Peggy Mitchell is leaving Albert Square, it was announced today, and the EastEnders scriptwriters must now decide whether she goes vertically or horizontally.
Either way, the Queen Vic will need a new landlady, because 72-year-old Barbara Windsor has opted to do what as Peggy she has ordered dozens of others to do down the years. “Get outta my pub,” was the Mitchell matriarch’s familiar war cry. Soon it will be just another of Walford’s ghostly refrains.
Windsor’s 15 glottal-stopping years in the BBC soap have cemented a her status as a national treasure already established by nine Carry On films. ‘National treasure’ is an overworked phrase, of course, but in her case it is indubitably fitting, unlike the bikini-top which so famously pinged off during the exercise-class in Carry On Camping. Yesterday, though, Windsor cited another woman perceived as a national treasure, and indeed a namesake, although thought not to be a relation. The highlight of her time on EastEnders, she said, was when the Queen visited the set. That was a memory, she added, that would stay with her forever. But it is the future that has evidently prompted her decision to leave. “When all’s said and done I should spend a bit more time with my old man,” she explained, “as he’s not getting any younger.”
As so often, the Windsor tongue was lodged firmly in cheek; her old man, Scott Mitchell, is 25 years her junior. They married nine years ago, bringing stability to a personal life that has been at least as tempestuous as Peggy’s. Windsor has had five abortions, an affair with her Carry On co-star Sid James, and the first of her three marriages was to the gangster Ronnie Knight. She also sent flowers to her friend Reggie Kray’s funeral, but always denies that her portrayal of Peggy is inspired by the Kray twins’ formidable mother Violet. For her part, Peggy has also been married three times, has also been romanced by gangsters, and was the first soap character to undergo a mastectomy. If they didn’t inhabit the same body, she and Windsor would have plenty to talk about.
What Peggy is that Barbara has never been is a mother, albeit of those bull mastiffs in human form, Phil (Steve McFadden) and Grant (Ross Kemp), and the troubled Sam (Daniella Westbrook). Peggy’s fierce interpretation of motherhood has helped to sustain EastEnders through its periodic lulls in popularity these past 15 years, and she will be much missed by the scriptwriters, although they will at least get to flex their imaginations over the manner of her exit, which is expected to take place early next year. What seems certain, though, is that fact and fiction will continue to mingle in the fortunes of Margaret Ann Mitchell and the woman born Barbara Ann Deeks in Shoreditch, in 1937. And whatever Windsor says, if they do kill her off the old East End won’t have seen a send-off like it since Violet Kray was pronounced brown bread.