Sunday, 6 August 2017

Celebrating Dame Babs at 80


Dame Barbara Windsor is 80 years old today. It's hard to believe the evergreen star is celebrating this milestone yet at the same time it feels like Barbara has been a national institution for ever! Barbara's story is well known and oft repeated however her life has been as dramatic as her career has been varied and while she has never been my favourite member of the Carry On team, I do admire Babs for many reasons.

She only made nine original Carry On films compared to Joan's 24 and Hattie's 14 however her personality was so strong and the characters she played have become part of the British way of life. Who can forget Barbara in that nurses outfit in Carry On Doctor, or her infamous "three hearts" costume from Again Doctor? And what about her famous bra-popping sequence in Carry On Camping? So many iconic moments in only nine films, yet Barbara was terribly typecast in the Carry Ons and her career suffered for a long time as a result. While Joan, Hattie and the others played a variety of characters and had a varied body of work elsewhere, Barbara's early promise as an actress fell by the wayside once she was part of the Carry On crew.

Early success working for the legendary Joan Littlewood at Stratford East led to starring roles in films like Sparrows Can't Sing and theatre productions like Oh! What a Lovely War! and The Threepenny Opera. She had success of television too with a prominent role in the BBC comedy series The Rag Trade. However that image of the bubbly Cockney blonde with comedy firmly aimed at her bust and her appearance proved hard to shift. This is why I admire Dame Barbara. She's probably at her own admission not the greatest actress that ever lived, however through sheer hard work, determination and perseverance, Barbara has forged a lasting, rounded and successful career which has given her a permanent place in our national consciousness, made her a firm favourite across generations and led to a Damehood. Not bad for a little girl from the East End.

There were fallow years in the 1980s when Carry On humour was out of fashion and nobody would take her seriously as a legitimate actress but Babs kept going, even if it meant sleeping on the floor in dingy end of the pier dressing rooms before one nighters of her one woman show and pantomimes all over the joint. There were failed relationships, scandals and health issues but Barbara has always bounced back. Those doubting her credentials as an actress were silenced when she joined the cast of EastEnders in 1994 in what would be a mammoth 16 year run as Queen VIc Landlady Peggy Mitchell. As Peggy, Barbara returned to the centre of the British entertainment industry and everyone fell in love with her all over again. As well as bringing much-needed life and light to the rather depressing London soap opera, Windsor was also given serious, gritty storylines to get her teeth into. I remember to this day how impressed I was by her portrayal of Peggy during the character's battle with breast cancer and the fall out from her husband Frank's affair with Pat Butcher. Such touching, emotional and raw performances surprised many but confirmed to the rest of us what a class act Babs is and always has been.


Barbara took risks too - who can forget when her character was at the centre of a scandal when she voiced some truly dreadful opinions on the subject of HIV and AIDS? This wasn't cuddly, fluffy old Babs, this was an actor playing a troubling, difficult and challenging part. There is no doubt that EastEnders put Barbara firmly back in the spotlight and she immediately looked happy again. That, together with a long and successful marriage to husband Scott and she was in a good place again. Following the dramatisation of Barbara's relationships with co-stars Sid James and Kenneth Williams in the play Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle and Dick in the late 1990s, a television drama was made in 2000, Cor Blimey! This was followed up only this year by the BBC's telling of Barbara's tale: Babs.

Barbara faced some criticism when she was made a Dame however I think that's just sour grapes. Barbara Windsor has endured for decades and has become very much a part of who we are as a nation. Yes, she's not Judi Dench or Maggie Smith but so what? She's carved out a wonderful career across all media and she's still going strong as she approaches her landmark 80th birthday. Thank you Babs for continuing to fly the Carry On flag so many years after the vast majority of the glorious, talented colleagues have sadly left us. Long may your star continue to shine.


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