Barbara Windsor, British TV and Film Star, Dies at 83

LONDON – Barbara Windsor, star of the film “Carry On” and the BBC soap opera “EastEnders,” has made staccato dirty smiles and the ability to bring working-class life into the British collective memory. , on 10 December. at a care home here. She was 83.

Her death was announced in a statement by Scott Mitchell, her husband and the only survivor, who blamed Alzheimer’s disease.

In recognition of Ms Windsor’s impact on British cultural life over the past six decades, members of the royal family among those who paid homage to social media, as was the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who wrote on Twitter that Ms Windsor was “chewing the world with her own British brand of harmless silence and innocent scandal.”

Ms Windsor was influential in the United States, albeit a short one, when she appeared on Broadway in 1964 in “Oh! What a Lovely War, ”Joan Littlewood’s concert hall-style performance that used reckless World War I songs to mock conflict.

It may have been difficult for some American viewers to understand Ms Windsor’s cockney accent – one of her first films, “Sparrows Can’t Sing,” played with subtitles at some New York shows – but she was nominated for a Tony Award for best actress appearance in an album.

In 1970, she told a BBC interviewer that she really wanted to make a film in Hollywood, if a comedy by Jack Lemmon was preferred. “That would be awful, wouldn’t it?” she said. She did not achieve that particular goal, but it was not long before she was immortalized in British film theaters because of her roles in the farcical, innuendo-laden – and unique – films. successful – “Carry On”.

She later became better known for her role as the matriarchal pub owner Peggy Mitchell on “EastEnders,” a character she starred on and off from 1994 to 2016. She quit once and for all. that his Alzheimer’s made it impossible to continue.

Ms Windsor Barbara Ann Deeks was born on August 6, 1937, in Shoreditch, then part of the working class in east London. Her father, John, who was a bus driver, and her mother, Rose, a dressmaker, had a turbulent marriage and at 15 Ms Windsor was made to testify about their lines at a divorce hearing.

As a child in World War II, she was transferred to Blackpool, a seaside town in the north of England. There, in her 2001 autobiography, “All of Me: My Extraordinary Life,” she first stayed with a family who tried to sexually abuse her, before moving on. joined a friend who sent her mother to dance lessons. The mother was so gifted that she wrote a letter to Ms Windsor’s parents urging them to allow her to take lessons in London. “It’s a real show,” said the letter. Ms Windsor recalled in a BBC interview in 1970.

Back in London, Ms Windsor was spotted by a talent agent who tried to throw her in a pantomime, the popular British theater form at Christmas time, but her school refused to give her time. She finally left to go to acting school, where the teachers tried again and failed – to make her lose her taste.

For all the promises Ms Windsor showed, her breakup did not come until 1960, when she traveled to east London to listen for a role with Ms Littlewood Theater Workshop, a company that provided work. and frequent working-class comedy on stage. Her reputation for her work there soon appeared on TV and then in film, where she was nominated for her moving roles in the “Carry On” comedies.

In these films, the camera would often focus on the short (4-foot-11) but buxom image of Ms Windsor. She is perhaps best remembered for a scene in “Carry On Camping” (1969) in which her bikini top flies off in an outdoor aerobics class (during filming the aide pulled off the top by using fishing line). This clip has appeared on British television several times since then.

Although Ms Windsor enjoyed screen success, her private life was a concern. She had connections with a series of celebrities, including footballer George Best and gangsters East London Reggie and Charlie Kray. In 1964 she married Ronnie Knight, another gangster, who was tried in 1980 to order a man to kill his brother’s murder (he was acquitted), and in 1983 he was involved in the theft of six million pounds ( more than $ 8 million in today’s money) from a security center and fled to Spain.

Her relationship with Mr Knight caused a sudden breakdown, she told the BBC in a 1990 interview. That marriage and another ended in divorce.

Her life came back on track in the 1990s after she was cast as Peggy Mitchell on “EastEnders,” the popular kitchen-sink soap opera whose story lines often revealed social issues. .

She quickly became one of the stars of the show, which was famous for dragging its constellations when the plot required a climate moment and for story lines that could have been much darker. than anything found in a “Carry On” movie. (In 2010, one of her character’s sons burned down the pub in the middle of a cocaine bang.)

In the 1990s, her character had breast cancer twice and underwent a mastectomy, a plot that prompted hundreds of viewers to write to the BBC to thank her for her sensitive handling of the subject. In 2016, in her final version of the show, her character killed herself as her cancer had returned.

No matter what happened to Ms Windsor, on or off screen, she never lost the joy of accomplishment.

“I don’t think so negatively,” she told the BBC in 1990 when asked how she would look back on her life. “I’ll pick out the amazing things that have happened, and how lucky I was to get paid – paid! – to do something I really admired. ”