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Televison: Time for another party in Albert Square.

Byline: Wil Marlow

It started off as a two-nights-a-week soap in 1985. It was the BBC's attempt to emulate the success of ITV's Coronation Street. They succeeded.

Sixteen years on, EastEnders is responsible for as many 'Did you see . . ?' conversations as its northern rival. Having given us an extra episode on Mondays in 1994, the soap's bosses are upping the ante again with a new Friday night episode.

It means more work for the residents of Albert Square including stalwart Pauline Fowler played by actress Wendy Richard, who is one of only two original cast members that have been there for the entire period (the other one is Adam Woodyatt who plays Ian Beale).

Famous for her formidable frown and those awful cardigans - though, according to Richard, Pauline hasn't actually worn a cardigan for a good ten years - the EastEnders matriarch is a backbone of the series.

Richard is obviously fond of her screen character but it is immediately obvious that she would never choose to follow her dowdy style of nylon overall and no make-up.

Dressed up for a special viewing of the two-hour filming of the celebratory EastEnders: It's Your Party, which is being shown tonight, Richard looks glamorous with perfectly coiffured hair, hands weighed down with gold rings and bracelets and immaculately manicured nails.

There is another obvious difference between the two women - pinned on the jacket of Richard's smart dark suit jacket is the MBE which she was awarded last year for acting.

Lighting up a cigarette in a black holder, the actress makes it clear that the award is the highlight of her long career.

'I'm so proud of it and I don't have any diamond brooches to wear so I though it was just the thing for this evening.

Richard, now 55, is not actually a Cockney. Born in Middlesbrough, she moved to London with her parents at the age of five. The family didn't settle in the East End but instead ran the Shepherd Tavern in Mayfair.

She has been in showbiz for 42 years and was famous long before Pauline Fowler came into her life. After roles in On The Buses and Dad's Army, Richard became a household name as Miss Brahms in Are you Being Served?

After a few years out of the limelight, EastEnders put her firmly back in the public eye, where she has remained ever since. Having a regular job has not made her rest on her laurels, however. Workwise she has never slackened over the years, despite a turbulent personal history and a battle with breast cancer.

'You always feel you can do better,' she says. 'I'm very proud to be in EastEnders and I try to give a really good performance every episode.

Richard vehemently defends the abilities of soap actors. 'The snobbish attitude towards us really annoys me. Although Richard freely admits that Pauline isn't the most likeable person ('She is a good woman though,' she says in the character's defence), the actress has a large public following. 'I get some brilliant fan mail but now of course a lot of it is email,' she says, seemingly pleased with her techno-speak.

'Are you Being Served? is also big in America so I got this email last week from this guy in the States and he said 'I think you're wonderful. Can you send me a signed black and white photograph with no lines or wrinkles?' I replied 'If you can find one, I'm looking for one as well!''

From the first time Richard stepped on to the Albert Square set she knew that EastEnders was a show that was going to last.

EastEnders: It's Your Party, tonight, BBC1 7pm.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 10, 2001
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