Babs the Way to Do it!

1998, Scrapie Magazine

Whether you think of her as the Queen Vic's bubbliest landlady, or if for you she will always be the Carry On Girl, there can be few of you out there that have not come into contact with the work of Barbara Windsor. The freshers party at the start of term saw her make her first appearance here at the university. Scrapie caught up with her just before she was due to go make her appearance in the Commie.

Scrapie: Do you do a lot of these student gigs?

Ba: Actually, no, I would say that this is my first one.

Scrapie: I won't ask you then if you enjoy it, because you don't know yet.

Ba: No, but I will, I will. My mate Paul Bradley, who plays Nigel in Eastenders, came up last year and when they asked me to do it I said to him, "'Ere, this little gig you did last year for students." He said, "Yeah, Windsor, you'll love it." I said, "But why me?" "Well, you're a fun lady."

Scrapie: You're a cult hero.

Ba: Ah, that's nice. I'm an icon, am I? (She started laughing with her usual unmistakable laugh)

Scrapie: You certainly are.

Ba: And a leg end (sic), but anyway, that's one of the reasons and also I love Bradford, I love it.

Scrapie: You've been here before then?

Ba: Yeah, I've been at the Alhambra so many times. In fact I played Aladdin here once, ran on stage and said, "hello everybody, my name's Aladdin", fell over and broke my arm. I did the whole season with a broken arm.

Scrapie: So, fame and all that kind of thing. Obviously you started off, as everybody knows, in the Carry On films…

Ba: No! I didn't. No, I did not start off. You see that's the thing. I didn't do one until I was about, ooh I dunno, 28 or 29.

Scrapie: So what did you do prior to that then?

Ba: I was in showbiz from 13. Got my first job in pantomime then I went into a musical for two and a half years in the West End. And, people don't know but I'm a singer, I started out as a singer. I got a job with the Ronnie Scott jazz band for about a year and the Armando Ross Cha Cha Cha band. Then I got a musical called 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be' which turned out to be a really big success and from that I got a great movie called 'Sparrows Can't Sing' which lead to Broadway and da-da-daa. Then to the Carry On films. But they actually played a minor part in my life. Everyone thinks I did a lot of them. They made thirty and I only did eight.

Scrapie: It's interesting then that the thing that most people would recognise you for is such a small part of your career.

Ba: Yeah that's because it's the power of television. I was not known as the Carry On lady until they bought them for television. The day they put them on television, especially when they cut them up and made them into the compilations, I suddenly was known as the Carry On girl. I mean, I might as well have done them all. I turned down Carry On Cleo, Carry On Cowboy; I might as well have done every single one of them. It was a toss-up between Alistair Cooke and Kenny Williams. But Kenny did say when I said it to him, that there would have to be no sex. So I said "sod you then"!

Scrapie: So, from starting at a very young age then, how has your perception of fame changed?

Ba: Well, funnily enough, they did a programme about me once called Fame. I remember my mother saying about how I coped with fame. She said "well, my daughter's always been famous," because I kind of have. It has changed, especially with going in something like Eastenders, but I kind of adjust far better than most to it. I just think they have it pretty hard because of a lot of them are young people. They go in, it's their first job and suddenly 20 million are watching them in one night and everybody wants them. But I've kind of aspired to that, you know what I mean…

Scrapie: You've built up to it gradually…

Ba: Yeah, and I've been walking down the street for last twenty odd years with people saying "Hello Ba, how are you", you see.

Scrapie: Do you like that, do you like being recognised?

Ba: Yeah, I do. You get people who go "argh, I can't stand it when people say hello." That's all bullshit, I hate all that, I really hate that. I just love being recognised. People are very nice, very kind, not very often do I get anyone tacky with me. People like my character, whatever, even though I'm playing a bit of a matriarchal old bag at the moment in Eastenders. But having said that it's still Ba.

Scrapie: I have to ask you a bit about Eastenders. So, why Eastenders? You must have been asked a thousand times.

Ba: No, never ever, never that, no! It's because they never wanted anybody famous. And if you look at all of those faces, I know Wendy Richard had done Are You Being Served, but not a big part and Mike Read had done a bit of comedy work. But by and large if you look at anybody in any of the soaps there's nobody you've known only but in that soap. So I was absolutely flabbergasted. Funnily enough I was here at the Bradford Alhambra; I'd done Guys and Dolls. And I thought how long can I go on playing twenty years younger than me, which is what I've always done. I've been in this business for forty odd years, is this what is going to be the rest of my life?

Scrapie: So how much longer do you think you'll stay?

Ba: Oh please God forever. Unlike the other cast members in Eastenders there isn't much I haven't done. I mean I have done my Broadway's and Chichester's. I've done my continental film. The only thing I haven't done is a movie in America. Which every time I was supposed to go, I was working. So that's the only thing I would like to do would be a little scene opposite the wonderful Jack Lemmon in a Hollywood film. So what is there for me to achieve? I just love it. All I have to do is learn my lines, be there on time. They are long hours, but I don't give a monkeys. Fortunately the people I seem to be very close to and work with a lot which are the two boys, Ross and Steve (Grant and Phil) and the Lovely Gilly Taylforth (Cathy). They're just my great friends off as well. We have a real laugh. It's fab.

Scrapie: Of your whole career, what is one of your best memories?

Ba: 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be'. A wonderful musical that was written by Lionel Bart, he also wrote Oliver. Coming out on stage, he gave me a number two nights before we opened. I said, how do you want me to do it? 'Just go out and sing it. Don't use your hands too much.' He replied. You gather whilst I'm talking to you I'm using my hands. So I sat on my hands and sang the song and it stopped the show. It's a wonderful feeling for an audience to stand up and say more, more, more.

Scrapie: Right to the opposite end of the scale. Any nightmares?

Ba: Yeah, you have to have the flops. That makes the success so wonderful. I had a nightmare show called Twang that opened in Manchester. It was supposed to be a big smash hit, come to London and run forever. Big, Big, Big flop. Wow was it a big flop.

Scrapie: So to get away from it all, what would be a perfect day?

Ba: My perfect day would be like a Sunday; Get up, have a cup of tea. Go and get the papers. I start with the tabloids, just to see what I've done, what I haven't done. Then get to the other posher ones. Perhaps go for a walk in Regent's Park. Come back, crash out, have a bit of roast beef. That's a great, great day. It's really ordinary, but it's fab.

Scrapie: You really do treasure your time off then?

Ba: I love my four walls and just being Ba. I don't believe all of that crap like 'oh its Barbara Windsor'.

Scrapie: Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

Ba: Believe it or not Alistair Cooke. Love him, love him. I was once asked who I'd like to be on a desert island with. It was a toss up between him and Kenny Williams who is just the greatest, with all of those wonderful stories. But he did say when I said it to him, that there would have to be no sex. So I said sod you then! But Alistair Cooke, I find him very attractive, and that voice and he's so intelligent

Scrapie: Just before you go, can you give us a slight hint about future Eastenders plots?

Ba: I have to tell you something, and it's not a cop out. We read about it in the tabloids about what were going to do. All I know is that at the moment were getting ready for a right old Christmas; because were two months ahead you see. In two weeks time we're going into the Christmas episodes and it will be another hilarious Christmas at the Vic. I should imagine it will be full of tears and tantrums.

Scrapie: Thank you very much.

Ba: That's OK sweetheart, it's a pleasure.

Chris Kent