“So sad about Barbara Windsor, so much more than a great pub landlady & Carry On star,” the prime minister wrote on Twitter.
“She campaigned for the lonely and the vulnerable – and cheered the world up with her own British brand of harmless sauciness and innocent scandal.”
The tribute appears to have prompted searches for the prime minister’s own on-screen encounter with Dame Barbara in Eastenders during his time as London’s mayor.
In 2009, Mr Johnson ambled into Albert Square as part of a storyline that saw Dame Barbara’s beloved character, Peggy Mitchell, decide to stand as a local election candidate.
The scene for his arrival was set with an irate Peggy saying she’d “give him a piece of her mind” if she ever clapped eyes on him.
Lo and behold, a “bicycle puncture” soon sees Mr Johnson appear at the Queen Victoria – or, as the culture secretary called it, the Old Vic – briefly propping up the bar to deliver all but four brief lines, starting with: “Oh please, call me Boris”.
As Peggy says she nearly became involved in politics herself, Mr Johnson replies: “If you have any ideas for how I could help Walford, here’s my card”.
“I wouldn’t dream of telling the mayor of London what to do,” Dame Barbara’s character laughs, before promptly taking the card from him.
As the first time a serving politician had appeared on a UK soap, the former mayor’s appearance performance drew some controversy.
It came just days before the Tory Party conference, where the Conservatives set out their austerity agenda ahead of an election that saw them regain power after 13 years.
Admitting to having been twice turned down from appearing on the soap – which at the time garnered an average of eight million viewers per episode – Mr Johnson’s mayoral predecessor Ken Livingstone was decidedly unimpressed.
“There has obviously been a Damascene conversion here,” he told The Guardian at the time. “There is no reason why the BBC should not give the mayor a cameo appearance – I just wish they would do it for everybody, not just their chosen favourites.”
Labour London Assembly member, Murad Qureshi, went further, saying: “It's a coup for Boris, being portrayed as pretty straight guy on such a popular show, but I would question whether it's in the BBC's remit to influence the public's perception in this way.”
A spokesperson for the national broadcaster was quoted at the time as saying that Mr Johnson’s appearance was “compatible both with BBC editorial guidelines and the principle of due impartiality”.
It was not the last time that Mr Johnson and Dame Barbara would meet.
With the actor and her husband Scott Mitchell having been appointed as ambassadors for Alzheimer’s Society – following Dame Barbara’s diagnosis in 2014 and subsequent campaigning for better care for its sufferers – the couple met with the prime minister at Downing Street in September 2019.
They delivered a letter signed by 100,000 people, urging the government to reform and properly fund the UK’s ailing dementia care system.
“We'll do this. It's very hard. We have to sort it out. I'm going to do my best for you. It's a big old job,” Mr Johnson told them.
After Dame Barbara’s passing on Thursday, Mr Mitchell said his wife’s final weeks were typical of how she lived her life, being “full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end”.
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