Hollings (1986-1995) and Scott Mitchell (2000 until her death). Her first marriage was the subject of much media scrutiny due to Knight’s criminal connections. Her romance with her former driver Scott in 2000 was initially met with scepticism due to her being some 27 years his senior.

Barbara has spoken openly about her decision to terminate five pregnancies; three in her 20s, and the last at the age of 42. She noted in her 2001 autobiography All of Me that her parents’ split had put her off the idea of having children.

Barbara Windsor, actor, born 6 August 1937, died 10 December 2020

Barbara Windsor (centre) with Jack Douglas (left) and Bernard Breslaw (right) in ATV series Carry On Laughing

Dame Barbara became an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s society following her diagnosis and lobbied Prime Minister Boris Johnson for better care for those with dementia. Barbara and husband Scott also figure-headed the campaign, Dementia Revolution.

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