On February 26th 2009 I heard the sad news that Wendy Richard had died. Wendy had been my next door neighbour for six years when I lived in Marylebone and a good friend. The photo of the two of us was taken on her wedding day in 1990 to husband number three.
When my wife Narelle and I moved into our new home, a garden flat in Upper Montagu Street at the end of the 1980s, we were astonished but delighted to find on moving-in day that our next door neighbour was Wendy Richard.
She sent us a little welcoming note on headed blue stationery saying that she hoped we would be happy in our new home. And as we probably wouldn’t have our washing machine plumbed in yet, she gave us directions on where to find the nearest launderette in Crawford Street. Typical of her practical thinking but it gave us a laugh as she was probably the most famous laundrette manager in the land at the time.
Wendy had the neighbouring flat and shared a patio garden with us where we would often sit in the sun and chat away.
Narelle was a superb gardener (won the City of Westminster best patio garden award three years running!) and Wendy use to like to potter around, cigarette in one hand, cup of tea in the other discussing garden layout with her and where to plant her favourite blooms.
She was full of fun and had a wicked sense of humour, so unlike her portrayal of gloomy Pauline Fowler in EastEnders.
Occasionally Wendy would ask me if I fancied going shopping with her. Living just a few minutes away from Oxford Street meant that Selfridges was our corner shop.
I would escort her through the crowds of shoppers and inevitably she would be recognised by fans but strangely they were usually American tourists who knew her as Miss Brahms from Are You Being Served? rather than EastEnders’ devotees. AYBS? had been a huge cult hit in the States.
Sometimes we would go out to our local pub and have a drink. It was something I always had mixed feelings about. The conversation was excellent but I never knew Wendy to drink anything but Champagne and that always meant an expensive round!
Wendy would often chat with me about her career recalling the fun she had being in Dad’s Army and Are You Being Served? Sometimes her mates John Inman or George Best would join us. She use to smoke with an elegant black and gold cigarette holder where she was forever changing the filters.
One love that Wendy and I both had in common was the Columbo TV series. We often used to catch an episode in the afternoon if she had a day off filming. She always said she would have loved to have guest starred in the show.
But the one thing that I remember most about Wendy was her bloody burglar alarm! It was forever going off by accident.
Because she was always at Elstree shooting EastEnders and her then husband Paul was busy away fitting carpets, she asked me if I would be her key holder and go into her flat and switch it off.
At first I was happy to oblige. It made sense, most days I was at home writing scripts for my BBC sit-com Wyatt’s Watchdogs.
Unfortunately the alarm kept being triggered off, setting off an enormous clanging bell you could have heard the other side of Hyde Park. I would then have to go into her flat, reset the alarm and wait for the police to arrive.
We could never work out why it kept going off and then one day we discovered the reason. Wendy had a pet budgie in a cage and its flapping about was setting off the movement sensors!
I bet Columbo would have been on to that one straight away!