Entertainment & Arts

Dame Barbara Windsor to leave EastEnders for good

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Media captionSome of Dame Barbara Windsor's highlights as Peggy Mitchell

EastEnders actress Dame Barbara Windsor says she is leaving the show for good as it is revealed her famous character, Peggy Mitchell, will be killed off.

Viewers saw Peggy make a surprise return on Friday night when she told her son Phil her cancer had returned.

Dame Barbara, 78, said she had thought "long and hard about it" but it was now time to say goodbye to the character.

She joined the soap in 1994 and played the character full-time until 2010. She has since made occasional returns.

Unlike her previous storyline, she will not win her cancer battle and will die from the disease.

"Peggy is a character close to my heart but I made the decision a while ago that I need to say goodbye to her once and for all, as otherwise she will always be there, urging me to go back, and that is something I need to shut the door on," Dame Barbara said.

Image caption Peggy's feud and friendship with Pat Butcher, played by Pam St Clement, is one of her most well-known storylines

She said EastEnders executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins had accepted her decision and they had been "secretly plotting Peggy's last scenes" since the summer.

The scenes were filmed secretly in November, and will air in the late spring of 2016, said a blog posted on the official EastEnders website.

Dame Barbara said she wanted the role to end while Mr Treadwell-Collins was still working on the programme.

"After thinking long and hard about it, I realised that it is time for me and the audience to say our final farewells to the lady who I have loved for many years and I thought that whilst the guvnor, who I adore, is still in charge I want him to be the one to oversee it," she added.

Born in east London, Dame Barbara made her West End stage debut at the age of 15 after training in drama and dance. In the 1960s and 1970s she appeared in a series of TV sitcoms and the Carry On... comedy films, before becoming a household name to a new generation of TV viewers through EastEnders.

In pictures: Career of Dame Barbara Windsor

Peggy Mitchell: The blonde bombshell of Walford

Image copyright PA
Image caption The matriarch of the Mitchell family was also married to Frank Butcher played by Mike Reid
  • Barbara Windsor began playing Peggy Mitchell, the pint-sized publican of Albert Square, in 1994, ruling the Queen Vic and her family as only an East End matriarch can
  • Key characteristics: Passionate, fast-talking and not afraid to speak her mind
  • Romance has never run smoothly for Peggy. Married three times, two of them portrayed on screen: Frank Butcher (divorced) and Archie Mitchell (murdered 2009)
  • Very protective of her troublesome clan. She has three children - sons Phil and Grant and daughter Sam - from Eric Mitchell, her first husband who died of cancer in 1985.
  • Her arch rival was Pat Butcher. They loved and loathed each other in equal measure, and both competed for the affection of Frank Butcher
  • Cancer battle: She learnt she had breast cancer in 1996 and had a mastectomy in 1999
  • Lowest point: When her son Phil set her beloved Queen Vic alight in September 2010
  • Catchphrase: "Get outta ma pub!"

Treadwell-Collins said: "Barbara is the real guvnor of EastEnders. So when she told me her decision back in the summer, we both had a little cry before getting excited about how Peggy Mitchell, the matriarch to end all matriarchs, could bid her final farewell to Albert Square."

He praised the actress, who was made a dame in the Queen's New Year Honours list for services to charity and entertainment, for creating one of the "greatest ever characters on British television" and said her exit was the end of an EastEnders era.

He added that Peggy's departure would be "one of the most heartbreaking, uplifting and epic exits an EastEnders character has ever had".

As the Mitchell family matriarch, Peggy's biggest storylines have included her battle with breast cancer, her marriage to Frank Butcher, her feud and friendship with Pat Butcher and her marriage to Archie Mitchell, which resulted in the family losing The Queen Vic pub.

Image caption Dame Barbara appeared in TV and big screen roles, including the Carry On... series of films, in the 1960s and 1970s
Image caption The award of a damehood this year was in recognition of her entertainment and charity work

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