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BBC soap EastEnders first kicked off in 1985 bringing oodles of explosive drama from the fictional London borough of Walford. Over the years, EastEnders has featured some iconic characters including Dot Cotton (played by June Brown), Pat Butcher (Pam St Clement) and Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp). Among these legendary figures on Albert Square was Peggy Mitchell played by Dame Barbara Windsor.
Why did Barbara Windsor leave EastEnders as Peggy Mitchell?
This evening (Thursday, June 18) ITV is airing factual programme Ross Kemp: Living With Dementia, which features the soap actress.
Many viewers of the heart-breaking series may be wondering why and when Dame Barbara departed the Square.
Dame Barbara was part of EastEnders from 1994 to 2016, cementing her status as a national treasure as the Mitchell matriarch who was just as fearsome as her sons.
The 82-year-old actress bowed out of Albert Square in 2016 after nearly 20 years. From 2010, she started to make occasional appearances on in the long-running series.
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In a 2016 blog post on the EastEnders site, the Tony and BAFTA-nominated actress explained her exit: “Everyone knows I love EastEnders and that will never change.
“Peggy is a character close to my heart but I made the decision a while ago that I need to say goodbye to Peggy 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.
“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.
“I am grateful that [former EastEnders boss] Dominic [Treadwell-Collins] has accepted my decision and together, since late last summer, we have been secretly plotting Peggy’s last scenes.”
While the then-head of EastEnders 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.
“In Peggy Mitchell, Barbara has created one of the greatest ever characters on British television, someone who has become as synonymous with EastEnders as The Queen Vic itself.
“So this is the end of an EastEnders era. But it is also an opportunity to send Peggy Mitchell out in style in what will be one of the most heart-breaking, uplifting and epic exits an EastEnders character has ever had.”
He continued: “We can’t wait to have Barbara back at EastEnders, even if it is for the final time. The most professional of professionals on set and off, and a true friend, we have all been working harder than ever to make Barbara and Peggy Mitchell proud.”
In January 2016, character Peggy made a surprise return to EastEnders to confirm her cancer had returned but sadly this time she would die from the disease.
Dame Barbara’s final scenes were broadcast in May 2019 with her funeral playing out in July with Kemp reprising his role as son Grant after leaving the soap to become a BAFTA-winning documentarian.
In his new programme Ross Kemp: Living With Dementia, the former soap star and broadcaster will be talking to Dame Barbara’s husband Scott Mitchell about her Alzheimer’s.
Speaking to Good Morning Britain ahead of broadcast, Kemp said: “The nature of the disease is that she initially knew exactly who I was and in three minutes she turned to me and asked me who I was. Three minutes.
“So you know, she looks at the pictures of her, her in her heyday on the wall, fantastic pictures of her incredible career and she goes, “who’s that lady?” And that is heart-breaking.”
- Barbara Windsor speaks out on ‘cruel illness’ and ‘loneliness’
He went on to speak about Dame Barbara’s husband, saying: “Yeah, if you look at Scott from the first episode that went out last week to the episode that goes out tonight, that covers from mid-February to today. You can see the impact that’s had on him.”
When asked if the actress would have to go into the care home, Kemp said: “I don’t think it’s even a may, I think sadly it’s going to happen and sooner than later.
“There has been a mark decline in her health, this is a disease that has no cure.”
He added: “When it is first diagnosed, not only does it have an effect on that person but it goes across families and friends. It’s a social issue so onus is on the loved ones to care for them.”
Ross Kemp: Living With Dementia airs on ITV tonight at 7.30pm
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