Wendy Richard (19432009), by unknown photographer, 1965
Richard, Wendy [real name Wendy Emerton] (19432009), actress, was born at the Municipal Maternity Home, Middlesbrough, on 20 July 1943, the daughter of Henry William Emerton (18921954) and his wife, Beatrice Reay, née Cutter (19101972), who both ran the Corporation Hotel, Middlesbrough. While she was still a baby the couple moved to London to run the Shepherds Tavern, in Shepherd Market, and she attended St George's primary school, Mount Street. The family then moved briefly to the Valentine Hotel, Gants Hill, Essex, before settling at the Streatham Park Hotel, London. When she was eleven, she found her father, a freemason, dead on the sitting-room floor in front of a gas fire after he had committed suicide. She then attended the Royal Masonic School for Girls, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, and her mother worked as a housekeeper to bachelor publicans.
On leaving school aged sixteen, Emerton took a job as a junior in the fashion department of Fortnum and Mason, but she left after several months to help her mother run a guest house in the King's Cross area of London. She then trained at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts while working part-time at various department stores, adopted the professional name Wendy Richard, and accepted modelling assignments. Her first television appearance was in a non-speaking role in a 1961 episode of Val Parnell's Spectacular featuring Sammy Davis jun., before she found her first success performing the sardonic cockney spoken vocal, uncredited, on Mike Sarne's number one single Come Outside (1962), for which she was paid £15, with no royalties.
Speaking parts followed on television for Richard as a runaway teenager in an episode of Dixon of Dock Green (1962), and in a sketch in The Arthur Haynes Show (1962). She also played, on and off (19623), the receptionist Susan Sullivan in Harpers West One, set in a London department store, before acting the rebellious teenager Joyce Harker in the BBC serial The Newcomers (19657). During this part of her career, she was frequently cast as a glamour girl, in films such as Doctor in Clover (1966), No Blade of Grass (1970), Gumshoe (1971), Carry On Matron (1972), and Carry On Girls (1973), as well as the cinema versions of the television sitcoms On the Buses (1971) and Bless This House (1972). She married Leonard Black (b. 1930), an importer, on 1 June 1972, but the marriage lasted only five months and was dissolved two years later. This, combined with the death of her mother from liver cancer, led Richard to attempt suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
Alongside other character parts, Richard had sitcom roles as Maudie, a workmate of the widowed Dora Page (played by Dora Bryan), at a sausage factory, in Both Ends Meet (1972) and the pub barmaid Doris in the second series of Not on Your Nellie, alongside Hylda Baker (1975), as well as acting Pearl, housekeeper to an absent-minded doctor (Derek Royle), during the first series of the children's comedy Hogg's Back (1975). She had a long run as the flighty ladies' fashion department assistant Miss Brahms in the sitcom Are You Being Served? (197385), set in the Grace Brothers department store, following her appearance in the 1972 Comedy Playhouse pilot. She also appeared in the 1977 film spin-off and a stage version, and in Grace and Favour (19923), in which the Are You Being Served? characters ran a country hotel. Her second marriage, on 19 July 1980, to William (Will) Thorpe (b. 1940), an advertising executive, was dissolved in 1984.
In 1985 Richard was cast in the pivotal role of the downtrodden matriarch Pauline Fowler in the original cast of the BBC soap opera EastEnders. She appeared in more than 1400 episodes, until her character's death in an episode broadcast on Christmas day 2006. A third marriage, to Paul Glorney (b. 1950), a carpet fitter, on 17 March 1990, ended in divorce after four years, but from 1996 she formed a lasting relationship with John Burns (b. 1963), a painter and decorator. She was appointed MBE in 2000, and in the same year her autobiography, Wendy Richard … No S: my Life Story, was published; among other things this revealed that (unlike her EastEnders character Pauline Fowler) she was a lifelong Conservative.
In 1996 Richard was diagnosed with breast cancer, and six years later underwent surgery for a malignant lump in her neck. In 2008 the cancer spread to her kidneys and bones. On 10 October the same year she married John Burns. She died at the Harley Street Clinic, 35 Weymouth Street, Westminster, on 26 February 2009, and was survived by her husband. Her funeral was held at St Marylebone parish church on 9 March 2009. Later that year David Croft, the co-creator of Are You Being Served?, unveiled a Heritage Foundation commemorative plaque at the Shepherds Tavern, the London pub once run by Richard's parents.
W. Richard, Wendy Richard … no s: my life story (2000) · Daily Mirror (11 Feb 1986) · The Times (27 Feb 2009) · Daily Telegraph (25 Feb 2009) · The Guardian (27 Feb 2009) · The Independent (27 Feb 2009) · A. Hayward, The who's who of soap operas (1991) · A. Hayward, The new and revised Guinness who's who of soap operas (1995) · British hit singles, 15th edn (2002) · ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/individual/109239, accessed on 15 June 2012 · www.imdb.com/name/nm0723910/, accessed on 15 June 2012 · b. cert. · m. certs. [1972, 1980, 1990] · d. cert.
BFI NFTVA, current affairs footage
BFI NFTVA, light entertainment footage
BFI NFTVA, performance footage
Wendy Richard: to tell you the truth, BBC1, 19 March 2009
Wendy Richard: a life on the box, BBC1, 12 June 2001
BL NSA, performance recordings
photographs, 19622007, Photoshot, London · photographs, 19622008, Getty Images, London [see illus.] · photographs, 19952002, PA Images, London · obituary photographs · photographs, Camera Press, London · photographs, Rex Features, London
Wealth at death
£2,010,241: probate, 22 July 2009, CGPLA Eng. & Wales