Soap queen Wendy Richard dies

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The Independent Online

Actress Wendy Richard has died after a battle with cancer, her agent said.

The former EastEnder died in the Harley Street Clinic in London with her husband John Burns by her side. She was 65.

Her agent Kevin Francis said: "She was incredibly brave and retained her sense of humour right to the end."

Richard will be best remembered as Pauline Fowler in EastEnders, a part she played for 21 years.

But before joining the soap she was already well-known for her role as Miss Brahms in the hit sitcom Are You Being Served?.

The actress had fought to overcome cancer twice previously, first in the mid-1990s and then in 2002.

After lengthy treatment her cancer went into remission, but last year she found the disease had returned in an aggressive form.

It spread to her kidneys and bones, and in October she revealed that the cancer was terminal.

She married her long-term partner Mr Burns, her fourth husband, at a star-studded ceremony in London's Mayfair in October.

Bill Treacher, who played Richard's on-screen husband Arthur Fowler in EastEnders, said the pair had never rowed in all the years they worked together.

"I am very, very saddened at this news. Wendy and I worked together for 11 years and in all that time never quarrelled, we were both totally professional and I am truly saddened to hear this news."

Minder star Shane Ritchie, who worked alongside Richard on EastEnders playing Alfie Moon until 2005, said he was, "absolutely devastated" by news of her death.

He said: "I send all my love to John and her immediate family."

Presenter Dale Winton has known Richard for many years. He said: "I knew her as a family friend first since I was a little boy and worked with her many times.

"I'm very saddened to hear the news, she was a real fighter and actually a very kind and funny lady in her own right. My thoughts are with her family, she will be missed."

Tributes were paid to Richard at a service to remember former managing director of television at the BBC, Sir Bill Cotton.

Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, said after the service: "Wendy Richard is going to be incredibly missed by the BBC and by our audiences."

He said that she lit up living rooms for so many British families and she was like a member of the family.

He said that was a wonderful achievement.

Veteran actress, June Whitfield, said of Richard: "She was always delightful.

"I'm very, very sorry. I did not work with Wendy. We met at dos. It's very sad."

Richard's friend and fellow broadcaster Esther Rantzen said the star would be badly missed.

"She was courageous, honest, a brilliant talent and she will be greatly missed," she said.

"She was a woman of huge integrity, she was a terrific, terrific lady.

"She will be missed by a huge number of fans because she has given us so much pleasure over many years."

The singer Lulu said she was sad to learn of the news.

"I don't like to hear about people going, but if there can be a tribute to her life it is that she did great work," she said.

Richard was born Wendy Emerton in Middlesbrough in 1943 but grew up in London, where her parents ran a pub.

She was educated at the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, before leaving school at 15 and working in Fortnum and Mason's fashion department.

She left to study drama at the Italia Conti Stage Academy in London and decided to change her surname to Richard because "it was short and neat".

In 1962 she appeared on the novelty record Come Outside with British artist Mike Sarne, reaching number one in the charts.

Richard gained parts in the 1960s BBC soap The Newcomers, Dad's Army, Up Pompeii! and The Likely Lads.

She also appeared in Carry On films alongside fellow EastEnders star-to-be Barbara Windsor.

But she became a household name playing a cheeky Cockney shop assistant in Are You Being Served? for 12 years.

Richard joined EastEnders with the first episode in 1985 and stayed at the soap until Christmas 2006, when her character died.

She was awarded an MBE for services to television in 2000.

Sir Terry Wogan said the star would be remembered as one of the greats of British television.

"In the 60s and 70s, she was the queen of the sitcom and I'm sorry to hear she's gone."

Maureen Lipman added: "She seemed like a really feisty woman.

"I'm very sorry. She was a very familiar face on our TV screens and too young to go."

Chris Tarrant said the death was "awful news".

Actress Gillian Taylforth, who played Kathy Mitchell in EastEnders, said Richard was "the loveliest of ladies and a dear friend".

"I was with her in EastEnders for 13 years and have many happy memories," she said.

"I remember going out with her many times and she made the most wonderful chilli with chocolate in it from a recipe from a chef at the Dorchester and used to make up an extra batch for me as I loved it so much. She was very generous like that and had a great sense of humour.

"I am very sad to hear of her passing and send my condolences to John and the family. She will be sorely missed."

Scriptwriter Jeremy Lloyd, who worked with Richard for many years on Are You Being Served?, said: "Wendy was not only a great friend but brought her extraordinary personality to Are You Being Served?, making her a star member of the cast. I shall miss her very much."

Richard worked with Macmillan Cancer Support following her diagnosis with the disease.

Chief executive Ciaran Devane said: "We are saddened by the death of Wendy Richards. Macmillan is very grateful for the support Wendy gave to us and to other cancer patients. Our deepest sympathy goes out to her family and friends.

"So many feelings and emotions can surface at a time like this but whatever questions you have or support you may need, Macmillan can help. We support everyone affected by cancer."