Barbara Windsor: The Carry On star who urged people to take a stand against dementia

 Dame Barbara Windsor brought joy to Britain but her campaigning lifted the stigma of dementia

Pa Reporters
Friday 11 December 2020 03:12
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Barbara Windsor circa 1960
Barbara Windsor circa 1960

From her irresistible laugh in the Carry On series to the decision to go public with her Alzheimer's diagnosis, Dame Barbara Windsor will be known as the woman who helped change the lives of thousands for the better.

One of Britain's favourite entertainment stars, cockney heroine Dame Barbara first become famous for her appearances alongside Sid James before crossing the generational divide as the Eastenders’ landlady, Peggy Mitchell.

She was born Barbara Ann Deeks on 6 August 1937 in Shoreditch in east London to father John, a barrow boy, and her dressmaker mother Rose.

From an early age Dame Barbara was sent to elocution lessons by her mother, who she once described as a "snobby East Ender".

She later said that the moment "haunted" her for years, because she was a "daddy's girl" and she had not been able to share his side of the story.

Dame Barbara's first film appearance came in 1954's The Belles Of St Trinians, but it was not until her appearances in the Carry On films that she rose to national prominence.

The star's debut in the comedy series saw her star alongside Bernard Cribbins in Carry On Spying in 1964.

She appeared in nine of the 31 Carry On films, but was mostly associated with Carry On Camping and the memorable and risque scene in which her bikini top springs off during an exercise routine.

With her blonde hair and infectious giggle, the 4ft 10ins star instantly became popular with audiences, before her final appearance in 1974's Carry On Dick.

As well as her screen career, Dame Barbara was known for treading the boards, having made her stage debut at the age of 13, before going on to land her first West End role in the chorus of Love From Judy in 1952.

Years later, fame came knocking again for Dame Barbara when she made her debut as Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders in 1994, starring alongside Ross Kemp and Steve McFadden as her fictional sons Grant and Phil, and Mike Reid as on-screen husband Frank Butcher.

A beloved member of the cast, she was at the heart of many of the soap's most famous storylines.

In 2009, Dame Barbara announced she would be leaving the soap for good in order to spend more time with her third husband Scott Mitchell, who she married in 2000 and who was 25 years her junior.

The following year her character exited the soap after a fire at her pub.

She popped up on handful of occasions over the years before reprising the role for a final time in 2016, where it was announced that Peggy would be killed off after losing her battle with breast cancer.

Her final scenes aired in May 2016 in an emotional episode that left viewers weeping.

But her most prestigious accolade came in 2016, when she was made a Dame in for her services to charity and entertainment from the Queen.

Dame Barbara delivered a letter signed by 100,000 people to Boris Johnson pleading for better care for fellow sufferers.

At the time, she said: "I am so very honoured, proud and extremely humbled by this honour.

"I feel so lucky to live in a country I love, a job I have always adored which has allowed me to be in a position where I am able to help others.

"For a girl from the East End born into a working-class family and an evacuee during World War Two, this is truly like a dream. I am so happy and blessed to say it's real."

As well as her EastEnders role dominating her later years, in 2010 she voiced Mallymkun the Dormouse in Tim Burton's live action adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland and in 2016's Alice Through The Looking Glass.

She married Mr Mitchell in 2000, after first meeting him in 1992.

In May 2018, Mr Mitchell revealed in an interview that Dame Barbara had been living with Alzheimer's after being diagnosed in April 2014.

In August 2020 it was revealed Dame Barbara had been moved to a care home as she struggled with her advancing dementia.

The actress and Mr Mitchell campaigned throughout her illness to raise awareness, and in 2019 they visited Downing Street for a meeting about dementia - during which she showed off her cheeky side by asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a kiss.

Dame Barbara delivered a letter signed by 100,000 people to Mr Johnson pleading for better care for fellow sufferers.

She was credited by her friend and former Albert Square co-star Ross Kemp for helping to change the way people think about the condition.

"For a lot of people, when they get that diagnosis they don't know what to do, and I think someone like Dame Barbara talking about it lifts some of that stigma," the actor, who made an ITV documentary on dementia, told The One Show.

The star herself was said to have been "thrilled" by the response to going public, saying "I'm helping people", according to her friend, columnist Jane Moore.

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