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The actors who survived a career in soap operas, and some who are now forgotten
I recently had a most enjoyable day filming with veteran actress Barbara Windsor for a
documentary about the centenary of film production in Borehamwood.
We shot scenes at Elstree Studios before crossing the road to the BBC Elstree Centre to film an interview on the EastEnders set, where Barbara spent many years.
I first visited the EastEnders set in 1985, just about the time the series was going on air. In my day they called it a soap opera, which dates back to American television in the 1950s when series were often sponsored by soap companies like Proctor and Gamble.
Now they like to call them continuing drama series or some such nonsense, but it is what it is. It is the kind of television you are unlikely to remember a week after you have seen it.
They have just killed off a character in EastEnders, but it apparently attracted under seven million viewers compared with well over double that number in its heyday. Having said that, all TV shows get a fraction of the viewing figures enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s.
Luckily, the BBC has faith in the soap opera and is investing between £15million to £25m over the next few years to rebuild and enlarge the exterior set, securing the future of the BBC Elstree Centre.
We also filmed outside the Fairbanks office building on the studio site. I still recall when the BBC asked me to bring along 1930s Hollywood star Douglas Fairbanks Jr to name the building in about 1986. In those days there was far less red tape about such things and we visited the interior set of the Queen Vic pub to interrupt the filming so we could meet the cast.
Barbara has very happy memories of her days in EastEnders and she was lucky enough to meet several of the present-day cast, including Danny Dyer and the long-serving Adam Woodyatt.
However, she said that she will not be returning to the show as it is very pressurised and Barbara is enjoying doing more things she wants to do. She is now a regular theatregoer and has a radio show.
We have some more interviews lined up and I will be visiting Dave ‘Darth Vader’ Prowse and veteran actor Francis Matthews at their homes.
I enjoy meeting them all as we have known each other for many years but are rarely in touch. These kind of projects give a great excuse to renew friendships.
I have just been watching a documentary on the actress Yootha Joyce. Do you remember her?
In the 1970s, Yootha Joyce and co-star Brian Murphy were drawing viewing figures of 20million a week with the comedy series George and Mildred. I remember interviewing them both on the set of the film spin-off, shot at Elstree Studios. I also remember visiting the film sets of Rising Damp, Love Thy Neighbour and Are You Being Served?, also shot at Elstree.
I guess today, most of the once household names involved in these series are now forgotten. Yootha died quite young in 1980, in part due to a drink problem.
Barbara had a great career before entering EastEnders and is still enjoying life after it. It is not so easy for the majority of actors who first achieve fame in soap operas, get a taste of fame, assume there is a glowing future ahead and then find that away from the soap they are quickly forgotten again. Who would be an actor?