I met Barbara Windsor at the top floor of what I suppose is now the Langham hotel. There she was already waiting “Sit down my darling” she said.
It was many ,many decades ago and I knew her from the Carry On Films obviously and the famous bra popping scene in Carry on Camping.
It was always odd to me that scene and as she said to me “I don’t even have big tits”. It took something mad like 20 or so takes.
She didn’t have huge breasts but she was in the flesh, a perfect tiny woman with massive cojones. There was a sense you wouldn’t mess with Barbara not just because of who she knew …er not to put to fine a point on it , gangsters…but what she knew. She was so bloody sharp , a fine actress as Joan Littlewood knew. A woman of class.
By class I don’t just mean working class made good and all that accompanying crap. I mean class in how she treated people.
When you interview someone they are nearly always nice to you unless they are those absolute “edgy” wankers. I hardly do interviews with actors because I am not that interested in those who speak other people’s words.
But Barbara was someone who I wanted to meet. I listen in that situation , sure I always do but I also watch. How does that person treat lesser mortals? Taxi drivers, waiters, bar staff?
Barbara could not give them enough and could not have been kinder.
While we were talking, she got very emotional about Kenny. Kenneth Williams who she took on one of her honeymoons . As you do. He had died a couple of years previously and she was grieving him still.
She utterly adored him. It was clear. “Would he have died of a stomach ulcer now?” she kept asking me. No one has to die of that now”. She knew he was in pain. Why didn’t he do anything? She was distraught.
I agreed he should not have died. He was a genius. Waiters came over and gave us tissues and we all cried about Kenny. Then Barbara impersonated him and cracked us up with her asides and also real anger at her beloved friend’s self-neglect. Or self-destruction . Who can say?
More champagne and lets pull ourselves together. She put me in a taxi. Kylie Minogue tiny she was, and also this tower of strength. Sheer will. I was by now paralytically drunk and it was not yet noon. She seemed totally on top of it all and was onto her next appointment.
This was long before the days of EastEnders fame. I am so glad she had that to come.
When I went to write up the piece from our meeting there was a superb line in it from Sid James and Kenneth Williams teasing her about pubic hair and moustaches. The phrase Fenalla Fielding’s “minge” was involved. I have since bowed down before that particular goddess. Fenella.
Anyway the word minge had not appeared in The Guardian till that point and luckily my editor at that time was my compadre Deborah Orr who like me was engaged in some unspoken class struggle. We felt part of this meant minge getting into The Guardian and we did ! I know. Minge. Forever minge.
This may not mean much to some but to see Barbara every year at the Hackney Empire panto as I did meant everything. To see her drowned in love made my year. Her fight was hidden under her charm. Trust me though, many of us understood a hard life , bad choices in men , keeping up a persona. We revelled in her serious charm, her hardness as well as her softness.
I never forget her weeping over Kenny and giving me a handful of tissues , another glass of Tattinger and passing the biggest tip ever to the waiters .
Barbara Windsor was a giver in a world of takers. In every way.
That’s something doll. Thank you.