It says a lot about Dame Barbara Windsor’s national treasure status that the BBC chose to mark her 80th birthday with a feature-length biopic (even the Queen had to make do with a new painting).

In 1993, though, it was a very different story. Her wings clipped, Britain’s favourite chirpy Cockney sparrow had been reduced to playing ‘end-of-the-pier one-nighters’ in seaside towns as faded as her star. And it was here, on the apron of one such stage, that we found her (in the form of a pitch-perfect Samantha Spiro), launching into an extended reverie on her rise from East End child star to the toast of the West End and Broadway, before carrying on in one too many low-budget farces had doomed her to playing ‘sexy little blondes’ to ever diminishing returns.

Playing up to the film’s theatrical setting, a gallery of ghosts from Babs’ past entered and exited stage left – everyone from Warren Beatty and Kenneth Williams to the Krays (whose exact relationship with our leading lady was somewhat discreetly airbrushed).

The dominant figure, though, was Babs’ father (Nick Moran), the once doting dad who’d never forgiven his daughter for her reluctant testimony at his divorce hearing. For writer Tony Jordan, this is the defining relationship of Windsor’s life – one his muse helpfully framed for hard-of-thinking viewers in chunks of rather too on-the-nose dialogue like: ‘My whole life, I’ve not been able to find The Sunny Side of the Street – because there’s always your shadow across it.’ And if that sounded like the cue for a song, Babs – the real one – duly obliged by taking centre stage and belting out a showstopper before the final curtain.

Though the film suffered from this reverential, overly-sentimental treatment of its subject, it was rescued by dazzling performances from Spiro and Jaime Winston who, as the younger model, mixed brass neck and comic bustle with an endearing vulnerability, from beneath a peroxide ’do like a cottage loaf.

The real Babs, of course, got her second act behind the bar of the Queen Vic, and the rest is history – which is surely the only time EastEnders has ever given anyone a happy ending.


TV extra:


Sky’s handsome, engaging new period drama (‘from the makers of Downton Abbey’) brings us the New World through the eyes of three women – farm lass Alice (Sophie Rundle), Irish wildcat Verity (Niamh Walsh) and society schemer Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick). They’ve all been bought, sight unseen, as wives by three Virginia settlers, with poor Alice drawing the short straw in the thuggish Henry Farrow (Max Beesley, giving us his best Sean Bean). If only she hadn’t been 400 years too early for Tinder.


The CBeebies Bedtime Story

Whatever they’re paying the talent-bookers at CBeebies, it isn’t enough. Hot on the heels of Tom Hardy, this week saw Captain America himself, Chris Evans, swooping in and settling Britain’s pre-schoolers down for beddie-byes with a reading of Even Superheroes Have Bad Days (well he should know). Seriously, if Christopher Reeve had popped up on Jackanory when I was a kid, I think I’d have fainted on the spot. But then again, who needed Superman you had Bernard Cribbins?

Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 11, 2017

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