Hertfordshire tributes to Dame Barbara Windsor
- Credit: PA
Hertfordshire has paid its tributes to EastEnders legend Dame Barbara Windsor, who has died aged 83 following a battle with dementia.
The much-loved TV, film and stage star died on Thursday evening at a London care home.
Best known for her roles in the saucy Carry On movies and BBC One soap EastEnders, she also appeared in pantomime in Stevenage during her glittering showbiz career and had close ties with Elstree Studios.
Her husband, Scott Mitchell, told the PA news agency: “Myself, her family and friends will remember Barbara with love, a smile and affection for the many years of her love, fun, friendship and brightness she brought to all our lives and the entertainment she gave to so many thousands of others during her career.
“Barbara’s final weeks were typical of how she lived her life. Full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end.”
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Following her appearances in 10 Carry On films in the 1960s and 70s, including Carry On Spying, Carry On Henry, and Carry On Camping, Barbara Windsor gained a new legion of fans as Queen Vic landlady Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders, which is filmed at BBC Elstree Centre in Borehamwood.
Councillor Morris Bright, Hertsmere Borough Council leader, was among those to pay tribute to the actress.
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Also chairman of Elstree Studios, Cllr Bright tweeted: “Heartbroken that actress and dear friend Dame Barbara Windsor has died at 83 after a valiant battle with Alzheimer’s. She was the nicest of people. Always had time for fans. And was so kind to me early in my career.
“My heart goes out to her lovely husband Scott. #RIPBarbaraWindsor”
The team at Elstree Studios were also saddened to hear of the passing of Dame Barbara.
She starred in movies Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963), Crooks in Cloisters (1964) alongside Bernard Cribbins, and Ken Russell’s musical comedy The Boy Friend (1971), which were all filmed at Elstree Studios, as well as some scenes of EastEnders that were shot on site instead of their usual home at BBC Elstree Centre.
Elstree Studios’ local film and TV historian Paul Welsh said: “It was very sad to hear of the passing of Barbara who I had the pleasure to know for over 30 years.
“Barbara was much more than the dizzy blonde she played in the Carry On movies and enjoyed a great career on television and the stage from the West End to Broadway.”
Mr Welsh added: “Barbara was the same off screen and was a people person, always enjoying meeting her fans.
“I had the pleasure to host a plaque unveiling in her honour at Elstree Studios in 2008, which is now sited outside the Borehamwood railway station.
“She always joked with me that Elstree Studios burnt down her beloved Queen Vic. Barbara was referring to the fact that the BBC filmed that particular scene at Elstree Studios for EastEnders rather than their own studio, BBC Elstree Centre.
“Barbara has left us with such great screen memories and will long be remembered.”
During the late 1980s and early 90s, Barbara twice appeared in pantos by Kevin Wood Productions at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage.
She played the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella from December 1989 to January 1990, with Richard Whitmore as Baron Hardup, Bobbie Lawrence as Cinderella, and Paul Laidlaw as Buttons.
Barbara Windsor returned to the theatre in Lytton Way for more shows in 1993.
According to The Gordon Craig Theatre Archive, she appeared in a production of Joe Orton play Entertaining Mr Sloane in August/September.
Bubbly Babs then took on the title role in Aladdin, that year’s Christmas panto.
Aladdin’s mum, Widow Twankey, was played by Stevenage’s favourite pantomime dame, Paul Laidlaw.
The Gordon Craig Theatre Archive website also lists Barbara Windsor as appearing in The Mating Game in September 1982, and topping the bill in The Good Old Days of Music Hall and Variety in September 1992, a high-spirited show featuring “glam, glitz and laughs galore!”
When Barbara’s on-screen EastEnders son Phil Mitchell – aka actor Steve McFadden – was starring in 2014-2015 St Albans panto Jack and the Beanstalk, she dropped in to watch the show.
Babs’ signature chuckle was heard around the Alban Arena as Steve played the evil and power hungry Fleshcreep.
Chris Baker, then marketing manager at the venue, told the Herts Advertiser at the time: “Barbara was fantastic and thoroughly enjoyed it.
“She told me that she’s been in panto since she was 13 and as such normally comes away with tons of notes but on this occasion she didn’t have a single one.
“She thought there wasn’t a single weak link in the cast and that Evolution had made Jack and the Beanstalk into a great pantomime; normally it’s not one of her favourites.
“I was in the auditorium at the end of the first half and when Steve appeared on the balcony for his Les Mis piece she let rip with a full-on Babs laugh, which was brilliant!”
The Arena posted on its Instagram page today: “We’re so lucky that Barbara came and spent an evening laughing and talking with us.
“Our thoughts and love go out to Barbara’s husband, family, friends and all that loved her. We lost a real National treasure... #RIP #BarbaraWindsor”
Barbara Windsor also narrated a 2014 documentary celebrating the filmmaking and television production history of Elstree.
From Borehamwood to Hollywood: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Elstree was made by Howard Berry, a lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield.
Hertfordshire-based EastEnders favourite Jake Wood, a close friend both on and off set, also paid tribute to the Albert Square legend.
Sharing a family picture taken with Barbara and her husband Scott, he wrote on Instagram: “Heartbroken. We’ll never see the like again.”